Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: The Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science.
Who knew that sugar had such a storied history? Both authors discovered that their families had ties to different areas of sugar production and set out to discover more about this history, resulting in a book that takes us from honey used by the ancient Greeks, to sugar cane in Indian and its dissemination to other parts of the world, to Europe and the development of beet sugar. This well-formatted book has good maps and illustrations, and its length (126 pages without the notes) is a good one for middle school.
Strengths: Very complete, and interesting as well. I was drawn in by the authors' connections. My family discussed this at dinner, causing several other members to pick it up. Not at all surprised that this was mentioned for some awards.
Weaknesses: This will be a hard sell, but this is the rare book that I will buy because of its quality even if it does not see much circulation.
Schroder, Monika. The Dog in the Wood.
I was so impressed by this author's Saraswati's Way that I had to read her other work. Her first novel is set in Germany at the conclusion of World War II, and is based on the experiences of her father, who was a boy when the Russia's took over the area where he lived. This is a slim volume, but a powerful one. Fritz loves to garden, and is happy living with his mother, sister and grandparents. When the Nazis are defeated, his grandfather (who had been a Nazi sympathizer) commits suicide with Fritz's grandmother rather than have to face to communist regime. Indeed, things are difficult; Russians steal livestock and valuables from the farm, and Russians are billeted in the house. Eventually, the land is taken to be distributed to citizens more supportive of the communists. The family, along with Lech, a Polish farm worker who has stayed loyally by the family, move in with another grandmother, only to have the mother sent to a work camp. Fritz tries to see the best in the situations, although he longs for the way things used to be.
Strengths: A different and very vivid account of Europe after the war. I hope that the 8th grade teachers will allow this to be included in the Holocaust novel unit, since it adds a new view of the time.
Weaknesses: Even though Fritz is ten, I would be leery of giving this to younger students, because of the hopelessness and suicide.
Mills, Claudia. One Square Inch.
Cooper tries to keep his mother and sister functioning in Colorado without the help of his grandfather, but it's difficult. His mother will stay in bed for days on end, and then jump into a million projects even if more pressing ones are not finished. Then she'll return to sleeping all the time. Since Cooper has started middle school, he has problems of his own, fitting in. Also, his sister Carly is obsessed with deeds to one square inch of land in Alaska that the grandfather has given the children. Things escalate, and it becomes clear that Cooper's mother is not able to cope alone, and Carly is affected by her dysfunction as well.
Strengths: This is a good portrayal of a family's struggles with bipolar disorder. I liked how Cooper tried to keep things together by himself but eventually calls in trusted adults to help him.
Weaknesses: There were too many things going on. I did not care for the portion of the story with Carly and "Inchland". Smacked a bit of Bridge to Terebithia and didn't add much to the story. Mills' forte is realistic fiction and school stories. I intend to hand this to Picky Reader and see what she thinks.
Many thanks to the TONS of people who commented on Friday! I'd answer more of the comments, but it's freezing at my computer at home! My middle schoolers are ages 11-14, for the reader in Australia. And as for my district having a lot of money-- we are much more fortunate than many districts, but the reason I am able to buy so many books is that I spend every cent of my budget on new books. No tape, paper, supplies, videos, software, online databases, nothing. I figure if the students read the books, that's where the money should go. Our district provides $8-10 per child per year, and I stretch it as far as I can, making lots of my own purchases.
It looks like I'll stay here at Blogger, with this name, but I MIGHT change the yellow to a more pleasing color!