What is your reading goal this year?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just Fine the Way They Are by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "Mr. John Slack, keeper of a tavern beside a rutted road in the early 1800's, thought things were just fine they way they were. So did Lucius Stockton, who ran the National Road Stage Company in the mid-1800's. So did the owners of the railroads when the first Model T appeared in 1908. The need to move around the United States more quickly, more comfortably, and, now, more "greenly" means things will never be just fine the way they are."

I did not read that summary before I read the book (maybe I should have). I opened up the book and fell in love. The illustrations are amazing. The story is fun, educational, and historical. I love it when children's books authors add history and make it interesting. I don't know if all the people the book highlights really lived, or if they are just fictional, but the historical facts are supposed to be accurate. It's a fun way to portray the evolution of transportation in the United States. I thought it would be a great tool for parents and teachers. I loved it! I was very excited to read it to my kids.....

....Until I got to the second to last page. And then I got so sad. And a little angry. The book takes a sad turn when it goes political on the second to last page. Oh, I can't tell you how sad it made me. After looking at all these happy, light, airy illustrations, this page is dark and ugly.

Sorry, just let me stand up on my soapbox for a minute: I do not care what political affiliation you are. I don't care who you vote for or campaign for. I don't care what side your opinion of the political arena falls in. As an adult, I don't care. I'm a big girl and I can listen to what you have to say and weigh the issues. I can take that information and make up my own mind. Unfortunately, children do not have that power. Children are influenced by everything around them, for good or bad. They do not have the power to look at the facts and make up their own minds. That is why politics should be left OUT of all children's literature and movies. I find it very distasteful to try and slip a political agenda into a picture book. And it doesn't matter if it's a political agenda I agree with or disagree with, it should be left out. I would have been completely fine with Ms. Wooldridge skipping the second to last page and leaving in the last page. Both those pages are heavy in sarcasm, which children do not understand, but the last page is ok. Concluding with how the transportation we have now will probably not be what we always have is fine, and true. Even saying how we should not be the ones holding back the innovation would be fine. Unfortunately, she did not do that. She had to ruin this great book by adding her political views.

Will I read this to my children? Yes because 97% of it is fabulous. However, I will be skipping the second to last page, and most likely the last page as well. I will just skip over to the timeline in the back, which is a very good resource.

Rating: G Good, clean book, except for the last two pages filled with sarcasm and a political agenda.

Recommendation: 1 and up! The little kids will love the illustrations of the trains and other forms of transportation. My recommendation: skip the second to last page and maybe the last page. Teachers, especially, should stay away from the politics in this book. If my child came home from school touting something political he had learned from a picture book I would not be very happy.

I wish I had a better review for this book because the beginning is so great!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Adventures of Dod

The Adventures of Dod by Thomas R. Williams

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "Years ago, a father went missing. Recently, a grandfather died. Now, fourteen-year-old Cole finds himself inexplicably transported to the world of Green, a place where he must use his special abilities and unique friendships to solve mysteries and, ultimately, try to stop an evil villain named The Dread."

First let me explain how I came about this book. The elementary school my children used to attend received a few boxes of this book, intended for each student in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. A few people in my book group work at the school and the principal asked if our book group would review it before they handed them out to the children. Interesting. So, of course, we decided we better review it.

I'm torn with this one. Usually I know exactly what I want to say. I just finished all 507 pages and I don't know. I'll start with this.....it was okay. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. Do I want my 4th grader to read it? I don't know. The first few pages are quite violent, and there are some violent scenes in it following that (poisonings, sword fights, scary creatures, characters dying), but the whole story is not that violent. My problem with this book is that I kind of don't get it. I know it's part of a series, but there are so many unanswered questions, so many things that just don't make sense to me. There are a ton of characters and places and I couldn't keep any of it straight. Things are not explained very well in the book. For example, Cole, the main character, ends up in this other world. He's never been there before, but yet he "remembers" some things. Huh? He has memories of some events and places and people that he's never been to or met. How? Why does he know some things but not others?  How does he know anything at all? Maybe I shouldn't try so hard and just enjoy the read, but I can't. It really bothers me. I don't understand how he can just take some one's place and no one notices. Also, what are coosings and pots?  There are a lot of made up words that just are not fully explained or clarified. Another thing that bothered me was that the first chapter ties into the book, but it's not easily apparent. When I finished I went back and read it again and it still took me a minute to figure out how it played in.
The story itself is okay. It's interesting and could be really good, I think. There are twists and turns and surprises. There's suspense, drama, action, and a little flirting. It's just that there is so much to it that isn't fully explained, and it's so long that it takes away from the plot. My 4th and 3rd graders kept asking me if they could read it and they could, I think. My 4th grader has read all the Harry Potters and Fablehavens, and together we've read all the Percy Jacksons, so I think, in that sense, it would be okay for them to read. I just don't know if they could keep it all straight, since I couldn't. If I hadn't been reviewing it I don't know if I would have finished. I think they may lose interest because it's so confusing. I do think it is better for 4th grade boys....girls may not like it as much. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to put it all together, but it shouldn't be that hard. It's too bad because I think it could be really good. I wish he had left out a lot of the extras that ended up taking away from the storyline. Or, I wish he had just clarified and defined things a little better. An index in the back with character names and a map would have helped a lot!

I did really like the morals and lessons in the book, though. Dod doesn't pick fights, he just fights the ones he needs to. He sticks up for and respects women. He makes good decisions based on memories of his family members teaching him those things. He shows respect for elders and most authority figures and he is humble in his accomplishments. I like those things a lot and liked that part of the storyline.

Rating: PG (almost PG-13) Violence, death, but no language or "physical intimacy"

Recommendation: I guess I'll stick with 4th grade and up. If your child has read books like "Harry Potter" or "Fablehaven" then he or she should be fine reading this, if they can keep up with the characters and places.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Gift of Love

A Gift of Love by Dr. Claus

(Summary taken from the press release) "[A gift of Love] is a children's picture book written through the eyes of a second grade student not far from ground zero on September 11, 2001. As this story unfolds, you will discover how one brave New York City firefighter, father and husband, can inspire a nation and show us all how love for each other is as strong as any form of destruction. A Gift of Love highlights the love of a father for his family, his love for his community, the love of a nation and the ultimate in love. Follow a little girl as she goes from pajamas to pancakes and as she gets ready for her first day of school. Discover the events that happen at breakfast as the family prepares for the coming day."

I received this book awhile ago, but I thought I would highlight it right before the ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001. This book is not happy, but neither was anything else that happened on that day. I am not from New York or Washington D.C., and I did not know anyone that died on that day. But as an American I felt sadness, fear, confusion, anger, panic, and many more emotions.

This book follows a second grade girl on September 11, 2001. It discusses the events that occurred in a very personal, intimate, and child friendly way. This book definitely requires a parent reading with the child. It serves as a good introduction to what happened and allows for discussions to begin from there. It will be easy to adapt the discussions from there to the maturity and level of each individual child. It teaches that love is more powerful than hate, and it teaches the importance of family. I think it also teaches that we should not take those that we love for granted, and that we should enjoy each moment we have with each other. You never know what will happen.

The illustrations in this book are not my favorite, but they are okay. The content and story make up for the illustrations.

I can't say I'm excited to read this book with my children, but I think it will help a lot. With the ten year anniversary on Sunday (My oldest is not quite ten yet, so none of them were alive on September 11, 2001.) I know there will be stories about it everywhere, and I want to discuss it with my kids before they hear it elsewhere.  I will for sure read it with my two oldest, and I'm still trying to decide if I should read it to my third. My youngest is still little so I probably will not read it to her yet.

Thank you, Dr. Claus, for writing a story to help us parents discuss some difficult things with our children. It focuses on hope, not hatred or destruction, so it doesn't leave parent or child with feelings of fear or hopelessness.

Rating: PG (The events of September 11, 2001 are discussed, and there is the death of a main character.)

Recommendation: 5 and up. This totally depends on the maturity of your children. My third is 5 and I'm not sure with her yet. For younger children (who can't read) you could change the story a little to make it a little more on their level.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ruin

The Ruin by Kenneth Fenter

(Summary taken from the last page of the book) "Kenneth Fenter's The Ruin is part coming-of-age novel, part Robinson Crusoe, part history lesson, and wholly deserving of an audience of both adults and teenagers. The novel follows Clifton Kelly, a bullied 8th grader in the early 50's, and him as an adult celebrating his last day of teaching. Cliff's retirement day turns tragic when a fellow teacher is murdered by her own son, who then goes to Cliff's sister school and kills students there. The boy's bloody response to bullying triggers Cliff's memories of being bullied during school, and his own response to it."

I really liked this story. It isn't a really fast read, but it is thought-provoking and interesting. It kept me reading. I liked the characters in the book and thought they were well developed. They were believable and I felt I could relate to many of them. I think almost everyone has dealt with bullying on some level, and so the scenes with Cliff and Hector will relate to a lot of people. I could relate to Mrs. Campbell as a teacher, and as a mother I could relate to Cliff's mother.

I had mixed emotions with Cliff's reaction to Hector's bullying. From Cliff's standpoint I see it as a good thing for him. I see how he needed to heal, and how he was able to. From a teacher's standpoint I would think of myself as a failure for not doing more to help the situation. From Cliff's mom's point of view I was furious with him. I could not believe he did that! If one of my children did that I would be furious! I would also be upset with myself for not doing more to prevent the situation to begin with. I felt so bad for her the entire time.

I liked the descriptions in this book. Not being familiar with the area, I needed a lot of description, and that is what I got. Mr. Fenter's descriptive language is beautiful. His descriptions of Cliff's daily activities were so vivid I felt as if I were watching the story through binoculars.

I did have one problem with this book and that was all the typos. There were a lot of typos in the book and it really bothered me. There were some sentences that I just had to guess on. Hopefully he will fix that for future editions. Other than that and a few swear words, I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: PG-13 (Some language, a high school shooting with a teacher and students dead, details about Santa Claus that younger readers may not know, and details about surviving in the wild.)

Recommendation: 14 or 15 and up. I think by this age teens will be able to learn from the story, read it, and enjoy it, without being overwhelmed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Matched by Ally Condie

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket)"Cassia has always trusted their choices. It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one...until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path no one else has ever dared follow--between perfection and passion."

It was Tuesday and my Book Group was on Thursday. I still didn't have the book. I headed to the book store and they were out. Then I went to another book store. Phew, they had it. I got home and started reading......and I didn't stop until the next afternoon (Wed.) when I finished. I really liked this book. It's a fast, easy read. It is reminiscent of "Hunger Games" and has a hint of "Uglies" in it as well. Ms. Condie's writing style is close to Ms. Collin's style in "Hunger Games," but it is much lighter. The premises are similar in that the people in this book live in a very controlled society, which seems to be a popular theme right now.

I felt an instant connection to the characters in this book. The character development is very good, and you feel like you live in this neighborhood and the characters are your long-time neighbors. I felt deep loss when Cassia's grandfather passed away, and I felt anger when events happened at the end of the book. This book just drew me in and I couldn't put it down. I also loved that it was clean. There was no language, no "physical intimacy," besides kissing, and very little harsh violence. You do see some violence but a lot of it is hinted at, and it is related to the controlled society. I also liked that this book made me think. A lot. I thought a lot about the lines I would draw between safety and freedom, between having a "perfect" life (no sickness, a perfect marriage partner, the perfect job for me, dying at the perfect time, etc.) and a perfect life (the life I make for myself, the choices I make, and learning and growing from trials). The thing I couldn't handle was them destroying the library!!! No! And it may seem crazy that she didn't know how to write the letters, but with computers and texting, that one isn't too far off....

Rating: PG There is some kissing and some violence connected with the controlled society.

Recommendation: 13 or 14 and up. I'm going to say this right now, but it will depend on the next book in the series. If the next book ("Crossed" comes out Nov. 1, 2011) gets more violent or she adds language or something, then this may change. For right now, yes, I can say it truly is a young adult book!

And yes, I can't wait for Nov. 1st to come!