Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Meerkat Wars

The Meerkat Wars, The Gradual Elephant, and Paka Mdogo Little Cat

by H.S. Toshack

Our trilogy of readers is working through this trilogy of African Animal Adventure books...

Guest Reviewer Son #3:

In “The Meerkat Wars” a house cat gets accidentally lost on a trip that she was never supposed to go on. In the wild Sheena must help a young Meerkat in need. The Meerkats befriend Sheena because she helped the young meerkat. I recommend this book to people who like the ‘Warrior’ books because they both involve a house cat that gets lost in the wild and then get befriended by untamed animals.

Guest Reviewer Son #2:

The Meerkat Wars by H.S. Toshack is a very interesting and exciting portrayal of life in the African Baragandiri National Park. The author tells the story of a house cat named Sheena who encounters rival meerkat tribes living on the reserve. Both tribes believe they live under the “one true sun” and battle over supremacy of the desert. The tribes hate each other because they think they are very different from each other, but in fact they are almost identical. The meerkats learn to coexist, and they become allies and friends. In my opinion the tribes represent the many religious groups of the world. The author is conveying that if people just communicate with each other and look past their differences, they will realize that the differences are in  fact very small, and that they are more alike than they ever thought before. If people would stop hating and fighting, and listen to reason like the meerkats, the world would be a much better place. I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed reading The Warriors books. Both authors portray the animals in the story as “people” who live and survive as a clan or tribe. Also, both books feature a newcomer who must learn the ways of the animals, and make peace between rivals. In The Meerkat Wars the author places a poem at the start of each chapter, which sets the mood and foreshadows things to come, making the book more interactive with the readers. After each poem, it was fun attempting to guess which animal was being hinted at to appear next in the story. I loved reading the book and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Not much I can add to that!  Interesting adventures, danger and humor, and lots of great animal & Africa learning connections. Some of the humor was British, and some of the jokes (lots of computer themed riddles in the Elephant book) and wordplay would be lost on most students, especially ELLs. Almost seemed it was written for the clever/higher reading child, but there is a lot of good stuff for all level readers. These would be great books for read aloud in younger grades or classes with lots of English learners.

Unfortunately, our cat doesn't seem the adventurous type. I'll have to read the books to him. Special thanks to LitWorks.com for introducing us to these books.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Should "YA" Be Rated "R" ?

Is it just me, or have the kid's books gotten a little rougher and a bit racier lately? Now I'm not my father, believing everything would be better if it was the Lone Ranger and Hardy Boys and society is going to hell in a handbasket, but I do think children's literature, even YA, should try to temper the sex and violence. Maybe it was Hunger Games, especially the awful third book, that soured me, but why do massive body counts need to be a part of the story? I think we, as parents and teachers, let our children see/hear/read too much too soon. Yes, some kids can read anything and handle it, but those are usually the exceptions, the smarter, more mature kids. Just a theory I guess, but couldn't too much too soon delay the child's own imagination and creative process? Once you've been read Hunger Games in 4th grade, can you go back to Phantom Tollbooth?

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

by Leigh Bardugo (2012)

Several reviews call this "Hogwarts in Russia" -- orphan has magical powers, battles the dark power -- but it's not as imaginative or cute as HP and the teen romance gets a bit racier. But it is set in Russia, with snow and mythology and royal courts, and it does have some spooky creatures and dangerous battles, with an feisty underdog heroine and a quick pace that made it a good read.

Reminded me of a more serious, Santa-free The Guardians of Childhood, as well as Westerfeld's Leviathan and Pullman's Golden Compass.

My summer break weight loss plan.

When Zachary Beaver Came To Town

When Zachary Beaver...

Kimberly Willis Holt (1999)

A busy summer for a boy in small town Texas, 1971: a 600 lb boy in a trailer comes to town, his best friend's brother goes to Vietnam, his mother runs off to Nashville, the girl of his dreams loves someone else, he mows the lawn of a senile Judge, and his father raises worms.

Interesting book, full of very descriptive phrases that would provide many examples for use of figurative language. Almost too many personalities and goings on in the first third, might be hard to keep track of the side characters, but when the story focuses it becomes great. Almost got the tears welling up at one point as well.

Good book with many talking points, several angles for different students to appreciate and discuss.
Has anyone seen the movie?

The Silver Child

 The Silver Child

by Cliff McNish (2006)
Book One of the Silver Sequence

The first two chapters of this book were very impressive, original and thrilling, especially for a YA fantasy. Overall the book doesn't finish as strong as the opening, it gets a bit over dramatic and confusing -- narrator switches, too many narrator self-questions (Why did I..., What should I...), and proportion issues (just how big is the "angel"???) but I'm probably being over critical.

Children start to change, gaining X-men like powers and gathering in a city dump. These aren't cool Animorph changes, there's a lot of pain and confusion and the threat of something unknown yet dangerous coming, but between the invasion situation and the children's talents I'm actually looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy (usually I'm "One and Done").

*Author's website*

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Shadow Thieves

The Shadow Thieves 

Anne Ursu (2006)
Book One of The Cronos Chronicles

Just started this one, supposed to be really good ("Harry Potter-like!"). So far the language, allusions, etc seem to be at a higher level than HP or Riordan's Lightning Thief, we'll see when the action starts...

If it keeps me up past midnight to finish it, it's a good book. This one is a good book, so I may nod off in middle of re-zzzzzzzz....

Creepy yet nattily attired underworld villain, emotional teens, mythological action & adventure, with an almost Douglas Adams-like sense of humor. I started off thinking "12+" because of some vocabulary and the inferring asides, but a good 10+ reader would enjoy it too. Like some Sesame Street skits, you don't get what you don't get but you still can get it. Enjoyable, especially for fans of Percy Jackson and crew, great connections to Greek mythology, and strong family/personal courage and responsibility message.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Newbery update

1935, 1938
1941, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1949
1960, 1963, 1968
1970, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979
1981, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987
1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999
2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013

Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved 

Katherine Paterson
Newbery Medal 1981 

I might have personally liked this book better if I was a girl, especially a girl with a sister. But I'm not, so I don't think some of the elements rang as deep with me -- jealous of her sister, romantic feelings, family role confusion. But there is a lot to still connect with for any reader -- finding one's place in the world, family dynamics and differences in siblings, friendship, strange grandmothers, hard work to achieve a goal.

Some interesting characters come and go in the story, and some stories are touched on but not explained thoroughly, but overall an excellent story. Lots of Geography (East Coast, Chesapeake, crabs and oysters) and History (WWII, German-Americans).

Is there a sequel? The last chapter rang a bell, like I've read that part before or it's part of the next book...?


Archer's Quest

Archer's Quest

Linda Sue Park (2006)
Newbery winner for A Single Shard

Just an afternoon adventure with a time travelling, expert archer King and Legend of ancient Korea, doesn't that happen to every 12 year old boy?

A lot of discussion of respect, discipline, bravery, and trusting one's abilities to solve a problem, as well as Korean history and the Chinese Zodiac. And archery. Clever story, a little humor and enough adventure to keep the pages turning.

The Liberation of Gabriel King

The Liberation of Gabriel King

K.L. Going (2005)

Two friends, a brave black girl and a timid white boy, face bullies, racism, and spiders in 1976 Georgia. Nervous about going into 5th grade, Gabriel tries to spend the summer facing his fears and helps his friend Frita deal with racist adults. Feels like this could have been a much deeper, longer book with all the characters and plot points, but it's almost just a surface sketch. For younger readers it does bring up a lot of discussion-able issues without getting too heavy.

Definitely recommend. Vote for Carter.

The Scarecrow and his Servant

The Scarecrow and His Servant

Philip Pullman (2004)

Fun sometimes silly story of a boy, a scarecrow, and the Kingdom of Birds. A smart boy and a dim scarecrow embark on Quixotic adventures involving desert islands, battles, dancing brooms and lots of birds.