Gebhart, Ryan. There Will Be Bears.
April 22nd 2014
by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
Tyson has some trouble concentrating, but only on certain things, like school. His best friend Brighton prefers to hang out with his new football playing friends, so that's difficult as well. Playing video games is easy, as is hanging around with his grandpa Gene. Tyson and his grandfather are preparing a hunting trip for Tyson's 13th birthday. They intend to go out into the wilderness with a guide, shoot an elk, and have Tyson field dress it. When Gene goes into a nursing home that is a couple of hours away because he has a kidney condition and needs dialysis, Tyson is afraid the hunting trip will never happen. When his parents, who are leery of letting an almost 80 year old man with a medical condition traipse around the woods with a teenager, find out that there have been bear attacks in the area where the hunt was planned, Gene and Tyson have to come up with a really clever plan to hunt without letting them know. They manage, but along the way there are family secrets that surface, and the trip is not without problems, but Tyson and Gene manage to accomplish what they had long planned.
Strengths: Disclaimer: I hate hunting. But I really, really loved this book, so that says something about the quality of the writing! I am a sucker for a book with grandparents, but they can be hard to sell to students. This one won't be. Tyson was a believably drawn teenager-- I especially enjoyed his Taylor Swift obsession and his relationship with his younger sister. The parents' reactions are realistic, but Tyson and Gene's desire to take a first (and last) hunting trip makes sense, too. Even the hunting scenes are interesting and make sense. This was just the right length, too, and had fun details-- Tyson and his grandfather chugging prune juice was a great way to start the book.
Weaknesses: There is a rather graphic scene of field dressing the elk that isn't for the faint of heart. While the family secret was okay, it wasn't absolutely necessary.
Marvelous Middle Grade
Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading?
day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog.
Acampora, Paul. I Kill the Mockingbird
4 May 2014, Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Lucy, whose mother is recuperating from a particularly tough battle with cancer, is leery of entering high school in the fall, but excited about the summer reading list she is given at the end of the year. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of her favorite books, and one that her former language arts teacher, "Fat Bob" Nowak, particularly loved. Mr. Nowak passed away due to a major heart attack, and Lucy is sad that To Kill the Mockingbird is one of the choices and not required by everyone. With her friends Elena, whose uncle runs a used book store, and Michael, on whom she has a crush, she sets out on a campaign to increase demand for the book by decreasing the supply. The friends sneak in to libraries and bookstores and hide copies of the books (they don't steal them, mind), leaving behind a flyer directing people to a web site. There is also a social media campaign, and before they know it, copies of the book are disappearing all over the US and the national media cover the event. Lucy knows that she and her friends have to come clean, but how much trouble will they get into on behalf of their favorite book?
Strengths: Avid readers will love the wealth of literary allusions in this one. The characters are all fun, the writing is clever and funny, and there are tons of very nice touches. Lucy's mother has an especially good scene where she tells Lucy to stop worrying so much. Lots to like about this, and Mr. Acampora mentions in his afterword several blogs I frequent as being the genesis for his idea.
Weaknesses: I'm not a To Kill a Mockingbird lover. Fahrenheit 451, absolutely.. Picky Reader, when questioned, admitted that everyone in her class last year was not very fond of the book. I'm not sure that there are many 8th graders who would feel a connection to the Harper Lee classic, which makes this book a bit harder to sell. I also have my doubts about books where children start internet sensations, but that's mainly because I would like to hire them to hype my blog.
In short, this will be mentioned for lots of awards, and teachers will adore it, but I'm a bit unsure how it will resonate with the target demographic. This is too bad, because Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face is a big hit with my readers.
Lasky, Kathryn and Trueman, Matthew. One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin.
14 March 2014, Candlewick.
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
In the tradition of Childhood of Famous Americans, this biography of Darwin starts with an examination of his formative years, spent in a house with parents who encouraged him to explore the world around him. By turns focused on things that interested him, yet unable to stick with the career path suggested by his father, this book explores the ingredients that combined to make Darwin a driving force in new theories of animal adaptations. Accompanied by amusing illustrations, this biography gives a good overview of not only the individual, but his contributions to science.
Strengths: This explains an interesting scientist with complete information and amusing anecdotes. The illustrations give some levity to a biography that could be dry if treated differently.
Weaknesses: There is a cognitive disconnect between the information presented and the format in which it is presented. The reading level on this is listed at 6.8, which is a fair surmise, but the interest level is listed as k-3, based, I assume, on the illustrations. The font is very small, and considering the very short length of this (42 pages), could have been formatted so that the words were not crammed together on the page. I'm not really sure of the audience for this. If put together differently, this would be a great resource, but for older students I like to see the occasional photograph or period illustration instead of all cartoons.