Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Crossover by Kwame Alexander
·         Hardcover: 240 pages
·         Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
·                                       215 Park Avenue South,  New York, NY (March 18, 2014)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0544107713
·         ISBN-13: 978-0544107717


                    Twelve year old twin brothers Josh “Filthy McNasty” and Jordan “JB” Bell are sensations on the basketball court. It’s no wonder since they learned the game from their father; former professional basketball player Chuck “Da Man” Bell.  Each boy has their individual talents on the court but the real strength lies in the intricate bond their family has. As the school basketball season unfolds, the connection between the family becomes strained.  Josh and JB’s mother is concerned about the health issues their father is ignoring and Jordan’s focus shifts from his family towards the new girl in school.  Josh is confused and jealous by JB’s attention to the girl he nicknames “Miss Sweet Tea”. He is also concerned about his father’s nose bleeds and fainting spells. This inner turmoil leads to Josh impulsively lashing out at JB on the court; a move that gets him benched, not by the coach but by his mother, the school’s assistant principal.

This story is about basketball. But more importantly this story is about family. The basketball term “crossover” refers to a basketball move where the player switches the basketball quickly from one hand to another. It also denotes the crossover occurring in Josh and Jordan’s life as they come to grip with growing up both on and off the court.  This book wonderfully crafted novel is poetry in motion!!

I LOVED this book!! Kwame Alexander’s theme of “family” is masterfully woven throughout this novel. Each evolution in the story occurs on the page in verse form, sometimes as a rhythmic rap other times in short phrases; the various styles of verse echoing the action and energy felt at home and on the basketball court.  Breaking the rules comes at a terrible price is another prevalent theme. For example, Josh’s jealousy causes him to lash out at his brother resulting in his parents kicking him off the basketball team during the championship. His father’s poor eating habits and refusal to see a doctor about his health issues results in his hospitalization.  

I also loved how Mr. Alexander broke through so many cultural stereotypes without ignoring them. The boys are raised by both parents who care and nurture their talents but give them consequences when the boys make wrong decisions. Their mother, Dr. Bell, their school’s assistant principal is a loving mother. She understands that life is not always fair warning the boys what happens to young black men who let their tempers get the better of them. Their father, Chuck “Da Man” Bell is a former professional basketball player on a European championship team who now “coaches the house”. The family fights, but not about drugs or guns or cheating, they fight about finances and health issues and sibling rivalry. All the characters reflect a very real sense of family dynamic and offer the reader a set of positive role models. Through the book the narrative is broken up in basketball terms, by quarters, with Mr.  Bell serving the Ten Rules of basketball that is as relatable to family relations as it is to the basketball court. For example, from page 20 entitled Basketball Rule # 1;

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
Your heart
on the court.


The cover shows a silhouetted basketball player balancing a basketball on his finger against a simple white background; representative of the colors of a basketball. This will entice readers, especially who are interested in basketball to open the cover and read further.   The story is told from Josh’s point of view. First page begins with his rap verse showing text in various sizes and fonts including words running laterally down his page. Additional pages are more subtle in their free verse design and even definitions of more difficult words explained by Josh in verse form. The book is rated for grades 4 to 7 however this amazing book is sure to attract kids up to high school level and beyond.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Summary (courtesy of Amazon.com) Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn't kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow's world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Review: Wow! As I began reading about WIllow, my first thoughts were, “She’s such a special gifted girl with caring supporting adoptive parents who supports her passions. She couldn’t have asked for a better life” Then…. POW! we are confronted with the worse tragedy a child could encounter; the sudden death of both of her parents. Personally I thought many of the situations that occurred in the story were not realistic. The Social Services officers would not automatically allow a non-relative have custody of someone. Also the chain of events were too predictable, too prepared, especially the conclusion. However, I still loved the compassionate empowering feeling of the story.  I enjoyed the way the author weaved the uniquely individual characters lives toward each other. Each of the secondary characters are imperfect, raw, tainted by life and damaged in their own way. The tragedy of Willow’s loss drives each of them into action to not only help Willow but also to help themselves.



Rump, the True Story of Rumplestilskin








Summary (courtesy of Random House Publishing)
In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Review - Rumpelstiltskin is one of the Grimm’s fairy tale stories that I never really understood as a child. How was he able to spin straw into gold? Why does he want the girl’s baby? Who would name their child Rumpelstiltskin in the first place? When I saw this story on the shelf I was intrigued! Liesl Shurtliff must have had similar thought for she mixed the classic fairy tale with her own imagination and came up with this imaginative story. Kids will love Rump,the main character, who is not portrayed as the villain in this tale. He is teased for his height and the half of a name he is given at birth (this is important to the story line). There are a lot of butt jokes and other slapstick, physical humor that kids will like as well. Both boys and girls also appreciate the variety of strong male and female characters and a strong moral message about having choices. This book had easy to read vocabulary, short chapters, familiar story line and likable characters on a quest for adventure. All of these characteristics make the book a good choice for both boys and girls, grades 3 - 6.

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson


Summary; (Courtesy of Amazon.com) Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He's being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he's got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe.

But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera—the "blue death"—has come to Broad Street.

Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the cholera epidemic surges, it's up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather the evidence to prove Snow's theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.


Review: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel takes the facts of the tragic 1850’s event of the London cholera epidemic, known as the Blue Death, and turns it into an interesting and informative novel for Young Adults. Many of the characters in the story as based on real people who were instrumental in finding the true reason for the spread of cholera. The novel doesn’t sugarcoat life during that time; depicting how children and women had no rights if the husband died and the unsanitary living conditions during that time. The Great Trouble may make a few students squeamish but the mystery and adventure will probably keep them hooked into the story. The fictional main character, Eel, will take students on an adventure into a stark time in history.  I can see boys and girls who enjoy historical fiction or those who are interested in the scientific discovery process enjoying the story. Because of it’s raw depiction of life on the streets for parentless children and the vivid description of the effects of cholera on the human body, this may not be the best book for younger readers.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos



Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos


Summary:
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder.

Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.


Review: I LOVED this book! It brought me back to a time when life was simpler and children made their own adventures instead of being entertained by computer and video games, when actually building an surplus airplane in the barn and flying it from a make shift runway that used to be the garden was possible. I loved the quirkiness of the town and the intimacy of the people in it. Jack Gantos' writing just sucked me into his world of the 1960's

Who to recommend it to... Although this book is listed for readers grades 5 - 9 according to Amazon.com, I'm not sure they would enjoy this as much as an adult would. This novel offers no epic battles, there's no scandalous romances, there's no fairies, vampires or werewolves, just imaginative fun and quirky characters. I would recommend it to people, children and adults, who enjoy books like Gary Paulsen's How Angel Peterson Got His Name.

Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, No. 1) by Mary Pope Osborne

 
Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House Series, Book #1) by Mary Pope Osborne

Target Audience: Age Range: 6 - 9 years, Grade Level: 1 - 4

Summary from Amazon.com:
Jack and Annie's very first fantasy adventure in the bestselling middle-grade series—the Magic Tree House!  Where did the tree house come from? Before Jack and Annie can find out, the mysterious tree house whisks them to the prehistoric past. Now they have to figure out how to get home. Can they do it before dark . . . or will they become a dinosaur's dinner?

Review: Here's another series book off the shelve that I'm ashamed to say I've never read. Both my children have devoured this series but by the time I found this series they were reading independently. The stories are simple yet adventurous and the illustrations will appeal to a younger audience. The stories feature a boy and girl, Jack and Annie, which makes the series appeal to a wider audience. I've especially seen students up to grade 8 who arrive from other countries picking this series up as an easy-to- read, lower vocabulary, only 80 pages, yet interesting story they can enhance their reading skills with. Otherwise I'd recommend the series to both boys and girls in younger grades (1 - 3)

Coming Home (Heartland #1) by Lauren Brooke

 
Coming Home (Book #1 of the Heartland Series) by Lauren Brooke


Target Audience: Age Range: 9 - 12 years, Grade Level: 4 - 7
Summary:
Heartland is a horse farm with the special mission of healing abused or neglected horses and finding them new homes. Fifteen-year-old Amy works alongside her talented mother, a gifted horse trainer who uses techniques similar to those of the trainer in The Horse Whisperer. While rescuing an abandoned stallion in a thunderstorm, Amy's mother is killed when a falling tree hits their car, and everything at Heartland--and everything in Amy's life--is thrown into turmoil. Amy's older sister, Lou, leaves her job to come to Heartland to help, and Amy begins to cope with the new circumstances of her life, relying on her work with her beloved horses to help her face the future without her mom.

Review: Another book off the shelf at the library! This series has been on my "should read" list for a while. I am one of those girls who grew up loving horses but the first of this series came out in June of 2000, well after my childhood years. I found this well-loved book among our shelves and couldn't resist finally having a chance to read it. I immediately appreciated the technical knowledge of horse-training used in the story. Amy's mom uses horse behavioral techniques I've seen Monty Roberts, a real horse whisperer, using at horse show demonstrations. It gave the book a authentic feel that fellow 'horse nuts' will appreciate. The main character, Amy, overcomes many personal struggles like the loss of her mother in a car accident and her fear of losing the farm she loves. She also struggles with the relationship she has with her practical older sister, Lou, who shows up after the funeral to get the affairs of the farm in order. Girls who like the "Saddle Club" series will enjoy following the realistic, slightly more mature, storyline of this series. I may have to find book 2 myself to see what happens next!