Since my last update, I have prepped report cards, taken 44 sixth graders to science camp for a week, led a flashmob dance at our trimester awards ceremony, hosted Open House, and attended approximately 800 meetings. So without any further ado, here are the two book reviews I promised!
The first book is called The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, which all by itself is an awesome title! Doesn’t that make you want to find out more? The author is Kristen Levine, who also wrote The Lions of Little Rock, which I blogged about earlier this year. Best Bad Luck is also about an interracial friendship, this time between a white boy and a black girl. The setting has rolled back in time, too, taking place in 1917. The main character, Dit, has heard that the new postmaster has a son his age, and he is looking forward to getting a new friend. The postmaster and his family live right behind Dit’s house, and so he waits at the train station imagining the baseball games and fun they will have together. Much to his surprise, the new postmaster has a daughter instead. Also, the family is black and from the North and from a big city. Emma is well dressed, smart, and always has a book in her hand. She doesn’t know how to swim or play baseball and she probably won’t want to get dirty anyway!
Except, she’s a surprising one, that Emma. She might seem different, but she turns out to be really fun. Soon though, Dit has to deal with the two issues this brings up with his old buddies:
1.) She’s a girl. 2.) She’s black. (Also, she’s a GIRL!)
Eventually Dit has to take a stand, which leads to the kids working together to solve an even bigger problem in town later. This book was a fun read with some serious and scary moments, reminding me of a mashup of To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn. Even though Levine’s two books stand alone and are not connected to each other, I’d recommend reading Best Bad Luck first, just to put the stories in chronological order. (It seems the younger my students get, the harder time they have imagining a world without television and PlayStations. They can’t quite wrap their brains around the idea that this is not ancient history-type stuff!)
The second book I read is the Newbery Award winner for 2012, called Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos. Jack Gantos becomes his own main character in this story that is partially based on his real life. It is described as “entirely true and wildly fictional,” just so you know what you are getting into, which at that rate could be anything! Because the character is real and the history of the town is real, this book is also historical fiction and won the Scott O’Dell Award for that genre as well. Jack Gantos is a 11-year-old kid in the 1960s, who immediately manages to get himself grounded for the entire summer vacation. He has an unfortunate disorder of spontaneous nosebleeds any time something stressful or startling happens, which is incredibly messy and disturbing for those around him. The only thing he is allowed to do while on restriction is help old Mrs. Volker, who happens to write the obituary column for the local newspaper. She is an original resident of the town and a source of great historical knowledge, which she likes to pepper into her articles whenever she can. Due to her severe arthritis, Jack has to take notes and type up her obituaries, but as a bonus, Mrs. Volker allows Jack to drive her car around town. On the other hand, Mrs. Volker is a nurse and the town’s medical examiner, so they also have to go around investigating all of these deaths. (Which instantly gives Jack a bloody nose, of course.) A mystery soon arises, and I can tell you that I was really worried about one of the possible endings!
All that said, I liked the individual components of the book, but I’m not sure I loved the book overall. I wasn’t quite sure who this book was written for– kids? teens? adults? Gantos doesn’t give much context to what he includes, so you either have to have a certain amount of background knowledge or be intrigued enough to do some research. It’s hard to know what is truth and what is fiction, which could be confusing for young readers. When I sat down to write this review, I discovered that there is a second book planned, and now I can say that I will probably seek it out and read it. Jack Gantos (the author, not the character) has a way of dropping some priceless, deadpan hilarious lines into his writing. The character of Mrs. Volker is feisty and larger-than-life, and her scenes kept me going through the book. Even the cringe-worthy one. You’ll know it when you read it, trust me. Give it a shot if you like books that don’t fit into any particular formula and feature quirky writing. I think I’ll look for another book by this author the next time I am at the library.
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had has an AR level of 4.2 and is worth 9 points.
Dead End at Norvelt has an AR level of 5.7 and is worth 12 points.