Friday, August 26, 2016

#BoutofBooks 17 - Day Five

Bout of Books

I feel myself running out of steam with only two days left in the read-a-thon. Including the book that I had almost finished before I went to bed last night, I only read four books today:
I also read two chapters of Kat, Incorrigible.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

#BoutofBooks 17 - Day Four

Bout of Books
I lost some of my momentum today, but I did read a handful of books that I really enjoyed. I finished four books:

I also read more than half of Alex Ryan, Stop That! by Claudia Mills, but couldn't quite finish before midnight.

Recent Library Reads: Middle Grade Fiction

Today's post focuses on middle grade fiction titles I have borrowed from the library over the past few months.

Comics Squad Series
Edited by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers
Recess (July 2014) 9780385370035
Lunch (January 2016) 9780553512649

These two books are essentially themed short story collections in graphic format. For adults, especially, who are not familiar with popular graphic novelists, this is a good starting place for getting a feel for their art and senses of humor. Kids will also enjoy reading short pieces about characters they already know, including a wonderful origin story for Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady and a fascinating lunch-themed Hazardous Tale from Nathan Hale. I also really loved Jeffrey Brown's story about how neanderthals cooked soup, and Gene Luen Yang's story about a secret ninja club. There is something for everyone in each of these collections, and because both titles are school-themed, I'm sure school libraries are having trouble keeping them on their shelves.

The Trouble with Ants 
by Claudia Mills
September 2015; Knopf Books for Young Readers

Nora Alpers loves science, and she loves her ant farm. Unfortunately, no one else shares her enthusiasm for these amazing insects, and she is forced to endure boring conversations about everything from sports to cat videos instead. But when she is given an assignment to write a persuasive speech, Nora knows just what she will do. She will give a speech convincing her classmates to love ants as much as she does. In the meantime, she also decides to submit some of her ant research to a professional science journal like the ones which publish her dad's work. I have said many times that no one writes school stories better than Claudia Mills. I love all of her books, but this one struck me as exceptional because it's a notebook novel that is not about writing. There are so many books about girls who like to read and write, and a fair amount about girls who love sports, but very few about girls who love science this much, and take it this seriously. Nora is very much her own person, marching to the beat of her own drummer, and I think readers will find that refreshing. This book will satisfy adults looking for more STEM-themed reading material, but even if the book is not promoted in connection with a specific agenda, it should find many readers just because Nora is such a real and believable character.

The Turn of the Tide
by Rosanne Parry 
January 2016; Random House Books for Young Readers

Cousins Kai and Jet live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean: Jet in Oregon and Kai in Japan. When a tsunami hits Kai's community, he is sent to stay with Jet's family while the adults begin the rebuilding effort. While Jet tries her best to welcome her cousin into her boisterous Swedish-American family, Kai is consumed with guilt for not being with his family and friends during this tragic time. When Jet finds herself in need of a sailing partner for an upcoming race, however, she and Kai find a way to truly develop a family bond with one another.  After reading through all the Swallows and Amazons books a few years ago, I am instantly drawn to books that involve sailing, despite the fact that I have never been on a sailboat. This book fulfilled everything I was hoping for: memorable characters, a strong adventure storyline, and hope throughout the story for a happy ending even though some sad events occur. I might have liked a bit more character development aside from Kai's reaction to the tsunami and Jet's desire to be the second female bar pilot, but kids who are more interested in plot than character won't have that problem. Overall, the writing is excellent, with lots of vivid, yet easy-to-understand descriptions, and a truly nail-biting finale. Boys and girls will like it equally, and it will make a nice book club or classroom read-aloud choice.

Centaur Rising
by Jane Yolen 
October 2014; Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

I'm not sure I will ever be a full-fledged fantasy reader, but clearly my Fumbling Through Fantasy project has at least weakened my resistance a little bit, because I willingly borrowed a fantasy novel from the library! In Centaur Rising, Jane Yolen tells the story of a 1960s family whose lives are forever changed when their horse gives birth to a centaur. Arianne and her six-year-old brother, Robbie, already have their share of problems, as Robbie is a thalidomide baby, with the accompanying physical deformities, and their father left the family rather than face his child's disabilities. When the centaur, whom they name Kai, arrives after the Perseid meteor shower, the kids and their mom, along with the veterinarian, and Martha, who helps care for the horses, decided to keep him a secret in order to protect him and their own privacy, but it quickly becomes clear that it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out. In the end, Robbie, who bonds with Kai like a brother, is the inspiration for how Kai will ultimately fit into their world.

I liked this book primarily because it brings a fantastical element into the real world, rather than asking me to accept an entirely magical world. The historical elements of the thalidomide and the veterinarian also being a veteran of the Vietnam War did seem extraneous, but the author explains on Goodreads that "having it set today with cellphones and ipads and internet blogs and photo bombs, etc. no such secret could have been kept for longer than a minute!!" So I imagine these elements are included to make the time period seem less random. The ending was a bit much for me, too, as it introduces a whole world of centaurs previously unmentioned, but more die-hard fantasy readers would probably be less fazed by that. Overall, I enjoyed this, and I'd be open to trying out more Jane Yolen novels in the future.

Raymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo 
April 2016; Candlewick

More and more lately, it seems like librarians jump on the bandwagon of love for a particular book, and I am one of the few who just doesn't get it. I have mostly been a fan of Kate DiCamillo. The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, Bink and Gollie, Mercy Watson, and the Deckawoo Drive books have all been favorites, and her writing style generally appeals to me. The only book I did not really like was Flora and Ulysses, which was too quirky, and in my opinion, not of Newbery quality. I figured I would probably like Raymie Nightingale, as it is realistic and set in the 70s, a time period I usually like to read about. So I was not prepared for how utterly boring this story is. Raymie's father has run away with a dental hygientist, and in order to convince him to come back home, she wants to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant. To prepare, she signs up for baton twirling lessons, where she meets Beverly Tapinski, whose main goal in life is to sabotage everything, and Louisiana Elefante, who is highly dramatic and always hiding from the social worker who would take her from her grandmother and place her in the county home. The three girls form an unlikely friendship, which sends them on strange errands to a nursing home, an animal shelter, and beyond.

There are lots of lovely lines within the story, but many of them read like they carry more weight than they actually do. Almost every moment of the story calls attention to itself as important in some way, but many of the elements that seem like metaphors are never fully folded into the plot. There is almost nothing to suggest that the story is set in 1975, except for references to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and "King of the Road," songs that are barely familiar to my generation, let alone to kids born in 2004. In fact, I had trouble imagining the child who would connect with this book on any level. The three girls all speak like mini-adults, and there is so much doom and gloom in each of their stories that only kids with truly depressing backgrounds might even understand all that they are going through. Because of Winn Dixie was such a child-friendly story, with a structure that really guided the reader through the literary text. This book is much more pretentious, almost as though the author is showing off how beautifully she can write, or trying to write a Newbery winner. I will truly be disappointed if this book wins the Newbery, because I don't think it will stand up to multiple close readings, but given how much all the librarians already love it - and the fact that DiCamillo has won twice before, and also has an honor book -  I can't say I would be surprised. But award considerations aside, I don't see this as a book for children, and it's not something I will recommend.

I borrowed all books mentioned in this post from my local public libraries.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#BoutofBooks 17 - Day Three

Bout of Books

My reading for day 3 brings me to a total of 20 books for the week so far. Here are the six books I read today:

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