Friday, August 9, 2013

Mock Newbery Reads - September 2013

I will be adding to the list as I make my way through the nominees ... favorites closest to the top.

 The Water CastleThe Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blakemore pulled me in right from the start, and I ended up reading this all in one day. I liked the way she weaves in the stories of the race to reach the North Pole as well as mentioning the work of some of the scientists of that time (like poor Tesla). And I LOVED the thought that maybe what we consider to be magic is just science that hasn't been discovered yet. A classroom teacher could create an entire interdisciplinary unit or three using the novel as a jumping-off point.

I do have to say that I was surprised at how abruptly it ended. As I was nearing the last several pages, I kept wondering how all the loose ends would be tied up. They weren't. Not sure if this is for mysteriousness/discussion purposes or as a lead-in to a sequel.

A Tangle of KnotsA Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lots of characters to keep track of as you figure out how they're connected. Same narration style throughout, but I think that's fine, since it's third-person. (I hate when authors alternate viewpoints but everyone sounds the same.) Nitpick: I don't like the concept of Fate in our world, so I reject it in this one.

Good quote: p. 204: "If Marigold had learned anything that week, it was that trying hard and being a good person didn't always meant that good things would happen to you. But maybe it did mean that others might try on your behalf."

I think a lot of my rising 4th and 5th graders would like this one. I just hope they don't freak out about the world "Damn."

View all my reviews The Matchbox DiaryThe Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you find your eyes full of tears after you close a book, when you didn't even realize it was packing an emotional wallop, then it was probably a pretty well done book.

Lovely structure: a great-grandfather telling the story of his life through little objects nestled inside matchbooks. It's a classic tale of early-20th-centry immigration to an America decidedly NOT paved in gold, presented in a new way.

One Came HomeOne Came Home by Amy Timberlake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars if that were an option. The writing is glorious. The plot is mostly linear, with some confusing flashbacks. The very end seemed unnecessary. I will definitely consider purchasing for some of my kids who request "adventure" books.

P.S. Be ElevenP.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you haven't read One Crazy Summer, you may be very confused at the beginning of this book. But stick with it if you like coming-of-age novels with likeable main characters.

As the oldest of three girls whose mom left years ago, Delphine parentifies herself and is shocked when her dad's girlfriend calls her (in Delphine's mind) an "oppressor" of her sisters. She so wants to be grown up, but in a series of letters, her mother keeps telling her to "Be eleven."

Which she is when screaming over the Jackson Five or pouting over the dorky clothes her grandmother (Big Ma) buys her. But not when she is struggling with questions of identity and realizations about the adults in her life.
[Big Ma's departure seemed abrupt, and I didn't think it came across that her absence had much of an impact on the family. (hide spoiler)]

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is more of a feelings novel, about putting away childish things and navigating changing relationships, than a scary adventure book. Not that there isn't adventure - bus rides and piracy and breakins - or scariness - creepy doll that may or may not be a dead girl. But it wasn't what I expected.

Black writes well; the prose pulled me along effortlessly (as opposed to a couple of other books I started this week). And the plot has a mix of elements that my kids will like. So I will plan to add to the collection when I can. But I will also be on the lookout for a cheap copy of "A Drowned Maiden's Hair" by Laura Amy Schlitz for those who prefer more Gothic, less realistic (and fewer cell phones).

p. 75: "He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies."

The Center of EverythingThe Center of Everything by Linda Urban
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It irritates me when information is held back even as you're being told how important it is. For example, why is Ruby upset? What was her wish?

The concept of fate and "signs" also makes me roll me eyes ... although I can see how a kid would believe in them.

And I can get confused when every few pages shift back and forth between present and past, as well as between characters, some of whose heads I'm not sure why we're in (like Hansel ... unless it's for comic relief?)

Finally, space-time continuum theories give me a headache.

All that being said, I ended up liking the one ok, mostly because of the realizations Ruby comes to:

p. 171: "What if there is no such thing as supposed to?"

p. 190: " ... all she can do is her best at any particular moment. And that sometimes this will lead to things feeling, great, and sometimes it will not. And that is as supposed to as it gets."

Navigating EarlyNavigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Vanderpool's writing is great, but as the chapters unfolded, it couldn't save the plot from becoming COMPLETELY ANNOYING. I really didn't like the Pi story, and I really really didn't like the way it had parallels during the trek through the woods. Glad to be done.

White Fur FlyingWhite Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bleccch. I don't really like dogs, but that hasn't stopped me from liking other dog-based books (Winn-Dixie, Cracker, even MacLachlan's Waiting for the Magic). However, I really really don't like unbelievable characters, whisper-thin plots, and oh-so-convenient resolutions.

The narrator and her sister are just too too wise about the ways of the world and the reasons for human behavior. The realization on p. 79 of why Phillip wouldn't talk and where he had gone ... seriously? And the rescue dog being a "rescuer" ... retch.

The positive is that I was able to read the entire thing in less than a half hour.

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