Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan

Wow, what a powerful book! I picked this book up off my endless pile of books to read when I was heading to bed last night. I finished it in one sitting, after about 45 minutes of reading.

McLachlan tells the story in a series of thoughts, almost a running commentary, rather than a normal narrative arc. We experience the story through Jake’s eyes. I identified with Jake’s family, in the sense that in a big family, siblings tend to raise each other. Jake’s favorite is Edward, an amazing young boy who reminded me a bit of Charles Wallace in Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”. Edward is a lover of baseball, people, and fireworks. He seems to know things, even predicting his mother’s new baby and naming her before her birth. Edward also has beautiful eyes, which Jake notices the moment he is brought home from the hospital.

Without giving away the plot, Edward’s story is one of life, love, tragedy, and family. We see it all through Jake’s eyes, and we feel everything he feels. I left the book with tears in my eyes a heavy heart. However, the message is very powerful, and deals with an aspect of tragedy not normally broached in children’s literature. Again, I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to take away from anyone else’s experience of the book. Pick “Edward’s Eyes” (Patricia MacLachlan) up, though!

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

I had heard this book mentioned over and over in the kidlitosphere, paged through it at the bookstore one day, and ultimately decided to hold off on buying it. When I saw a pile of the books at the Scholastic warehouse sale, I decided to grab a copy and read it when I had some extra time. Not a day later, I saw “The Wednesday Wars” bandied about as a possible Newbery winner, and decided to give it a shot. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I read it!

Holling Hoodhood is doomed; it is only the first day of school and his teacher hates him. Immediately, the reader thinks, “No teacher hates a student! And definitely not on the first day of school!” However, Mrs. Baker has a good reason to hate Holling- at 1:55pm each and every Wednesday, the students in her class board two buses and head off to Hebrew school or catechism classes. All of her students except for Holling, the lone Presbyterian in the class. He just knows Mrs. Baker hates him, because she had the prospect of a free hour at the end of every Wednesday and it was cruelly taken away from her by one Mr. Holling Hoodhood. The worst part of all? No one believes that Mrs. Baker hates him. Not his mother, not his father, the architect trying to win a bid for the Baker Sports Emporium, and not his sister, because honestly, when does your older sister ever believe her little brother? Holling is forced to stay at school during that long afternoon every Wednesday, where he begins the year by running errands and doing cleaning for Mrs. Baker. However, after the first few weeks, Mrs. Baker informs him that they are going to begin reading Shakespeare together. As any 7th grade boy would react to this news, Holling is none too pleased. Obviously, this is even more proof that his teacher hates his guts! However, as the book progresses, Holling actually enjoys some Shakespeare.

I absolutely LOVED this book. What a powerful story, and what a perfect “boy book”. First of all, Holling Hoodhood might be my favorite character name, ever. How great is it? Holling?? And the alliteration! Plus, his voice is realistic and I felt like he could be a student in my class. He was so real! Also, Mrs. Baker is on my list of “Awesome Teachers in Children’s Literature”. Mr. Hoodhood might be my favorite character, though. He is not particularly likeable- in fact, he is downright unlikeable at some points. However, he is such a perfect picture of the man stuck in his ways while the world around him changes. In some ways, he reminded me of Kevin’s dad on “The Wonder Years”. In fact, a few parts of the book reminded me of “The Wonder Years”.

I also appreciated the setting of the novel. Sometimes, I feel like historical fiction books are just realistic fiction that happen to be set in the past. In other words, the setting is just an after-thought, not particularly important to the story. This is not the case in “The Wednesday Wars”. Holling is living in 1960′s Long Island. The Vietnam War is raging, Martin Luther King, Jr. is marching on Washington, DC, and schools are practicing atomic bomb drills. The time period is a vital part of the plot without being overbearing. Holling’s everyday life is affected by the global events surrounding him. Mrs. Baker’s husband is fighting in Vietnam and his sister is slowly becoming a hippie (much to his father’s chagrin).

The book is not all serious, though. There is quite a bit of slapstick humor in here, and I laughed out loud a few times. I know the boys in my class will appreciate the slapstick humor even more than I did. It’s typical middle school boy humor, but it never crosses the line to gross or overdone. It’s very tasteful and sometimes even requires reading between the lines. I have a feeling I will end up recommending this novel as a humorous boy story, rather than historical fiction. My students will be more willing to read it that way!

My only issue with this story is in the ending. Not that there is anything wrong with it, per se. I just felt like it was a combination of rushed/drawn out. While those sound like opposite ideas, let me explain. About 10 pages before the end, I thought the story was over. I was thinking in my head, “Hmm, I wonder what’s at the end here? A preview of another book?” I was surprised to see the story continued on for a few more pages. However, I enjoyed those pages and felt like the last page or so were rushed! A strange combination, I know. All in all, though, I LOVED this book. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read it, I highly recommend that you do as soon you can. Move it to the top of your to-be-read pile!

One of my favorite quotes in “The Wednesday Wars”:

That’s the way it is in the real world.

It’s not always smiles. Sometimes the real world is like Hamlet. A little scared. Unsure. A little angry. Wishing that you could fix something that you can’t fix. Hoping that maybe something would fix itself, but thinking that hoping that way is stupid.

And sometimes the real world is more like Bobby Kennedy, who was a sure bet for the Democratic nomination and probably would have been president of the United States and stopped the war, but who got shot at point-blank range.

One of those weeks

It’s just one of those weeks.  I spent all day thinking that today was Wednesday; imagine my disappointment when I realized it was only Tuesday!  It’s shaping up to be a longer week than I thought.  Plus, I still have Christmas shopping to do, I need to get a present for my Secret Santa, I need to plan our class holiday party, I need to send out progress reports, and I need to have a few minutes to relax! Count on some new posts in the next few days.  Hopefully, a few reviews (I am reading “The Wednesday Wars” right now and loving it!), an updated Hot Books in My Classroom list (holiday edition!), and a few other odds and ends. 

7 things about me

I have been tagged by Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading.  I think I will follow her lead and post 7 things about me as a reader. 

7 Things about TheReadingZone as a Reader: 

 

1)  My to-be-read piles (yes, piles) are strewn about my house, in no particular order.  Sometimes, I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to what to read next!

2)Right now, I am reading aloud “The Postcard” by Tony Abbott to my class.  My morning class thinks it is ok, and my afternoon class absolutely loves it.  That’s what I love about teaching two classes- they can be so different! 

3)  Right now, I am reading “The Aurora County All-Stars” by Deborah Wiles.  

4)  I have never read the His Dark Materials books.  After the recent controversy, “The Golden Compass” has moved farther down on my to-be-read pile.  Not because I don’t want to read it, but because I am tired of hearing about it!  

5)  I am determined to read the Newbery before it is picked.  Maybe not this year, but I do think I have a good shot this year!  I have read over 100 children’s/YA books since last January, and about 15 adult books in that same time period.  

6)  I prefer middle grade/YA lit over adult lit almost any day.  I do have a soft spot for chick lit, though.  My latest guilty pleasure is the Megan Mccafferty Jessica Darling series.  It reminds me of a more grown-up version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Plus, it takes place in NJ! 

7)  I am not a huge fan of adventure books, or boy books, as my students call them.  I detest “Hatchet” and most Gary Paulsen books.  Most likely because I just can’t connect with them!  

I tag- everyone!  ;) 

Scholastic Sale Damage

This weekend, a friend and I volunteered at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale.  It was a great way to earn some money to spend at the sale, and spend I did!  I spent my voucher plus a good deal of money.  However, I purchased approximately 60 books for 1/3 of their retail price.  Needless to say, you can expect a lot of reviews over the next few weeks!  I was lucky enough to purchase a lot of very new titles, specifically a few mentioned on some mock Newbery lists.  :)

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle

I admit it-  I hate chemistry. I was a Biology girl in high school, all the way up to AP Bio and AP Environmental Science. The year of chemistry I had to take was like a form of forced torture. Math was my worst subject, and chemistry involved a lot of math. The Periodic Table of Elements still gives me hives. Then, I found Adrian Dingle’s The Periodic Table. 

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style is written in a way that makes learning fun. With its colorful illustrations, the text draws you in and makes you want to read each page. Each element has its own page and the text is written in first-person, as if the element is telling you it’s own story. Every element has a distinctive personality, from the diva to the gangsta to the good girl. I laughed out loud on many pages and learned something new about each element.  If I had been able to read this book in high school, I might have done a little better in chemistry! I read through this book in about an hour, but that was a quick read. I definitely plan to go back and re-read to really absorb the information.  

This is a great non-fiction book, and could easily be used in the classroom from middle school to college.  Heck, I might even give to a college student who is taking chemistry their freshman year!  The language is simple and easy to follow, but full of information.  This little book packs a big punch! 

Poetry Friday

It’s been snowing here, on and off, for about 48 hours.  We only have a dusting, but the kids and I have been hoping for a snow day soon.  I stumbled on this Billy Collins poem and love it! 

Snow Day
by Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

 Read the rest here… 

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series is extremely popular in my classes this year.  I try to pick up all the Haddix books that I can, as they seem to hook many reluctant readers.  When I saw that Scholastic was offering “Running Out of Time” last month, I picked it up without knowing much about it.  While getting my car’s oil changed yesterday I had about an hour to read and managed to finish the book.  It is definitely a quick read, but an exciting book! Jessie’s family lives like most typical families- in 1840.  She’s a tomboy, usually the one in the group doing the dares, rather than the daring.  In many ways, she reminded me of Anne of Green Gables.  Her mother is the local midwife and Jessie enjoys tagging along with her on jobs.  Lately, however, more and more children have been becoming sick.  

When the book opens, Jessie accompanies her mother to  an appointment, but her mother will not let her enter the home where two children are very ill.  On the way home, her mother is acting very strange, and she sees signs on certain houses that signify the occupants are quarantined.  Her mother won’t answer her questions, but tells her she needs to meet her in the woods the next day, after school, but to tell no one. That morning, Jessie’s younger sister becomes ill in school.  Jessie brings her home and then heads deep into the woods to meet her mother.  What she learns in those woods will change her life, and the lives of those around her.  Her mother tells her that she fears diptheria is the disease they are fighting.  She needs Jessie to leave their village, Clifton, and find medicine in another village.  However, all is not as it seems.  

Haddix’s book takes a sharp turn about a quarter of the way through- a twist that I never saw coming!  I hesitate to say more, because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else.  I really enjoyed this book and I know a few reluctant readers in my classes who will be hooked by this book.  If you enjoy fast-paced adventures, plot twists, mysteries, or Haddix’s other works, I highly recommend this novel! 

Jen Robinson’s Growing Bookworms Newsletter

The latest edition of Jen Robinson’s Growing Bookworms Newsletter is out.  I highly encourage you to subscribe if you are not a regular reader of Jen’s blog.  The newsletter is an easy way to stay up-to-date with the goings-on in the kidlitosphere and children’s literature:

This week’s issue contains reviews of four books (two picture books, one early middle grade, and one YA), my weekly round-up of literacy news, and a two-part Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the week. The Children’s Literacy Round-Up and Sunday Visits posts both have great reader comments about ways to help nurture readers, so consider clicking through to check those out. I also have a quick post about my upcoming stint as guest expert for the PBS Parents website.”

 

 

Be sure to sign up here and check out the 6th edition here.

The Postcard by Tony Abbott

A few days ago, I mentioned here on the blog that I had added Tony Abbott’s upcoming novel, “The Postcard” to my wishlist.  Mr. Abbott himself actually stumbled upon the post and commented! He was kind enough to send an ARC to my class and he even signed it for us! When I showed my students today, they were absolutely thrilled, to say the least. I finished the book today and loved it! Below you will find my review:

Jason is your average, middle-class kid. He lives in Massachusetts, the youngest of three kids. Mom and Dad had him later in life, so he is practically an only child. Life seems great- Mom has a good job, school is going well, and it’s finally summer! But as most kids know, something always ends up going wrong. Jason’s grandmother has passed away and he is shuttled off to Florida to help his father clean out the house and help tie up some loose ends. Jason wants nothing to do with this, especially when he realizes his parents are using this time as a trial separation, of sorts. Regardless, his mother ships him off to Florida and Jason arrives in St. Petersburg within 24 hours of his grandmother’s death. St. Petersburg is “full of old people”, as my students would say. Florida is a major retirement destination for much of NJ, so I know my students will identify with this aspect of the story!

Jason figures he will help out his dad, clean the house, and be back in Massachusetts within a few days. His dad is pretty upset by the death of his mother, and Jason ends up taking care of him a lot. It turns out that his dad was an illegitimate child who never knew his own father; his mother was sick for most of his life and he spent a lot of time away at school.  Jason doesn’t know much about his father’s family and is thoroughly creeped out by sleeping in the house where his grandmother died. He wants nothing more than to get back home.  Everything changes when he starts receiving strange phone calls.

The phone calls lead to a strange postcard. Then, his house-bound grandmother’s funeral is full of bizarre guests. When he finds an old magazine in some boxes, a bizarre story saved by his grandmother for close to half a century becomes a mystery within the mystery.Who exactly was Jason’s grandmother? Who was his grandfather? Was his great-grandfather an evil man? Why did the guests at his grandmother’s funeral look like circus freaks and why did the funeral director refer to her as Marnie? And is the strange story in Bizarre Mysteries actually true?

Jason has stumbled into the mystery of a lifetime, and he is running out of time to solve it. Abbott effortlessly weaves together mystery and intrigue, resulting in a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat and constantly guessing.  I was able to come up with bits and pieces of the solution as I got deeper into the story, but I never figured it out exactly.  The novel is very unpredictable, making it all the more enjoyable.

I am strongly considering using this novel as a read-aloud for my class. I have been trying to find a fun novel with a male protagonist and none of my normal, go-to novels were doing it for me. “The Postcard” may be just what I am looking for! I love the mystery-within-a-mystery that Abbott writes using the magazine story. Jason is also very easy to relate to- I know my students will understand his parents’ separation and his relationship with his best friends. Even moreso, I know they already think of Florida as a place full of old people, so Abbott’s constant references to the influx of the elderly in Florida will make them laugh. Finally, the mystery itself is fascinating! I know I started looking at the history of the St. Petersburg area and some of the main characters. While the novel isn’t non-fiction, it brings up some very interesting historical aspects of Florida. Without ruining the mystery, I can say I learned a lot about a subject I had never really considered before.

“The Postcard” will be released in April 2008. Thank you again to Tony Abbott for getting this into my hands! My fabulous readers can’t wait to get their hands on this book!

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