Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Hope is a Ferris Wheel

18405519Herrera, Robin. Hope is a Ferris Wheel
March 11th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils by Esther

Star has moved into a trailer park in Calfornia with her mother and sister, Winter, near their mother's friend, Gloria, who works in a beauty salon. Star has told people in her school that she lives in the park, and the other students make fun of her for that and for her "mullet" haircut. Winter is in a school for difficult children after the family moved away from Oregon because Winter's "creative writing" about zombies eating brains and people's blood exploding got her expelled from her previous school. Star isn't thrilled with her teacher, Mr. Savage, either, especially when she writes the vocabulary sentences wrong and doesn't turn them in. He does, however, let her start a Trailer Park Club, and only the twins Denny and Genny, whose older brother goes to school with Winter, join. Winter gets a job at the mall in order to make enough money to drive back to Oregon to visit their father, but when they finally get there, they find out some old and new family secrets. Star has changed the club to an Emily Dickinson club, which attracts a few more members, and starts taking an interest in poetry. Eventually, she comes to understand that her family has its share of problems, but the members love each other and work their way through them.
Strengths: At Kidlitcon, we talked about diversity in books, and this certainly had a lot of details about living as a member of the working poor. Things aren't horrible in Star's family, but their trailer is a bit run down, they have a food card, and talk about wearing hand-me-downs and shopping at thrift stores. There are not as many books with this kind of setting. Even the characters are not typically middle class; there are details about the mother's struggles with single teen motherhood that would seem familiar to some students and very foreign to others.
Weaknesses: Nothing really happens. There's one food fight that has its moments, but this is a very slow paced book. I don't know that students can be beguiled to read a book about a poetry club and making friends. The vocabulary sentences are vaguely amusing to me (I adored writing them in the 6th grade), but most of my students thought the inclusion of them was pendantic.

21816730Flower, Amanda. Andi Under Pressure
September 16th 2014 by Zonderkidz
Nominated for the Cybils by author/publisher

In this sequel to Andi Unexpected, Andi and her friends are going to a science camp at Michael Pike University, where Andi's aunt works. Andi and her sister are living with their aunt after the death of their scientist parents while on a work assignment.Even though the camp is a bit geeky, Andi likes it, so when explosions, missing equipment, and other small catastrophes mar it and threaten to close it down, Andi and her friends start to investigate. The strongest suspect is janitor Polk, who was implicated in the death of a security guard's father 40 years ago and was made to step down from his position of professor. The college science students are where the police should really be looking, and Andi figures out the mystery.
Strengths: This author is from Akron, so there are some nice Ohio ties. Science teachers are frequently asking me for books that will support their curriculum, so there might be some tie ins with chemistry and other science topics. Good to include if students like clue oriented mysteries.
Weaknesses: Stretched my personal credulity to think that students would be sabotaging Bunsen burners, but maybe not. I also didn't think it was necessary to kill Andi's parents, but that's an ongoing complaint with middle grade novels in general.

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