Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson - book review

Here I go again…. Another title that would have lounged on a library shelf never to cross my mind had it not been for the Cybils:

Blessing's Bead is a mix of historical fiction brought into the modern day through a familial connection across the years and miles of Alaska. The first section of the book tells the story of Nutaaq who travels with her family to an annual trading fair. While there, Nutaaq’s sister meets a Siberian boy and is married. Before she sails for Siberia, she promises Nutaag that when they meet at the next fair, she will bring a beautiful blue bead for each member of their family. Nutaaq never gets to see her sister again as the flu epidemic of the early 20th century changes their course in history.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Willaims-Garcia - book review

Even with all the buzz surrounding One Crazy Summer, I didn’t really expect to like it and I certainly wouldn’t have ever picked it off the shelf as a fun read. I thought I’d quietly read the 50 pages (like I promised my Cybils pals) and move on to the next one. Of course I always read the last chapter (because I’m an ending freak), so I thought I’d spend maybe an hour with One Crazy Summer and move along to the next title on our massive 146 book list. Four hours later, while soaking in a nice warm bath, I found a tear rolling down my cheek as I closed the book on a historical time period I never thought I’d care to know much about.

I’m still not certain that I can appreciate the Black Panther movement of the 60’s, but I know that I can appreciate a protagonist with a voice so compelling I’m forced to read forward. That’s eleven-year-old Delphine, who, along with her two sisters, flies out to Oakland California to meet a woman she barely remembers when her father thinks it’s high time for his girls to get to know their mother. The three girl’s mother turns out to be a poet involved with the Black Panthers and she’s not much nicer than their paternal grandmother has told them. In fact, for all the character development of Delphine and her sisters, the author never got me to invest in their mother. Even as Delphine and her sister forgave their mother her faults, I muttered about a too tidy ending.

Could I ever invest in a character like Delphine’s mother? Could I feel some sympathy if the situation were extreme enough? Maybe author Williams-Garcia simply understood that most folks wouldn’t be shedding any of those tears for Delphine’s mother. I'm sure Ms. Williams-Garcia knew it was Delphine and the crazy summer she grew into a young lady of strength her mother could never have that makes One Crazy Summer an award-nomination worthy title.

Crunch by Leslie Connor - book review

They told me I only had to read the first fifty pages. That's like telling a shark he can only nibble the big toe. So, I'm finding that I end up reading them all the way through, no nibbling for me. Alas, trying to get a review on here becomes even more strenuous as I want to talk about them all, want to regurgitate the good ones in full, pass along some teaching ideas. The depth of review is going to suffer (as it already has since my return to work full-time). I doubt there will be many teaching ideas, but at least we'll all get a peek at what's turning out to be some great titles.

First up: Crunch by Waiting for Normal author Leslie Connor...

Crunch is a pleasant, feel-good story of a family living through a gasoline crunch (kids today are too young to remember when there was such a thing so educators might want to drop a little background knowledge on them before starting the book). Crunch follows the stock "get rid of the parents to move the plot" format. Protagonist Dewey's parents are stuck hours away without any gasoline in sight while Dewey and his siblings are left to care for each other and run the family bicycle shop (which is, of course, booming due to the gas shortage). Ms. Connor throws in a mystery (who is stealing from them?) and a cast of pleasurable characters. An easy, feel-good realistic story for the 4th - 6th crowd.

This Is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee - book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "Sometimes your life just needs a little jolt.
This is what Evie's new friend Francesca tells her, and soon enough, Evie's life has had something more like an earthquake. Francesca thinks life is dull unless you go after everything you want and say everything on your mind all the time--and sometimes that includes giving other people a little behind the scenes help to give them what she thinks they want.

Evie can't always tell if she's horrified or fascinated by everything Francesca convinces her to do, but ultimately, she comes to see friendship--and life--in a whole new light."

This Is Me From Now On manages to be a realistic, easy read while imparting some important messages concerning self-worth and being true to one's self. It is filled with all the awkwardness and uncertainty of middle school as it tells the story of worrisome Evie and free-spirited Francesca in authentic and engaging voices. Though Evie is the protagonist, I liked Francesca so much more. She seemed more mature and less judgmental, though Evie does grow on you.

An easy and fun read for middle school girls.

The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief by Stephen M. Giles - book review

Author’s Synopsis: "What secret is Uncle Silas hiding?

Adele, Milo and Isabella Winterbottom haven’t heard from Uncle Silas in years – unless you count the occasional insult. So curious eyebrows are raised when the cousins receive a mysterious invitation from their disagreeable relative. But Silas is dying, and a dying man with a vast fortune usually wishes to find an heir.

Or so the children believe.

But when they meet dear, old Uncle Silas and his hungry pet crocodile, the trio suspects that he may have a more sinister reason for inviting healthy, young relatives to his secluded island estate – a place where nothing is as it seems ..."

For readers who enjoy the Series of Unfortunate Events books or Roald Dahl’s style, I suspect The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief will become another favorite. Uncle Silas is an evil villain living on a remote island complete with pet crocodiles. In fact the entire Winterbottom family tree is a lesson in Gothic dysfunction - nasty, greedy and downright criminal.

It is the well-developed characterizations that makes The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief especially engaging and there are enough quirky side characters to easily plan character traits lessons. As with most mysteries, it is also good for making inferences and predictions. Although the themes are darkly humorous, The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief has what it takes to attract both boy and girl readers and send them off to buy the sequel hinted at in the epilogue.

 -------------------- Resources --------------------
Genre: Mystery
Age: 9-12
Pages: 240
Themes: Friendship, Making Decisions, Family, Suspense, Humor
Thank You to Sourcebooks Jaberwocky for my advanced copy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jaberwocky
Date: August 2010
ISBN: 978-1402240904
BUY The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief HERE

Begin your character traits lesson here

A peek at the dysfunctional Winterbottom family tree here
Stephen M. Giles lives close to the beach, collects old people and spends days wandering in his imagination. You can read more on his website.

© 2007-2010 Cheryl Vanatti for
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