After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

For the past few years I have enjoyed reading Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie to my classes. I love Sonnenblick’s voice and I think he captures carious middle school personalities perfectly. Plus, he deals with a serious subject (cancer) in a down-to-earth way. His book always makes my students laugh but without fail their final words are, “is there a sequel?!” For the past few years I have always had to break the bad news to them that no, there was no sequel. Well imagine my excitement when I read that After Ever After would be published this month!

WARNING! This review will contain spoilers for Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie.  If you haven’t read that one yet, get up right now and get yourself to a library or bookstore.  It’s a fantastic read and one very middle school teacher should be familiar with.

After Ever After is everything I wanted and more. Where Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie told the story of Jeffrey’s cancer through his older brother Steven’s eyes, After Ever After is told from Jeffrey’s point of view. Now in eighth grade, he is no longer the kid with cancer. Instead, he is a teenager in remission. Thanks to the chemo and methotrexate, he walks with a limp and has problems focusing in school. Steven, the one person he can always count on to be there for him, has dropped out of college, dumped Annette, and run off to Africa to join an African drum circle. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is dealing with his first girlfriend (the hottest girl in school!), an increasingly grumpy best friend, and his parents flipping out over a new standardized test that he must pass in order to move on to high school.

I can not wait to booktalk this to my class. Again, it deals with some serious topics like cancer, life, and death, but it does it with deference and laughter. I found myself laughing out loud many times and cringing at others. Jeffrey is a typical middle school boy, even if he is a cancer survivor. He has no idea what to say to the girl he likes, he makes bad “your mom jokes”, and he is convinced his dad hates him.  He is self-deprecating but does not pity himself.  He has baggage, but he tries to ensure it doesn’t define him.

I also loved After Ever After feels like it can stand alone.  One doesn’t need to read Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie in order to enjoy After Ever After.  While the two books are a great pair, and reading one will make you want to read the other, they both stand well on their own.  That’s the sign of a fantastic pair of books.

(And for any teachers out there, Jeffrey’s struggles with standardized testing will rile you up something fierce!  Plus, Miss Palma is an awesome English teacher!)

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

While enjoying Snowzilla, the blizzard that blanketed the mid-Atlantic region this week, I wanted to read a sweet book.  Something fun, happy, and light.  While looking through my TBR pile, my eyes landed on the stunning cover of Laura Amy Schlitz’s new novel, The Night Fairy. I knew immediately that it was exactly the book and story I was looking for. And I was right.

Lyrical prose, stunning full-color artwork, and a fantastic fairy with spunk combine in this winning novel. Flory is a night fairy, born just before midnight. When she is not yet three months old, a bat accidentally breaks her wing. Suddenly sentenced to a life without flight, Flory is devastated. She makes her way to a “giant’s” garden, an older human woman. In the garden she finds a birdhouse, which she makes into her home. No taller than an acorn, Flory is all alone. She is forced to become a day fairy and must keep herself safe from birds, praying mantises, and other fairy predators. But in the end, this is a story of strength and friendship- Flory is stronger than she gives herself credit and she also needs more help than she is willing to admit.

This stunning middle grade novel is sure to be a hit with fairy lovers, nature lovers, and those who love to use their imagination. The prose is stunning and lyrical. And while it may sound like a simple fairy tale on the surface, you quickly realize that Flory is a strong female character. One minute she is fighting off predators, the next she is decorating her home. Later she might be saving the life of a hummingbird while risking her own, and then spending time gazing at the moon. She is beauty, strength, innocence, and love rolled into one very small, acorn-sized package. I imagine this will be the perfect book for girls who love fairy books but desire something a little deeper than the trendy, novelty books so often published. It will also make the perfect bedtime story. I’d recommend it for 9-10 year olds, but I also know a lot of my own 6th graders will love this book. I’d be thrilled to hand it to them because the writing is just gorgeous.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

N. D. Wilson Blog Tour- Life Cycle of a Writer

I am thrilled to be a part of N.D. Wilson’s blog tour for the final book in his exciting series, The 100 Cupboards.  The first book, 100 Cupboards: Book 1 (The 100 Cupboards), is the current book club selection for Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids. The final book in the series, The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards, was released last month. The whole series is great and N.D. Wilson is a phenomenal writer. I absolutely loved Leepike Ridge, which I read a few years ago. (Check out my  review for more thoughts.)

Today, N.D. Wilson stops by TheReadingZone to share some of his thoughts on writing.  I can’t wait to share this with my students!  (And anyone who knows me is aware that I love metaphors that deal with insects and metamorphosis!)

Writers are like insects. We hatch in kindergarten—learning to read. And as our reading level climbs, we enter into some form of larval stage, consuming everything in front of us. Place a stack of fresh leaves in front of a globulous caterpillar and you have the perfect picture of the young writer. A young writer is a young reader—someone who will devour virtually anything. At this point, gatekeepers are necessary. It’s up to teachers, librarians, and parents to make sure that the books consumed are actually healthy (and helpful). Like any other form of consumption, not everything is good for you. A lot of kids with appetites for stories end up stuck in some form of literary junk food, a place with a never ending supply, where it’s easy to grow lazy and narrow in their tastes. Of course, when teachers are dealing with kids who hate eating at all, junk food is a great place to start. The flavors are simple and appealing. But those are different kids and different problem. We’re talking about young hungry, hungry caterpillars. The devourers. Bottomless pits. Throw anything at them and they’ll bring it back tomorrow, finished. (The first time I ever stayed up all night, I think I was in sixth grade, reading a book. And it was a terrible book, too.)

The first great change finally comes. The young writer’s belly is bulging. They become picky. Or they should. We are corpulent. We are full, and our parents and teachers and librarians panic. What happened to the appetite? Where has it gone? Has the reader died? Lazing bloated on the sofa, we complain of our boredom, we push books away untasted. We’ve seen this little thing with the dragon before. Funke did it first. Or at least second. This happens at different ages. I started doing this in the fifth grade. For others, it comes sooner. And I know people who didn’t get picky until college.

We have become pupae. Wrap us in a cocoon of old favorites. Actually, bring me mere selections of my old favorites. Give us some space—a little breather. And then make us work again, but differently. At this point, the young writer’s greatest strength—that which needs to be developed—is distaste. They need the ability to loath a character, a plot, a concept. If they are ever going to be left completely in the driver’s seat of a narrative, they need to develop a connoisseur’s palate for literary finesse and a quick sneer for literary folly. Make them read, but encourage them when they throw a paperback across the room. Question them. Force them to develop. Make them justify their own dislike. Help them learn to tear down stories. And, of course, in that context, the discovery of a story that pleases is sweet relief. But don’t let it sail by untested either. What was better about that book? Why did it resonate? What was more believable about it than the poor hurled paperback? The boredom fades. Sitting in judgment, the discovery of talent and failure, and the contrast of characters is interesting. Until it too, becomes easy.

And now it’s time for a dose of humility.

Make them fix stories. You don’t like My Side of the Mountain? The Egypt Game? Fine. Fix them. Make them better. Force the young writer out of the destructive phase and into positive construction. And don’t just pat them on the back and smile at every proposal. Turn their critical eyes onto their own ideas. Self-regulating creativity is a must. Judge them by their own finicky judgments.

Of course, throughout all of this, the hope is that these kids are learning the basics of craft as well. The mechanics of a sentence, a paragraph, metaphor, simile, etc. But those do not make a writer. Those are tools in a builder’s hands, and they’re terrific. But the builder needs visions. The builder needs imagination, creativity, sharp critical teeth, and the ability to weigh (and discard) ideas.

For me, the critical process kicked off as a result of my father. He pushed me when I moaned about my school reading. He was fine with my constant return to favorite passages from Lewis and Tolkien, but at that phase, it was just as important to read things that I hated—so long as the hatred could be justified.

My entrance into high school brought new desires. Forget fixing other people’s stories. I wanted my own. Prose craft became the order of the day, and lots of parental encouragement (and red ink criticism). I had sharp enough eyes to know that I wasn’t any good (when compared to my favorite authors—and I truly couldn’t think of any way to describe firelight without using the word dancing). That struggle to communicate kept me going. I read more poetry. I disciplined myself by writing (bad) poetry. I focused on many, many short exercises, especially sketching real scenes and events, and trying to reproduce conversations I stole in public. (The beauty of sketching the real is that it’s easier to tell when you’ve gotten it wrong.) I read more and more broadly. All the way through college and then grad school, I focused on short, refined prose. Finally, having popped out the other end of my formal education, I began tackling novels. And here I am.

All of this is autobiographical. I have no way of asserting this as the universal path to becoming a writer. But I have a nagging belief that my own experience is hardly unique, and many’s the time that I’ve listened to the grief of parents who believe their middle school reader has passed on—bored, listless, critical . . . pupating.

I’m no beautiful butterfly. A lunar moth, maybe (if I flatter myself). But I’d like to be a dragon fly. I want mosquitoes to fear me.

The book trailer for The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards:

Be sure to check out N.D. Wilson on the rest of his blog tour!

2/8 Shadow Hunters

2/9 Books4YourKids

2/10 Here!

2/11 Eva’s Book Addiction

2/12 Becky’s Book Reviews

2/12 Fireside Musings

N.D. Wilson’s website is great- be sure to check it out!

Top Secret! Contents of One of the 100 Cupboards!

Just for TheReadingZone, N.D. Wilson has revealed what lies behind one of the 100 Cupboards. Over the course of  the series, Henry finds his Grandfather’s journal, which reveals some of the cupboard secrets. Here’s a secret about one of the cupboards that you won’t find in the books!

This place is strange. The sun is shining, but not on me. I crawled up through some kind of drain and into a narrow stone corridor without a roof. Blue sky above me, but the walls are tall enough and set close enough together that I think it must be permanently damp where I am sitting (and cold water has already seeped completely through my trousers—but adventuring has its costs). The ground around me is thick with moss, all of it sponged full of water. I have already explored this corridor, but not at any great length. It turns suddenly in both directions, occasionally bends, and frequently opens into others. Wander too far, and I could easily be in here forever. Clearly, it is some kind of labyrinth—though for what purpose, I cannot say. The only signs of life that I have encountered are actually signs of death—a thigh bone, jagged and chewed on one end, a jaw, some ribs. Which gives me an idea, dangerous perhaps, but I am here, and I will explore. I will use a bone to carve my path in the moss. Goodbye, Anastasia. Adventure is calling me . . .

Terror. I will not lie to you, never to you, Anastasia. I shiver. My heart’s teeth are chattering and my hands are shaking as I write. Safe again, but barely. Sitting on your grandfather’s bed in the hollow farmhouse. I wandered too far in that terrible maze, twisting and winding through corridor after corridor, bone-plowing a furrow in the moss as I went. Nearer the center, the bones increased—some half-swallowed by spongy green, some fresh and feeding flies. Their buzzing was the first sound I had heard in this place, beyond the quiet wind moving above these open corridors.

I reached a place with a roof, and the corridor became a tunnel—a dark mouth, breathing a terrible stink. The bones there were thicker, rattling around my feet, scraping my ankles (you know how tender they are). I stood in that mouth, listening, straining my eyes in the darkness, and I could hear breathing. Two pairs of lungs—one small and afraid, one thick and phlegmy and beastly.

Up against the wall, I could just see a young boy. His clothes were tattered around him, his face was bloodied. In his hands he gripped a long knife, almost a short sword. He was looking at me, startled, afraid.

Beyond him, a horrible creature slept in a skeletal nest, with one terrible arm hooked around a fresh kill. His body was the body of a great ape—something part animal, part human, part giant. He was covered with hair, matted with sweat and blood and filth. But his head was even more terrible—huge, horned, snouted like a baboon or a fanged bull. Snoring.

The boy whispered something to me in a language I could not understand. Then he began to creep forward, toward the beast.

“No!” I said. “Don’t wake it!”

The beast snorted, rattled its bed, and opened its bloody eyes.

Some might say that I should have stayed, but how could I have helped that poor doomed boy? It required courage enough to breathe, to swallow back my scream. And to run.

I could hear bones crunching, the boy’s shouting, and a terrible roar, and I raced back through those narrow walls to my drain, my rope, and my path out of that world and into this. I will see your face again. I have survived a terror. That poor boy, I fear, has not.

Would a coward continue on with these explorations? I have already chosen a door for tomorrow. Your great-grandfather’s description:

#14. Collected 1899. Syrian caravan. Square ebony cabinet. Four corner locks in silver. Central silver ring. Slave trader claimed it contained the ghosts and treasure of crusaders. No confirmation possible as he wouldn’t allow examination. Won it (and two camels) at dice. Left in the night, pursued.

Your grandfather’s additional note is as confusing as the last: [Kastra/Damascus/III]. But I will not learn more today. My courage must recover. Anastasia, is it strange that I will see you tonight, and listen patiently to your barbs? You will not know what you are saying, or to whom you are saying it. I am Richard Hutchins, facer of perils.

Heartbreaking News from the Monarch Bioreserves

In February 2008, I was privileged enough to travel to Michoacan, Mexico where I visited the monarch butterfly bioreserves with the Monarch Teacher Network.  (Check out my posts from the trip here.)  Right now, a group of friends and teachers is in Mexico where they should be visiting the reserves.  Instead, they are sitting in a hotel in Mexico City, trying to plan their next move.

On Friday, after extreme rainfall across central Mexico, a devastating flood struck the small mountain town of Angangueo in Michoacan. The rain lasted  for over two days and was the heaviest rainfall in over 25 years, according to authorities.
Angangueo is located directly in between two of the monarch reserves and the people there are amazing.  Due to the floods, many homes and lives have been lost.  To make matters worse, much of the mountain forests have been illegally logged, so there have been a great many mudslides in the area of El Rosario.

I can’t imagine what it is like there right now.  The government has declared Angangueo a disaster area and most of the people in the area have been evacuated to other towns. The roads into and out of the area, and up the mountain to the sanctuaries, have been damaged extensively by landslides. According to some eyewitnesses there, the road to El Rosario is impassable.  There has been very little news about the monarchs in the reserves (which pales in comparison to the human lives, of course).  But this year’s monarch population is one of the lowest in years according to scientists, at only 1.92 hectares.

This news video contains footage of Angangueo during the evacuation: (thanks to Journey North for the link)

Visiting Michoacan was a life-changing experience.  A few pictures from my trip can hardly capture the magic of the region, but it is the least I can do.  This is getting little to no media coverage in the US.  My heart is breaking for the amazing people who care for the monarch butterflies over the winter months and the losses they have suffered.  They are a resilient people, but I am keeping them in my prayers.

A hotel in Angangueo

Some children on their way to school in Angangueo

The view from the parking lot at El Rosario.  Supposedly the road is completely destroyed.

The path up the mountain at El Rosario.  A river of monarchs.

One of the restaurants run by the local people at El Rosario

A local Purepechuan women at El Rosario

The road, laid by hand by the local people, that is supposedly impassable now due to mudslides

I worry that homes like these are flooded or wiped out by mudslides

Oyamel forests like this one, at Sierra Chincua, have been illegally clearcut, resulting in the mudslides.

More information on the floods can be found here.

Character Wants vs. Obstacles Minilesson

My classes are currently in the midst of a unit in reading workshop focusing on character’s journeys, both internal and external. Earlier this week we looked at what characters really wants and on Wednesday I did a really great lesson on the obstacles that stand in their way. I thought I would share the lesson here.

I began by reviewing our lesson on character wants and desires. We then talked about what Jason, the main character in Anything But Typical (our current read aloud). My kids did a great job finding Jason’s immediate desires and his larger, overall wants. They also looked at Jason’s mom’s desires for him.

At that point we stopped and I explained that no character gets what they want without a fight. We talked about TV shows that my students enjoy watching and they shared that they would not enjoy them as much if there wasn’t a lot of drama. Degrassi was the show they really focused on and a few students shared obstacles that stood in the way of what a few main characters wanted.

At that point we read a few more pages of Anything But Typical and stopped to do some think-alouds, looking for obstacles that stood between Jason and his mother getting what they wanted. After a few class think-alouds, they students worked independently on our final think-aloud.

At that point, I told them I would be sharing with them one of my favorite picture books, and that we would be looking at what the three characters wanted and what stood in their way.  The picture book I chose to use was Fox by Margaret Wild. I love this picture book because the illustrations are gorgeous and the text is deep. It is the perfect picture book for older readers.

Each student copied a small table into their reading binder that looked like this:

Character: Wants…..: Obstacles in the way:

We listed the three characters- Dog, Magpie, and Wolf. I told the class that as I read they should stop & jot whenever they thought they knew what the character wanted “more than anything else in the world”. They should also stop & jot the obstacle(s) standing in the way.

Fox is a great choice for this activity because while there are only three characters, they are fairly complex. The students had a lot of fun trying to figure out what Fox, especially, wanted and what stood in his way. After I read the book they wrote a quick paragraph about their thoughts and shared them with a neighbor. Then we came up with a class copy of the chart that we displayed on the smartBoard. They did a fantastic job deciding what each character wanted and noticing the obstacle(s) in their way. It was a great lesson!

Picture Books for Older Readers

I have been using more and more picture books with a few of my classes this year. I’ve been looking for more resources/lists that share picture books for older readers. What are some of your favorite picture books for older readers?

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Last night I stayed up an hour past my bedtime because I absolutely could not put down Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. As a result, I went to bed only after crying through the last twenty minutes of reading.  Gayle Forman’s writing is powerful and heart-wrenching, making you feel like you are right there with Mia.

Seventeen-year old Mia is a high school cellist who has the perfect family.  Her parents are former rockers/punks who fell into parenting and her little brother is pretty cute.  (I wanted to be adopted by her family through the whole book!)  A senior in high school, she is torn between attending Juilliard on the East Coast or staying in Oregon with her family and Adam, her soon-to-be-a-rockstar boyfriend.  But on a rare Oregon snow day the whole family is home and decides to spend the day out visiting friends and family, just enjoying on another’s company.  The one moment on the slippery road changes Mia’s life forever.

One moment, Mia is in the car listening to classical music with her parents.  The next, she is outside her body staring at the mangled wreck that was her parent’s car.  Her parents are dead, her brother is missing, and she has no idea if she is alive or dead.

The rest of the book follows Mia as she is whisked away to the hospital, where she learns she is in a coma.  Unsure of where exactly she is (is she alive?  dead?) Mia watches as her extended family, friends, and boyfriend arrive at the hospital.  Over the course of a few hours, she is forced to decide if she will stay or go.  Life or death?  Is it worth living if the rest of her family has died?

This is a phenomenal book that will leave you in tears.  However, Forman also ensures that you laugh a lot, as Mia looks back on her life and family.  Everything about If I Stay is perfect and I highly recommend it.  It will leave you laughing and crying while reminding that life is precious and needs to be lived.  I don’t think I have ever read a novel about death that left me so fulfilled and happy in the end.  Forman has managed to craft a life-affirming story that will tear at your heartstrings and leave you wanting to call your family and say, “I love you” upon closing the book.

*book purchased using Scholastic Book Clubs bonus points

100 Books for 100 Days

Inspired by the Reading Countess’s post here, I decided to change my lesson plans at the last minute this morning. It’s been one of those weeks and the 100 Books for 100 Days seemed like exactly what my class and I needed. And you know what? It worked!

I began each class by having the students open their binder to their mini-lesson section and labeling a sheet of paper “My Most Important Books”. Each student was charged with listing 20 books that impacted their life- it could be a favorite book, a book that they read to their younger siblings, or a book they shared with Mom and Dad. Books could be picture books or chapter books. The only requirement was that the books be meaningful to them. I share my own list, and then set them free. Let me tell you, they set to work like little worker bees! It was quieter than normal and it was amazing to look out at the students scratching away at the paper in front of them. A few students in each class would approach me with, “I remember this book where……..But I can’t remember the name of it!” If I did not know the title off the top of my head I would google it for them.

After each student listed their 20 books, I placed the students into random groups and handed each group a blank sheet of paper. I then informed them that they would have ten minutes to combine all their lists into a single list of 20 titles their group could agree on. I listened in as students debated books, became excited over shared favorites, and laughed as students cried out, “Whoa! I totally forgot about that book! I loved that one in third grade!” It was a fantastic class.

At the end of the twenty minute period, I collected each list. I read the books to the entire class and then asked them to put their heads down on their desk. At that point, I read each title and the students raised their hand if they felt it should go on our class list of Top 25 books. (4 periods x 25 books each= 100 books). The first half of the list was always easy, but the second half of the list always resulted in students debating books and championing their favorites.

At the end of the day, I tallied all the lists, deleted duplicates, and added the books that just missed the list in each class, to reach 100. Without further ado, here are the Top 100 Books for our team (in no particular order)!

1. Dr. Seuss books (we grouped these together)
2. The Cay series
3. Shadow Children series
4. Magic Tree House series
5. Tuck Everlasting
6. Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me
7.Where the Sidewalk Ends
8. Skeleton Creek
9. The Little Engine That Could
10. Chrysanthemum
11. Number the Stars
12. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
13. The Twilight Saga
14. The Dollhouse Murders
15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
16. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
17. A Bad Case Of Stripes
18. All The Broken Pieces
19. The Phantom Tollbooth
20. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
21. Thomas the Tank Engine
22. Dear John
23. Daniel’s Story
24. Heat
25. Wayside School series
26. When You Reach Me
27. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
28. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
29. The Giving Tree
30. The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh
31. The Hunger Games
32. Fablehaven series
33. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
34. Guinness World Records
35. Love You Forever
36. Frindle
37. Arthur series
38. Where the Wild Things Are
39. The Berenstein Bears books
40. A Series of Unfortunate Events series
41. Tuesday
42. The Bible/The Torah
43. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
44. Swindle
45. Junie B. Jones’s series
46. Goodnight Moon
47. Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
48. Biscuit Storybook Collection
49. Clifford the Big Red Dog
50. Where’s Waldo?
51. Goosebumps series
52. The Kissing Hand
53. Franklin’s Classic Treasury
54. Holes
55. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
56. Stuart Little
57. Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story
58. A Million Dots
59. There Was an Old Lady
60. Guess How Much I Love You
62. Hatchet
63. Charlotte’s Web
64. Lunch Lady graphic novels
65. Rolie Polie Olie
66. On My Honor
67. The Magic School Bus series
68. Amelia Bedelia books
69. Fantastic Mr. Fox
70. Matilda
71. Anything But Typical
72. Flat Stanley
73. Because of Winn-Dixie
74. Harry Potter series
75. The Alex Rider series
76. Grayson
77. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
78. Life As We Knew It series
79. James and the Giant Peach
80. The 39 Clues series
81. Inheritance series
82. Maximum Ride series
83. Cirque Du Freak series
84. Found (The Missing, Book 1)
85. Coraline
86. Stolen Children
87. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life
88. Chains
89. Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery
90. The Name of this Book Is Secret
91. Speak
92. My Life in Pink & Green
93. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
94. Make Lemonade
95. The Chocolate Touch
96. Stone Fox
97. Marley: A Dog Like No Other
98. Babe & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure
99. The Cricket in Times Square
100. Love Story (Amiri And Odette)

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

This is a hard-hitting, heart-grabbing story of a young man stationed in Iraq.  Private Matt Duffy wakes up in a military field hospital with little memory of how he ended up there.  The doctors tell him he has a TBI- traumatic brain injury- and that he might have issues with memory and retention.

The next time he wakes up, he is being awarded a Purple Heart for his service.  Yet something tugs at the back of his mind, something not quite right.  He doesn’t feel like a hero.  And the image of his young friend, Ali, an Iraqi boy, haunts him night and day.  Matt repeatedly sees an image of Ali’s body flying into the air as a bullet hits his chest.  And he knows he had something to do with it.

I could not put this down. Purple Heart will leave your heart aching for both sides of the war. I haven’t read a lot of books that focus on the young soldiers fighting for our freedom but McCormick captures it as accurately as I imagine it could be captured. Matt’s voice rings true, like any 18 or 19 year old. (This means he and his comrades curse, a lot. Just a warning). But he sounds like you imagine a kid, thousands of miles from home, in the midst of a war, would sound like.

You will cry for Matt. You will cry for the Iraqis. Through Matt’s eyes you can will see the big things and the small things that affect a soldier.What really stands out to me about this novel are the little things that McCormick includes: the Iraqi children playing soccer, soldiers playing the video game Halo, the tokens from home that. These small mentions capture the war more accurately then any battle scene ever could.

Purple Heart is a powerful read and one I would recommend to YA’s who are looking to learn what it is like to be a soldier. McCormick doesn’t romanticize the occupation and she doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of war. While there are only a few scenes involving actually skirmishes, I feel it is a more accurate picture of what war is really like than many other novels. Highly recommended. It is also a short novel and a fast read, perfect for reluctant readers.

*Copy purchased by me.