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, February 22, 2016

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence

The Zodiac Legacy:
by Stan Lee
From the publisher:
"Stan Lee presents a brand new, magical, super-powered adventure! 

When twelve magical superpowers are unleashed on the world, a Chinese-America teenager named Steven will be thrown into the middle of an epic global chase. He'll have to master strange powers, outrun super-powered mercenaries, and unlock the mysterious powers of the Zodiac."

This book isn't really my cup of tea, but if the length doesn't deter them I'm pretty sure some middle school kids will love it. They won't notice the discrepancies that bothered me, but here are the ones that really bugged me:

*A kid from Ireland wouldn't have made this comment: "Mate....... we all went to high school". 
Pretty sure they go to Primary and Secondary school in Ireland.
*He also wouldn't have said that he had to pick up his math book. They don't say "math" in the UK, they say "maths".
*When a character from France yells out, "Les Poules, yeeahhhh!" and the Irish character wonders who Less Pools is. Has Stan Lee ever heard French? Yes it might look like that is the way it is said, but it sounds nothing like that when said out loud. And how is it appropriate to have the name of a band in a middle grade book be translated as The Prostitutes/Sluts? 

Are those ridiculously small annoyances? Yes. Would they bother a middle school reader? Definitely not. Did they "American-ize" Harry Potter to make it more readable for the US readers? Yes. 
So even though those things bugged me, no one else probably cares. However, there are several very confusing things that happen throughout the book. And there are way too many characters and way too little character development. For about the first 200 pages I had to stop and think every time a different character started speaking. Plus, each major character had 2 names, so you not only had to remember who Josie was, you also had to remember she was the Horse. The different names were used interchangably and not together. Will middle school students stick with this book long enough to get it all straight? I have a feeling there are many who won’t. 

Positives? There is plenty of action and there are pictures that graphic novel readers will appreciate. The second book in the series is already out, so we’ll see if the kids have any interest in going on in the series.

Areas of concern:
*A lot of violence. It isn’t too graphic, but it is constant. 
*Several children/teenagers who just leave home and travel with a bunch of strangers. No one seems to question this or even look for the children. 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917

Blizzard of Glass
by Sally M. Walker
From the publisher:
"On December 6, 1917 two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and one held relief supplies, both intended for wartorn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth, and killed nearly 2,000 people. As if that wasn't devastating enough, a blizzard hit the next day, dumping more than a foot of snow on the area and paralyzing much-needed relief efforts.

Fascinating, edge-of-your-seat storytelling based on original source material conveys this harrowing account of tragedy and recovery."

I don't generally review non-fiction books, but as I was getting this one ready for checkout I leafed through it and was sucked in. This is a piece of history I had never heard of and it was fascinating! I love how the author told the stories of several different families and how they were personally affected by the tragedy. Where they lived, what they were doing that morning, how they loved their family... that made it seem more real and that much more interesting. The facts themselves are gripping, but when you are wondering what happens to the Coleman father, or how the Pattison's will ever survive, then you are really hooked. It is a quick and exciting read. I am really glad I read it and learned about that important piece of history. I hope it gets checked out and read by our students.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

The Fall

The Fall
by James Preller
From the publisher:
"Through his journal a boy deals with the death of a classmate, who committed suicide as a result of bullying.

The summer before school starts, Sam's friend and classmate Morgan Mallen kills herself. Morgan had been bullied. Maybe she kissed the wrong boy. Or said the wrong thing. What about that selfie that made the rounds? Morgan was this, and Morgan was that. But who really knows what happened?

As Sam explores the events leading up to the tragedy, he must face a difficult and life-changing question: Why did he keep his friendship with Morgan a secret? And could he have done something—anything—to prevent her final actions?

As he did in Bystander, James Preller takes an issue that faces every student and school in the country, and makes it personal, accessible, and real.

I am very careful about books I put in our school library that are about suicide. I don’t want to have any books that glorify it, which I feel some of the YA books do these days. I bought this one because of the many reviews that I read that said it was appropriate for middle school. It is a very quick, easy read and is a good book for reluctant readers. It has very short chapters and keeps your interest (for the most part). The author did a good job of helping the reader to feel the guilt and pain that the main character, Sam, was feeling. I liked that it was obvious that Morgan’s decision (the girl who committed suicide) wasn’t just about one person or one event. There were many things, along with her own poor choices, that factored into her depression and ultimate decision about suicide. Those puzzle pieces are placed together as the book progresses, because at the beginning you feel like you know exactly who and what is to blame. Aren’t those the kind of judgments we always make when someone commits suicide? We want to have a nice little package that tells us exactly what led to it and who or what is to blame. But we can never accurately judge because that person is now gone and can’t tell us what they were thinking or feeling. But as this book evolves, we are led to see there were many other influences at work. Towards the end of the book, there is a very telling conversation:

“I never loved anyone, she said. Ever. Please make that your gift to me.
Love someone. Live long and love someone with all your heart, she told me.”

One thing that was kind of distracting was that I believe this was set in middle school – at least the voices felt very young to me – but the timeline of events didn’t seem to work for middle school. If it was middle school, the characters had to have been in 7th grade because Morgan’s older sister was still at the school, and Mr. Laneway, the counselor, mentions that he liked Sam’s essay from last year. That means that the event that set off the mean girl would have had to happen in 5th or 6th grade, and I just didn’t buy that, so that was a little distracting. 

All in all, I think this is a sensitive and thoughtful look at teenage suicide. It demonstrated the lasting effects that one person can have, whether he or she even knows it. Hopefully any middle schoolers who read this will realize what an impact they can have when they choose to be kind, even if it is just to say a weak, “hi”. 

Areas of concern:
*Teenage suicide.
*Serious cyberbullying goes on.
*Talk of “hooking up” at a very young age.
*Several uses of the “s” word and a couple of the “a” word.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9-14
School Library Journal - Grades 6-9