Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Go to Teach Mentor Texts to see what other educators are reading and recommending today!  I finished two very different YA books this week. I may join one of the various reading challenges I've seen the past few weeks or just keep reading the books my students continue to recommend.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata was a book I read aloud to my wife.  It would also be a great book to read aloud to a class of students, especially those with fewer rural life experiences.  Summer is a twelve-year-old daughter of Japanese harvesters who have been having a spell of bad luck for almost a year.  Usually her whole family, parents, grandparents and younger brother (who is intelligent but somewhere on the Autism Spectrum), spend the spring and summer harvesting wheat from Texas to Canada.  This year, her parents are in Japan helping dying grandparents and Summer must spend the entire summer with her strict but loving (and lovable) grandparents.  The kids help grandma with the cooking and the grandpa is a combine driver.  The challenges of the daily grind, family life in flux, trying to find friend for her brother, secret crushes, and fears (she did catch malaria from a mosquito the year before) are all compellingly told from Summer’s point of view.  She works to understand her grandma, her brother, the adult world, her own responsibilities, when to tell the truth and when to stand up for herself.  A few illustrations of combines, harvesting, and mosquitos help give the reader an understanding of some of the descriptions and also of Summer. A good story well-told and full of humor.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan weaves together the lives of several rural, gay, high school age boys around an attempt to break the world record for the longest kiss.  Craig and Harry have not dated for a year, but they are going to try and kiss for over thirty hours on the front lawn of their high school, broadcast live on webcam.  Two other boys have just met at a gay prom and are going through the initial excitement and palpitations related to first dates.  A third boy flirts online through a variety of gay hook-up sites while cutting himself off from the outside world.  The characters are wonderfully developed and told with such honesty that their emotions are relatable to all readers.  They deal with varying amounts of support or knowledge from their families and friends, bullies, and love won and lost.  The last character is the spirits or ghosts of all the gay men who have gone before them, many who have died from AIDS. They are written in second person and are an older, wiser and unheard voice commenting on the upcoming generation of gay men. They are cheerleaders, offering a mature perspective to the youthful up and down of emotions the living characters are feeling.  An intense book with mature content that does a great job of showing the human side of the characters rather than branding them with a broad a stereotypical brush.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's Monday! What are You Reading? January 6, 2014

Click the link here to see what other educators are reading and recommending today!

Happy 2014!  I hope everyone had a great break with plenty of fun time, family time and reading time. Hopefully, some of those times overlapped.  I really enjoyed being able to plow through some books over break and read several YA books as well as a few others. Other reading included two "Airplane Novels" and I'm in the middle of two books right now as well. I've read about 1/3 of a very interesting biography about Teddy Roosevelt, and am halfway through A Thing Called Luck, a book my wife and I are reading aloud.

Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King is a great book about a fifteen year-old boy, Lucky, who is dealing with a bully, two parents he refers to as "The Squid" (his mom because she swims so much), and "The Turtle" (his dad because he hides from all conflict and spends most of his time cooking at his restaurant).  He has very odd dreams about his grandfather, who never came back from the Vietnam War, that mostly involve him trying to help him escape from a prisoner of war camp in the jungle.  They have conversations, and while there are plenty of "normal" dream qualities like the ability to have control or choose to do things, they are also abnormal in that they feel too real and there are some surprising after effects.  While the book is mostly realistic, there are a couple of magic qualities related to the dreams and then of course there are the ants; Lucky's little cheerleaders, that only he can see (so he thinks), who say and do the things he wishes he could in the moment.  Overall, this book is a wonderful read about a boy trying to deal with family secrets, disengaged parents, and a bully that's been bugging him since early in elementary school.  There are a couple of other great characters as well that the author does a great job of making us love or despise, usually for each character as we get to know them. This is probably one of the top five books I've read this year and I highly recommend it!

Legend by Marie Lu is the first in a dystopian trilogy set in futuristic LA.  The USA is no more and the western part of the continent is controlled by The Republic.  There is war with the Colonies, The Patriots and massive plagues that move through the city's poor neighborhoods that strike fear into the citizens and also help perpetuate a police state. All children take the Trial on their tenth birthday.  The resulting score sets the person's place in society and the disparity between the haves and have-nots is striking.  The book is told in alternating chapters by two teens around sixteen years old.  Day is a boy who can move like a ninja through the streets and works to take care of his mother and two brothers, who think he is dead.  He also takes care of Tess, a thirteen year old orphan who lives in the streets with him and is treated like a little sister. Day is the most wanted criminal in the area although he does his crimes and sabotage against the Republic without actually killing anyone and his ability to climb buildings is legendary. The other side of the story is told by June, the only person to get a perfect score in the Trial.  She is a fast rising military star whose mission it to capture Day.  She goes undercover in the streets after her brother is killed when Day tries to steal some plague antidote from a hospital.  As the book goes on, the propaganda of the Republic is found to have many holes in it and I was reminded of 1984 and how propaganda was used in that book.  Both main characters are likable, have faults, and the readers end up rooting for both and hoping they can somehow end up working together.  I'm looking forward to reading Prodigy which is the second book in the series.

Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card, was better than I hoped for in a "sequel" to Ender's Game.  It actually is about the same time period as Ender's Game, but from the perspective of Bean, another character.  It starts with Bean surviving on the streets of Rotterdam as a very small but intelligent four-year-old. He gets bigger kids to gang up together in productive ways but they tend to think the plans are their own ideas.  Eventually his gifts are noticed and he gets tagged for Battle School.  Being a small and young, there are many parallels to Ender's journey through Battle School, but since they are such different characters with different motivations, they approach things in unique ways.  If you enjoyed Ender's Game I highly recommend Ender's Shadow, although it could be read on it's own.

Up Next on my TBR List:
Finish - The Thing About Luck
Finish - The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt (This will take a few weeks I'm sure since it's thick and dense)
The Prodigy  by Marie Lu
A Clockwork Three
Two Boys Kissing
Whatever else catches my eye!

Happy Reading!