Monday, December 10, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Shadow

Morpurgo, Michael. Shadow.
30 September 2012, HarperCollins

Aman and his mother have been living in England for six years when they are told they have not gained political asylum and must return to Afghanistan. They are placed in the Yarl's Wood detention center. Matt, a good friend of Aman's, enlists the help of his grandfather to try to help the family. When the grandfather visits to try to find out the story, Aman tells him about the death of his father, how the family was living with an elderly grandmother in a cave, and how an uncle in England was able to bring Aman and his mother into England. Aman also tells the story of Shadow, a foreign dog who adopted Aman and protected him from soldiers on his way out of Afghanistan. Shadow has an interesting connection to the English armed forces, and this helps Aman in many ways.
Strengths: Don't want to give away some of the twists here. Did enjoy this and think it is a good addition to books on Afghanistan.I especially liked how it detailed Aman's difficult trip to England, and I didn't know that springer spaniels were the dog of choice for the British army.
Weaknesses: This had a particularly British tone to it; dogs are considered dirty and kept outside in Afghanistan, but Aman warmed up to the idea of sleeping with the dog curled up next to him right away. This makes for a good story, certainly, but points out how much the British love their dogs. (I once attended an Anglican church where the minister's dog slept under the front pew every week!)

 It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Wrapped in Foil.

Hokey PokeySpinnelli, Jerry. Hokey Pokey
8 January 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from

I rarely come right out and say that a book is awful. If I really dislike a book, I just don't review it, and I often say that it's just not something my students want. I've debated and debated about this new book by Spinelli, and feel that I really have to say something about it since many teachers and librarians will buy anything that he writes. With good reason-- Spinelli has some amazing books. Milkweed, Stargirl, The Library Card-- all good stuff. This, not so much.

If James Joyce wrote a novel for middle grade students, this could likely be the result. Admittedly, I didn't read the whole thing, because the poetic language made it hard to discern any plot whatsoever. I read part of the beginning to a sixth grade class, and they were completely confused. Some of my library helpers also read some and could not continue very far. Middle graders normally don't want language that's really hard to figure out, like "plumspun in the thistledown dawn" or "over flowers and The Wall and the mutter of badwords in Jailhouse sails the call of Tarzan. Over Snuggle Stop and Tattooer and Tantrum and Stuff. Veering wide around Socks, over Thousand Puddles and Doll Farm and Trucks.Over great plains and the wild herd flies Jack's lament, over sleepers sleeping and monsters monstering, and all the badlands and goodlands of Hokey Pokey to the everlistening ears of Jack's best pals, LaJo and Dusty. Amigos."

Had I bought this, I would have been GREATLY disappointed. So I would recommend that anyone wishing to purchase this take a look at it before putting money into it. You can choose for yourself!

From the Publisher: "Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that's impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli has written a dizzingly inventive fable of growing up and letting go, of leaving childhood and its imagination play behind for the more dazzling adventures of adolescence, and of learning to accept not only the sunny part of day, but the unwelcome arrival of night, as well.  


  1. Yikes! Thanks for the heads up on Spinelli. He is an author I usually do just "trust." Guess I won't do that with this one!

  2. Darn, too bad about Spinelli's new book. I honestly find it is hit or miss w/his titles... Can't wait to read Shadow!

  3. Personally, I hated Stargirl.

  4. Goodness, it does sound awful Thanks for the heads up!

  5. I'm buying it because I know patrons will ask for it (I'm at a public library). I love Spinelli's books--and if the quote you included is indicative of the language throughout...well, I really, really dislike books like that. Just my personal opinion. I'll read it, though, and keep an open mind. Because I've got to figure out what the heck that passage is about.

  6. Yikes! It's such a bummer about Hokey Pokey - from the publisher's description, it seems like the story was promising. It's too bad the language killed it.

    I'll have to look up Shadow, though! :-)

  7. Oh no, I normally enjoy Spinelli and so do my students.

  8. Hi Miss Yingling, I always enjoy reading your reviews as they are always so fresh and honest. Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorites, so it breaks my heart a little bit to see that this one doesn't seem to resonate with most children. I'd still give this one a go though and check out whether the inventiveness and the whimsy of the language would appeal to me. :) I have a few Morpurgo titles that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, hope I find "Shadow" soon.