Middle School


When you are not alive where are you?  In this book elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, Liz discovers elsewhere – the place you are when you are not living on the earth.  If you remember this is a fiction story you will have the write mindset to enjoy a young girls trip to elsewhere.  Many things in elsewhere seem just like they did on earth.  People work, shop, live in houses, and seem normal.  At first this confuses Liz and makes her think she is just dreaming. But, things in elsewhere  are not always as they seem.  Old and young take on new meanings.  As expected Liz is not too happy to be taken from the earth and spends a good deal of time watching what is happening back in her old life.  The biggest concern for Liz iswhen she finds out  that here in elsewhere people age backwards.  Liz died at fourteen. Now, she has to go backwards.  She wants to grow up,  learn to drive a car, have a first date, and a first kiss.  This sure isn’t heaven.  Will Liz waste the life she has or find a way to accept her new life?

This book could have been written about many of the young men who attend our school. We have many students with a great sense of humor.  Sometimes that sense of humor gets them into trouble.  Joey is a prankster.  He is constantly dreaming up practiacal jokes and schemes.  Rusty on the other hand is a bit more reserved but goes along with Joey’s ideas (when he gets over the shock of them.)  Rusty and Joey  keep the truth of their adventures secret with a handshake and a “swear to howdy” promise. 

Besides the pranks, Rusty and Joey share other situations.  Both boys have sisters they find difficult.  The boys have their way of getting revenge for how the sisters act.  How a  frog got in a sisters underwear drawer is just one of the secrets the boys keep. But, on a more serious side, Joey has a father who is more than a little difficult.  Throughout the book, Joey struggles with understanding the relationship between Rusty and his dad. 

When Joey comes up with a splendid prank, Rusty follows his lead and soon both boys find themselves living with tragic results.  The secret is too important to be told and but too devestasting to hide.  Now, there is a true test of friendship.  What would a friend do to help?

I laughed out loud at the antics of Joey and Rusty for about three fourths of this book.  I especially liked the bullfrog.  The last quarter of the book I was spellbound as the boys worked out their difficulties.  Wendelin Van Draanen (of the Sammy Keys series) did an excellent job of letting the characters tell the story without preaching or talking down to young adults.  This book will go on my list of favorites to give to students when they need a good book.    Although the characters are thirteen, I think even high school students would enjoy and appreciate this book.  I would recommend it for any student 12 or older.

Getting to know Mississippi Beaumont (Mibs) and her family was an unexpected delight.  I thought that because of the lower reading level this book would not hold my attention and the characters would be a bit dull and flat.  But, happily that was not the case with this book.  Mibs and her family and friends are believable, full of life, and interesting.  I thought I would do a quick read to see who might like the book and found that I can excitedly recommend it to anyone. 

Mississippi  is just about to turn thirteen.  And at that magic age Mibs knows she will be getting her savvy.  When her brothers got their savvy’s one cause a huge black out with electrical sparks while the other was the cause of a hurricane.  In fact, the family had to move to keep this brother far away from water until he could gain control of his savvy.  When Mib’s dad is injured in an auto accident, she believes her savvy will be healing power. Mibs is sure her touch will wake her dad from his comma.   In order to get to her dad’s side Mib (and her entourage) stow away in the van of a bible salesman.  Mibs discovers her savvy and it is not what she thought it would be.  Along the way she learns to find her voice amid all the other voices clammering for attention.

Newbery Honor Book

Newbery Honor Book

 

WARNING:  This book is laugh out-loud funny.  Students, if you plan to read The Wednesday Wars while others are working or taking tests, think again!  You might find yourself in big trouble!
Holling Hoodhood doesn’t know what hit him.  For some unknown reason, his seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, has demanded he meet with her every Wednesday after school.  The only reason Holling can come up with to explain this extreme punishment is that Mrs. Baker HATES him. 
No one in his family has any explanation (or sympathy) for his situation.  Mom can only say that Mrs. Baker is a nice lady; Dad’s only advice if for Holling NOT to upset her.  Dad’s architecture firm is bidding on The Baker’s Sporting Emporium.   Holling even lowers himself to ask his sister for help.  All he gets from her is a bit of sarcasm (and the advise to move to California.) 
And so, the Wednesday wars begin.  Holling is determined to endure (for the sake of the family business he may one day inherit.) Mrs. Baker, for her part, is determined to keep Holling busy.  First, he is made to clean the classroom.  When that doesn’t work out too well, Mrs. Baker changes tactics.  Now, she will kill him with Shakespeare! 
Holling Hoodhood is truly a like-able character.  Not that he doesn’t get into his share of trouble in his escapades.  Mrs. Baker is full of surprises too.  Just when you think you know her, she comes up with some surprises all her own.  Holling’s lively sense of humor, the witty dialogue and all the mishaps along the way make this one book that you will keep you laughing all the way to the end. 
Beyond the humor, this book tackles some important issues.  Set in the era of the Vietnam war, the peace marches, and flower children, these important issues find a way to  reach in and touch the innocence of the community and Holling’s family. 

For Eben McAllister, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence world.  He is fascinated with the seven wonders of the world and spends his time wishing to be some place exciting… anywhere but in Sassafras Springs.

Eben’s Pa, a wise man, gives his son a challenge; find seven Wonders in Sassafras Springs.  If Eben is able to find seven things in seven days Pa will buy him a ticket to see some relatives living in the Colorado mountains. 

So the scene is set for adventure!  Not everyone likes a kid coming around asking questions.   Eben  soon finds himself saddled with a annoying pest who wants to follow him as he tries to find Wonders.  Eben does his best to ditch the Rae Ellen the pest, but she stays hot on his trail with a “Wonderful” of her own to show him.

My favorite part of the story happens when tough Coogie Jackson, sends for Eben to show him an outhouse and tell him about a Wonder.  Could an outhouse in the middle of nowhere be a wonder?  Was it a trick?  Eben has little time to decide if he believes the story before Coogie is sending him inside to get the proof neded to verify the story. 

This is a delightful story full of rich country language and descriptions.  The stories Eben gathers and the Wonders he finds give him a new perspective for seeing common things.  This story is perfect for reading aloud. 

 

You can read about the author Betty G. Birney.

If someone saved your life would you do anything to help them?  Would you let a pint sized spirit (dybbuk) live inside of you (for a little while) so he can get the truth out of a German soldier who killed him and other defenseless children?  What if your girlfriend threatens to call off the marriage because she thinks you are acting too strange?  What if the dybbuk steals your spotlight as you entertain audiences as a ventrioquist?  Would you want an exorcism?  

The Dybbuk has a name.  It is Avrom.  Because Avrom knows the truth, he feels he must share that truth with as many people as possible.  He needs a body in order to accomplish his mission.  Freddy has a career as a ventrioquist but it seems to be at a standstill since he can learn to talk without moving his mouth. 

If they work together can both of them succeed?

Even though this is a book with a ghost, it is not a mystery.  It is not even scary.  It is funny, light, and powerful all at the same time. 

Sid Fleischman uses humor, an interesting plot, along with true facts about the holocaust to present a message that needs to be remembered.

New in Sept. 2008
New book in September 2008

 

Sometimes, real life is messy.  Sometimes the truth has a hard edge.  After mom dies, eleven-year-old Mackenzie O’Rourke and his brother, Kid, live with a parent who is controlled by alcohol and gambling.  After a night of gambling Mackenzie’s dad brings home a puppy.  And love happens.  No one has to remind Mackenzie to feed his dog (Cash) or take care of him.  MacKenzie lives to be right by Cash’s side and Cash, for his part feels the same.  Then Dad, in a fit of anger, gets rid of Cash by taking him into the country and dumping him by the side of the road. 
After the separation the story is told from MacKenzie’s point of view and Cash’s.  Cash tells of the pain of hunger, his capture by men who run dog fighting rings, and of heroic deeds.  All the while, MacKenzie searches desperatly for his dog.  Besides, losing his dog MacKenzie must deal with the loss of his brother, Kid, who can’t take any more of dad’s anger.
In the background of this story another tale is being told.  Cash is pit bull and the town has decided that pit bulls are dangerous and not welcome.  But, what about this mysterious pit bull that is rescuing people in cars parked on train tracks?  Are all pit bulls dangerous?  Can Cash find his way back home?  Can Kid? Fans of Shiloh will enjoy this tale of a dog lost. 
For ages 9-adult

For ages 9-adult

“What-the-Dickens” are the first words the newborn creature heard, and assumed that was his name.  His lack of information came from the fact that he is an orphan.  What-the-Dickens thinks he is alone a world he doesn’t understand.  Bravely, he does his best to get adopted by a cat.  When that doesn’t work out he finds himself in a tiger’s mouth examining a sore tooth.  One day the creature sees a someone who looks like he does and can fly like he does.  It is a skibbereen (tooth fairy) going about her business of exchanging teeth for money.  What-the-Dickens finally has someone who can tell him about himself, but she wants nothing to do with him.  So goes the story Gage tells to his cousins in the middle of a terrifying storm.  As the story grows more suspenseful, the children are able to put aside their fears and concentrate on the troubles What-the-Dickens finds himself confronting.  This is really two stories in one. The author is skilled at getting the reader to the edge of one story and weaving the other story back into the readers mind in surprising ways.  While the children deal with the lack of electrical power, adequate food, and howling winds, the skiddereen have to deal with a harsh assignment given as punishment for allowing What-the-Dickens to enter the secret colony of fairies.  The two stories intersect when Gage tells how he met What-the-Dickens and his friend Pepper on the night of this secret assignment.

by Gordon Korman

by Gordon Korman

Capricorn (Cap) is being thrown to the sharks.  Not literally, but almost!  He is going to school for the first time ever as an eighth grader. He does not know what a television is, doesn’t know why he has a locker, and why he can’t legally drive.  Cap has been home schooled by his grandmother who has somehow managed to stay permanently lodged in the sixties.  She has taught him the philosophies of freedom and a hatred of capitalism and government but she neglected to teach him the skills that will help him survive eighth grade; how to detect spitballs, and know when someone is playing him for a fool.

 

 

 

    I enjoyed this book.  I was rooting for Capricorn as he endured the pressures of a new situation.  In fact I was more concerned about the situations than Cap was.  He did not even know enough to worried or upset about the situations.  Most of the characters were believable except the principal.  The principal was more of a fool than any principal I have ever encountered.  What principal gives signed checks to an eight grader even if he has to be out of town?  Another very unbelievable plot problem revolved around everyone being invited to tie dye their clothing with the 8th grade president.  It is a BIG school.  The art room would not hold all the students at one time.  If you have ever been in a real school the glaring “wrongness” of it does not sit right.  Even though I had to gloss over this part of the plot I was impressed with fellow outsider Hugh Winkleman.  At first he appreciated Cap for helping him to move up the ladder of social status.  Finally, he is not the student picked on the most.  Hugh is able to sit through lunch without getting hit by spitballs.  Later, he realizes he likes Cap for who he is and still appreciates that he is not being pestered as much this year.  When Cap becomes a school hero Hugh teams up with the bully but Hugh’s motive is to help Cap. 

            This book is told through each of the main character’s voices.  Each chapter title is a person’s name and the chapter is told through their point of view.  I think middle school students will find it funny and enlightening.  The realities of wedgies and spitballs will resonant with most readers while they are given some general insights into the reasons some students bully others.    

Book 1

Book 1

Interesting and enjoyable.  It was a stretch for me because of the graphic format but I wanted to read it to be able to recommend it to students.  And I will certainly recommend it. I know several students who will become faithful readers of this series. 

This book is told in a graphic book format along with regular pages of words.  I liked that.  Too much comic book style just tires me out.  I like the flow of words and sentences and paragraphs.  This graphic novel did not have too much comic book style for me.  But, the text is not to much for those who find reading a chore.  The illustrations told much of the story and make the reader aware of things not told in the pages of text. 

The setting is somewhere (hopefully a long time from now) when humans no longer inhabit the earth.  Some animals can talk and even learn to read.  Thelonious is a chipmunk who gets carried away from home by a flood.  He ends up making friends with a porcupine who lives in a bookstore and a female bear who built and flew an airplane.  Their goal is to get the bear back to Fog Mound.  Of course, there are those with evil intent who want them stopped. 

I can’t wait to get this one into the hands of the students and I can almost bet they will be sending me back for the next two in the series.

 

Find out about the next books on the authors’ website.  www.bullersooz.com