Tag Archives: friendship

Room for everyone

12 Sep

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The title and the cover  hooked me. The story and characters held me fast. Not a lot of books these days show teens really reflecting on the Christian faith. Don’t mistake my meaning, this isn’t Christian fiction by any stretch of the imagination. But we get to see teens who have faith, but struggle with it. Teens who are ardently atheists become more tolerant and understanding of those who believe in god. I feel like the book really shows that there truly is room for everyone – even an atheist at a Catholic school.

Publisher’s Summary: When Michael walks through the doors of Catholic school, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow atheist at that. Only this girl, Lucy, isn’t just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism.

Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies one stunt at a time. But when Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

A Winter Break Fave

4 Jan

I have to go back to work today. It is a good thing I love my job,

Fortunately, I will have the lingering memory of one of my favorite Winter Break reads to soothe my heart.

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The main character in Jared Reck’s debut, Matt, is just an all around nice guy. He has nice friends, and a nice family. He is nice to his little brother. He isn’t the star player on his basketball team, but he aspires to it, and we know he will be in a few years.

As in many YA novels, something bad happens and he tries to deal with it on his own. What sets this one apart is how his family rallies to help him. It is a lot quieter than other debut novels, but it is wonderful.  Just a lovely, lovely book!

Publisher’s Summary: Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 
 
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
 
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

 

Friendship & Forgiveness

3 Dec

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The Ethan I Was Before, by Ali Standish, is a book I chose to add to my Mock Newbery Club list before I’d actually read it. It was getting some buzz and was on the lists of a few other people.

Publisher’s Summary: Life can be transformed in one moment, but does that one moment define you for life?

Lost in the Sun meets The Thing About Jellyfish in Ali Standish’s breathtaking debut. A poignant middle grade novel of friendship and forgiveness, The Ethan I Was Before is a classic in the making.

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.

My sense from the club members who have read Ethan is that they liked it well enough, but it isn’t top of their list. It reminded me a lot of Bridge to Terabithia. 

First read aloud of 2017-18

27 Jul

I found my first read aloud for the new school year.

It’s an important choice to make because it sets a tone for the entire school year.

That is why Posted by John David Anderson is perfect.

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Anderson knows how to build great characters – and he creates realistic middle school boys. He did so in Mrs. Bixby’s Last day and he does so here.

He gets middle schoolers in general. All the stereotypes are there, but hey, they are in the middles school I teach at. In the characters he fleshes out more fully, he shows that people aren’t just they stereotype you think they are.

He is not afraid to tackle tough topics. In Mrs. Bixby,  he tackled death. In Posted,  he tackles bullying. We became a one-to-one school last year, but before that we let kids use devices for educational purposes. Despite our best efforts, things still happen. I think reading Posted aloud will give us one more way to tackle tough issues and safe examples to use.

He knows how to balance serious topics with humor. There are enough goofy middle schooly bits peppered in the conversations among the main characters that there will be laughs. It is good to have some balance. Although I don’t think it will win the Newbery, I have this one on my Mock Newbery list because I tink it is one kids will really gravitate towards.

Publisher’s Summary:

From John David Anderson, author of the acclaimed Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, comes a humorous, poignant, and original contemporary story about bullying, broken friendships, and the failures of communication between kids.

In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.

When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same.

 

The Course of True Friendship

21 Jul

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I was excited when my hold on Real Friends came in. I was ecstatic when I saw there was a character named Adrienne, then, disappointed to find out she was the antagonist. Sigh. But that is probably the worst thing I can say about Shannon Hale’s graphic novel, excellently illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Publisher’s Summary: 

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Drawing on events from her own youth, Hale tells a tale most kids can relate to. In her afterward, she admits that she is telling only her side of the story. She also tells readers to be patient if they haven’t found their “group” yet.

In addition to tackling friendship issues, Real Friends gives readers a glimpse into life in a Mormon family, something we don’t often see in kidlit.

This is a book that is getting some Newbery buzz, and I highly recommend it.

 

Summer Idyll

22 Jul

I am at that point in summer where time seems to stretch out before me. It won;t last long, as I have a workshop on August 4th, but for now, I am content to luxuriate in the promise of unfettered time.

Ally Condie’s Summerlost has a bit of that feeling too.

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Set in a small college town, it focuses on Cedar Lee, whose family has relocated there for the summer, following a family tragedy. It is not a dramatic, fast-paced read. Rather, it is a beautiful novel that unfolds slowly. It wasn’t the book I expected it to be, given that Condie is the author of the Matched  series. This is a lovely, realistic middle grade book.

Publisher’s Summary: Sometimes it takes a new friend to bring you home. It’s the first real summer since the accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching new novel from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

 

From misunderstanding to understanding

7 Jul

Yesterday was about recovery. I was exhausted after a day of travel and needed to adjust to the time difference. I only took one nap, but Lucy spent most of the day asleep after I brought her home. Today, we are both a little more peppy.

In my bleary state I needed something interesting, but not too dense, to read. I found the perfect book in  Save Me a Seat  by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

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The story is told in the voices of two 5th grade boys. Joe has an auditory processing disorder and is often misunderstood and teased by his peers. His best friends have moved away and he has no one to hang out with at school. Ravi has just moved to America from India. He was top of his class and a top cricket player in his old school, but his efforts to excel in America fall flat. As each relates their first week of school, the two authors show very effectively how the intentions of line person can be misinterpreted by another. There were times when I cringed as I read how either Ravi or joe totally got something wrong. The book is organized around the lunch schedule, the place where both boys sit alone every day. Both are bullied by Dillon and feel as though their lives are not in their control.  Fortunately, they figure things out and become friends.

Although the boys are in grade five, younger readers could manage the short chapters of this book and find it very enjoyable.

Going Wild

3 Jun

In 2014, Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, saw a tiger shedding his civilized clothing and dainty manners to GO WILD!

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In his first novel for middle readers, The Wild Robot, the opposite occurs.

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A robot is washed ashore on an island, after a cargo ship is wrecked. Accidentally activated by sea otters, Roz, the robot, begins exploring her environment where she is seen as a monster.  After an accident in which she kills a mother goose, she adopts the  gosling she has orphaned. In her efforts to be a good caregiver to the gosling she names Brightbill, she begins to make inroads into the animal community. Roz learns skills from the animals she encounters: care of goslings from a mother goose, house building from a beaver. In turn, she learns to love and becomes a vital member of the island community that she considers her home.

The book seems simple, but it really speaks to the heart of what it means to be human. Roz doesn’t fit in at first. She begins as “other”  but becomes an integral member of society because of the connections she makes with the island’s inhabitants. It reminds me of the fox from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince who wants to be tamed.

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

And later the fox says,

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox.

So it is with Roz and the animals on the island. Ties are established and the “monster” is tamed.

Alas, the idyll is violently disrupted when robots come to the island, seeking the cargo that was lost at sea. The ending is more realistic than happily ever after, but I think it makes this story more powerful. As Mr. Spock once philosophized

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Live long and prosper, Roz!

 

 

Florence and Raymie Nightingale

27 May

You know, reader, that I love Kate DiCamillo.

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I put Raymie Nightingale  on hold at the library when it was still “On Order” and waited patiently for my turn. I took a deep breath before starting, fearing for a moment, I might be disappointed. I can tell you now, that I was not, though I wondered at times how all the disparate threads would be woven together. Like many of her books, there is a sadness to Raymie Nightingale, but there is also hope. Raymie, like Flora, of Flora and Ulysses,  lives with her Mom and hopes that her dad will return. From an elderly neighbor, she learns about the human soul, and thinks a lot about how her soul waxes and wanes as good and bad things happen. As she makes new friends and endeavors to performs good deeds, Raymie Clarke will touch your heart.

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Publisher’s Summary:Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I was a few chapters in before I wondered why the book was called Raymie Nightingale when the main character was named Raymie Clarke. I will not tell you, but I hope you will read the book and discover the answer.

Dealing with grief

29 Feb

I am slowly but surely reading some of the books of 2015 I missed. The Thing About Jellyfish,  Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, is one I am very glad I took the time out to read.

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Author’s Summary: Suzy Swanson is pretty sure she knows the real reason Franny Jackson died. Everyone says that there’s no way to be certain…that sometimes things just happen. But Suzy knows there must be a better explanation—a scientific one. Haunted by the loss of her former best friend — and by a final, terrible moment that passed between them — she retreats into a silent world of her own imagination.  Convinced that Franny’s death was the result of a freak jellyfish sting, she crafts a plan to prove the truth, even if it means traveling around the globe… alone. As she prepares, she learns astonishing things about the universe around her… and discovers the potential for love and hope in her own backyard.

There are several different kinds of grief in this book: the grief over the death of a friend, the grief over the end of a friendship, the grief over the divorce of parents. And Suzy has to deal with all of these. Reading The Thing About Jellyfish I remembered what it was like to be that 7th grade girl who felt on the outside of everything. We’ve all been there, though it isn’t always in middle school.

Benjamin packs a lot into the 320 pages of the book. Despite the emotional content, she never lets it get away from her; this is a well controlled novel and Suzy’s attempt to deal with her grief and regret unfold naturally. Although the story is painful, I highly recommend it. You will also learn a lot of interesting jellyfish facts!

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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