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!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil
by Soman Chainani
From the publisher:
"New York Times Bestseller * Indie List Bestseller * Soon to be a Film from Universal Pictures * A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2013 * Waterstones Children's Prize Nominee * Children's Choice Reading List Selection

The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one."

Hmmmm, I'm kind of torn about this one. Some people really love it, but I had kind of a love/hate relationship with it - with the hate part winning out. If I had liked the characters more it would have made a huge difference. It's hard to care about what happens to people when you don't like them anyway. I couldn't stand Sophie from page 1, and I had a hard time with Agatha because for a smart girl she acted very stupidly. The book was all about their amazing "friendship", but there really was no friendship. There was a mean girl and a groupie. The mean girl did all sorts of horrible things to the groupie, and yet the groupie still stayed loyal to the mean girl. I didn't buy it. And the concept of the book tried to say that what is on the outside doesn't matter, and yet several instances in the book proved that beauty made you "good", and ugly made you "bad". How wrong is it for me to say you could tell it was a story about girls that was written by a man? It is also way too long and took a long time to get going.

However, the actual story was original and fun (with many shades of Harry Potter noticeable). There was a lot of action, it was very humorous at times, and it eventually got very exciting. I think it will make a pretty great movie, and thought of it as a movie in my head while I was reading it. I have many middle schoolers who love it.

Areas of concern:
A lot of violence. Children are kidnapped, tortured, turned into animals.... The list goes on and on. However, it is all presented in such a fairy tale fashion, that it doesn't seem very real.
Several reviewers have mentioned that the book ends with a LGBT relationship, but I didn't pick up on that at all. I'm not sure what will happen in subsequent books.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 6-8
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 11-13

Prairie Evers

Prairie Evers
by Ellen Airgood
From the publisher:
"A sweet, spirited ten-year-old embarks upon the adventure of first friendship in this sparkling debut

Prairie Evers is finding that socialization isn't all it's cracked up to be. She's been homeschooled by her granny and has learned the most from traipsing through nature. But now she has to attend public school, and feels just like her chickens--cooped up and subject to the pecking order. School is a jolt for Prairie until she meets Ivy, her first true friend. But while raising chickens and the great outdoors have given Prairie wisdom and perspective, nothing has prepared her for the give and take of friendship. When Prairie finds out that Ivy's home may not be the best place for Ivy, Prairie must corral all her optimism and determination to hatch a plan to help.

Fabulous writing and a narrator full of personality distinguish this lively middle-grade novel."

I enjoyed this book about an ordinary, everyday girl who is going through some changes in her life. I love how it starts and ends with the same sentence, it brings the book full circle in the life of Prairie. Prairie is a very likeable character with a loving family and a kind heart. However, she is never saccharine. One of my favorite things about her is at the end when a character moves into her home, she struggles a little bit with jealousy and possessiveness. She has to work to understand other people's feelings, but she eventually comes around. This is a sweet, good story.

Areas of concern:
Prairie's best friend, Ivy, comes from a very difficult home life. There are major issues there, which I won't delineate because that would give things away, but they are dealt with gently and shouldn't cause too much concern to parents.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 4-7
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 9-12

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Witch's Boy

The Witch's Boy
by Kelly Barnhill
From the publisher:
"“A lightning bolt erupted from the cloud and aimed directly at Ned’s heart. He couldn’t cry out. He couldn’t even move. He could just feel the magic sink into his skin and spread itself over every inch of him, bubbling and slithering and cutting deep, until he didn’t know where the magic stopped and he began.”

When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it's Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?

With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements--speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king--and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship."

This beautiful fairy tale of a book will keep me thinking for a long time.  It is not only magical, it is lyrical, humorous, mystical, and really an allegory that teaches noble ideals without you even being aware of it.  The author uses this kind of storytelling to teach things like the power of words, the power of forgiveness, the power of family, the power of the individual, and many more.  I think this would make a great read-aloud because of all the discussions that could arise.  But I also think it would make a fantastic movie!  I could picture that last battle scene on the big screen so clearly (possibly because of all of my Lord of the Rings marathons), from the Stones clear down to the feathered soldier.  Peter Jackson - take note!

Probably my favorite thing about this book was the well-drawn characters.  My heart broke for Ned and Àine (pronounced Anya), they both had so much to overcome.  The secondary characters were equally endearing.  I found it intriguing that there were several characters that were never named -  Sister Witch (how I loved her and ached for her!), the Bandit King, the feathered soldier, the red-haired bandit (actually I think he was eventually named, but mostly just called the red-haired bandit).  What an interesting storytelling technique.  I also adored the characterization of King Ott.  He was evil, pathetic, and hysterical all wrapped up in one young person.  And then there were the other elements of the story that became actual characters.  The magic, the forest, the Stones, the wolf - they were all incredibly lifelike and I loved them all. I've never read a book by Kelly Barnhill before, but I will have to keep my eye on her in the future.  Don't go into this book thinking it is a quick read.  This is one to go slowly with while savoring the whole essence.  I don't think everyone will feel the same way about it, but I hope my students will give it a chance.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-7
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9+
*Mrs. Duke says that it is a tale for the ages!