Book Review: Ban This Book

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.51.18 AMIf you’re still looking for a present for a young book lover, check out Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Larrabee and I read it aloud over the Thanksgiving break. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Ban This Book is the story of Amy Anne Ollinger, a 4th grader who never speaks up for herself. Not at school where her classmates see her as a bookish mouse. And not at home where her two younger sisters’ needs always come first. She spends as much time as possible in the corner of the school library where she can read in peace.

Then, one day, the school board removes several books from the library–including her favorite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Amy Anne, in a private act of rebellion, resolves to read all of the books on the banned list. But as she collects the books, she finds that her friends are interested in them too. So she starts a Banned Books Locker Library and finds herself speaking out against censorship.

You have to like a book that teaches kids about the First Amendment, features a school visit from author Dav Pilkey, and mentions lots and lots of good books.

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Book Review: Wonder

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 1.47.53 PMR.J. Palacio‘s Wonder was the best book to read aloud and also the worst.

Larrabee and I borrowed it from from Blaine this fall because we knew the movie was coming out in November, and we always try to read the book first.

Auggie Pullman has a congenital facial deformity, and because of his health problems, he’s been home schooled until now. Wonder is the story of his 5th grade year, his first one in school, told through the points of view of Auggie, his sister, and several other kids.

It was the worst book for me to read aloud because it made me cry. And I don’t mean just a few sniffles over one sad scene. Sometimes Larrabee worried that we’d never get through the whole book.

But it was also the best book for me to read aloud. It sparked great conversations about empathy, about being different, about challenges and blessings, and about being kind. At the end, after all the tears, the book made me smile.

For those of you who want to read more about Auggie, R.J. Palacio has written three more stories from the points of view of Julian (his main tormentor), Christopher (his oldest friend), and Charlotte (a 5th grade classmate), collected in a book called Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories.

And we saw the movie adaptation last week. It’s very good too.

Book Review: Circus Mirandus

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 11.37.58 AMCircus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is a book for kids of all ages who want to believe that magic is real.

Ten-year-old Micah Tuttle believes in magic. He’s grown up hearing his Grandpa Ephraim’s stories about the magical Circus Mirandus with its flying birdwoman and master illusionist, the Man Who Bends Light.

But now Grandpa Ephraim is dying, and Micah’s Great-Aunt Gertrudis, who does not believe in magic, has come to take charge of the household.

Micah’s only hope is to find the Circus Mirandus and convince the Man Who Bends Light to give his grandfather the miracle he once promised him. And with the help of his new friend Jenny, he’s determined to do just that.

This book will have you listening for the special music that means the Circus Mirandus is in town.

Book Review: Wolf Hollow

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 11.37.49 AM.pngWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is set in western Pennsylvania in the fall of 1943. It is the story of twelve-year-old Annabelle, whose peaceful world is upended when a cruel girl joins her school.

This new girl, Betty, first threatens Annabelle, then her younger brothers. When Toby, an outsider and World War I veteran, tries to protect them, he becomes Betty’s new target. Many in the community are inclined to believe Betty’s lies. Annabelle, though, is determined to prove Toby’s innocence.

The very first sentence sets the tone for this novel that is both beautifully written and disturbing: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”

It’s not an easy read–either in a reading level sense or in an emotional sense. I wouldn’t recommend it for every middle grade reader, but for the right reader, it offers a brave and relatable heroine, a tense story, and plenty of food for thought.

Book Review: The Wingsnatchers

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 10.38.37 AMLarrabee’s latest read-aloud choice was The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz.

It’s a fantasy adventure about Carmer, a magician’s apprentice, and Grit, a flightless faerie princess, who team up to stop a threat to the world of the fae.

Unlike some of his friends, Larrabee does not consider himself an expert on faeries. He’s obsessed with both magic tricks and machines, though, so he chose this book based on the promise of amazing stage magic and terrifying mechanical cats. On those points, the book did not disappoint. And the faeries turned out to be pretty cool too.

We enjoyed the fast-moving plot and the intriguing setting, and we look forward to the sequel.

 

Book Review: Writing Radar

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.24.43 PMJack Gantos is the author of lots of great books for kids, including the Joey Pigza series and the Newbery Award-winning Dead End in Norvelt.

Now he shows kids how it’s done in a fabulous book called Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories that’s instructive and inspiring.

This book is chock full of good tips, but it’s not just a how-to guide. It’s also the very funny story of how Jack Gantos became an author. Using examples from his own childhood journals, he demonstrates how to be observant and then shape events that really happened into compelling stories with a beginning, middle, and end and emotion as well as action. He also explains story structure and the revision process in clear and simple terms. It’s a must for the young writers in your life.

NaNoWriMo for Kids

IMG_6577Today is the first day of November, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month.

If you have a budding author in your family, you should know about the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. Kids create an account, set a word count goal, and start writing. The challenge is to write steadily all month and try to finish a whole story.

If kids write on-line using the YWP site, it will track metrics, such as their progress toward their goal and the number of days in a row they’ve written. Kids who meet their goal by the end of the month will be declared winners of NaNoWriMo.

I’m hoping to convince Larrabee to stop munching on his Halloween candy and dive into a new story!