Reviews

Does Perfection have a Purpose? The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel, Kenneth. The Nest. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. 244 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-48143-232-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-48143-233-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51811-847-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Steven is a nervous kid. He has nightmares that something creeps at the edge of his bed, watching him. He washes his hands to keep germs away, and he keeps prayer-like (but not prayers, since he isn’t sure he believes in God) lists asking for protection of his family and friends. He worries all the time — about the scary knife man who rides through the streets, offering to sharpen knives; about the wasps that have always terrified him, but that he now finds out he is allergic to; and now, about his family when his parents bring home their new baby boy. His new little brother has a long and difficult road of surgeries and struggles ahead of him; he is born very sick, and doctors diagnose him with a rare congenital disease. Steven knows that adults tell him that he can’t catch it, but he still worries. He also hesitates to call the baby by his name, because what if the little boy dies from his condition? Consumed with worry (and guilt), Steven struggles with sleeping…until an angel-like being comes to him in a dream, dispersing the scary dark shape that lurks at the edge of his bed, and promises to fix the baby if Steven agrees to the fix. His brother can be made perfect by these beings, but it is up to Steven to make that call. Is this really the answer to his family’s problems? 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is unputdownable. It moves forward like a thriller. The angelic beings show more and more of themselves as the book progresses, and choices become much more difficult. Mysterious figures appear, and no one believes Steven when he talks about his dreams and how nervous they are making him. The book also presents the important idea that no one is “perfect.” Everyone is “a little bit broken,” even if not everyone looks it.

This book also reminded me a great deal of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. That book is devastating and beautiful, and it also deals with some very difficult topics and frightening figures.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic reading circle book. It tackles some really tough topics (OCD, anxiety, babies living with disabilities), but it does so in a way that I haven’t seen before. The book makes you think about difficult topics while also keeping you on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. Illustrations by Klassen are gorgeous and eerie. I would love to have students read and discuss this one. (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 7/1/15

Horn Book Guide starred 4/1/16

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 8/1/15

Publishers Weekly starred 7/20/15

School Library Journal starred 8/1/15

Reviews

All aboard to Alcatraz! Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Choldenko, G. Al Capone Does My Shirts. Puffin Books, 2006. 228 pages. Hardcover 2004 $15.34, ISBN 978-0-399-23861-1; Hardcover 2000 $15.45, ISBN  978-0-7569-7020-8;  Tr. $6.84, ISBN  978-0-14-240370-9; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-41566-588-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Part of a series? Yes — Al Capone at Alcatraz series

Plot Summary:

Moose Flanagan finds himself living on Alcatraz alongside the worst of the worst criminals when his dad needs a new job … and his sister needs a new school. Natalie Flanagan has been ten years old for quite some time, as keeping Natalie “ten years old” is her mother’s best chance at getting Natalie the help that she needs. Natalie is different, and since no one has been able to accurately diagnose her or prescribe a cure, the Flanagans are trying everything they can to give Natalie a normal life. For Moose, this means moving from home in Santa Monica all the way out to Alcatraz, taking a boat into school in San Francisco everyday with Piper, the warden’s daughter and a girl who is more trouble than she’s worth. Can Natalie get the help she needs (and is it the help being given to her?)? (Plus — will Moose ever meet Al Capone?!)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book was a great read. There are some elements of it that are tough — namely, how people treat Natalie as well as the focus on “fixing” her, but it also reads as historically accurate, as many of the ways that we as a community discuss autistic people and their differences from “neurologically typical” people are still in the process of acknowledging autistic people as people who think differently, rather than “broken” people who need to be prevented or fixed. The presentation of Alcatraz is delicious, and Moose is as fantastic narrator. His love for his sister is obvious, as is his frustration with Piper, his struggles with his mother’s treatment of him (and his sister), and his desire to live a normal life.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is a great historical fiction pick especially for my students as we are located in San Francisco and have a clear view of the island! The neighborhoods discussed in the book are close to our school, so it’s a fun look back at what San Francisco and Alcatraz were like. This would be a fun reading circle book. Perhaps an activity for this book would be to look at photos of “old” San Francisco and to then compare them to photos now … perhaps even taking part in a San Francisco scavenger hunt and/or trip to Alcatraz with parental supervision and permission! (Given our proximity to the island, this could happen for our group.) (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2005

Kirkus Reviews starred 3/1/04

Library Media Connection starred 11/1/04

Newbery Honor, 2005

Publishers Weekly starred 2/2/04

School Library Journal starred 3/1/04

Reviews

Whodunnit?! The Westing Game

Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game. Puffin Books, 1978. 182 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-525-47137-0; 1997 Tr. $6.50, ISBN 978-0-14-038664-6; 2004 Tr. $5.19, ISBN 978-0-14-240120-0; 1997 PLB $14.61; 2004 PLB $13.01, ISBN 978-1-41552-763-4

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

 

Genre: Mystery

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Sixteen people are called to the Westing House when millionaire Sam Westing dies on Halloween. In order to determine who inherits the fortune, the sixteen people (heirs) must find out who killed Westing. Clues are given out piecemeal, and everyone is a suspect! Bombs, getting snowed in, and theft heighten the tension.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I’ve heard from many people that this is their favorite book. I had to give it a shot, especially since the third grade boys are working on a mystery novel unit. The plot is intricate; I found myself needing to flip back and forth to make sure I had remembered a clue correctly, and I was focusing so hard on the threads of the story that I almost missed my bus stop! It’s an engaging story with some real twists and great red herrings.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

At the school where I work, third grade does a mystery unit. I’m so glad that we have this book in the collection; this is a great fit for a mystery project. I would hold a murder mystery party in class or in book club as an activity. (Idea from myself; how to hold a murder mystery party information here; for an academic library, but could be usable/scalable for an elementary school library.)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred

Newbery Medal, 1979

 

Reviews referenced:

Jackson, K. (n. d.). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-westing-game

Kirkus Reviews. (1978, May 1st). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellen-raskin-0/westing-game-raskin/

 

Murder Mystery information:

Kirby, M. (2003, Aug. 4). How to host a murder mystery in your library. Carleton.edu. Retrieved from https://www.carleton.edu/campus/library/reference/workshops/MurderMystery.html