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Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike is Kathryn Erskine’s most recent novel about a boy learning how to get his father to accept him for who he is. Mike has always had trouble with math, but his father is determined that he can make him a better student. Although his dad is a genius when it comes to mathematical problems, Mike has had to be the parent in many ways since his mother died when he was just six years old. When Mike’s father leaves to teach math for six weeks in Romania, Mike is sent to live with his elderly distant relatives, Poppy and Moo, who have recently lost their son in a car accident. Mike’s father believes that Mike will be helping Poppy work on an engineering project. Mike deals with many issues once he arrives in the town of Downover. For one, Moo’s eyesight and hearing doesn’t exactly make for safe driving…she is in her eighties after all. Secondly, Poppy, grieving for his son, only sits in his chair and eats scrapple. Mike soon realizes that he must step up to help the town in their quest to adopt a boy named Misha who reminds Mike of himself. Will Mike be able to pull the huge task off? What will happen when Mike’s father finds out that he isn’t working on an engineering project after all? Read this humorous novel that deals with serious matters in which people with different attributes come together for others in need. I like how each chapter of the book has a mathematical term with a definition that applies to what happens in the story. Kathryn Erskine’s other book, Mockingbird, received the National book Award.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Close to Famous

Joan Bauer has a way of bringing her characters’ struggles to the forefront in her stories which makes her readers feels that they are not the only ones facing personal problems. In Close to Famous, twelve-year-old Foster McGee has been told by kids at school, teachers, and even her mother’s abusive boyfriend, Huck, that she was stupid. Foster’s father was killed in Iraq and she stores all his mementos in a special pillowcase. When Foster’s mom walks out on Huck after a horrible fight, the pair drives from Tennessee to West Virginia. Unfortunately, Huck keeps Foster’s precious pillowcase and demands they come back. The thing that saves Foster is her natural ability to put ingredients together to create delicious cupcakes and meals. She wants more than anything to be a famous Food Network chef like her idol, Sonny Kroll. Before long, Foster’s secret struggle is out. Can her new friends help her? Will her mom make sacrifices to get Foster’s pillow back? Read this meaningful novel to find out. Other great books by Joan Bauer include Stand Tall, Hope Was Here, and Rules of the Road.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Life is So Good

Every once in a while a true story catches you by surprise and leaves an imprint on your heart. Life is so Good (published in 2000) written by Richard Glaubman and George Dawson did just that. Thankfully a math teacher at my school shared this book with me. I cannot believe I had never heard of it before. This is George Dawson’s life story beginning when he was just a boy working hard to help his father on the farm. Richard Glaubman would visit George after hearing that he started going to school to learn to read at the age of 98. On those visits, he would bring news articles from the past and books to share with Dawson. My favorite aspect of the book is the discussion the two had about real events in history and Dawson’s memory of having lived through that time. It is remarkable to think that Dawson lived in three separate centuries. Because he was expected to help his father with the farm and bring extra income to take care of the younger kids, he missed the opportunity to attend school. An adventurous man, he tells of his travels and strong work ethic. Once he settled down with a wife and seven kids, he held high expectations of his children and was able to hide that he couldn’t read until they were older. He explains throughout the book about missed opportunities as a result of being illiterate. George Dawson passed away in 2001 after this book was published at the age of 103. This inspirational story is a must read for anyone wondering if it is too late to make a change for the better. George Dawson’s story motivated many people to get their education. Click on the video segment from the Oprah show about how Dawson's legacy lives on in Texas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

As Simple as It Seems

So B. It by Sarah Weeks is a book that many of my students recommend to each other. It is a book that they want to discuss. I think that will be the case with As Simple as It Seems, Weeks’ most recent novel. Eleven-year-old Verbena notices a change in herself that she doesn’t like. Everything about her doting mother annoys her and she cannot hide the rage that is building inside. She was always told that she was small for her age and had to wear glasses because she was born prematurely. She accidentally finds out the horrible truth behind her birth which only confirms everything that she has been feeling. A boy named Pooch from the city moves into the abandoned house nearby for the summer. The family that used to live in that house moved away a long time ago after their daughter, Tracey, drowned in the lake. When Pooch sees Verbena beside the lake he thinks she is the ghost of Tracey. Wanting to be anybody but herself, Verbena happily plays along. Before long the two find themselves in a life or death situation. Sarah Weeks has a gift for making her characters real to her readers. Another great book by Sarah Weeks is Jumping the Scratch.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Camo Girl

Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River was on my 8th grade reading list last year, so I was so excited to read her newest novel, Camo Girl. Ella, a biracial girl in the sixth grade with all white classmates, narrates the story about her friendship with eccentric Zachariah (Z) and the difficulties they face together. Ella wakes up every day trying not to look at her mottled colored face in the mirror which has given her the nickname, camo girl, by the school bully. Things were not so hard when Ella, Z, and Millie were all best friends when they were younger. Things have changed drastically for both Ella and Z…they both have lost their fathers due to different circumstances. Now Millie hangs out with the popular crowd at school while Ella and Z are tormented by school bullies. Z has created a fantasy world in which he can escape in order to cope with all the sadness in his life. Ella, the only person who can relate to Z, feels like he needs her to protect him from the others. When Bailey, a handsome African-American boy, moves to their school and takes an interest in Ella, Ella finds that she wants more than her single friendship with Z. One day Z doesn’t come home from school. Will Ella find him before it is too late? Read this moving book about friendship and the hardships of growing up when you are considered different from those around you. This novel will be on my 6th grade reading list next year.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Tale Dark & Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is absolutely all that it says it is. This is no ordinary Hansel and Gretel story. Will middle school kids love it? Absolutely! It is definitely dark and grim, but the added touch of humor will keep the reader amused. Haven’t you wondered about the true story of Hansel and Gretel? Gidwitz is here to tell you that there is so much more than what you have been told. Hansel and Gretel will have to face witches, their own weaknesses, the devil himself, and a deadly dragon on their adventure to find normal, caring parents. I love Gidwitz’s wit in adding the narrator’s voice which addresses the reader intermittently throughout the entertaining story. Checkout the video below.