Greenwald, Tommy. Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting
February 17th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
Copy received from Lauren Burniac, MacMillan Publishing Group
Katie and her friends spend a lot of time on their phones, especially during lunch at school, the only time when they are allowed to use them. Of course, they also text each other on the bus, coordinate pick up times and math book deliveries with their parents, and play games and watch programs at home in the evening. Even when Nareem, Katie's boyfriend, takes her to a Plain Jane concert and Jane asks from the stage that people put their phones away and experience the concert in person, Katie has to take pictures and record songs so that she can upload them to Facebook when she gets home. It's not until Katie sends a text about not liking Nareem anymore to Nareem instead of Charlie that she realizes how much of her life is under the control of her phone. She does go to apologize to Nareem in person-- she'd been thinking about breaking up with him for days, not because he isn't wonderful but because she's in middle school. He is as gracious as he can be, and even facilitates communication between Katie and Jane. Jane is impressed after meeting Katie back stage at the concert, and challenges Katie to get ten of her friends to give up their cell phones for a week. If she can, Jane will sing Katie's song at her next concert. Katie manages to enlist the help of the pretty Eliza in a rather sneaky way, and ten people do give up their phones. They find other ways to pass the time, fight off some negatives "phonies" who refuse to part with their devices (including Charlie), and deal with parents who are less than happy about not being able to reach them. Will it be enough to impress Jane and get her to keep her end of the bargain?
Strengths: I've been a huge Charlie Joe Jackson fan for a long time, and this book is an excellent addition to the canon! There have been times when CJJ stretched my credulity a bit, but this was spot on, including having a teacher tell Katie that the parents would have to be notified if the school were taking their children's phones away. Katie's use of Eliza, and her later insight into parts of Eliza's personality of which she was unaware, was rather brilliant, the romances are age appropriate, and even the inclusion of a famous rock singer is realistic (she went to their middle school.) It is also a good way to have students question their own cell phone use. This can be enjoyed even if you haven't read CJJ, and I would bet that all of my boys will be eager readers of this one even though Katie is on the cover.
Weaknesses: This includes an overscheduled character, Jake, whose mother doesn't want him to give up the phone. At first, I thought this must be the title character in another CJJ book, but then I realized that character is Jack Strong Takes a Stand. It doesn't really matter, but it would have been nice if there were just one character with a J name who was overscheduled.
It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.
Hunt, Linda Mullaly. Fish in a Tree.
February 5th 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
ARC from Penguin Young Readers
Ally struggles in school, often getting in trouble for flippant behavior that she uses to deflect the teacher's attention to the fact that she has trouble reading and writing. When she gives her teacher a sympathy card at a baby shower, she gets in even more trouble, but no one at school still pays attention. Her family has moved around quite a bit because her father is in the military, but her brother has had problems with reading as well. Luckily, the substitute for the pregnant teacher, Mr. Daniels, is a little more flexible in his assignments and eventually realizes that Ally is struggling with dyslexia. He also works to put an end to the mean girl tactics exhibited by Shay and her friends, who also target that oddly verbose but poorly dressed Albert, as well as Keisha, who is interested in baking.
Strengths: Even though I enjoyed this author's One for the Murphys, I had concerns about this one. There are particular flavors of problem novels that students like, and they tend to be domestic abuse, drugs, cutting or anorexia, and homelessness. (Hey, just reporting on a dozen years of conversations with students!) School problems generally appeal to younger students, but I found this book to be hopeful and engaging. There's some interesting diversity (economic instability, race, learning difficulties) and positive adult influence, which is rather rare in books these days. I think that students who enjoy Wonder will like this one. The cover is appealing, the message is good: I think I'll buy a copy.
Weaknesses: Albert seems a little over the top, but he never quite annoyed me. I also found it hard to believe that no one had realized Ally's reading difficulties-- sometimes it seems like every student in my school is on an IEP! When we have new students who are struggling, it's usually not more than two weeks before we all start to discuss what can be done to help bolster the child's academic success.