Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan; illus. Michael Wimmer

Synopsis:

A little boy recounts all the special places on his family's farm. Eli knows that no matter where the rest of his life takes him, all the places to love are right here, connected to the land. MacLachlan's moving text is paired with stunning full-color illustrations that capture the simple beauty of farm life.

Details:

Published April 22nd 1994 by HarperCollins

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)

My Review:

Though simple and for a younger age group, the poetry-like prose in this book is extremely polished and beautiful. I use this to teach writing using the five senses. There truly is much brilliant sensory imagery along with figurative language that sparkles. Although it's not an action packed read, it is interesting for any reader simply because of the wording. The sentimental theme, a boy discovering the places he loves and sharing them with his younger sister, seems really emotional and special, perhaps due to the superb writing.

Source: Purchased

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Synopsis:

Camilla Cream loves lima beans, but she never eats them. Why? Because the other kids in her school don't like them. And Camilla Cream is very, very worried about what other people think of her. In fact, she's so worried that she's about to break out in…a bad case of stripes!


My Review:

I can't even tell you how amazing this book is to read to middle schoolers! The weirdness of it attracts their minds - many already remember the ending slightly from elementary school. But the message of the book is one that hits middle school kids right where they are - wanting to fit in so badly they end up looking like a big fool. It opens the door to talking about accepting people for who they are and for being courageous enough to be who you really are even if some people might think you're a bit strange. I used this in class to analyze the varying emotions of the characters, and it really opens up some interesting discussion points about peer pressure and self-esteem.

Details:

Published June 1st 2004 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published January 1st 1998)

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)

Additional Resources:

You can find Sean Astin dramatically reading this book at the amazing Storyline Online along with other actors reading favorite picture books.

Source: Purchased



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: More Parts by Tedd Arnold

Synopsis:

Give me a hand . . . hold your tongue . . . scream your lungs out . . . what's a kid to do if he wants to keep all his body parts in place? Well, one thing is for sure, he'll have to be creative. Like, if you want to keep your heart from breaking, just make sure it's well padded and protected by tying a pillow around your chest. Want to keep your hands attached? Simple-stick them on with gloves and lots of glue. Just be careful not to laugh your head off!

The Elliott Review:

This book continues the drama of what I call "the boy with issues" since he's never named. With this book, student warm up to "the boy with issues" even more, wondering what's going to happen and begging for me to read the next book! The amazing (and at times animatedly gross) pictures keep up the interest, especially of the boys, and the lyrical flow of the rhyming verse is even more engaging. This book is great for adults and children that love word play. I know this is the type of thing my husband just eats up. It would also be an effective way to teach idioms to students.

The a last book in the series is Even More Parts. I have never actually read it, but students who have say that it is just as good as the first two.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: Parts by Tedd Arnold

Synopsis:

First, his hair started falling out. Then skin started peeling from his toes. Some stuffing came out of his belly button, and a piece of something gray and wet-his brain?-fell out of his nose. Is this normal? Or is this boy coming unglued? With a perfect combination of humor and grossness, this look at one boy's farfetched fears will have readers laughing their heads off!

The Elliott Review:

This book is good to use with older kids to activate memories from when they were younger and had strange beliefs about the way the world works (ex. the moon was following them). The poetic words flow in a sing-song way that keeps everyone engaged. The way the text is arranged allows for students to predict what might happen. This also allows for a discussion of emotions in children and adults. The illustrations are also excellent. They keep the humor moving right along.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illus. Judith Dufour Love

Synopsis:

Sarah Jane is worried about going to a new school. She refuses to get out of bed because she keeps imagining all the bad things that can happen. Readers will understand and sympathize with Sarah's feelings and laugh when they discover the surprise ending to this delightful story.


The Elliott Review:

Up to this point, I've really only reviewed young adult fiction with a few adult books thrown in. Now, as the school year progresses, I am going to include the picture books I use as I teach my students writing. I teach seventh graders, but we still use the books to focus our writing and charge the imagination. You would be surprised how much middle schoolers love being read to.

This book really is a delight. It is great for reading aloud, and the students really are surprised by the ending. In fact, some younger students might need the surprise explained for them. I know that some of my students were shocked at the end of the book when it's discovered that Sarah Jane is really a teacher who doesn't want to go to school.

This is a good way to deal with the anxious feelings that students may experience at the beginning of the year - letting them know that anxiety and having "the jitters" is a human thing that is okay. The book gives the feeling that, ultimately, everything is going to be all right.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) by Suzanne Collins

Synopsis:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.



The Elliott Review: (Mildly Spoilerish)

I finally decided what this series reminds me of - Survivor meets Gladiator. Suzanne Collins expertly weaves a futuristic tale that is chillingly believable. In this second book, Katniss must return to another version of The Hunger Games - The Quarter Quell - and compete against previous winners of the Games. She makes it her goal to keep Peeta alive against all odds so that perhaps he can inspire enough unrest to lead a rebellion against the Capitol. This book is filled with even more suspense and heart-wrenching dilemmas than the first. I absolutely loved reading every second of it, and I believe that the books will still be of interest to male readers despite the female point-of-view.

For women and girls - the love triangle is enough to kill us all! Normally in any love triangle, I have a very clear idea of who is the obvious and ultimately final choice for the female protagonist. However, in this story I really do love both of the guys. Peeta has such a noble heart, and the way he sacrificially protects and loves Katniss is enough to do any woman in. The way Gale continues to love her despite all the conflicted messages she sends him, the way he desperately wants to rebel, is just ... mwah! That's what eventually tips me in Gale's direction. That and the fact that I think Katniss truly does love him and wouldn't have any issues at all if the stupid Capitol would stop interfering in her life.

The ending of this book was a terribly cruel cliffhanger, and I'm glad that I only have to wait a few weeks for Mockingjay to come out as opposed to the year that most fans had to endure. I'm definitely on the edge of my seat waiting for this one.



Catching Fire Trailer:



Mockingjay (coming August 24th!) Trailer:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games 1) by Suzanne Collins

Synopsis:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.


The Elliott Review:

 This story has a futuristic setting that is believable as much as it is cruel. From the very beginning, the suspense grabbed me and kept me reading as quickly as possible. Katniss is a well-developed character, and I identified with her sense of urgency as she attempts to survive so that she can return home to continue providing for her family. She is fierce and tough yet extremely dependent on her sponsors and the Gamemakers, who control what happens during the Games.

The romantic elements are not the main focus of this book, but they are there nonetheless. Does Katniss have true feelings for Peeta, or are they merely influenced by the story her mentor has set before the public? Or is does she truly have feelings for her best friend back home, Gale?

This read will appeal to male and female readers alike since it has a bit of everything - romance, violence, psychological issues, suspense, action.

Unofficial Hunger Games Trailer:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review: Linger (Wolves of Mercy Falls 2) by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis:

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.
At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love - the light and the dark, the warm and the cold - in a way you will never forget.

The Elliott Review:

Before I was even halfway through reading Shiver, I broke my book buying ban to purchase Linger because the library didn't have a copy, and I was not going to wait to read more. The continuation of the story from book one kind of eliminated that perfect happy-ending feel that I was left with at the end of Shiver, but the profound meaning that was created in Linger was well worth it. We all want the fairy-tale ending, but as of this point Sam and Grace do not have that.

I continue to love the story of Sam's life. His flashbacks, his tenderness, his kindness to others, his desperation to cling to humanity no matter what. I never thought I would find a werewolf that was more loveable than J. K. Rowling's Remus Lupin,  but I was actually very wrong about that. Sam is an engaging, complex character who brings a sense of gravity to the story through all that has happened to him, and yet who wouldn't want to be loved by someone with his sense of feeling??

This book of multiple voices - Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole. At first I was irritated at the departure from the format of Shiver, but I ended up loving the perspective of each character, as each one added a layer so deep that it was amazing. Sam and his sensitivity. Grace and her worries and fears about the future. Isabel wanting to avoid feeling something and not putting up with others' crap. Cole coming into a new awareness of himself.

Like I mentioned in my previous review, I have not encountered such a deep story like this in quite some time. Maggie Stiefvater has been added to my ever-expanding list of favorite authors.


Trailer: The Wolves of Mercy Falls

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: Shiver (Wolves of Mercy Falls 1) by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis:


For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

The Elliott Review:

What to say about this book? It is the first book I've read in a while that impacted me. At a certain part in this book, I felt tears forming in my eyes - something that does not happen to me very often when reading. The narrative flows back and forth between Sam and Grace, and both of their perspectives are authentic and engaging right from the start, especially Sam.

I love that, as per the current YA stereotype, they are not nervous or awkward around each other when they get together. Their relationship is just a natural by-product of the years they spent watching each other. Both of them do have some sadness to them, but it's not the complete focus of the story or cause for any melodramatic ramblings.

There is a sort of heartfelt tension throughout the entire book, leaving the couple's future up in the air. Sam becomes a wolf when it is too cold, and eventually all werewolves phases to wolves and stay that way. The fact that each chapter has the temperature is listed at the top of each chapter is a steady, quiet reminder of all the couple risks. The sense of angst and anxiety surrounding Sam and his history is a big part of what addicted me to this story.

Shiver Trailer: Still Wolf Watching