Bystander by James Preller

As a middle school teacher, I see bullying everyday. People who don’t work in education tend to think bullying is only physical- fistfights and the like. But I see name calling, teasing, isolation, rumors, gossip, and much more used to instill fear in students. While most schools have anti-bullying curriculums, it seems that many students tune them out. When you are 11 or 12 years old, the last thing you want to listen to your teachers about is how to get along with your classmates. Everyone knows teachers are ancient and never experienced middle school!

That’s where a book like James Preller’s Bystander comes in.  Eric is the new kid in his Long Island town.  When he meets Griffin and his posse of hangers-on right before school begins he can tell they are a little different.  Over the next few weeks he learns that Griffin is the sort of kid who makes an awful enemy.  Charming and scheming, he is what teachers call an “adult pleaser but kid teaser”.  He is one of those kids with a naturally magnetic personality, one he uses to control the kids around him.  But he always puts on a different face for the adults in his life, such as teachers and parents, and convinces them he is a sweet, mild-mannered child with good morals.

Very quickly Eric realizes that Griffin is a bully.  But he doesn’t do much about it, as a bystander.  Why?  Because he isn’t the target.  As any kid will tell you, stepping in will only make you the bully’s next target.  At least, that’s the line of thought most kids follow.  But when Griffin goes too far Eric begins to notice exactly what he is doing to his so-called friends.  What’s a kid to do when his conscience kicks in but his brain tells him that he will be the next victim if he does anything?

I really enjoyed Bystander.  It’s not an easy book to read.  There were a few times where I felt teachers might enjoy it more than tweens, but the message really hits home.  Kids can be cruel and that doesn’t always mean throwing punches.  Sometimes, it’s the verbal and emotional bullying that is even worse.

What I really loved about this book is the fact that it doesn’t end with the teacher or another adult solving the problem and dealing with the bullies.  Eric and his friends need to decide for themselves how to handle the situation.  As a teacher, I admit to being a little frustrated at first when I read the last page.  But then I realized it is exactly what tween are looking for.  They don’t need us stepping in all the time and solving their problems.  They need to learn how to work within their own cliques and peer groups.  As much as we might want to see the bully “get what he deserves”, that isn’t always realistic and kids know that.  So kudos to James Preller!

I look forward to adding this one to my classroom library.  I think it would make a great read aloud or literature circle title.  I can imagine some great conversations and writing stemming from the story.

*My own purchased copy. This is a Cybils nominee and all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel as a whole.

Along Came Spider by James Preller

Along Came Spider by James Preller is a middle grade novel. Spider and Trey have been best friends since they were born, six weeks apart.  Trey has always been a little weirder than the other kids;  in the neighborhood that’s never been a big deal.  But now that they are in 5th grade, Trey’s oddities and eccentricities are suddenly a bigger deal.  They don’t bother Spider, but the boys he is starting to hang around with, the popular crowd, do not understand him.  When one of the boys tells Spider to leave Trey behind now that they are getting older, he has to decide which is more important: a lifelong friendship or his future place on the social hierarchy?

Spider is a well-realized character who reminds me a lot of the boys in my own classes.  The middle grades are so pivotal for friendships and I am glad to see a book that deals with boys in this area.  And Trey appears to be mildly autistic, though it is never stated explicitly in the text.  It’s delightful to see boys dealing with this, as most books I have read in the past on this topic focus on girls.  

This is a great book and one I can’t wait to share with my students.  I think it will resonate with boys and girls alike.  James Preller has crafted yet another masterpiece for middle grade readers!

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.

James Preller Quotes Me!

How exciting!  I just found out that James Preller quotes me on his blog!  A few days ago I reviewed his book, Six Innings, which I read for the Cybils.  Because it is a baseball-centric book, I probably would not have read it otherwise.  Thank goodness for the Cybils, because I really enjoyed Preller’s writing and look forward to picking up more of his books.

I also look forward to sharing Six Innings with my students. I already have a slew of them in mind who will just eat this book up.

Thanks again, James Preller!

Six Innings by James Preller

Baseball.  America’s Pastime.  My pastime?  Not so much.  Granted, I have been watching the World Series this week (go Phillies!) and I grew up with a grandmother who is the world’s biggest Mets fan, so baseball has always been a part of my life.  It’s just that it usually served as background noise.  Honestly, I find baseball to be boring.  (I know, I know!).  Give me soccer or basketball any day of the week.  Even football!  I like my sports to be fast, exciting, and team-oriented.  So when I saw that James Preller’s Six Innings was nominated for a Cybil Award, I was afraid I would have a hard time getting through it.  Luckily, nothing could be farther from the truth!

It’s the championship game between Earl Grubb’s Pool Supplies and Northeast Gas & Electric.  The game means something different to each player, but it’s equally important to them all.  Two teams, six innings, one championship.  The boys are between the ages of 11 and 13 and this is the biggest game of their lives.  For some, it’s only the beginning of a career that they hope will end in the majors.  For others, it’s the final game they will play.  Next year, many will move to the Babe Ruth league.  Each year, fewer and fewer boys will play.  This game is the biggest game of their lives.  

Six Innings is told inning by inning, from the viewpoint of different players.  Pitchers, catchers, center fielders- we view the game through their eyes.  Benchwarmers and stars alike, each player is a vital part of the game and story.  Even the announcer, a boy who played on one of the championship game teams until only a few months before, tells the story from his vantage point.  

This is a quick read, and the fact that it all takes place within a single baseball game makes it even more exciting.  While I am not a baseball fan, and sometimes was confused by the overwhelming amount of baseball terminology, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story.  This is a story that baseball fans, especially boys, will flock to.  The game is described in detail, which may turn off some non-sports fans, but you can tell that James Preller poured his own passion for baseball into the story.  I am looking forward to introducing it into my classroom library because many of my boys play Little League and I know they will connect with this story.  However, this is also a story about friendship, family, and the pressures that kids deal with.  I can see some of my girls connecting to these aspects of the book and also enjoying the story.  

 

*The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent the opinion of the Cybils panel as a whole. 
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