Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sharing Some Spring Break Reading

I rarely post Book Talks on the blog, but I spent a lot of my spring break time reading.  One of my goals this year was not only to read more consistently but also to share what I read with others, particularly my students.  I'll be Book Talking these four books tomorrow, so I thought I would share them here as well.  All of these books would be considered "young adult," but some appeal to a younger age group than others. I really enjoyed each of these books for different reasons.  Each of the book titles is hyperlinked to its page on Amazon, so if you think it sounds like a good read, buy it!

The first book I read what When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  Originally released in 2010, this book is about a young girl named Miranda and her journey to solve a mystery.  It's set in the 1970s in New York City, and Miranda and her single mom are trying to find their place in the world.  In between going to school, dealing with bullies, and coming to terms with changing friendships in her life, Miranda is helping her mom prepare to be a contestant on $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark.  This is a short, quick read, and just as the age of the main character suggests, the book is aimed toward a younger adolescent audience, probably 4th-7th grade.  However, don't take that to mean that the book is juvenile. It has a well layered plot and rich, complex characters that deal with real life problems.  I found myself thinking about how relatable these characters would probably be to my students. Stead does a great job of building suspense as Miranda unravels her mystery.  Another thing I loved about this book is that Miranda's favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorites and one of the books we read in my class. This was a great little read that would definitely draw in reluctant readers from the start.
The next book I read on my break was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS BOOK! I don't typically get into historical fiction, but this book dragged me in from the very beginning.  It is the story of two best friends who meet in the British Royal Air Force during World War II.  I hesitate to say any more than that because the order in which information is given to the reader is part of what makes this book so awesome.  This book came out in 2013, and I noticed on GoodReads that it appears to be the kind of book that you either intensely love or don't like at all. I will say that while the book focuses a lot on planes and flying and used lots of technical language with which I wasn't familiar, I found myself focusing a lot more on the intimate friendship of the two main characters.  While the backdrop of this story is World War II, and it is obvious to me that the author did her research, I feel like this is less a story of war and more a story of the lengths to which we will go for the people we love and adore.  It's a story of loyalty and faith and goodness in the face of evil, and it made me cry a lot (in a good way).  I haven't read the companion novel Rose Under Fire yet, but I'm a little afraid to read it because I loved this book so much that I'm not sure the companion novel can live up to it. While I loved this book, I do feel like it was a little mature for some of my 7th graders.  I probably won't keep it in my classroom library, but I have a few students who are really interested in this time period, and I'll probably check it out to them.  
The third book I read was so much more than I thought it would be.  At first glance, Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi looks like a "boy book" through and through, especially with the brightly illustrated zombie head prominently displayed in the cover art.  This book is the story of three boys who discover a zombie apocalypse taking hold in their town and then take a stand for survival.  Because of the way the cover was illustrated, I thought this book was going to be written in the style of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series or James Patterson's Middle School: Worst Years of my Life. However, I found when I opened the cover that this book was all words and no pictures.  Despite the lack of pictures, this book reads fast and is full of action.  It would be a great transition book for students who are stuck on Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate books.  In addition to its place as a kind of transition book for reluctant readers, I also loved that this book was so much more than a silly zombie book.  This book tackles real issues, like immigration and food quality, and it does it in terms that a seventh grader can understand.  I also loved that this is a great example of true science fiction.  It's a story about human beings, solving a human problem that was created by taking science too far, and finding a human solution.  Overall, I was really impressed with this book and found myself having a hard time putting it down.  I think I'll probably have a hard time keeping it on my classroom library shelf, too. 
The last book I read over spring break was Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, the second book is the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series.  I read the first book in this series when it first came out, and I felt like it was good, not great.  Then, a few months later my book club read it, and they overwhelmingly disliked it.  When the second book came out in January, I was hesitant to buy it because I worried that if I didn't love the first book, I probably wouldn't love the second one either.  However, I decided to give it a try over spring break, mostly because middle schoolers love these books.  The creepy old photographs that correspond with the story are brilliant, and they keep kids so interested in the story.  Despite my skepticism, I feel like Ransom Riggs ironed out some of the imperfections of Book One in Book Two.  Hollow City picks up exactly where the first book left off.  The children are running away from their home to London in order to save the world of peculiardom and their beloved protector, Miss Peregrine.  Obviously, their journey is far from easy, seeing as it takes a solid 400 pages to tell the story, but the troubles they meet along the way are dangerous and interesting and kept me turning pages for two days straight.  I felt like the pace of this book was much better than the first one, but part of that was probably due to the fact that so much had already been explained in Book One.  A third book is coming out, so there isn't a lot of resolution at the end.  Instead, it takes a wonderfully unexpected twist, which I really appreciated.  There's no better way to keep a middle schooler reading than to leave them totally hanging at the end, and that is exactly what Riggs does. 

So there's my spring break reading in a nutshell.  Hopefully, my students will come back with book recommendations, too, so I'll know what to read next. Wishing everyone a wonderful week!

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