The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger

jabbaYes, book #4 is here! (Well, book 5 if you count Art-2 D2, but it’s not part of the stories, it’s a stand alone how-to art book.  So I don’t think it counts like that, cool though it may be.)  The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet came out on my birthday, which was also a fantastic bonus for me.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than with a trip to the bookstore.  Unless I can go to the library AND the bookstore on the same day, which occasionally gets to happen, and then it’s like one of those months where we have two full moons or something.  It’s like the Leap Year for books!

Jabba the Puppet picks up where Fortune Wookiee (book 3) leaves off.  If you recall, the kids get an ominous letter from the school district that indicates that all elective classes, like art and music and yearbook, will be cancelled.  In the new book, we find out why.  Because test scores at McQuarrie Middle School have dropped, a new program is being instituted for all students in order to prepare for the next year’s tests.  The new program is called Fun Time, and it consists of a video series that features a singing calculator (or a breakdancing dictionary, depending on what grade you are in), and worksheets.  Lots of worksheets.  Naturally, everyone hates it.

Dwight and his Origami Yoda have returned to McQuarrie after being banished to a private school for the last semester.  He and Yoda come up with an idea to form an Origami Rebel Alliance in order to stop Fun Time from ruining their school year.  This is also serious because without sports or clubs, they will fall out of practice for high school and it could affect their choices later on when there is more competition. Many new characters get folded into the plot (see what I did right there? Folded? Origami?) and kids from all grades join in the protest.  It’s pretty funny because even when Dwight himself drops out, his Origami Yoda still remains the leader of the group!

It turns out that Fun Time is much bigger than just this school; these crazy intervention programs go up to the state and national level, and Tom Angleberger shows how stuff like this works in real life by making fun of a sometimes true situation.  (All of that state testing business?  Teachers don’t love it either, kids!)  Our heroes need some extra help on this case, and it comes in surprising ways.  And just like in Empire Strikes Back, the stage has been set up for the rebellion to truly begin.

If you’ve read the others, you must read Jabba the Puppet as well.  Read it you must! Some of the Star Wars references truly made me laugh out loud. I loved it.

And if you haven’t read the others….why not?!?

This book is too new, so no AR test or level info for you at this time.  I’ll update when it becomes available.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s taken me longer than I had hoped to finish this book, but the fact is that I’m spending a ton of my time getting ready to go back to work next week. (Next week?!?) I’ve already spent about 6 hours in my classroom moving furniture around and unpacking my library.  Library first, always.  It makes me feel like I’m at home.  I’m super lucky this year because I get to teach another round of sixth grade at the same school I was at last year, and I’m really looking forward it!

Full disclosure on this book– it’s an upper-middle grade book, which is higher than what I’ve been posting about lately, but it is easy to read and is leveled as a 4.4.  Remember that just because you CAN read something, doesn’t always mean you should, so know yourself as a reader and check with a parent if you’re not sure.  It is violent and has some language in it, though most of it is the word “effing” used as an adjective. Some of the words are spelled phonetically, though it is done so you can hear the main character’s voice in your head and how his twangy accent would sound. And interestingly, hearing voices in your head is one of the main concepts of this book…

Okay, so The Knife of Never Letter Go is like a science fiction-Western story, a mash-up we don’t get too often. Settlers have come to the New World and set up a colony.  They are on a planet other than Earth, because there are two moons, but everything else is very Earth-like.  We meet Todd Hewitt, an almost 13-year-old (or is he 14?), who is days away from becoming a man, according to tradition. There are no women in his town after the war against the “Spackle”, alien invaders who released some sort of biological warfare upon the people.  The Germ killed all the women and left behind The Noise for the men, in which everyone can hear every other person’s thoughts, all the time.  Even the animals were infected with Noise and they can talk, too, which I loved, because Todd is always with his dog, Manchee.  So even when Todd is alone, he always has someone to talk with, which keeps the book moving along.

But then…things happen. Todd quickly learns that everything he thought he knew is a lie.  Because he is on the run, and because reading the book is like being in Todd’s Noise, in his head, this is a very urgent read.  It is The Book of Never Letting Go, and I had to find out what would happen next!  It was different, and I really liked it.  I will continue reading this series, since it ends with a cliffhanger.  There are three main books, plus a sequel.

Read this if you like dystopian stories, like Divergent or The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, etc., but know that this one is not the same at all.  It’s hard to explain, and maybe I’ll be able to do that better once I’ve read all of the books.  You have to be able to be okay with reading a story and not quite knowing what is going on, which is what I find to be true about most sci-fi books.  Just sit back and go for the ride, and know that the author will tell you what you need to know at the moment you need to know it. It was very suspenseful, especially with the author’s writing style, and it kept me pushing through.  Check it out!

The Knife of Never Letting Go has an AR level of 4.4 and is worth 16 points.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

wrappedRemember a few weeks ago when I posted about the book The Egypt Game?  I picked up another Egypt-themed book the other day and found the reading experience I had been hoping for– adventure, mystery, archaeology, the Rosetta Stone, The British Museum, London…and a tiny bit of romance.  This book met my summer reading requirements!  Did you know that during the late 1830s and 40s, rich people used to have parties where the entertainment involved unwrapping mummies? True!  And, creepy!  If there were any charms or amulets or jewelry wrapped inside the mummy, they would be given away as party favors! Check it out: http://www.history.com/videos/mummies-mummy-unwrapping-parties#mummies-mummy-unwrapping-parties

Egyptology was quite trendy, but was also becoming a serious science all of its own, especially after the Rosetta Stone was deciphered in 1822.  The Rosetta Stone was the key to reading Egyptian hieroglyphics, and you can see it in the British Museum, where it has been on display since 1802.  More info on the stone here:  http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/writing/rosetta.html  And more info about Egypt from the British Museum:   http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/galleries/ancient_egypt/room_62-63_egyptian_mummies.aspx

Wrapped is a story about a young lady named Agnes Wilkins, who lives in London in 1815.  She comes from a well-to-do family and is preparing for her “debut”, or her presentation to society as a woman now eligible for marriage.  In these days, marriages were carefully arranged so that they would be a good match between families, much more like business deals to achieve security and status. Agnes’ mother has her eye set on Lord Showalter as a husband for Agnes, though he is a typical rich, show-off type.  (When I read about him, I pictured Gaston from Beauty and the Beast!)  Showalter has one of these mummy unwrapping parties at his mansion, and Agnes is asked to participate.  When she unwraps a piece of iron in the shape of a jackal’s head, she keeps it.  

Apparently this mysterious item is being hunted down by Napoleon and the French army, which sends Agnes on a mad dash around London to figure out its significance.  At the British Museum, she meets a young man who is a scholar studying the Rosetta Stone.  Of course, he is poor and lower class, not an appropriate match at all, so naturally like in all good romances, she develops feelings for him.  Add in some extra twists and turns, and this book had my full attention!

Wrapped was fast and fun, even if it was slightly predictable.  The ending was left open for possible sequels, which I would definitely read.  The writing is a little more formal to reflect the timeframe of the story, but it is not difficult.  Read this book if you like strong, smart female characters, mysteries, historical fiction, Egypt, or museums.  Wrapped has an AR level of 5.9 and is worth 11 points.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer

duncandorfmanDo you play Scrabble? My grandma taught me to play when I was about seven years old as a way to practice spelling and vocabulary.  (My dad taught me to play blackjack to help get my math facts faster, too.  If you can make learning into a game, go for it!) I have several Scrabble sets in my classroom and I always teach my students how to play each year.  It’s a great (and quiet) activity for free time or rainy days.  I still play all the time; I think I have about 12 Words With Friends games going on right now, and I learn new words every day as a result!

My book for today just so happens to be about Scrabble, and the cover of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was what first caught my eye, for the letter tiles as well as the guy in the alligator costume.  Duncan Dorfman is the new kid at school after he and his mother move back to her hometown to live with his great-aunt.  The night before school starts, his mom gives him a warning:

“Whatever you do, Duncan, keep it to yourself,” she said. “If you don’t, I’m afraid something bad will happen.”

What is Duncan’s power?  He has a remarkable talent in his left hand.  If he closes his eyes and runs his fingers over words, any kind of words, he can read them.  He can feel them with his fingers and know what they say.  Naturally his secret doesn’t stay secret for very long, and as soon as the Scrabble team hears about it, Duncan has suddenly been recruited to play in a high-stakes tournament with a cash prize of $10,000. Duncan’s mother could sure use that money, so he agrees to learn about the game and play in the tournament.  His new partner thinks they will be able to crush their opponents since Duncan will be able to pick out exactly the right letters at the right time.  Duncan can do it, but will he?

We also get to follow two other Scrabble teams as they prepare for the tournament, and ultimately their paths cross once they arrive there.  Everyone has his or her own particular motivation, or reason, for wanting to win, but they also band together to solve some problems that arise along the way.

Duncan has a moral dilemma over the issue of cheating, and yet he makes some interesting decisions as he goes through the story.  Some of the secondary storylines feel like they are just too much extra stuff and so some of the events seem pretty crazy and unbelievable.  That can be distracting when the rest of the story is written to BE believable, but that’s just my opinion.

The thing I like best about this book was that it gives tons of Scrabble tips, hints, and word lists! My favorite team was a pair of kids who, although the tournament was for 5th-8th graders, looked “as if they were only in second grade.”  I wish there had been more about their story, too, because I felt very protective of them!  My least favorite character was Carl, Duncan’s partner, but you get to enjoy not liking him as you read the story, if that makes sense.  If you like word games, feel like you don’t fit in at school OR at home, wish you had a secret power, or you can imagine yourself winning $10,000, give this book a shot.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman has an AR level of 5.2 and is worth 9 points.