Reviews

Places, people! SHORT by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Short. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. Read by Tara Sands. 296 pages/6 hours and 33 minutes. Hardcover  $14.59, ISBN 978-0-399-18621-9 ; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-399-18622-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction / Theatre

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Julia Marks is having a rough start to her summer. Her dog/best friend Ramon has just passed away, and she finds herself looking for him all the time. She’s feeling misunderstood; with Ramon, she never had to talk about why she never says the word “short” or how it feels to be the one in the family small enough to sneak in the dog door when someone forgets their keys. This summer, she’s supposed to look after her little brother Randy, and perhaps as a way to keep both kids occupied, Mrs. Marks has Julia try out for the summer production of The Wizard of Oz with Randy. To Julia’s huge surprise, she does well enough to get cast. As a munchkin, she gets to work with Olive, a little person and adult cast member. Julia does well enough that she becomes the dance captain for the munchkins, plus she gets an added role as a Winged Monkey. Her neighbor Mrs. Chang is so excited to hear about Julia’s summer project that she starts making munchkin costumes for Julia. When Sean Barr, the director of the show, sees Julia’s munchkin gear, Mrs. Chang finds herself a role in the show. As summer progresses, Julia begins to wonder if her height really does define her — and whether that is a good or a bad thing.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had me crying within the first five minutes … basically, as soon as she mentioned Ramon, I was a goner. Actually, nearly every time she really talks about Ramon, I end up crying. But that’s just me! The book itself was wonderful. Julia’s first foray into the world of acting is really sweet, interesting, and plausible. It feels like readers are backstage with her as she learns what wings are, what it means to hit your mark, and more.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 10/15/16

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 12/01/16

Readalikes?

Better Nate than Never (according to Those About to Mock)

I’m curious to see if How to Stage a Catastrophe is a readalike.

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Reviews

The fox and his boy: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Pax. Balzer + Bray, 2016. 276 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-06-237701-2; PLB $20.46, ISBN 978-1-53792-339-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Realistic fiction

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

When Peter’s father announces that he must go to war, it means that Peter must move in with his silent grandfather … and give up his beloved fox, Pax. Pax is puzzled by his boy’s sadness that day in the car, and when his boy throws the toy soldier far into the woods, Pax thinks it’s a game of fetch. Instead, both fox and boy are crushed as Peter is forced to rush into the car and leave his fox behind. After his first day with his grandfather, Peter realizes he can’t leave Pax on his own in the wild. Peter sets off on foot to cover the distance to find his fox. Pax realizes that living in the wild is much harder than living with his boy. Can Pax learn to take care of himself? Will he be alone forever? Will Peter make it to his fox?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book KILLED ME. I have a “no books with animals on the cover” rule because if the book is meant to be serious, I KNOW I’ll be ugly-sobbing by the end. Pax definitely delivers on that front! On his adventures, Peter meets Vola, a war veteran with one leg. Vola is a powerful character, and I loved her chapters. Pax’s voice as a narrator is clear and beautiful. Ultimately, this is a great book that I know I will never read again (TOO MUCH CRYING). I would absolutely hand this to a fan of wilderness, survival, and animal stories.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 11/01/15

Kirkus Reviews starred, 11/01/15

Publishers Weekly starred, 11/16/15

School Library Journal starred, 12/01/15

Reviews

Thoughts on a novel …

I really don’t want to publish negative reviews, but in this case, I am making an exception because of how a particular medical condition was handled in an otherwise GORGEOUS book. The writing is beautiful. It’s amazing. The plot, however, ends up going down the same offensive path that Hollywood frequently uses when discussing dementia. For that reason, I’m going to post my thoughts here about Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar. (Also, I’ve had this post in my “drafts” for seven months because I was feeling conflicted about actually posting this one, but I stand by my thoughts, so I’m posting it now.)

Eagar, Lindsay. Hour of the Bees. Candlewick Press, 2016. 360 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-7636-7922-4

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? No. 

Genre: Magical Realism

Plot Summary:

Carol wanted to spend the summer between her sixth and seventh grade years like most other tweens would — pool parties, fun at the mall, hanging out with friends. Instead, she and her family must pack into their cars and drive out into the middle of nowhere so that they can help Serge, her grandfather, move into an assisted living facility for people with dementia. Carol has never met Serge, so this difficult mission is made even harder. Armed with the Seville’s pamphlet on how to handle loved ones with dementia, Carol repeats the instructions to herself as she helps pack up the house, complete minor repairs, and babysit her grandfather. Meanwhile, Grandpa Serge tells her the story of a magical tree and the bees who stole the lake and never returned. As the story develops, Carol finds more and more real-life objects that have a part to play in Serge’s story. Is it fiction, or is there magic waiting to be found?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Warning: Don’t start this one if you don’t want to cry in public!

This book addresses a topic that is very close to me, so my review comes from two places: not only does it come from me as a school librarian looking for a good book for my kids to read, it also comes from me as a person, the loved one of someone currently living with dementia. This book breaks my personal “No books about dementia” rule, but since there really are so few books out there dealing with the actual situation of caring for someone who lives with dementia (or being the child of those caregivers), I wanted to see what this one was like.

Dementia is a very real problem that many people — doctors, businesses, and the media — tend to ignore, downplay, or misrepresent. For someone going through helping a family member who is living with dementia, the most common media representations of dementia (i.e., “comic forgetfulness” or catatonia) are unhelpful at best and insulting at worst. Eagar explores the real-life drama and tragedy of helping to move someone into assisted living, especially when that person has zero desire to move and would rather die on their own property. To make reading this review easier, I’m going to split up the things that I liked and the things that I didn’t. There will be some spoilers, those spoilers will be in white. Other plot points will be discussed in visible (black) text if they are not major spoilers.

I LOVED —

This story has delicious amounts of magical realism. Serge tells a spellbinding story about a magical tree and a green-glass lake. The moments when Serge is telling his tale are wonderful. Eagar also captures a middle-schooler’s voice beautifully. If I could separate out the specifics of how Serge’s dementia is represented and treated, this would be a 5-star book.

My Problem: Dementia (/care options for people with dementia) is not represented respectfully in this novel:

One aspect of this book that I did not enjoy was that the move into assisted living is presented as the Worst Case Scenario; media frequently vilifies families who move someone into assisted living. In reality, assisted living is a place for people to receive the care that they need when their families are unable to provide it in-home. This may simply be a touchy subject for me, but to have yet another author use this storyline was disappointing. Kids need to read about when assisted living is the best case scenario, too, as it truly appears to be for Serge. When every novel or television show or movie shows assisted living to be the WORST thing you can do to someone (I mean, do you even love them? How could you?), it gets tough to explain to folks that really, sometimes it is the best thing.

SPOILER IN WHITE TEXT; I talk about the very end of the book here, so only highlight if you want to know how it ends:  Carol, horrified by her grandfather’s assisted living facility, busts him out late at night and drives him back to his home. There, Serge sustains a fatal rattlesnake bite. Serge is given a “good death;” albeit sad, he is able to die victorious after being on his ranch one last time and not having to return to the Seville; he gets to die on his own terms, not in the “prison” his family sent him to. This is a deus ex machina used by many writers who play up the “assisted living is the worst” trope, and I was very disappointed to see it in this book. Saying goodbye to a family home is a sad but often necessary moment in the care for someone with dementia. To have Serge be able to die “victoriously” on his own property rather than remaining in the assisted living facility his son has moved him into may confuse younger readers into thinking that what Carol did was right and that her parents were wrong.

ALSO — Does the dog die? : YES – Ines passes away the night before Serge has to move to the Seville. It’s a tearjerker for sure.

Conclusion:

I appear to be alone with regards to my feelings about the way dementia was handled. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Common Sense Media have all positively reviewed the book. I agree absolutely that the writing of this novel is beautiful. I am completely sincere when I say that this was almost a 5-star book for me. The ending, however, undid that rating.

 

References:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). Hour of the bees (Review of the book Hour of the Bees). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/hour-of-the-bees#

Kirkus Reviews. (2016, Jan. 9). HOUR OF THE BEES (Review of the book Hour of the Bees). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/lindsay-eagar/hour-of-the-bees/

Publishers Weekly. (2015, Dec. 7). Hour of the bees (Review of the book Hour of the Bees). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7636-7922-4  

Reviews

Leave it on the court: The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 237 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN  978-0-544-10771-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-48985-855-9

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Sports Novel/Novel in Verse

 

Part of a series? No, but Alexander’s Booked is similar in style and content for readers who want more like this book.

 

Plot Summary:

Josh (Filthy McNasty) and Jordan (JB) Bell are twins and stars of their middle school basketball team. Their father Chuck Bell, former basketball star, helps them prepare for their goals of eventually playing on all-star college teams. When Josh loses a bet, his bald-headed brother gets to cut off a precious lock from Josh’s hair. Joking around, JB doesn’t pay attention to his cutting and ends up chopping off five locks, forcing Josh to get his hair cut short. Deprived of his prized hair, Josh’s mood can only worsen when JB falls for the new girl in her pink Reeboks; with both his hair and the company of his brother taken from him, Josh loses his temper during a game and hits his brother in the face with a ball so hard he nearly breaks JB’s nose. Their mother suspends Josh from the team, leaving him more free time to worry about his father’s failing health — and the fact that his father refuses to see a doctor.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Alexander’s poetry flies across the page. Moments can be slow and contemplative, or words can explode, grow, smash together, and slide around as Josh describes the game he plays. The story progresses at a good clip, and the passage of time marked by holidays and the food shared is a powerful way to return readers to the thought of food and how it affects the family.

 

This is a fantastic book; writing a novel in verse is not easy, and this book is gorgeous. The action, the thought behind those actions, and the characters themselves are brought to life. I would recommend this to any reader; sports fans may love the play-by-play details, but anyone can enjoy the poetry.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be fantastic for a poetry unit. Readers can also make poems out of alphabet soup and cookies, adding a 3-D level to the poetry creation. Students can also go out into the school community for fifteen minutes and just listen, then come back and write a poem incorporating when they heard on campus; Alexander uses this onomatopoeic technique frequently, and those are always exciting poems to read. (Ideas from myself).

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2015

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 2/1/14

Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2015

Kirkus Reviews starred 1/15/14

Library Media Connection starred 8/1/14

Newbery Medal, 2015

Publishers Weekly starred 1/20/14

School Library Journal starred 3/1/14

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 8/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Clarke, T. (n. d.). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-crossover

Kirkus Reviews. (2013, Dec. 18). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kwame-alexander/the-crossover/

Vardan, E. (2015, Apr. 26). The crossover by Kwame Alexander  |  Book review (Review of the book The Crossover). The Children’s Book Review. Retrieved from https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2015/04/the-crossover-by-kwame-alexander-book-review.html

Reviews

Monsters at Midnight: Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper. Graphix, 2008. 185 pages. Hardcover $21.29, ISBN 978-0-439-84680-6; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-439-84681-3; PLB $17.61, ISBN 978-0-329-65428-3

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? Yes — the Amulet series

 

Plot Summary:

The Stonekeeper tells the story of the story of the Hayes family. When Emily and Navin lose their father in a tragic car accident, their lives are changed forever. The children and their mother must move to an old family home far away … one that has not been lived in for many years due to the rumor that it is haunted. The rumor, based on the story of Emily’s great-grandfather who locked himself somewhere in the house and was never seen again, does not prevent the Hayes family from starting extreme renovations. On their first night, they hear a mysterious sound in the basement, and find carnivorous creatures who snatch Mrs. Hayes and take her to a mysterious world. Will Emily and Navin be able to save their mother? What is the necklace that Emily found in the library? Will they ever be able to be a whole, safe family again?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is the first in a series of graphic novels that never stay on the shelf long in my library. Students are forever wanting the next book on hold; while we have duplicates of many of the volumes, the whole series is usually checked out by different patrons. After spending a full week fielding requests for various volumes from the series, I decided to check out the first one for myself. It’s a fast-paced story, and the book itself is a quick read, leaving me with a third of my bus ride with nothing to read! The stakes are high, and while some plot developments feel a little too convenient, the story is extremely engaging and ends on a major cliffhanger (now I understand my students’ anguish when the second Amulet is not available!).

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

The action never stops, so this is a great one for readers who want intense adventuring. This is a great book to hand to a reluctant reader due to its action-packed storyline in such a slim volume. It is also a great book for those readers who just want to immerse themselves into some thrilling fantasy. If this were a book club book, the club could have puzzles be our main activity for the book, including a focus on “escape” puzzles (see this post from Teen Librarian Toolbox, referenced in an earlier entry of mine). (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 12/1/07

 

Reviews referenced:

Berry, M. (n. d.). The stonekeeper: Amulet, book 1 (Review of the book The Stonekeeper). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-stonekeeper-amulet-book-1

Hogan, J. (2008, Jan. 1). Amulet, book one: The stonekeeper (Review of the book The Stonekeeper). Kidsreads. Retrieved from http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/amulet-book-one-the-stonekeeper

 

Tags for my blog: graphic novels, amulet, magic, monsters, elves, puzzles, different worlds, grief and loss, fantasy

Reviews

Once Upon a Time: The Wishing Spell; The Land of Stories, Book 1

Colfer, Chris. Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 438 pages. Hardcover $16.20, ISBN 978-0-316-20157-5; Tr. $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-20156-8; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48985-276-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings

 

Part of a series? Yes — The Land of Stories series

 

Plot Summary:

Twins Alex and Conner Bailey couldn’t be more different. Alex loves school and homework, and Conner struggles with classwork, accidentally napping instead of listening when his teacher talks. To make matters worse, life at home continues to drag the twins down. After losing their father the year before in a car accident, the kids have had to move out of their beloved home and into a rental down the street. Their mother has to work long hours to pay bills, and their grandmother cannot spend as much time with them as they would like. To their surprise, they get a real birthday treat when their grandmother comes to visit. She gives them her beloved copy of The Land of Stories, a book filled with the fairy tales that had united the family when they visited her at her home. Within the week, however, the book begins glowing and vibrating, and the twins find themselves literally pulled into the book! Will Conner and Alex ever get back home, or will they live in the Land of Stories forever? Furthermore, will the characters in the book be just like they’ve always imagined, or will they be more complicated?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

An engaging read, The Wishing Spell is the first in a series that I literally cannot keep on my shelves. Kids are always checking out a volume, and I am peppered with questions during library time about whether or not I have certain books (and when they’ll get back!). With such enthusiasm for the series in my own library, I knew I had to give it a shot. Colfer’s use of familiar fairy tale figures is inventive, and readers with any familiarity with these characters will enjoy new interpretations. Conner has a smart mouth that provides comedic relief as well as getting them out of tough spots, and Alex’s cleverness helps them escape risky moments, too. The text could be clunky at times, and events were either much more complicated or resolved far too quickly for the story’s demands, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a super fun book club book, especially since so many readers at varying levels have read the books. Rewriting our own fairy tales would be a great activity, especially if we could connect them or have the same protagonists moving through each story on their own question. It wouldn’t be quite an “exquisite corpse” game, but rather, we could assign the group the names and basic qualities of our protagonists, and use those characters in each of our retellings. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). The wishing spell: The Land of Stories, Book 1 (Review of the book The Wishing Spell). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-wishing-spell-the-land-of-stories-book-1#

 

Reviews

Mermaids! Aquamarine

Hoffman, Alice. Aquamarine. Scholastic, 2001. 105 pages. Tr. $5.99, ISBN  978-0-439-09864-9; PLB $12.41, ISBN  978-1-41552-455-8

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes.

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Claire and Hailey (a timid girl and her fearless best friend) are drawing out summer as long as they can, for at the end of the month, their favorite summer spot will be closing forever, and Claire will be moving away to Florida. They are afraid of what the future holds and sad about the upcoming changes. What does it mean when, in the last week of the Capri’s last season, a mermaid is washed into the swimming pool? Will Aquamarine get to meet the human teen who works at the Capri snack bar? Will Claire and Hailey help her?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a very short book, but it had a sweet story. This is a great pick for the reluctant reader as there’s plenty of white space on the page. One downside (also noted in Publishers Weekly) is that this book is so short that we are left with some questions (What? Mermaids? Who else is out there? What’s Aquamarine up to usually? What are the “rules” of being a mermaid?) that it could leave a reader used to the depth of other fantasy books (i.e., Land of Stories) wishing for more and feeling like they haven’t had much of a read. Readers who are looking for a nice short read, however, will enjoy this book about friendship and the magic of belief.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel has a movie adaptation  which may sweeten the reading deal; we could read the book as a group (or alone!), and I can recommend the film version to students looking to get to know Claire and Hailey a bit more. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Reviews referenced:

Anonymous (screen name). (n. d.). Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman (Review of the book Aquamarine). Teen Ink. Retrieved from http://www.teenink.com/reviews/book_reviews/article/763617/Aquamarine-by-Alice-Hoffman/

Kirkus Reviews. (2001, Feb. 15). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/alice-hoffman/aquamarine-2/

Publishers Weekly. (2001, Feb. 19). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-09863-2

Reviews

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Graff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun. Philomel Books, 2015. 304 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-399-16406-4; Tr. $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-750858-4; PLB $13.81, ISBN 978-1-51810-658-7

 

TL;DR: Do I Recommend This? Yes

 

Genre: Realistic Contemporary Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Trent Zimmerman has a lot on his mind. His dad has started a new family with his second wife Kari, and they are expecting a baby almost any day now. Meanwhile, it feels like Mr. Zimmerman is doing his best to tick Trent off. Trent’s fuse is shorter than usual, too, due to the fact that no one wants to talk to him anymore. After a tragic accident the school year before, Trent finds himself overwhelmed with guilt over the death of a peer, and it appears that the town agrees with him that he is at fault for the boy’s death. To make matters worse, Trent can’t try to play sports again to mend those friendships because any athletic activity makes him go clammy, remembering that February hockey game. Friendless and feeling attacked at home (first by his father’s attitude, then by his siblings’ insistence that Trent visit his dad anyway), Trent begins acting out. Fallon Little doesn’t seem to mind, but she’s weird. Could they become friends?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

 

This book is fantastic. Graff does a fabulous job describing Trent’s “fire” that erupts in his chest and forces him to blow up when he is angry. Trent does his best to control his impulses, but sometimes (often, early on, he cannot control them at all) they get the better of him, costing even more trust in the community.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This book would be a great book for a student dealing with anger management issues or who is interested in reading about this topic. It could also be a great book club book — there is a great deal of potential discussion that could be had when considering Trent, Fallon, and their classmates. A fun club activity would be to watch one of Fallon’s movies and look for the continuity errors. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/15

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 9/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 3/1/15

Publishers Weekly starred 3/16/15

School Library Journal starred 4/1/15

 

Reviews Referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). Lost in the sun (Review of the book Lost in the Sun). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/lost-in-the-sun

Publishers Weekly. (2015, March 16). Lost in the sun (Review of the book Lost in the Sun). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-16406-4

 

Reviews

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. Bloomsbury Press, 2005. 314 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-1-58234-993-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-61963-613-2; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48986-273-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Part of a series? Yes — Princess Academy series

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Plot Summary:

Miri is nervous. Will her Pa just let her work in the linder quarry? She feels useless and knows her town agrees with her — she’s too small to mine linder, so what’s the point of her? When it’s announced that the prince’s bride will come from remote Mount Eskel and that the girls must attend a Princess Academy in preparation, Miri’s world is opened. Learning to read gives Miri pathways to a new world and new understandings. Will she gain confidence and learn that she is not useless?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I thought this was a really sweet fantasy novel about confidence, empathy, bravery, and even prejudice. As “lowlander” after lowlander assumes the Mount Eskel girls to be stupid (and the Mount Eskel girls assume the lowlanders are weak), each group gets to know the other and realize that they are not as different as they seem.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel really packages discussions about empathy and bravery well, too, so this would be a great book club pick or reading circle choice. Readers could discuss different ways that parents or other adults show that they care for others. They can talk about what it’s like to feel different. Perhaps I could steer the conversation eventually towards a conversation of what it means to have different abilities and strengths, and then I could give the kids time to discuss their own cool skills. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-9

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Plevak, L. L. (2005). Princess academy (Review of the book Princess Academy). School Library Journal, 51(10), p. 161.

 

Reviews

Science and Stuff: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

img_0071-1This book packs a powerful emotional punch. Suzy (aka Zu) is starting seventh grade, but aside from the usual middle school miseries, Suzy is also dealing with the sudden death of her childhood best (and only) friend Franny. Suzy and Franny’s friendship ended very badly the year before, and Suzy had had plans to try to repair the damage in seventh grade. With this opportunity lost, Suzy is shocked, saddened, and utterly lost. She becomes nearly mute, choosing to “not-talk” rather than “constant-talk” since talking doesn’t mean anything, especially since talking couldn’t help her and Franny.

During a class field trip, Suzy learns about the Irukandji jellyfish, an almost invisible and nearly-always-fatal jelly. Suzy, desperate for a logical answer to the loss of her friend, decides to prove that an Irukandji jelly is the reason why her friend died.

Benjamin writes Suzy’s voice so clearly that it feels as though we are right alongside Suzy in her thoughts. A young scientist herself, Suzy’s research process and grief process are remarkably the same; even the book is laid out like a lab report with introductions, hypotheses, method, and results. Readers will also learn about jellyfish alongside Suzy as she mulls over the facts and figures that she learns. It’s a fascinating read, and the drama of her search for answers pulls readers in even further. A gripping read, I would recommend this to any young reader.

This would make a powerful book club book, or it could be used in a science class to think about ways that “experiments” can be created and used. While Suzy’s research into the Irukandji is not solely for her coursework, it is interesting to think about how her search for answers about Franny is its own experiment in growing up and accepting reality. This could also be a book for a kid who is feeling the pain of grief; Suzy is a very realistic narrator, and she does not sound like an author condescending to a child’s grief.