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: 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: The Westing Game

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 1.35.57 PMI just finished reading Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game with Larrabee. This book won the Newbery Medal in 1979, and I remember liking it as a child (although I found that I’d largely forgotten the plot). Now, apparently, it’s a “modern classic.”

Sixteen residents of Sunset Towers are summoned to a nearby mansion for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. The will turns out to be a puzzle. The heirs are placed on teams of two and given clues. The ones who figure out who killed Mr. Westing will inherit his $200 million fortune.

This book was an challenging read aloud choice for us with its large cast of (mostly adult) characters and twisty mystery plot. We enjoyed it, though. I doubt if Larrabee would have liked reading this one on his own, but together we were able to keep the heirs straight, and we had fun trying (and mostly failing) to guess the answer to the will’s puzzle.

Book Review: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 9.48.12 AMI recently finished reading Jonathan Auxier‘s Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes aloud to Larrabee. It’s a long fantasy adventure–just right for lazy summer evenings.

When the story begins, ten-year-old Peter Nimble is a blind orphan forced into a life of thievery by his cruel master. One day he steals a box from a mysterious haberdasher. The box contains three pairs of magical eyes: gold, onyx, and emerald.

The gold eyes transport him to the Troublesome Lake of Professor Cake. There, he learns that he’s been chosen for a quest. Sir Tode, a knight trapped in the body of a cat and a horse, is to be his companion. His only clue is a message in a bottle–a call for help that may come from the Vanished Kingdom.

So, the two sail away into a marvelous adventure. Larrabee enjoyed trying to predict the plot’s many twists and turns. He also appreciated the battle scenes.

Thank you to Anne-Marie for the recommendation!

Book Review: Timmy Failure

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 1.52.38 PMMistakes Were Made is the first in a six-book series about Timmy Failure by cartoonist Stephan Pastis. Larrabee and I like books that make us laugh and this one definitely did.

Timmy is a middle schooler and the CEO of his own detective agency, Total Failure, Inc. His business partner is a polar bear who loves chicken nuggets. And his nemesis is rival detective Corrina Corrina, also known as something that rhymes with Weevil Bun.

The first few lines of the prologue will give you a sense of the witty tone of the book: “It’s harder to drive a polar bear into someone’s living room than you’d think. You need a living-room window that’s big enough to fit a car. You need a car that’s big enough to fit a polar bear. And you need a polar bear that’s big enough to not point out your errors.”

Larrabee and I took turns reading this book aloud to each other, sitting side by side on the couch so that we could both see the illustrations. I’m glad we read it together for several reasons:

  1. Timmy is an imaginative and unreliable narrator, and Larrabee’s not used to having to question a narrator’s version of events. For example, Timmy says that he eats alone at lunch recess so that he can do global strategic planning for his detective agency without the other kids committing an act of industrial sabotage.
  2. The book has some big words–mendacity, subterfuge, surveillance, hypocritical, citadel. For a kid who doesn’t always excel in school, Timmy has an extensive vocabulary and knows how to use it.
  3. Timmy doesn’t always make good choices. Although Larrabee and I read mostly for fun, if we find the occasional life lesson, so much the better.

 

Book Review: Beetle Boy

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 1.44.37 PMWhether or not your young reader is fascinated with beetles, he or she will like Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard. Set in London, it’s the story of 12-year-old Darkus Cuttle, who rescues his father from the clutches of the no-good Lucretia Cutter with the help of his good friends, his archeologist uncle, and some very special beetles.

Larrabee and I read this book aloud together and found it entertaining. The characters are engaging (especially the beetles!), and there is plenty of action. We also learned quite a bit about different types of beetles and their elytra (hard protective sheath wings).

In fact, it’s the kind of book that makes you want to befriend a beetle. We’re looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.