Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Heart on a Chain

Heart on a Chain
by Cindy C. Bennett
From the publisher:
"17-year-old Kate has lived her whole life in abject poverty, with an alcoholic father and drug-addicted mother, who severely abuses Kate. At school, her second-hand clothing marks her as a target. Her refusal to stand up for herself makes her the recipient of her classmates taunts and bullying. That is, until Henry returns.

Henry Jamison moved away six years earlier, just as he and Kate had begun an to develop feelings for one another. He returns to find the bright, funny, outgoing girl he had known now timidly hiding in corners, barely speaking to anyone around her, suspicious of even him.

Kate can’t figure out what game Henry is playing with her - for surely it is a game. What else would the gorgeous, popular boy from her past want with her?

Kate finally decides to trust Henry’s intentions, opening her heart to him. Just when it seems he might be genuine in his friendship, tragedy strikes, threatening everything Kate has worked so hard to gain. Can Henry help her to overcome this new devastation, or will it tear them apart forever?"

The situations in this book felt so overdone and dramatic that I didn't really care that much. However, I have a feeling that my middle school kids who want more books like A Child Called It will love it. There were many things I didn't find believable, so it was hard to invest myself in Kate's problems. She huddles in a corner on the floor every lunch and no adult notices? She's beaten up several times (once actually in the school) and everyone just calmly accepts her falling or accident stories? It all felt very contrived - just a way to make the story more heartbreaking. And then at the end a certain character had a 180 degree turn around that was completely ludicrous. However, there was a sweet love story and a happy ending.

Areas of concern:
No bad language. Some kissing. Violent abuse perpetrated on the main character several times

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Gardenby Philippa Pearce
From the publisher:
Tom was a cross and resentful boy when he was sent to stay with his uncle and aunt because his brother, Peter , had caught the measles. As soon as he joined his relatives in their small apartment, he knew he would be bored and lonely. He would miss Peter as well as the garden to explore, there was only a paved yard and a row of garbage cans outside the back door.

When the time came for Tom to go home, however, he did everything he could to prolong his visit. For he had made a strange and wonderful discovery--a discovery that he could share with no one, except Peter. And Peter believed it all, and even, for one brief moment, came to share in Tom's fantastic midnight adventure."

One night while staying with relatives, Tom hears the grandfather clock strike 13 times. He goes to investigate and is transported to a garden in Victorian times where he meets a girl named Hatty. Mysteriously, whenever Tom visits the garden, it is a different season and Hatty is a different age. The ending is beautiful and bittersweet. If you are tired of all the paranormal and dystopian offerings out there, take the time to read this little classic.
I tend to review new books that come out, but I'm also going to take the time to review some classics of children's literature.  I hope that these classics are still being read because there is something to be said for beautiful prose and good storytelling that has nothing to do with vampires, werewolves or the apocalypse (zombie or otherwise).  Tom's Midnight Garden won the Carnegie Award in 1958.  It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books as a child - Magic Elizabeth.  It also has the feel of The Secret Garden.  As much as I enjoyed it, however, for me it had neither the magical quality of Magic Elizabeth, nor the haunting quality of The Secret Garden.  Still, it is definitely worth reading.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Book of Three

The Book of ThreeLloyd Alexander
From the publisher:
"Since The Book of Three was first published in 1964, young readers have been enthralled by the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-keeper and his quest to become a hero. Taran is joined by an engaging cast of characters that includes Eilonwy, the strong-willed and sharp-tongued princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the hyperbole-prone bard; the ever-faithful Gurgi; and the curmudgeonly Doli--all of whom become involved in an epic struggle between good and evil that shapes the fate of the legendary land of Prydain.

Released over a period of five years, Lloyd Alexander's beautifully written tales not only captured children's imaginations but also garnered the highest critical praise. The Black Cauldron was a Newbery Honor Book, and the final volume in the chronicles, The High King, crowned the series by winning the Newbery Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

In their more than thirty years in print, the Chronicles of Prydain have become the standard of excellence in fantasy literature for children."

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher forced me to read this series because she wanted me to try different genres. I was so angry that I had to read something as stupid as fantasy, when all I really wanted to do was re-read the Little House books. However, I ended up loving this series and have thought on it with fondness all these years. I thought I would re-read it to see if it was as good as I thought when I was in fourth grade. While I enjoyed it this time, it was hard not to compare it to The Lord of the Rings because there are really so many similarities, and it was left wanting in that comparison. So I guess you could call it The Lord of the Rings -lite. 

I love the characters, and love the fact that there is a pronounciaton guide at the back of the book for their names. Kind of wish I would have discovered that sooner. There was excitement and adventure, good guys and evil guys, an interesting world, and growth in characters. I highly recommend this series to upper elementary/lower middle school students.   

Areas of concern:  Fantasy violence, some really evil characters.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Just Ella

Just Ellaby Annette K. Larsen
From the publisher:
"Ariella was only looking for a distraction, something to break up the monotony of palace life. What she found was a young man willing to overlook her title and show her a new and vibrant way of life. But when her growing feelings for Gavin spiral out of control and clash with the expectations of her station, she will discover that the consequences of her curiosity are far more severe than she'd imagined.

"I watched in helpless horror as two guards hauled Gavin to his feet and dragged him from the room. My voice was frozen, unable to protest as another guard took hold of my arm, leading me upstairs. From the confines of my room, I stared into the darkness beyond my window, hoping to catch one more glimpse of Gavin. He was gone, and I wondered if he would have been better off if he had never met me.""

I'm sure the girls in middle school will love this book. It has a heroine who has a mind of her own and tries to live her life the way she thinks is right, but still shows respect and deference to her family; it has a hero who helps our heroine to become a better person and is always there to protect her; it has a repulsive prince. The perfect formula for a fairy tale/princess type of story. I liked that the story spanned a couple of years so we could see the growth in the characters and their relationship. I LOVED that there was no bad language or inappropriate situations.

Areas of concern: Mild violence during a kidnapping; some kissing.