The Rundown-February ’17

99d907a82a51c2a3a7d24634879c753cAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (reread)

I first read this book back when I was in elementary school, but I really just remembered more of the characters, than the story itself.

In the introduction to this edition of the book, it’s mentioned that Carroll actually told the original version of this story to a friend’s daughters one afternoon on a boat ride. He later wrote it down for them, and then expanded upon it before it was published.

Reading it as an adult, I could feel the stream-of-consciousness. Alice basically just wanders from character to character, having strange conversations. It got “curioser” and “curioser,” for sure. A caterpillar smoking a hookah? A Mad Hatter drinking “tea?” It has all that and more. I generally am a big fan of fantasy, but the plot is lacking, in my opinion.

VERDICT: Even though the characters are fun, I don’t think the story is engaging enough to be included on this list. I’d rather go watch the old Disney cartoon!

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (new read) images

I was really interested to read this, based on the title. I thought it would be nonfiction, or historical fiction. What I got instead was a collection of sonnets woven together into a picture book.

How did a picture book end up on a list of best young adult novels? Good question.

The book is ambitious. It includes an introduction about how the author chose to write in this style, sonnet notes, an artist’s note, and a one page summary of information about Emmett Till and his death. I appreciated the different take, but at the same time, wanted more. It felt like a book written almost specifically to be taught and analyzed, rather than one to pick up and read for enjoyment.

VERDICT: It’s hard for me to make a judgment on this one. The subject is important, so I’ll let you make up your own mind.

dannychampionoftheworldDanny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (new read)

This was one of the few Dahl books I hadn’t read. It’s not the typical fantasy he is known for, but it still has some of the same stylistic features.

Danny and his father live in a small caravan behind the filling station and garage that they run. They have a close relationship, due to the fact that Danny’s mother passed away when he was a baby. His father tells him wonderfully fantastical stories every night, including the first appearance of “The BFG!” When Danny is nine years old, he discovers his father has a secret liking of poaching peasants. The action takes off from there.

As I said, it’s not what we normally expect from Dahl, but he has crafted a story that is equally humorous and heartwarming. The bond between Danny and his dad is uplifting, and there were lots of laugh out loud moments.

VERDICT: This book has a wide appeal, and is one of the few showcasing a single dad. I give it a thumbs up as a great addition to the list!

The Rundown- February ’15

No pretense, let’s get started!

The Giver by Lois Lowry (reread)

the giver

I think that most people my age had to read this book in middle school. I was not one of those people. I didn’t read this book for the first time until I was in college, for a Children’s Literature class. I immediately loved it, always having been a Lois Lowry fan (Number the Stars anybody?).

For the uninitiated, The Giver is, essentially, the “original” young adult dystopian novel. I know they’re all the rage now, but at the time, this book was unusual. The book has a fairly simple premise, but is revealed in such a layered manner.

The society in the story is presented as a utopia, where “sameness” is promoted, jobs are assigned at age twelve, and privacy is nonexistent. Without giving too much away, the protagonist of the story, Jonas, is given an assignment that is rare and unexpected at his Twelve Year Ceremony. The book follows his journey, with the ending paving the way for future returns to the world created by Lowry.

I think this book is important as a discussion piece for the way The Society is portrayed. Children are able to use critical thinking skills to decide whether or not they think The Society really was successful in creating a “perfect” society.

**The best part of The Giver is that it doesn’t end with this book! Lois Lowry wrote three “companion” novels: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son. I flew through this quartet starting during Christmas break and finishing up sometime in January. While the first two books seem to have no ties, by the time you read Son, it will be obvious how everything is intertwined. I also enjoyed that two of the books had female protagonists, which was another foreshadowing of the current dystopian craze.  I really can’t say enough good things about this group of books!

THE VERDICT: I would have been shocked if this book wasn’t included in the list. Although deceiving in its simplicity and readability, the story stays with you forever.

Wonder by RJ Palacio (new read)

Wonder

I must admit, I didn’t know much about this book when I first selected it, other than the striking cover, and the fact that some of my teacher friends were using it in their classrooms. It is one of the newer selections on the list, as it was published in 2012.

As I started the book, I didn’t really see anything that special. Early on, there was a chapter devoted to August’s birth, complete with an entire episode of a farting nurse, and, a not too much later, a section about an administrator named Mr. Tushman. I started to write it off as a book trying too hard to appeal to an elementary male demographic. Thankfully, those pages ended up being anomalies.

To put it succinctly, this book gave me “all the feels.” It is about a 10 year old boy, named August, who has severe facial abnormalities. After being homeschooled for his whole childhood, he has now enrolled in school for the first time. As you can imagine, his experience is quite the rollercoaster, with pages making me laugh and cry, grin and cringe, sometimes all at the same time. By the end of the book, tears were streaming down my face, and the message here is strong and authentic, without being forced.

The majority of the book is told from August’s point of view, but the author also includes five other narrators, for various amounts of time, to flesh out the story. Never has a book with that many points of view been so easy to follow!

I also enjoyed the various literary references that were included in different ways throughout the story. Readers were connected to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, introduced to plays such as Our Town and The Elephant Man, and made aware of classics such as War and Peace and The Hobbit. With each character switch, song lyrics and quotes were used to convey their point of view. The English teacher introduces a precept each month and students are immersed in the power of language (which comes full circle later on).

I strongly think this book should be read by any student in fifth through eighth grade. The lessons they could learn from August and the characters that surround him are invaluable. In doing some research after reading, I discovered the author had started a website called “Choose Kind.” It is full of next steps for kids to take after reading this book and doing some self-reflection. I applaud Palacio for realizing the impact her book would have and helping it continue long after the reading is over.

 **If you read and enjoy this book, you might be interested to know that there are two e-books written as companions to this book. One, called The Julian Chapter, tells the story from the “bully’s” point of view. I read it immediately after finishing Wonder and found it to be a wonderful complement to the book. The other is called Pluto and tells the story of August as a younger child. I look forward to reading that one as well.

THE VERDICT: I see the value in including this in the 100 List, as it has a strong voice and a high impact on its intended audience.

February ’15 Update – Ashley

Nothing like the last day of the month to do my monthly update, right?  February was a very hectic month, so unfortunately most of my reading was postponed until the end of the month.

Here’s what I read:

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (reread) – This was my second reading of this particular book.  The first time I read it was actually in college for a Children’s Lit class.  I remember loving it the first time and the second time was no different.

BridgeTerabithia6

Bridge to Terabithia centers around the friendship between its two main characters – Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke.  The two are unlikely friends, but their mutual awkwardness and shared tendency to behave “differently” from the status quo is enough to create a lasting bond.   Together, they create their own magical land, the namesake Terabithia, where they go to escape their ordinary, if not depressing, lives.  The story takes a turn when tragedy strikes Terabithia and Jess is forced to deal with things far beyond his ten or eleven years.  At that point, it’s probably best to just go ahead and grab your tissues.

My Take:  Finding Bridge to Terabithia on “the list” was no surprise.  This is one of those books that makes you reevaluate life and love.   I appreciate that this book, written for very young adults (preteens even), touches on some very heavy topics in a way that is super-relatable.  Being a teacher of young children allows me to read these kinds of books through a completely different lens.  I see the Jesses and Leslies of the world every day in my own classroom – the kids that don’t quite “fit in” because maybe their family is a little bit different or they interested in something considered unusual for their age, gender, whatever.  I’ve seen the way their lives change when they find that one friend with a common soul who understands and accepts them as they are.  I want that for every child.  It also makes me sad to think about how many kids out there are like this, but never find that one friend who will change their life…  Overall, this book is an easy read with a big message and definitely worth the minimal time it takes to read.  I dare anyone to try to get through the whole thing with dry eyes!

* Frindle by Andrew Clements (new read) – I have to be honest about my deciding factors for reading this book first off of my (lengthy) new read list.  #1) I totally judged the book by its cover.  Those kids holding that pen… so cute!  Plus, the cover also included a review hailing it as a “hilarious” read, which I was ready for after sobbing my way through Terabithia.  #2) It was the shortest of all the new reads I just ordered and I was running short on time for my first monthly challenge (aka I started reading it this morning).  Just felt like I needed a disclaimer about my true motivations…  <insert sheepish look here>

frindle

Frindle is story about young Nick Allen who has a knack for causing minor “disturbances” at his elementary school – things like transforming his third grade classroom into a tropical paradise… and getting his first-year teacher to buy into it!  However, after meeting his all-business fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Granger), Nick’s escapades seem to be in jeopardy.  That is, until he spontaneously decides to create a brand-new word: frindle (to name the object formerly known as a pen).  His seemingly harmless prank catches some steam and soon the word has grown beyond Nick’s control.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Granger is doing everything in her power to thwart frindle-users everywhere.

My Take: First of all, I love lovelove the character of Nick!  I love the way his mind works and that his portrayal does not stay true to any one stereotype.  He’s smart, but not nerdy.  He’s unusual, but not a “weirdo.”  He’s a bit mischievous, but not mean-spirited.  Secondly, I love that this book, written for elementary- and middle-schoolers, isn’t focused on the social issues they may face at school, but rather on a child’s growing curiosity and innovation.  So many books directed at this audience tend to deal with those social issues (admittedly important in more than one way), but I feel like we have a generation of children who need to know that creativity is important too.  I feel like they need permission to take risks and to think outside the box, and more importantly, to want to have an impact beyond their immediate scope.  Frindle at first glance is a funny story about a silly, made-up word, but the implications of what Nick created reach towards a greater purpose and hint at what can happen when kids make up their mind to change even one small part of their world!  This book left me smiling and inspired to think big…  Another easy, but worthwhile, read!

So… what do you think?  Has anyone else read Terabithia or Frindle?  Do you agree with my reviews?  I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts!

Now, I’m off to decide on what to read in March…

Happy Reading!  🙂