The Rundown- May ’17

imageThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (reread)

I first read this book in fifth grade, after browsing my elementary school library shelves for something I hadn’t read yet. (Yep, I literally started in the “As” and just pulled new books to read!) I don’t completely remember how I felt about the book back then, but I think I read a couple of the sequels afterwards, so I must have liked it enough to continue the story.

I started the book this time by reading it to one of my fifth grade Book Clubs. We ran out of time to finish it, so I hope they read the rest of it themselves! It didn’t make the best read aloud in my opinion, but I know lots of teachers who love to read it with their class, so to each their own.

Anyway, once I started reading it by myself, it went much more quickly. The thing that struck me then and now is how different it is from the movie. Most of the events are the same, but the movie has completely rearranged the order of what happens. That threw me off at first. I had to separate what I thought I knew about the story and concentrate on what was happening in the book.

This really is a great fantasy story and the characters Baum has created are unforgettable. Try not to think about the movie and you will enjoy it much more!

VERDICT: This is a classic that deserves its place on the list. I do think the movie did a lot to cement its legacy, but the book has lots to offer in its own right. The world Baum has created is fantastical and enjoyable!


**Check out Ashley’s review HERE**


April/May/June ’16 Update – Ashley

Yeah, I know… It’s kind of cheating, but life happens!  I’ve also read the second book in the Percy Jackson series, which I still love!  🙂

* Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (reread) – This is a book that I read for the first time many, many years ago.  It wasn’t one that I revisited often, but I always remembered being beezus-and-ramona-book-cover-author-beverly-clearyfond of it.  I was excited to see it on the list and to have the chance to see if it lived up to my memories.

Here are the basics: Beezus is the big sister.  Ramona is the little sister.  Beezus is trying to grow up and do typical ten-year-old things. Ramona doesn’t get it and wants to do typical preschool things.  This causes predictable, yet amusing, mishaps.  They’ve got the underlying sisterly love thing going on, but that doesn’t mean they always have to like each other, right?

My Take: What a fun book!  Easy, but fun.  And classic.  And  relatable and non-intimidating.  It was such a relief to read a book from this list that wasn’t heavy and didn’t require a whole lot of depth in thought.  But yet, this is easily the most I’ve identified with any book in this challenge so far.  I mean, who can’t relate to classic older-younger sibling dynamics?    However, one of the 100 best YA novels of all time???  If best = classic, absolutely!  If best = most forward/moving/provocative?  Not so much.  Not a clear choice for me…

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


* The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (new read) – Everything I knew about this book excited me from the beginning – it was one that I was looking forward to reading as soon as we found “The List.”  The title, the premise, the cover art… everything abwesting gameout it appealed to me.

Samuel W. Westing, mysterious millionaire, has died.  One of the sixteen (seemingly random) tenants of the Sunset Towers is the heir to his fortune.  In order to claim their inheritance, the group is divided into teams of two and then given a check and a clue.  They are tasked with using those clues to uncover the murderer among them.  The first to do so will win the remaining Westing fortune.   As the teams gather more and more information, secrets are uncovered, relationships formed, and motives questioned.

My Take:  Really wasn’t a fan of this one… It was fine.  I think my main issue was that I didn’t like or care about any of the characters.  They were well-developed in the sense that we came to know different layers of them throughout the story, but that didn’t ever change my feelings towards them.  I also found the supposed mystery element lacking.  It was infuriating to know “the answer” the whole time, but still suffer through the characters’ ridiculous attempts to solve it.  I certainly don’t think this one belongs on “The List.”  How ’bout a good ol’ Agatha Christie instead?

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (new read) – I was very hesitant to read this book.  I had heard such high praise for it, that I assumed there was no way it’d live up to the hype.  I wanted to enjoy it so badly that I worried that I had jinxed myself.  Of course, in the end, I had nothing to fear!

Set in Germany during the second World War, this is the story of Liesel Meminger, who lives with foster parents after a devastating separation from her natural family.   At only ten years old, Liesel is still a child, but yet old enough to notice the horrors happening all around her every day.  She struggles  to understand the very grown-up world she’s living in, all while trying to hold on to her childhood.  She ends up finding comfort in the words of stolen books and the friendship of the Jew hidden in her basement.  What results is a story of self-empowerment and a gut-wrenching, emotional testimony to the power of the written word.

My Take: This might be my favorite challenge book so far!  The writing is absolutely brilliant.  It took me a minute to adjust to the unusual narration, but then I was hooked.  For me, the best part was the development of Liesel’s relationships throughout the story.  Each one was so perfectly complicated and beautiful.  Plus, as  reading teacher, I love any story that speaks to the oft-unnoticed power of reading and writing!  This was one of those “I-can’t-put-it-down-until-I-finish” books.  It went everywhere with me until I was done – car, purse, pool, lake…  Worthy of a spot on this list?  Without a doubt.  This is one I will come back to over and over again!

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

The Rundown- May ’15

FYI, I finished both of these books about two weeks ago… but the last two weeks of school are killer!

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (new read)

AnneGreenGables17First, a brief history of my experience with this book. This story, and its sequel (Anne of Avonlea) were made into TV miniseries when I was a kid. My cousin and I used to watch them over and over, after buying both on VHS (what?!). I loved the movies so much that I decided to buy the book. I think I started to read it at some point, but didn’t get very far. It has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since!

Anne is a spirited, imaginative young girl who, through a mix up by an orphanage, ends up coming to stay with an elderly brother and sister on their farm on Prince Edward Island. She falls in love with her surroundings, and her gratitude for being adopted allows her to see the beauty in all things and people. The time of the book spans about five years, starting when she’s 11. She gets into all sorts of typical tween trouble, but always learns some sort of lesson.

In general, I really enjoyed this book. It’s very wholesome, which is not a word you can use to describe many books these days, even for kids! As a reader, I rooted for Anne in every situation and was proud when she accomplished something. If I am blessed enough to have a daughter someday, I would love to read aloud this book with her when she’s in second or third grade.

My biggest complaint with this book is how wordy it was. Anne is extremely long winded, and Montgomery is quite verbose in describing any and all settings. While it made for some good visualizations, it slowed the plot at times.

VERDICT: I agree that this book is a classic. However, it’s a toss up for me as to whether or not it should be included on the list. I do think it skews more to the female gender, and doesn’t necessarily have a universal appeal. Fifth and sixth grade girls would totally want to be Anne though, or at least be her friend!

**I don’t typically do this, but based on what I remember from the movies, I’m going to recommend them over the book. Mostly because the description that takes pages in the book, can be seen in seconds on the screen. Quite the anomaly!

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (reread)


Beverly Cleary was definitely a childhood favorite of mine. I remember reading all of the books featuring Ramona, and likening her a bit to my own younger brother. I can’t really distinguish between the stories, but have a strong sense of the characters of Beezus and Ramona.

Beezus and Ramona are sisters. In this particular book, Ramona is four and Beezus is about to turn ten. Beezus essentially is trying to live her life, but always has to drag Ramona around with her. In typical preschooler fashion, Ramona ruins everything!

I just loved reading this book. Besides being super easy of course, its so relatable. Anyone with a sibling can connect to at least one of the sisters. I was actually reading this during the teaching of our Realistic Fiction writing unit, and what a great example it is!

VERDICT: This should absolutely be on the list. I think they picked this particular story because it is the first that featured the sisters together, but any of them would be worthy. It’s silly to have it on a “young adult” list, but it’s a great book that has stood the test of time. Everyone needs to read this book–and series!

**They made a movie of this book a few years ago featuring Selena Gomez. I think it includes some scenes from other books as well, but it’s pretty cute if you want to check it out!

May ’15 Update – Ashley

So… another late post, I know!  But school is officially out for the summer, which (in theory) leaves a lot more time for reading, so here’s to that!

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (reread) – Full disclosure: this was not my first “reread” of The Hunger Games…  Or my second…  Actually, I’ve read the entire series at least three times.  Yeah, I’m one of those groupies.  Sorry, not sorry.  I read this book for the first time back when I was in graduate school.  One of my friends in class was always talking about the series and insisted that I just had to read the books for myself!  At that time, I had yet to realize my love for  YA novels – specifically YA dystopian novels – but, after reading The Hunger Games, I could no longer deny it!

0-439-02348-3For anyone new to the series, The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the post-apocolyptic and dystopian nation of Panem.  Panem is divided into thirteen Districts in varying states of poverty and desolation, all surrounding The Capitol, which is seemingly all-powerful and full of ostentatious luxury.  Years ago, the thirteen Districts joined forces in a failed attempt to defeat The Capitol.  In the process, District Thirteen was completely obliterated and The Capitol felt need to further establish their supreme authority in Panem.  As a result, they established “The Hunger Games” – an annual pageant where a young girl and boy from each of the twelve remaining Districts is sent into a deadly arena where only one can return – alive and victorious.  Through a series of events, our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is sent into The Hunger Games as the female tribute from District Twelve.  The first book in the trilogy tells the story of her time in the Games, fighting to stay alive without losing her sense of self along the way.

My Take: Without a doubt, this book series, belongs on ‘the list.’  In it’s simplest interpretation, the book is an easy and (it feels wrong to say this about a book that features children killing children) pleasurable read.  The entire series is extremely well-written, with characters that are as complex as they are entertaining.  However, for me, the best part is the layers of meaning within the story.  I have a particular soft spot for dystopian novels because of the “what if” factor…  What if something like this were to really happen?   What if this (in any sense) is what the world is really coming to?  I am also very drawn to the characters in this particular series – their motivations, the sides of themselves that they choose to show and those they choose to hide from other, the factions of people they represent in our current reality, and what parts of myself I see in them.  If you haven’t already, READ IT!!!

* A Separate Peace by John Knowles (new read) – At the beginning of this journey, I went online and bought a stack of “challenge books” off of Amazon to add to my collection.  (I have a vision of having an entire shelf – or two, or three – of just the 100 books from this challenge once we have completed it…)  I tried to pick a variety of books from the list to purchase with my first order – some I had already read but didn’t own a copy of, some I had been wanting to read for some time, some I had just heard about and felt instantly drawn to, and some “dark horses” that didn’t really jump out at me from the list – mostly, because I didn’t want to leave all those for the very end of this journey.  A Separate Peace was one of those “dark horse” purchases.  The premise sounded decent enough, but I can’t honestly say I was super-excited to read it.  And, let’s face it, that cover is just a little bit depressing…  However, I can honestly say that I go into every new book wanting to love it and this book was no exception – I was hoping that I was going to kick myself later for not looking forward to it.


This story takes place during the early 1940’s at the beginning of World War II and features the friendship between introvert Gene and exuberant Phineas (Finny) during their tenure at Devon, an exclusive boys’ boarding school in New England.  The two are an unlikely pair – the studious soon-to-be-valedictorian and the natural athlete with a penchant for mischief and a knack for working the room.  One summer, their unique bond is challenged in a way that neither of them saw coming – and the aftermath comes with its own struggles as both boys attempt to discover themselves in this coming-of-age tale.

My Take:  I did not kick myself later.  I found myself wanting so much more from this entire story.  It was fine enough, but I felt very much “set up” for something that never climaxed.   Every time I turned the page, I thought “This is it!  The *big thing* is going to happen now and the entire pace of this story is going to drastically change.”  That theory only led to more disappointment.  It was not a particularly challenging read, although definitely a bit wordy for my taste at times – entire sections were sometimes skimmed to avoid the endless comparisons and descriptive language.  Now, to be fair, the underlying message is powerful and profound in its own right, but I can only imagine about a thousand other ways we could have gotten to that message in a more moving manner.  According to its jacket, A Separate Peace is a “masterpiece” and has been a bestseller for over thirty years…  They’ve also made not one, but TWO, movies based on the book – one, as recently as 2012.  Maybe I am missing something, but I would never read this book again and it certainly won’t be one that I recommend to friends or insist my children try as they get older.   I’m so confused!  Who out there has read this?  Am I totally off-base?