Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ultra by David Carroll

Quinn has been called a superhero and a freak of nature. At age 13, he's an amazing distance runner.  His body doesn’t produce lactic acid He takes on the second-hardest challenge of his life when he enters his first ultramarathon: a grueling 100-mile, 24-hour-long race that will push him to the very limit of his endurance.

While Quinn struggles to go on — up a mountain and through the night, as his muscles break down and he begins to hallucinate — we learn why the ultra-marathon is only the second hardest thing he has endured in his young life. And maybe this devastating event from his past is exactly what Quinn has been running from .

Since I’m not a runner, and don’t have any desire to become one, I wasn’t sure how I would relate to this story.  But I did in several ways. First of all, most of the story is told using a TV interview format.  This technique really makes the reader feel like they are part of the audience.

The race took place over a 24-hour period, and in a forest.  I loved the setting, and pictured it to be in Northern Ontario (although that’s not where it took place).  But I think anyone who spends time in the woods will have their own vivid picture of where it happened.  Quinn faced many challenges, especially at night, but his best friend Kneecap, and his younger brother really supported him through texts and knock knock jokes.  I loved his relationship with his younger brother.  I love that Quinn wrote songs and sang them.  And I love that this story is not really just about a race.  It’s about how we deal with challenges in our lives, and how the people we love help us in unexpected ways.  The challenges may be physical, emotional, or both.  But when we are brave enough to face them,  we can do the impossible.  
I highly recommend this for intermediate students.  It would be a great lit circle title, since it lends itself to a lot of discussion.  

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Student Guest Blogger

"I'm Keira a Grade 7 student from Barrie.  I'm reviewing Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz for Tinlids.

It’s 1980 and 11 year old Annie and her younger brother Rew live with their grandmother in the small town of Sunshine. Gran struggles through bouts of mental instability, leaving the kids to largely fend for themselves.  Annie and Rew spent days always telling stories under the birches and oaks of the zebra forest about their father the pilot or pirate or secret agent. They don’t know much about their father except for that he was killed in a fight with an angry man but that man was sent away. One night, an escaped convict emerges from the “Zebra forest” taking the family hostage in their own home and turns their lives upside down. Their lives will never be the same again.

Zebra Forest really portrays the standoff of truth against family secrets and offers an effective look at two imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the life they have. In my opinion I would recommended this book to anybody who likes suspenseful books.  In the beginning of the book it was kind of slow so I didn’t think I would like it but the plot in the middle really kept me hooked and made me want to keep reading. 

I would recommend this book to Young Adults because yes it might be frightening to some readers the plot will really keep you reading."

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Student Guest Blogger - Book Review

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Melissa Jensen, a Teacher-Librarian from Trillium Woods E.S. in Barrie, to see if I would accept some book reviews from her students, for my blog.  I think it's a great idea to hear from students, and today I welcome my first student guest blogger, Alyssia.

Here's what Alyssia had to say about "Doll Bones" by Holly Black:
"Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends for as long as they can remember.  Every day after school they play this game where anything is possible.  There are warriors, pirates, thieves, evil mermaids, and one character that is the most important one of all…the Queen.  The Queen is played by a bone china doll that Poppy’s mom bought at a garage sale and is now kept in a cabinet for the rest of her days.  Until one day Zach is forced to stop playing the game and Poppy is haunted by the ghost that haunts the Queen’s body.  Will they do as the Queen pleases and go on a life changing quest to put her ghost to rest, or will they stop playing the game and lose their friendship forever? 
Hi everybody I’m Alyssia and I’ve just finished Doll Bones.  It’s a great book that will fill you with suspense and make you want to read until the very end.  I love how the author Holly Black uses three kids around the age of 12-13 (perfect for intermediates) and uses their game full of mythical creatures, and brings it to life by making them play their game by going on a quest to help the Queen.  Intermediates would love this book because it has lots of adventure and it has a creepy side to it.  This is a great book with a creepy twist that will take you in its clutches and never let you go."

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

When 14yr old Sophie has to visit her mother in the Congo, at her sanctuary for bonobos, she’s not thrilled to be there.  Sophie lived in the Congo until she was eight, when she and her dad moved to America.  Her mother stayed behind to run the sanctuary, and although it’s her mother’s passion, Sophie doesn’t want anything to do with it.  At least not until she rescues Otto, an infant bonobo.  For the first time in her life, Sophie feels the bond a human can feel with an animal.

When an armed revolution breaks out in the country, and the sanctuary is attacked, Sophie and Otto escape into the jungle, with no food or supplies.  Her mother is far away, on the Congo River, working on a relocation program, and her father is in America.  Sophie and Otto are on their own, and it’s just a matter of time before the rebels come after them. 

I really love survival stories, and this one was especially appealing because of the relationship between Sophie and the baby bonobo, Otto.  It’s not uncommon for people in crisis to remain calm, when they have others to take care of.  This is the situation with Sophie.  She is so worried about Otto and his survival, that it keeps her from giving up.  She has to use her wits, and remember all the things she has learned about bonobos from her mother.  She also watches what the jungle bonobos eat, to help her know what is edible.    There’s lots of danger and tension, as Sophie tries to fit in with the bonobos, and keep herself and Otto alive.

The author has painted a vivid picture of the horrors of war, the Congo jungle, and the strong bond between an animal and human.  Otto’s innocence, human-like qualities and vulnerability are very endearing, and add humour to the story.

This is a great read aloud for intermediate grades.  

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nix Minus One

Fifteen-year-old Nix Humbolt doesn't talk much. He's barely outgrown his "Fatty Humbolt" days, and although he is taller and leaner now, he has learned it is best to keep a low profile. He dreams about his only friend's girl, but of course she is hopelessly out of his league.

Lonely and introverted, he is happiest in his father's woodworking shop, where he builds exquisite boxes and tables. The only battles Nix fights are on his Xbox - until the day he finds the guts to fight for Swiff Dunphy's neglected dog. Then there is Roxy, Nix's spirited older sister who always knows just how to get what she wants. But the guy she wants is seriously toxic, and even Nix can see that she is headed for disaster. All Nix can do is cover for her when she breaks curfew or comes home drunk. But this time Roxy is about to spiral out of control and change all their lives forever. And there is nothing he can do to stop it.

Another powerful novel by the author of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, Home Truths and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy.   Jill Maclean’s new novel is written in verse, and like her other novels, deals with some heavy issues.  I couldn’t put this book down, and I read it in one night.  Nix, the main character, was an easy person to relate to.  I found myself frustrated with him, and at the same time I could totally understand his worry, and his reluctance in challenging his older sister.   It’s common for siblings to cover for each other, when one of them is breaking the rules.  But that doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t worry.  And as long as no one gets hurt, these secrets can remain a secret.  But unfortunately, that’s not what happens for Nix and his sister. 

Nix is a bit insecure, and turns to woodworking when he feels anxious.  It’s this wonderful talent, that makes other people understand him better.  His only friend is Chase, the school star hockey player.  Nix has a secret crush on Chase’s girlfriend, but of course it’s an impossible situation.  And then Chase’s sister enters the picture.  I liked her character a lot because I think she understood him best.  She gave him the space he needed, and she was gracious.  A true friend.

I really liked how Nix saves the dog, and how that helps him find his voice.  In the end, it saves him too. 
I loved the point of view.  I loved the characters.  I loved this book.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

What Happened to Ivy

Fifteen-year old David sometimes feels invisible to his parents. His sister Ivy has multiple disabilities, and no matter what’s happening in David’s life, Ivy’s needs come first.   Even though Ivy is eleven years old, she needs constant supervision, wears diapers, and often embarrasses David in public.  Sometimes she scares off his friends too, but no matter what, David loves his sister.  She’s always thrilled to see him, yelling his name “Ga-beg” and giving him slobbery kisses.  
When a new girl, Hannah, moves in across the street, David starts to have feelings for her.  And when Hannah meets his family, those feelings become even stronger.  David has finally met someone who understands him, and more importantly, she isn’t uncomfortable being around Ivy.

Everything changes when they go to the cottage, and Ivy has an accident while her father is looking after her.  Suddenly, David is questioning his father’s role and wondering what really happened to Ivy.  Could he really be responsible for the accident? 

For such a little book, this novel really tackles a big topic, and I admire how sensitive and honest Kathy Stinson‘s writing is.   Although I have never lived with mentally challenged children or adults, I have worked with some, in group home settings.  Reading this book brought back many memories of those children, and I feel the author created very authentic characters.  I appreciated David’s honesty in explaining how frustrating it was to live with Ivy at times.  Sometimes he just wanted his parents to himself.  And he often felt they only saw him as a helper for Ivy. 

Many people don’t understand disabilities unless they live with them.   This story really gives you an idea about the complicated feelings a person can have.   The author expressed this very well, especially through David: “Or was Ivy’s life tougher than I ever let myself believe?  How do you weigh crappy stuff like seizures and physio and people hardly ever understanding you, up against giggles and grins and just being happy with birds and pretty flowers and your sunhat and your turquoise bathing suit? How can anyone know whether someone else's life is worth living or not, especially if that someone can’t tell you about it?”

After the accident, David’s family is turned upside-down.  David’s anger towards his father is compounded by the fact that Hannah doesn’t believe David, when he tells her what really happened.  Hannah has her own issues, and doesn’t want to see David’s father in a negative light.  The ending is perfect.  It’s just real life.  No tidy resolution, and lots to keep thinking about. 

I loved this book!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel

This is a gripping story about a teenage sex worker trying to survive on the streets, during the Picton murders.

It starts when Call sees sixteen-year-old Angel stealing shoes at the mall. He just buys her Chinese food at first, but before long Call is supplying her with "candy" and saying he loves her. Angel ends up living with him and walking the Kiddy Stroll in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- a neighbourhood with a reputation for being the poorest postal code in the country, with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. 

When Angel’s best friend Serena goes missing, Angel starts to pay attention to the stories of other girls who have disappeared, and a mysterious Mr. P. who drives a van with tinted windows.  The girls who get in the van never come back.  They don’t go missing. They’re dead.  

Then Call brings home another girl. Her name is Melli, and she is just eleven years old, and suddenly Angel realizes what she must do. Save Melli at any cost, and perhaps save herself at the same time.

How Angel ends up on the street is very believable, and probably more common than we want to admit.  Her mother dies of cancer, and her father isn’t coping well. He doesn’t know what to do with Angel. Angel starts staying away from home – mostly hanging out at the mall.  And then she starts shoplifting.  She wants to be home, but after meeting Call, and getting caught with drugs, her father kicks her out.  He doesn’t want her around her younger brother.  And so begins her life of prostitution and drugs.  Every time she tries to leave, Call threatens to harm Angel’s younger brother. But Call underestimates Angel.   He doesn’t count on her caring about Melli. And he doesn’t count on her inner strength.  

I was drawn to this book, because I think Martine Leavitt is a brilliant author (I loved Tom Finder and Heck Superhero), and also because she based her novel on the true stories of the women who disappeared and were later found murdered, on the Picton farm. I imagine it’s difficult to research and write such a story, but Leavitt told it with such sensitivity and respect for the characters, and without smoothing things over.  

Her use of narrative verse quickly brings the reader right into the heart of the story, and that’s where you stay.  It was hard to put down and I ended up reading it in one sitting.  Like other great books written in verse, when it’s done as well as this, every line counts.  

I think this book will have adult crossover appeal.  It’s a grim story, but one that is important to tell, and Martine Leavitt has told it beautifully.