Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reviews from my readathon

Saturday was the first full day of Winter Break.  I told my family that I was going to be doing at least two three day readathons.  What follows are reviews for the books I have read since Saturday.  I hope you enjoy them.  This is my attempt to catch up with some of the books and reviews I've gotten so behind on.

The Orphan of Awkward Falls – Keith Graves

Publisher:  Chronicle Books
Pages:  256
Source:  I received the book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review
Genre:  MG Horror

On Amazon this book as listed for ages 8 – 12.  On the author website it states it might not be suitable for anyone under the age of 12.  I will say this.  You must know your child or students reading likes and dislikes, their ability to handle certain material.  The day after I received this book I took it to school and shared part of it with the teacher next door.  She really wanted to read it.
I was intrigued when I read the  first twosentences: “The little town of Awkward Falls was kow for two things:  its canned sauerkraut and its insane asylum.  Both had achieved notoriety for their repulsiveness.”
The asylum is home to the criminally insane, especially one known as Fetid Stenchley.  He is the worst among all of them.  He is in fact a cannibal.  It is he who killed the grandfather of our main character Thaddeus Hibble. Thaddeus lives in a Victorian mansion with only a robot butler and a pieced together, Frankenstein style, talking cat.  Things change when Josephine and her family move  to Awkward Falls and actually move in next door to Thaddeus.  Thaddeus and Josephine meet when she sees something in the fog and goes out to investigate.  She ends up snooping around the place next door and meets Thaddeus.  They become good friends.  Of course this story would not have any tension if the aforementioned cannibal had not escaped.  The problem is he is headed back to where his last crime was.  This puts Josephine, her family and new friend in jeopardy.

There are so many things that I love about this book.  It is a gross, creepy, horrifically humorous book.  Many of the scenes are possibly too frightening for younger children.  Many of my own students read more mature books and more intense horror.   For them this would be a wonderful book.  I still have some who prefer the younger books such as The Magic Tree House series.  For them this would not be an appropriate book.  This is where it is important to know your students or children.  For a book like this I usually send a note home explaining what the book is about and getting parent permission if I think there may be an issue.

The characters were wonderful, the plot moved at a great pace so that I didn’t want to put the book down.  I believe that the majority of children in middle school will love this book.  For those adult who love reading middle grade fiction this is one I recommend to you.  Get the book and find out what happens in Awkward Falls.

Playground – 50 Cent

Publisher:  Razorbill
Pages:  314
Source:  Received a copy from LibraryThing for review
Genre:  Middle Grade/Young Adult Realistic Fiction

Warning:  Although there is mild violence due to the bully issue this book contains some profanity.  Gratefully the author did not feel he needed to use the “F” word.  The language is a part of who the character is and is a part of what makes the character believable.

From Goodreads:
Thirteen-year-old Butterball doesn’t have much going for him. He’s teased mercilessly about his weight. He hates the Long Island suburb his mom moved them to and wishes he still lived with his dad in the city. And now he’s stuck talking to a totally out-of-touch therapist named Liz.
Liz tries to uncover what happened that day on the playground—a day that landed one kid in the hospital and Butterball in detention. Butterball refuses to let her in on the truth, and while he evades her questions, he takes readers on a journey through the moments that made him into the playground bully he is today.
This devastating yet ultimately redemptive story is told in voice-driven prose and accented with drawings and photographs, making it a natural successor to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Loosely inspired by 50 Cent’s own adolescence, and written with his fourteen-year-old son in mind, Playground is sure to captivate wide attention— and spark intense discussion.

My Thoughts:
When I was given the opportunity to possibly win a copy of this book I signed up only because I loved the premise of the book.  I honestly knew nothing about the author except I believed he was a rapper.  After getting the book and reading it I decided to look up the author.  I read several articles on him and his reasons for writing the book.  I could not say I expected him to say he was a bully at some point in his life as I knew nothing about him or his music.  I was pleased to realize that the book came about because of a conversation with his son.  That in itself put him high on my list of parents.  We need more parents willing to have conversations with their children about tough topics.   I was glad that he chose to approach this from the bully’s perspective.  It gave me a better look at some of the reasons children bully others.  As a teacher I see bullying many times a week.  Most of it is not the violent type we saw in the book where the main character Butterball bashes in the face of his ex-friend with a sock full of batteries.  The type of bullying I see at school is just as dangerous and harmful.  Physical wounds can often heal.  It is the psychological ones that take time.  Healing has to happen not only for the victim but also for the bully.  I’ve seen a couple of those students who were “thugs” do a complete turn-around.  This book gives hope to those who know they are bullies.  I think in our society we often look at the bully and write them off.  I applaud the author for his work on this issue.  I hope we see more from him regarding tough topics.  I will not only put this on my shelves at school I will make sure our guidance department knows about this book.

Rippler – Cidney Swanson

Pubisher:  Williams Press
Pages:  288
Source:  I received a copy from LibraryThing in exchange for my honest review.
Genre:  Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy

From Goodreads:
Samantha Ruiz has a freak gene that makes her turn invisible, or ripple. She can’t control it, and it’s getting worse. Afraid of becoming a lab-rat, Sam keeps her ability secret, until fellow runner Will Baker sees her vanish into thin air. Will promises secrecy and help, and Sam begins to fall in love. Together, the two discover there are worse things than being a scientific curiosity. Someone’s been killing people who possess Sam's gene. A mysterious man from France sends letters that offer hope for safety, but also reveal a sinister connection with Nazi experiments. The more time Sam spends with Will, the less she can imagine life without him. When Sam uncovers secrets from her past, she must choose between keeping Will in her life or keeping Will safe.

My Thoughts:
Right from the first line this book grabs you and draws you in.  It has something for everyone.  It has a little bit of history, a mystery, some paranormal elements, realism.  What is there not to like about it so far?
Samantha Ruiz, (Sam) is a typical teenager.  She is on a rafting trip with her cross-country team when something strange happens to her.  She disappears.  Everyone believes she has fallen into the water.  That is everyone except teammate Will.  He helps her.  This rippling, has happened to her twice before, but she was alone and thought she had imagined it.  This time there was no denying it was not her imagination.  Will and his sister try to explain things to her about the “rippler gene”.  She begins reading an old Nazi journal that describes horrible tortures conducted on children.  She also learns that the accident that killed her mother might have actually been an attempt on her life.  Throw in a budding romance and you definitely have a teen winner.

There were enough different elements to keep the reader going non-stop.  I didn’t want to stop for anything.  I can’t wait to read the second book in this series.  I’m just sorry I had to take this long to get around to it.

Take Five! For Language Arts: 180 Bell-ringers That Build Critical Thinking Skills  – Kaye Hagler

Publisher:  Maupin House
Pages:  211
Source:  I won a copy
Genre:  Educational

Product Description from Amazon:

Kaye Hagler s unique bell-ringers for language arts help you transform the first chaotic five minutes of class into authentic opportunities to practice critical-thinking skills.
Students in grades 6-12 exercise their mental muscles as they work collaboratively, warming them up to tackle your standards-based lessons.
Whether your students are inventing secret codes, concocting potions, rewriting history, making conjunction paper chains, or thinking like newspaper editors, these diverse and creative prompts will have them looking forward to the part of the day when they re asked to Take Five for critical thinking.
The 180-plus prompts set up your teaching day from the minute that students step into your class.
Each ready-to-use prompt includes: corresponding standards, supply lists, language arts links, teacher tips, assessment options, rubrics, and digital connections that add more than 100 extension lessons.

My Thoughts:  I could not wait to get to school and try this out.  I was able to start with an prompt that went right along with the unit we were working on.  The students loved it.  I get deeper thinking answers and writing from my students.  I also loved the rubric created by the author.  I plan on starting off next year with this book.  I’ve encouraged the rest of the language arts department to look at purchasing this book.  I think this book should be in every Language Arts Classroom.  I am very pleased with it and happy to recommend it to other teachers.

About the Author:
Kaye Hagler is an educational consultant who mentors teachers throughout the Southeast. She has been an educator for more than twenty years, teaching middle school gifted education and high school English as well as working as an elementary library media specialist and college adjunct instructor. A former journalist and freelance writer, Hagler holds a bachelor's degree in education from Georgia State University, a master's degree with a concentration in English from Troy University and postgraduate endorsement in gifted education from the University of Alabama. She lives in Panama City Beach, Florida.

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