Hidden by Helen Frost

Helen Frost is one of my favorite authors.  While she may not be the most well-known MG/YA author on the market right now, I wish she was!  I am constantly recommending her books to my readers.  When I was offered an ARC of her newest title, I jumped on the chance. Hidden does not disappoint. If you are a middle school of high school teacher, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

From the flap copy:

When Wren Abbott and Darra Monson are eight years old, Darra’s father steals a minivan. He doesn’t know that Wren is hiding in the back. The hours and days that follow change the lives of both girls. Darra is left with a question that only Wren can answer. Wren has questions, too.

Years later, in a chance encounter at camp, the girls face each other for the first time. They can finally learn the truth—that is, if they’re willing to reveal to each other the stories that they’ve hidden for so long.

I have a strange attraction to crime stories.  I am the person who can’t turn off CNN when they are talking about a missing person.  I read newspaper articles and magazine interviews.  Hidden was exactly what I was looking for. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The chapters alternate between Wren and Darra and you sympathize with both.  The suspense alone is reason enough to pick up the book.  However, Helen Frost’s real gift is in her poetry.

Nothing is ever as it seems, which is what I love.   The real magic in every Helen Frost book comes when you start digging deeper, really paying attention to the poetry.  In Hidden, Helen Frost has invented a new form of poetry to help give insight into Darra’s story. Darra’s poems are told through especially long lines.  But upon reaching the end of the book, you learn that taking the last word of the longest lines allows you to read Darra’s thoughts and memories, seeing the kidnapping from her point-of-view.  Due to this, I found myself re-reading the book immediately upon finishing it the first time.  The second time through, I simply lost myself in the poetry, paying attention to the word choice, the rhymes, and this wonderful new form.

Hidden is perfect for reluctant MG/YA readers.  Highly, highly recommended!

The Braid by Helen Frost

I was a huge fan of Helen Frost’s Diamond Willow (and reviewed it here).  I picked up The Braid because the main characters were the ancestor’s of Willow in Diamond Willow and I wanted to know more about them.

Sarah and Jeannie are teenage sisters in Scotland.  Extremely close, they are separated the night of the Highland Clearance of 1850.  Jeannie leave for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with her mother, father, and younger siblings.  Sarah hides in order to stay behind with their grandmother.  Before they separate, the girls braid a few strands of their hair together, joining them even across the vast ocean.  While this is historical fiction, it deals with many issues that today’s teens are familiar with- teen pregnancy, parental approval, poverty, life, and death.

The story is great, but the real magic is in the poetry.  This is a verse novel, but it isn’t just any old verse.  The story is told in narrative poems alternating between the two girls’ viewpoints, with shorter poems between them connecting the two.  At the end of the book, Frost has an epilogue where she explains the poetic forms.  The poems are essentially individual strands in a poetry braid.  I don’t want to give it away entirely, but the revelation stunned me.  I immediately went back and reread the book!

I can’t want to share this with my new high school students.  While the story is accessible for middle school readers, I think the intricacy of the poems will be fun to share with my high school students.  This is a perfect example of a book that has more than one layer: readers can enjoy the story and also dig deeper for more.  It’s also a great example of a book that begs to be reread!  Highly recommended.

Predicting the Newbery as a Class and 21st Century Literacy

We are almost finished reading Chains as our current read-aloud. Both classes have about 25 pages to go, and they were begging to read more today! We ended right after Isabel escaped from the potato bin. The greatest sound in the world is the united groans of 20 6th graders begging you to continue reading a read-aloud!

Seeing as the Newbery will be announced in a little over a week, we have slightly altered our read-aloud plans. I plan to finish Chains tomorrow, complete with an awesome discussion.  We then have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr., Day.  My class begged that we read Diamond Willow  beginning on Tuesday.  After considering the logistics for about a second, I said, “Of course!”  At 108 pages, and with a lot of white space, I think we can finish it before the announcement is made.  Then we will have read three books that are on numerous mock Newbery lists.

Diamond Willow will present some interesting challenges.  The diamond-shape poems and the bold words throughout need to be viewed to be appreciated.  I think I will show the book using my document camera.  This way the students can see the poems as I read them, just like if they had the book in their hands.  It’s the first time I will be combining technology and literacy this way, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!  Will the experience of reading the book on the board, via the camera, be the same as reading the book in your lap?  It should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to find out!

And now January 26th will be even more fun!

2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:

 

  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “

 

  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.

 

  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!

 

  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!

 

  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!

 

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.

 

  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.

 

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”

 

 

  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!

 

  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!

 

I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost is a short, concise story that packs a powerful punch. I finished it yesterday afternoon and it is still on my mind.  The action of the story takes place over the span of a few short days, but don’t make the mistake of assuming nothing happens.  Willow grows and changes more in those days than most middle-schoolers do in a lifetime.  

This is a gorgeous book, despite the fact that there are no illustrations. Instead, this verse novel is told in a series of diamond-shaped poems, based on the shape of the diamond willow. Within each poem, a few words are bolded and when from top to bottom, they form a poem-within-a-poem, the heart of the story.  Every single diamond is different, and the word choice in each poem is amazing.  I sometimes stopped on a new page just to look at shapes, which almost served as illustrations.

The story is simple and middle-grade students will easily connect with Willow and her family.  Willow is a 12-year-old part-Native Alaskan who lives in a very remote town, accessible by snowmobile, plane, and boat.  She is struggling with herself, with school, and with finding happiness. She begs her parents to mush the sled (with three of their six dogs) to her Grandparents house one weekend.  While they say no at first, she is determined to prove her maturity and they finally give in.  But on the way back there’s an accident. From there, it builds and to go on would spoil the rest of the story, so I will stop there.  but I will say you should pick this up immediately!

One of my favorite parts of the story was Willow’s connection to the past.  She struggles throughout the book, all the while unaware that the animals surrounding her carry the spirits of dead ancestors and friends who care for her.   I loved this aspect of the story, so simple and serene in it’s beauty.  It was comforting, and who hasn’t caught a glimpse of nature and felt the flicker of recognition, the momentary thought that someone or something is watching out for us?  I also loved the theme of respect and love of nature.  I seek out environmental themes in my books and this one did not disappoint.  

Diamond Willow is a must-have for middle school teachers, and I expect it may even get some Newbery love next month!

Intrigued?  Read the first few chapters here!

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