Monday, May 21, 2018

NewsPrints student book review by Rua

This book is about a girl who dresses up as a boy in order to stay at a specific orphanage and work as a Newsie (a boy who sells newspapers). While she is doing her job she meets a peculiar boy who doesn’t have a home and can repeat voices exactly as heard. So she brings him with her and shows him what life and joy is. As the story progresses, they go through some troubles because the boy was a wanted robot who could bring life to a strong weapon that will be used in the military. When she figures out her new friend is a weapon and everyone is out to get him, she doesn’t give up on him and helps him against the scientists and military who want to use him.

I am a sucker for graphics novels, and love how unique each art style is to the book. The art style always brings life to the characters and make the story more alive, allowing for the readers to connect with the characters on a deeper level. This book has a cartoon-y with a hint of a realistic style to it, creating a book that is open for all ages to read. It gives off a welcoming vibe, family friendly but with an edge of realistic themes that are not always happy. This is what first enticed me to read it, since it was a fictional book with a realistic edge to it, centering around a kid main character.

Graphic novels also bring in an element that novels don’t have: facial expressions. Actions speak louder than words, and having a panel on a character’s face and what emotions are being displayed can give so much more to the story than just writing “he looked almost… sad”. It gives the readers an insight into what might have made the character sad and what he will do. It allows for more dramatic irony because the readers can see more of the whole picture on all sides of the story, than just having the main characters’ points of view and no insight into the side characters. This book used dramatic irony heavily, hinting on the fact that there are many characters in the book that don’t seem to be who they say they are, hooking me to continue reading in order to find out the truth. Also, since this book’s plot was based on a mystery, facial expressions were really important because it allowed the reader to understand the mystery without anything being said, but rather what the artist shows them in each panel and how the artist focuses on specific things in each panel to clue the reader in. This only made it more interesting to read because I had a guess that the boy was a robot from the beginning, and as the story moved along more and more pieces fit the puzzle, as well as some things that tried to throw the readers off, making me want to know the truth even more and continue reading.

The art style also signals the setting of the world, where this one hints to a less modern futuristic feel and more of a older steampunk feel. As far as plot goes, this story is very unique, mostly being based on mystery and friendship, and something I loved to read. I couldn’t put it down, instead reading it all in one sitting and groaning since I didn’t have the second book yet. I believe this book is suited for younger students, elementary to middle school, because the art style is colorful and inviting, but the themes teach the children to not judge a person by one look, but rather take the time to get to know them and labels shouldn’t be what determines one’s future.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - book review by Nicole

In a world that contains monsters, Verity (V-city) is plagued by them. These monsters that all fear are created from crimes, specifically murders. The best way to describe them is through the “children’s” song sung throughout the city:

“Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.” (Schwab 23)

After the monsters caused the division of V-City, the people of the North and South are expecting the truce to break. The North is ruled by Harker, a money centered man who gives protection from the monsters but only at a cost. In the South, Flynn commands the FTF and protects all within his sector. In short, the people from the North pay for their safety while the people from the South are expected to fight. In the North, Harker uses his personal control over the Malchai and Corsai in order to protect the citizens but that control is fleeting. Flynn’s control rests in his “Family”, himself and his wife running the FTF with the only three Sunai monsters in existence: Isla, Leo, and August. Even with the protection given from both sides, nowhere is truly safe.

August, the youngest monster of the Sunai, only wants to be human. Prevented from experiencing taste, pain, and his own music, August feels trapped in the demands of what it means to be a Sunai who steals the souls of sinners. As the truce starts to deteriorate, he has his chance to be human, or at least pretend to be, by infiltrating the Northern Colton Academy and getting close to Kate Harker, the only daughter of the leader of the North. Kate Harker is a human who wants to become monstrous. Stuck in private boarding schools for the past years of her life, Kate is finally brought back to V-city as her actions resulted in too much damage. Stuck in the Colton Academy, she meets August, or Freddie as his cover name, and immediately recognises that something is wrong. After only a few days they become closer but Kate only wants to deliver him to her father to prove her ruthlessness. One day after school, monsters who were thought to be controlled by Harker come to Colton Academy in order to attack the students and blame it on the Southern’s Sunai. Caught up in the fighting, Kate and August are forced to reveal their true intentions and work together to survive. In search for safety, they escape from V-city into the surrounding waste. Once they think that they had found sanctuary in Kate’s childhood home, Kate and August are discovered by Sloan, the pet monster of Harker.

In the climax, of the novel, August is forced to go dark, or reveal his monstrous Sunai form, against his will and defeats the surrounding monsters saving Kate. When Kate and August return to V-city and its chaos, they go straight to Harker’s penthouse. Finally facing her father with a changed perspective thanks to August, she is given the choice to kill him but reluctantly lets August reap his soul instead. With the death of Harker, no one in the North is safe; August forces Kate to flee and never return in order to ensure her safety. Once August returns to the South, he is determined to become the protector that they need, willing to throw away his dream of becoming more human.

 As a #1 New York Times Bestseller, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, and holds a 4.17 star rating on GoodReads, I’d have to say that I love this book as much as many other people throughout the reading community. Honestly, I could not put this book down. The plotline was amazing and not predictable like many dystopian sci-fi novels that I have read and the concepts explored had so many levels to think about. I honestly cannot express how good this book was in words. Even with my lengthy plot summary, I have covered so much yet so little information throughout this book.

 For an educator there are a few things to be aware of. As this book surrounds monsters and power, souls and death are common themes thought. Especially around the Corsai and Malchai, gorey murders are spread throughout the novel. Furthermore, underage smoking and other irresponsible acts such as setting a Church on fire take place as Kate actively tries to be cruel. Other than the themes of death and irresponsibility, the book is relatively clean. This book can easily be analyzed in a scholarly setting. The character development of Kate and August is the most obvious and easiest literary analysis that one could attempt but there is so much more. The role of minority characters and their development is another function used by Schwab to drive the plot. One could complete a climax analysis; there are multiple places that could be considered the climax throughout this book.

Finally, for a book club or class discussion one could consider the following questions/themes:

  • What does it mean to be a Human? Monster? 
  • How does our past influence our current state and others? 
  • Analyze the impact of choices (any throughout the novel) 
  • Stereotypes and how they impact others/the self 
  • To what extent does the situation you are born into impact your destiny? 
  •  Is destiny fixed? 
  • How does music impact life? 
  • How does one’s relationship with their family influence their beliefs? 

Again, these are only a few of the many ideas explored throughout This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab and one could easily find more.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Swing it, Sunny by Jennifer and Matthew Holm book review

This is the follow up to the book Sunny Side Up. Jennifer and Matthew Holm continue the story of Sunny’s life after her older brother is sent off to military school. Sunny really misses her brother Dale. She knows that he was sent to boarding school because he was getting in trouble with drinking and drugs. Their parents did not really have another way to deal with it. In addition to all the family drama, Sunny is trying to navigate middle school. Her Grandpa is a constant in her life, always checking in with her from Florida. Sunny has a new neighbor move in who is a little older than she is. Neela is the neighbors name and she is in the high school color guard performing with swing flags. She begins to teach Sunny how to do it and introduces her to some of the other color guard girls. Sunny’s new hobby distracts her a little bit from missing her brother. Dale came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but he did not really participate in family things. He was sullen the whole time and the reader feels bad for Sunny.

I think this is a good middle school graphic novel that will help readers deal with possible family issues, missing older siblings and dealing with substance abuse. It is a positive story because it shows coping skills. Kids have to learn that others might make choices that will impact their lives, but you have to try to go on living your own life. The illustrations really convey a lot of emotions and complement the text in the story. The colors are vibrant and convey a positive feeling. Hopefully most readers will be left with a positive feeling at the end of the story. This would be a good purchase for a school library. It could be used by counselors if they have students in similar situations. It could be used in literature circles or for book club. It is possible to read it as a stand alone book, but readers will have more character development understanding if they read the first story. I think that when you read it, you absorb some 1970s culture without even realizing it. I definitely recommend this book to readers from middle grade to adult.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield book review

This is a very readable YA non-fiction history book documenting and explaining what happened during the Chicago Race Riots of 1919. During the riots 38 people died and 537 were hurt.  This book starts out by explaining how segregation worked in Chicago. There were a lot of unwritten rules and invisible lines. The black community was made up of those who had been living in Chicago for a while and migrants from the south, who were looking for better opportunities.  At the same time, a lot of European immigrants from Lithuania, Ireland and Germany were coming to Chicago to start a better life, but they were treated about the same as the black Americans. They worked in the meatpacking industry and other industries that were popping up in Chicago. It was a competitive job market and both sides were accusing each other of stealing jobs.  Union thugs and corrupt politicians/police officers did little to make life better for blacks and immigrants. Most of these people lived in one room apartments that were like an oven during the summer months. Everyone went to Lake Michigan to cool off.

I think this is a timely purchase for a middle and high school library.  It’s a good introduction to the racial divisions in this country. Students can make connections of how this event compares to more current events.  Since we are in Michigan, students study the Detroit riots. This might be a good book to compare and contrast events. It would be good for a study of housing segregation and/or red-lining in cities.  I think this topic could make for a good History Extended Essay topic. It think it’s important for students to notice that the author is a native of Chicago and wrote this book because she had a personal connection to it.  I would recommend this to a student who read The Jungle and wants to read about more the history of the time period. Overall, I highly recommend it.

Restart by Gordon Korman - student book review by Arav

Where do I even begin with this book? The many interesting characters? The interesting premise? The somewhat satisfying conclusion? I honestly do not know. If I had to be brief, Restart by Gordon Korman is a book that I could wholeheartedly recommend to a lot of people as, barring some slight problems, manages to deliver an interesting ride unlike any other.

The plot of Restart revolves around the character of Chase Ambrose who, due to a fall from the roof of his house, gets amnesia and has to figure out just who he was, and who he wants to be in life. Without going into too much detail, as I fear giving anything away could lessen the book’s impact, what sets Restart apart from other books are a few important details. The first of these “details” is one of the main structural draws of the book - its changing characters. While there are a few instances where the same character has multiple chapters in a row, Korman manages to shift perspective on the plot many, many times throughout the events of the plot. These shifts manage to make the book play out really well for a few reasons. For one, the shifts do not accompany a retelling of previous events from the other character’s point of view. While many other books try to retell the information to demonstrate some of the differences in each character’s personality and in their reliability, Korman simply takes that out to give the plot more focus than before. This break from convention makes the reader read critically and examine both the motivations and the reliability of each character, like how Chase learns to do through the course of the book.

Secondly, they help complicate some of the relationships between Chase and his past. For example, early in the book readers are sure to hate Bear and Aaron, Chase’s old jock friends. However, Korman then surprises us by shifting events to their perspective, forcing us to re-evaluate how we feel about them in the same manner that Chase does. While such chapters do not serve to make their actions seem logical or even reasonable, they do serve to ensure that readers do not make categorizations like “antagonist” without looking at events from their point of view. The shifts, in effect, serve to prompt readers to look at Chase’s story with both renewed suspicion and renewed sympathy, for no set of events are ever as simple as we make them to be. Besides the changing characters, Korman also excelled with the overall pacing of the story. While some amnesia storylines tend to become oversaturated with memories as the amnesiac struggles to figure out what is real and what is false, Korman pushes most of that aside to demonstrate how being a new person does not require much more than a critical look at one’s life.

Due to the many character shifts, Korman manages to selectively reveal key plot elements in a manner that honestly blew me away. While most readers will pick up on most of the subtleties, like some of the burgeoning relationships between protagonists, the overall significance of these to the plot of the book is only revealed much, much later, forcing the reader to understand some of the complexities in human communication and contemplate how hard it is to understand someone else. Additionally, due to certain surprise events, Korman manages to surprise and delight readers by completely exploring the possibilities that revolve around Chase’s situation. From making new friends to losing old ones to even learning new skills, Korman demonstrates some of the promise that life can give us, and some of the problems with trying to completely escape our past. Overall, this book is truly a delight to read, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone struggling to understand who they are in life and where life is taking them.

While the book does not end up banishing any of these problems, it helps readers understand some of the complexities of the manner and shows them that such problems do not need to impede someone from living his or her life. In terms of school usage, it would be a great way to introduce the concept of an “unreliable narrator” and a good way to talk about problems people might have socializing or trying to make friends, especially when people are trying to understand their place in society and their role in a community. In terms of extended study, it also might make for a fun way to compare the realism in literature to that of science for while Korman does make a concerted effort to stay truthful to cognitive science, his focus is on crafting a good story, one which might have some flaws scientifically. Besides these uses, however, it simply is a fun read, one which readers will enjoy for its accuracy to how they feel when entering a new school or job, whether that new locale be something as small as a middle school or as big as a college. While the last chapter could easily have been cut out, as Brendan’s summary of the story simply felt tacked on to the rest of the book, Korman manages to hit a home run on showing all of us that we can be better people, and inspires us to try to improve our lives, one step at a time.

Author Website:

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser - book review

The story starts on December 20 (coincidentally the day I started this book, somewhat on purpose 😁) and is set in Harlem. Readers will get to enjoy a detailed map on the inside of the book cover. The characters include twins Isa and Jessie (12 years old), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4). They are close to their parents and they seem to be a biracial family living in a diverse area. Mr. Beiderman, their landlord and upstairs neighbor, decides not to renew their lease and they have 11 days to move out. The children have never lived anywhere else and they love their neighbors and school. They react with disbelief, a bit of guilt, and plenty of indignation so they embark on Operation Beiderman, a plan to quickly to win over their landlord. What makes it even worse, is that it is so close to Christmas time.

The children overhear their parents worrying about what they are going to do, so they take it upon themselves to try to help. The plan is put into action and Mr. Beiderman is showered with secret gifts. The children never really see him because he never leaves his apartment. He is a bit of a recluse. As the children start to investigate Mr. Beiderman’s past, they find out he used to be different. He had a life, family and friends. Only a few people really know what happened. The reader will find themselves hoping for a happy ending and the mystery of Mr. Beiderman to be revealed. The details of this book are funny, sweet, descriptive and moving. The kids seem to be wise beyond their years (but it is fiction) and they are charged with some pretty adult things, like making Christmas dinner for a large family. Everyone has their thing that they are good at. The kids like their parents, siblings and school, which makes this a refreshing, upbeat story. The dialogue flows and I think that all ages will appreciate this story. It is perfect to read just before Christmas, but it really can be read at any time of the year.

It is a great addition to the school library because it addresses diversity, it is age appropriate, it teaches kindness and it helps readers realize they can prevail through the hardships life throws at them. This is the authors first book, but based on the hype and publicity, I think it will have a place in school libraries for years to come. The cover is illustrated in a non-gender specific tone. The characters are both boys and girls. I would make for a good classroom read aloud. It would also be a good choice for school book clubs, literature circles and free read choices. I personally loved this book! It was well written and just heartwarming to read.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger - student book review by Alyssa

Change Places with Me is an intriguing example of speculative fiction, set in the near future, 2029, and exploring the idea of a future technology and the impact it could have on our lives. The main character, introduced to the reader in part one of the book as Rose, wakes up to find herself a completely different person than she was before. She’s happier, more outgoing, more normal - and she’s enjoying every minute of it. However, as time goes on, she starts to find things about herself or her memories that seem just plain wrong, and starts to get suspicious. The remaining two parts of the book focus on revealing exactly what happened to “Rose”, with Part 2 going back to before she woke up as a new person, and Part 3 returning to after she finds out what happened and how she deals with it.

When I first began the book, I found myself rather confused with this structure, especially with how part 1 was written. The reader is immediately thrown into the life of Rose, introduced to references to her past and confusion on Rose’s part that initially, until part 2 is read, tend to make little sense to the reader. However, after reading the whole book, I actually really appreciate this choice in structure, and find that it actually makes the book a whole lot more intriguing, as the reader gets to experience the confusion alongside Rose without knowing exactly what happened to her.

In terms of the futuristic part, I thought the idea of the new technology that changed Rose was very profound and well thought out. It deals with not necessarily the removal of memories, but the separation of emotion from the memory of a traumatic event, allowing the patient to move on with their lives without grief or fear of an event hanging over their head. It brings in a lot of interesting questions regarding the nature of our memories and how we should deal with grief itself. Overall, the book was a very quick and easy read. The main sensitive content to consider in regards to audience are regarding grief and the death of a family member. Personally, I found that in the end I really enjoyed the novel, and would definitely recommend it.