Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

I love, love, love Rebecca Stead.  I reviewed her debut, First Light, in one of my first blog posts ever.  And I have very fond memories of sharing When You Reach Me as a read aloud in my sixth grade classes. I’ve been waiting for her newest novel for what seems like ages!

Liar & Spy does not disappoint. Rebecca Stead is the queen of setting.  Her New York City stories are utter perfection; I feel like I am walking the streets with her characters, listening to the traffic, and in this case, watching the parrots.  But her characters don’t suffer for this.  Georges (yes, with a silent ) is a middle schooler dealing with a load of issues.  His parents recently had to sell their beautiful home and move the family to a small apartment.  His father lost his job and is trying to build his own business now.  Mom is always at the hospital, where she works as a nurse.  Georges’ best friend is suddenly a “cool” kid and can’t give him the time of day.  So when Georges meets Safer, a pretty weird kid who lives in the new building, they form a strange friendship.  It’s strange because Safer is obsessed with spying on his neighbors.  Think Harriet the Spy, but slightly more modern.

Ahh, but things aren’t as they seem. At least not at first glance.  Stead is a master of plot twists and it continues to be true in Liar & Spy.  I won’t spoil it here, but it’s not a sci-fi twist like Stead’s last novel.  However, it’s just as masterfully crafted.  Upon finishing the book, and upon finishing it as a read aloud, I wanted to turn back to first page and reread it.  There were clues I missed along the way and I wanted to go back and catch them.  And my campers felt the same way.  One of them emailed me to say that she went out and purchased her own copy to read because she enjoyed it so much!

Highly recommended.  Great for middle school and high school readers, and even upper elementary!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher


Bookworm Camp Day 5….The Last Day!

Yesterday was the last day of my bookworm camp!  I am thrilled with how it turned out and I’ve already started planning for next year.  The campers were wonderful and we had a lot of fun!

We spent yesterday finished Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. We read for about 40 minutes before lunch and 40 minutes after lunch and you could hear a pin drop in the room. When we weren’t reading, we took some time to learn about Seurat and practice pointillism (so hard!). We also watched a clip from Sunday in the Park with George (because I am a Broadway  geek and I love introducing kids to musical theater).

We also took some time to try some spying of our own.  We went outside and sat on the college campus, taking notes on the comings and goings of the college’s students and visitors.  It was a lot of fun!

We ended the day with an evaluation of the camp and I handed out a whole lot of ARCs and extra review copies I had received.  It was like Christmas morning when I told the campers they could take home as many books as they wanted!

Feedback on the camp was FABULOUS.  The only suggestion the campers had was to focus on four books and a read aloud next year.  They suggested that I stick with three novels and add a graphic novel.  Definitely something I am considering!

One of the campers sent me an email last night and I just want to share a few of her thoughts here.  If you are considering running a bookworm camp next year, this should help solidify your decision!

First, ‘Book It’ camp was a fantastic experience for me. I especially like the way it was taught, or rather, not taught.
You let us campers have open discussions on any and all topics, which was a pleasant surprise…our talks on the books evolved into debates regarding the ethics of GloFish being for sale in pet stores. In fact, in this camp not only did I learn about books and how they are made, but also the culture of Korea, the impending supervolcano apocalypse, whether or not it makes sense to have ‘dolphin jails’, how the first Disney movie was Snow White, and countless other things.
I really appreciated how you…spoke to us as equals- listening to our opinions on subjects like they mattered, and not acting as though we had no idea what we were talking about just because of our age.
Another great thing about the camp was ‘Liar and Spy‘… you have a talent for reading aloud!
I wanted  to express my gratitude for all you have done this week. Because of you I was able to experience the perfect camp for me, meet others who shared my interests, and even speak with an author!
 Yup, I’ll be doing this again next summer.  All of my campers promised to return next year and to bring their book-loving friends!

Bookworm Camp Day 4!

Today was all about Karen Sandler’s Tankborn. I was really looking forward to today because there is so much to talk about in Tankborn! Class structure, genetic modification, the definition of human- lots of great conversations to be had!

We started the morning with a discussion of the book itself. The kids talked about their favorite characters, their feelings about the setting, questions they had, etc. It was a productive conversation and they were really enthusiastic. The discussion naturally moved towards the controversy surrounding bioengineering and genetic modification. Exactly as I expected.  This gave us the opportunity to watch Paul Root Wolpe’s TED talk: It’s Time to Question Bio-engineering. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must take 20 minutes to listen to Wolpe.  He is a bioethicist and his talk will blow your mind! The campers were fascinated by some of the animals and modifications that he shared.

After watching Wolpe’s talk and discussing some of the animals, the kids then designed their own genetically modified animals or plants.  After drawing them and coloring them in they presented them to the class and rationalized their place in the world.

The campers were really enthusiastic about bioethics so we too some time to debate a few scenarios presented in the NIH’s Bioethics curriculum guide. Some weird stuff has been designed by scientists!  Did you know there are Glofish? Originally developed to help scientists discover pollution in waterways, they are now sold in pet stores like Petsmart and Petco.  Their genes have been injected with bioluminescence from coral so the fish are neon colored and glow under black light!  We had never heard of Glofish and they caused quite a controversy in the room.  Some of my campers wanted to buy them immediately while the others were horrified at the very thought, for moral reasons.  It was a great debate!

Before lunch, we read another 30 pages of Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy, which the kids are loving. We took a few minutes to watch a SciFri video presentation about the parrots in Brooklyn, which we all learned a lot from.

After lunch we decided to do our afternoon reading outside. We read for about 40 minutes and it was wonderful!

Then it was time to go back inside and continue our discussion of Tankborn.  We watched a few author interview videos from Karen Sandler’s website and then studied the maps of Loka that are available there.  I also shared the short story that Karen Sandler has made available on her website.  This led to a great conversation about the meaning of the word human and we should define it.  I told them about the Declaration of Rights of Cetaceans and we researched the intelligence of whales and dolphins.  The idea of giving dolphins and whales “person rights” was very intriguing to my campers. We spent the rest of the afternoon discussing whether or not dolphins and whales deserve to have rights and to have those rights protected.

Tomorrow is our last day!  I’m sad to see the week end but I am looking forward to finishing  Liar & Spy and spending the day talking about Seurat, acting as spies, and reading!  Plus, I have books to give away tomorrow!