The 6th Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman

nickname gameThis is a kind of Flashback Friday post, but this book was new to me, so here we go!

The first thing I did on spring break was to complete a Nancy Drew puzzle made of the original book covers, which led me to the library to check out some Nancy Drew books, which placed me among the K-authors in the children’s section, where I turned around to find a whole shelf of Gordon Korman books.  This one was on my TBR list already, so I added it to my growing pile. My break was only a week, but I ended up with way too many books!

The 6th Grade Nickname Game is about two best friends, and neighbors, Jeff and Wiley. These guys have been together since Day One, born only six hours apart at the same hospital. Their claim to fame? At Old Orchard Public School, they are unofficially in charge of giving people nicknames. It’s their thing. When their new teacher arrives, they quickly change his name from Mr. Hughes to Mr. Huge, which fits him because he’s the hulking, excitable football coach from the high school.  Not everyone likes their nickname, however, and a challenge is issued. Can Jeff and Wiley get a nickname to stick to the most un-nickname-able guy at school? If not, Charles, AKA Snoopy, gets to change his nickname to something cooler.

But then…a new girl arrives at OOPS. She’s different. Quirky. And also un-nickname-able. The two best friends quickly become frenemies as they each try to get to know her better. There are shenanigans and sabotage. In the meantime, Mr. Hughes is struggling with his new job, and the kids of 6B (nicknamed the Dim Bulbs) must band together to change his fate and overcome their own reputation. Jeff and Wiley are falling apart, but 110% is needed from both of them if they are going to help save the school year.

The 6th Grade Nickname Game has an AR level of 4.3 and is worth 3 points. I recommend this book to fans of Gordon Korman, if you liked Gary Paulsen’s Masters of Disaster, or you enjoyed the quirky character of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl.

 

 

Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan

Ida B.This is a book that my school librarian shoved into my hand and insisted that I read. She and I were talking about an idea for matching kids with books and making suggestions that were “just right” for particular students, and she commented on needing to go back and read a few older favorites. Ida B….and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World was one that she happened to re-read and then passed it straight on to me. When I used the verb “shoved” above, I wasn’t exaggerating!

Ida B. is a fourth grader. She lives in an apple orchard and has been homeschooled since kindergarten. Kindergarten didn’t quite work out, and honestly, even as a teacher, I shared some of her concerns! So Ida has been learning at home, spending quality time with her parents and pets, and exploring the outdoors, talking to trees and the brook that runs through their property. Ida B. (do not call her plain Ida, because that’s her mom’s name) has a great sense of who she is and a very positive attitude. Early in the book, she sets out for the day with enough paper to do “four perfect drawings and one mistake.” She likes to eat the same thing every day, she tells her dad, because her head is too full about other things to have to bother with thinking about what to eat. Ida B. is a very busy person!

One day, Ida hears a rumbling amongst the trees when she is out exploring. Something is about to change, and it turns out to be true. Her mother becomes ill with cancer, and as a result, Ida B. has to return to public school. They have to sell part of their property to pay for the medical treatments, the land that her father has always promised will be hers, and new people move in. Ida B. feels betrayed in the worst way. She begins to act out in negative ways and tries to harden her heart against her mom and dad. The author captures all of Ida B.’s conflicting emotions so well that it is easy to forgive her meltdowns. I think that everyone can relate to feeling stuck in between being mad and feeling stubborn about it, but at the same time wanting to just give in and apologize, or even to just drop your guard so the other person can apologize to YOU.

I would recommend this realistic fiction book to anyone who has been faced with a family illness, or a major life change, or for a quirky-smart kid like Ida B. Or to someone who has a special calling to be a teacher. This book is about family, friends, school, nature, pre-teen emotions, and the Big Idea about life not always being fair.

Ida B. has an AR level of 5.3 and is worth 5 points.

 

Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant by Veronica Roth

divergent

I am waaayyyyy late to this party, I know. I’ve had Divergent on my bookshelf since it came out and I finally read it, and then immediately read Insurgent and Allegiant over the last 5 days. (I also have a copy of Four, but I left it at school, so I’ll start that up when we get back.)  My students will be so happy that I got caught up on this over our Thanksgiving break!  Why did it take me so long to read? I’m not sure.

I was an early reader of The Hunger Games. I think I resisted Divergent because I was being loyal to Katniss. When I started reading Divergent, my thoughts, were “Yeah, yeah, yeah, dystopia, got it” and then as Tris made her decision on Choosing Day and THEN the implications of choosing Dauntless were revealed, I was hooked.

Okay this only makes sense to people who have read the books, so let me back up. In a future Chicago, society is divided into factions based on personality temperaments. There are the Erudite, who value learning and logic, the Amity, who value peace and relationships, the Abnegation, who value selflessness and modesty, and the Dauntless, who value courage and bravery. When you turn 16, you get the option of leaving your family faction behind and reassigning yourself to something new. This is partly led by a test that is supposed to show a particular aptitude for one faction or another. Some people show an affinity for more than one faction though, and those people are the Divergent. Divergent people are considered dangerous, so that attribute must be kept hidden. Beatrice, or Tris, is Divergent. She joins Dauntless in the hopes of finding a place for herself because she doesn’t quite fit in with her own family or any of the other groups. She meets a boy named Four, and she trains really hard and she becomes all kinds of cool.

There is more to this society than meets the eye though, and over the three books we discover that all of these people are part of something even bigger, and everyone is being manipulated through generations of beliefs that are not quite accurate. There is a war on the horizon, but this has all happened before. Attempts to control it had mixed results. And it turns out the Divergent folks are the ones with just the right combo of smarts, bravery, sacrifice, and solidarity to begin a revolution. No wonder they are considered dangerous when they are perfectly suited to challenge the status quo (the way things are and have always been, so “they” say.)

Tris is an awesome character, though I question her ability to be thrust into so many new situations and handle them all so calmly and rationally when she is only 16 years old. She always managed to see through people and figure out the right thing to do, even when she had to go against Four and work behind his back. However, this did not bother me at all when I read the books because I was fully involved in her point of view. Maybe I ended up feeling this way because the last book uses alternating viewpoints between Tris and Four, which allowed me to take a step back from the action. (I did not care for this narration technique because they “sounded” so much alike. Sometimes I had to double-check to see whose chapter I was reading.)

So, let’s get to the ending. I already knew what was going to happen at the end. Shortly after Allegiant came out, I was ambushed by a bunch of hysterical sixth graders who were devastated (devastated!) by the ending. Perhaps that is another reason I put off reading the books. However, I will say that I think that what happened HAD TO happen to be true to the character. Had to. So I did not mind this at all, and would still say yes, read these books.

Interestingly as I was finishing Insurgent, I went to see The Giver at the movies, and I was struck by a lot of the similarities, starting with the choosing ceremony (or assignment ceremony in The Giver), and that made me think again of The Hunger Games and also the Matched series, where the government suppresses the people and controls every aspect of their lives. It was cool to think about how these big dystopian ideas all connect. So if you liked those books, or movies, you should definitely check out the Divergent series. It will make you think big ideas, just like Tris. (And Katniss, and Jonas, and Cassia…)

Divergent has an AR level of 4.8 and is worth 16 points; Insurgent is level 5.0 and is worth 16 points; Allegiant is level 5.7 and is worth 17 points.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

twerpTwerp is a book that was handed to me by the librarian at my school. At first, I didn’t like it. The characters were pretty much jerks and they just kept making bad decisions. I knew one of my students had also read it and she assured me that I should keep going and eventually it would all come together, so I carried on and she was right. I think my frustration was partly due to the fact that I was having to read it in little bursts and never had a chance to fully engage in the story. I’m still adjusting to being back at school, as I’m sure many of you are, and every time I sat down to read I would start falling asleep! I woke up early today and decided to dedicate some serious time for reading and that made all the difference. If you are having this same type of trouble, maybe it’s best to set your book aside until you can make the time to give it your full attention. It’s hard to do when so many things are new and changing at the beginning of the year.  I usually participate in silent reading with my students, but there have been a lot distractions lately, so I brought the book home and powered right through it.

Kids might have trouble relating to the setting of this book, which takes place in 1969, where kids ran free instead of having their schedule micro-managed all the time, but everyone can relate to this story about finding your own identity in middle school. Twerp is about a sixth grader named Julian Twerski, nicknamed Twerp by his best friend, Lonnie. Lonnie pulls the strings in their group of friends and Julian follows, even when he is not sure that he should. As a result, friendships are tested and betrayals occur. People get hurt in this story, first in a “boys will be boys” kind of way, but then Julian gets the idea for another prank and the boys go along with him again, causing a terrible thing to happen. These kids made me really mad!

As part of his penance, Julian starts writing a journal for his English teacher. (And also to get out of reading Julius Caesar, so he thinks this is a pretty good deal.) Lonnie has a crush on the new girl and asks Julian to write her a letter on his behalf. When Julian passes her the letter, he gets caught in the middle of a misunderstanding. Then he gets talked into another sketchy situation, and he is the one who gets taken advantage of and left behind. I did not feel sympathetic to any of the characters (so many bad choices!) until the end when Julian starts to stand on his own. The only exceptions are Eduardo, an outsider and newcomer to the neighborhood, and Amelia, Julian’s sister, who are the voices of reason for Julian. However, the concept of going along with the group and finding your place is an important one, and deciding when to stand up for the right thing is even more important. You do have to wait until the very end to get to the big story within the story, so stick with it. There were discussion questions included in this edition and the one I loved asked about the journal format of the book and if Julian was a reliable narrator, which is always an interesting thing to consider once you’ve been given the big picture. (Or have you? See, you’ll never really know!)

Twerp reminded me of Because of Mr. Terupt due to its school setting and the fact that you had to wait until the end to find out what really happened. It also had some of Wonder‘s messages about kindness and doing the right thing embedded in it, too. If you liked either of those, you might give this one a try as well!

Twerp has an AR level of  4.5 and is worth 9 points.

 

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus by Tom Angleberger

pickletineGuess what just hit the bookstore??? The latest and last (noooo!) book in the Origami Yoda series! I’m eager to see what will come next from Tom Angleberger. If you haven’t been to his website, you should. It’s super interactive and has quite the community of Super Folders who also love origami and who send in samples and photos of their work. Tom Angleberger is so awesome that at the end of this book, he thanks the grownup people that helped him with his ideas and writing and support, and then he lists the screen names of a bunch of the Super Folders who contribute to his site.

That. Is. Cool.

I love it when I read a book and discover that the setting is a real place that I have visited before, so I can visualize it clearly, but also so I can remember all of the fun details of my own vacation at the same time.  In Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, the kids from McQuarrie are on a field trip to Washington DC. (I’ve been there! It’s an amazing place–put it on your bucket list if you haven’t already been. Heck, even if you have been, go again, because there is so much to see!)  Here’s the catch: Principal Rabbski has banned origami on this trip. How will anyone know what to do without their origami alter-egos?

Dwight has brought his lunch. No, wait, it’s a bag of green Fruit Roll-ups. Fruitigami Yoda? Not to be outdone, Harvey produces a pickle version of Emperor Palpatine from his underwear. (He says it was in his sweatshirt. We’ll never really know. Eww.)  Guess who else goes as a chaperone? Mr. Good Clean Fun, and with him as always, Soapy the monkey puppet.  Mr. GCF is pretty busy cleaning everything with antibacterial wipes and he has trouble managing his group, not a big surprise. I bet he has a song about it!

Some people have a great time, some people get in trouble.  Some people start dating, ooOOooooOoo!

There’s a part at the beginning when the kids are debating which buddies to choose, which groups to be in, and which bus would be better for their long trip. There’s a section written by Cassie called “Nobody Wants to Pee on the Bus,” in which she details all of the stresses involved in using the bathroom on the bus, and I totally relate. (Airplane bathrooms, no thank you!)  Needless to say, her explanation made me laugh so hard. Because the kids can’t make origami on the drive, they become inspired by Dwight and Harvey and begin imagining all sorts of food-based Star Wars characters and we get 5 pages of hilarious sketches, so that was another highlight of the book for me.

So many things happen, including a run-in with a very angry security guard at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the kids buying $150 of freeze-dried astronaut ice cream because Fruitigami Yoda said to do it, a breakdown, a dance party, and a punch in the face. We also get a new version of Yoda at the end, which is SO perfect that I was both sad and happy at the same time with how clever it was. If you are a Star Wars person, you’ll totally get it.

Oh, and there’s a surprise at the end.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Please read Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus if you’ve read the others in the series. You have to, end of discussion. Read this book, you must. How can you not? No AR info is available on this book yet because it is just too new!

 

Doll Bones by Holly Black

doll bonesDo you like creepy stories? Not scary or gross, but just creepy. And creepy in that kind of “this could be a true story” kind of way. Do you think that porcelain dolls are unnerving? They are fragile, too realistic, and a little bit unfriendly? They are clearly up to no good at all. I’ve got a book for you!

This is a story of Zach, Alice, and Poppy, three best friends who have grown up together. They have a long-standing game of pretend that involves a story they have clearly been developing for quite a while, and they use action figures to design sets and act out these adventures about pirates and thieves and heroes and quests. Ruling over all of these stories is the Great Queen, an old porcelain doll who lives in a glass-doored cabinet in Poppy’s house. The Great Queen is apparently very valuable and the kids are not allowed to play with her.

One night, Poppy and Alice come to Zach’s house in the middle of the night. Poppy reports that she is being visited by a ghost of a young girl who is connected to the Great Queen– her cremated ashes are actually INSIDE the doll. (Ohhhhhkay, no thank you, ghost girl!)  She needs Poppy to bury the doll so she can be at rest. Alice and Zach are not quite sure if they believe Poppy, but they agree to embark upon a journey to complete this task. Odd things happen while they travel with the haunted doll.

All the while, the three are trying to deal with their changing relationships, as can sometimes happen at this age. Zach’s father has thrown out all of his toys so that he can’t play the pretend game anymore, but he doesn’t know how to tell the girls. Alice has a crush on Zach, which upsets her BFF status with Poppy. Is Poppy even telling the truth about the ghostly messages she’s received? So much uncertainty!

I really enjoyed this book and it was a fast read. I think those dolls are slightly scary anyway, so it was not hard to believe that this could actually happen. (Like Zach, Alice, and Poppy, I also have an excellent imagination!) It reminded me of a kind of reverse telling of The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn. This book was also about growing up, taking risks, speaking up for one’s self, and loyalty to friends. I also liked the change that Zach’s father went through, which I could relate to and understand, from the perspective of a child and a parent.

Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book for 2014.  It has an AR level of 5.4 and is worth 7 points.

 

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

crooked perfectI read A Crooked Kind of Perfect this morning. One shot, straight through. I can tell you that it made me very weepy, which surprised me while I was sitting on my patio, drinking a cup of coffee. Who knew?

Zoe Elias is ten-going-on-eleven and all she wants to do is be a piano prodigy.  She wants to sit down at a piano and master it immediately. She wants to play like her piano hero, Vladimir Horowitz, and give a concert at Carnegie Hall. Her father, who means well, sets out to find her a piano so she can realize her dreams. Because he suffers from severe anxiety and a condition called agoraphobia, he rarely leaves the house.  He becomes overwhelmed easily and instead of a piano, he returns home having purchased a Perfectone organ instead. (An organ is kind of like a piano, but creates the sound you hear at church or a baseball game. It’s electric so it doesn’t have strings and hammers inside, and has two keyboards, one above the other. So it’s kinda-sorta the same idea, but a different animal in the musical world.)

While Zoe is now stuck with this awkward piano-substitute, she’s also having a rough time with school. Her best friend has found herself a newer best friend over summer vacation. (The ex-BF kindly tells her she can sit with them at lunch until she finds a new BF, so at least there’s that.) Zoe doesn’t relate to the other girls, but strikes up a friendship with Wheeler Diggs, the boy who never does his homework and never takes off his jacket. Wheeler connects with Zoe’s dad, surprisingly, and they end up baking together in the afternoons while Zoe practices her organ lessons.  Since Zoe’s mom is a workaholic, Wheeler often ends up staying for dinner and does his homework there, too.

Zoe’s music teacher signs her up for a competition where she will have to play in public for the first time. She starts to freak out over it and wants to quit. Her mother gives her a pep talk by pointing out that Horowitz, renowned pianist, also makes mistakes. And that’s okay because

“Horowitz wasn’t about perfection. He was about joy and art and music and life. And those things have mistakes in them.”

How brilliant and how true!

So, I don’t want to tell you all of the plot details and the conflict, but this is the main idea. Life is messy and confusing and that’s okay. Everything is still fine. Everything is a “crooked kind of perfect.”

I loved all the characters and I am amazed that the author was able to generate such strong feelings for each of them in such a short book.  Could we have been given more information on a few of the backstories? Sure, but it’s just not necessary in a story that is about overcoming your obstacles and moving forward, despite the past. Zoe has a very positive, resilient attitude; she makes the best of what she has and works hard on reaching her goals. The book was uplifting and sweet, as well as age appropriate.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect might be the book for you if you 1.) think you don’t like reading or 2.) think you don’t like reading loooong books. My edition had 210 pages and the chapters are very short, ranging from a few sentences to a few pages in length. This would be a great book for a reluctant reader, or for a student who wants to read about someone their own age, but without getting into books about dating and heavier teenage issues.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect has an AR level 3.9 and is worth 4 points.