Tess Brooks is an eleven-year-old who believes that if she acts a certain way luck will follow. For example, she believes that if you touch blue then your wish will come true. She lives on a small Maine island with her family. However, the state of Maine is threatening to shut the school, because there are not enough school children. Her own mother is the school teacher. Tess and her family may have to move to the mainland until the reverend thinks of a creative idea to get more children to live on the island. He thinks of the idea of people taking foster children into their home to expand the school population. Tess and her family take in Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player. It takes time for Aaron to feel comfortable in the family. Tess hears how wonderful Aaron plays his trumpet and talks to busybodies for him to play at the 4th of July picnic. Every chapter begins with a superstition that Tess follows that relates to the story. I thought this was an enjoyable book about different family relationships.
Jack Gantos is grounded for the entire summer in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, in 1962. How did Jack get himself grounded during the entire summer? He accidentally shot a bullet from his father’s Japanese rifle and disobeyed his mother’s commands when he cut down her corn crop. To get out of the house, Jack agrees to help his elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, type obituaries. Miss Volker is a Norvelt town original and it is her duty to report obituaries for the original Norvelt citizens. The obituaries include much more than just information about the deceased, instead it is historical narratives about how their life impacted the small town. There are many colorful characters in Norvelt. Jack’s best friend is Bunny whose father is the town undertaker. Mr. Spizz rides an adult tricycle and adores Miss Volker, yet she has no plans to marry him. Each obituary leads to new adventures with real historical information scrambled in the book. Miss Volker always reminds Jack that people need to learn from the past, because mistakes can be repeated. Sprinkled inside the story are Girl Scout cookies, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Hells Angels, melted wax, a homemade airplane, a bloody nose, and even a possible murder.
Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction in 2012. Personally, I think this book was very humorous at times but I’m not sure it fully deserves a Newbery Medal. I think the book had little emotion, plot, character development, and it didn’t leave me with a lasting moral or lesson the way many wonderful Newbery Medal books have done. I enjoyed that there was real history throughout the pages, since Jack spent his grounded time reading historical books and he learned information from Miss Volker when writing the obituaries. If you’re searching for a book with sarcastic humor, death, true facts, and a glance into 1962 as a child then this may be your book.
Maniac Magee wasn’t always known as Manic Magee, instead he was born as Jeffrey Lionel Magee. There are many legends about him and it’s sometimes difficult to know the whole truth. His parents died when he was only three, so he lived with his aunt and uncle who continually fought. Jeffrey had enough and he ran away, but he didn’t just run away. No, he ran and ran until his shoes fell apart. You may be curious how Jeffrey became ‘maniac’. When he finally slowed down, he left memorable impressions with individuals. Some people thought it appeared odd to rescue a kid from the feared house in the neighborhood or throw a football with one hand or eat dinner without knowing anyone at the table or hit a baseball from an unbeatable pitcher. Finally, whenever anybody discussed the new kid he was now known as Maniac. Maniac Magee didn’t have a home, so he often ran house to backyard to even the zoo. The legend is true that he never went to school, since he didn’t have a home to go to when school was out. Maniac Magee is most remembered for bringing the East Side and West Side together, which was racial divided by misunderstandings.
Maniac Magee won a Newbery Medal in 1991. Some Newbery Medal books I don’t think are worthy, but Maniac Magee is worth the high honor. I really enjoyed this book and even cried. It’s a great book with a powerful message to break down barriers and not keep prejudices, instead learn and understand about each other. There are racial remarks and hate messages throughout the book. The subject is complex, but there are many humorous situations as Maniac Magee doesn’t see black and white instead he sees challenges to overcome. I highly recommend this book.
For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him was real black.
– Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, page 51)
Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano don’t appear to have much in common. Duncan Dorfman is the new kid in town who is trying to keep his mysterious power that he can read with his fingertips a secret. Duncan no longer wants to be nobody in middle school, so he shows his talent but a student overlooks and plans to use his power dishonestly in the Scrabble game. April Blunt wants to prove to her sports family that Scrabble is also a game. She desperately wants to locate a boy she met three years ago, but she doesn’t even know his name. Nate Saviano is home-schooled, but would rather be skateboarding. He plays Scrabble, but doesn’t love the game. His father expects him to be the best and win.
Duncan, April, and Nate live throughout the United States, but they arrive with their game partners to compete in the national Youth Scrabble Tournament in Florida. We meet and learn about each character separately then watch them use their Scrabble talents. It is much more than just a Scrabble game as they learn about themselves and make the right choices. It’s a very humorous book loaded with Scrabble information, such as two letter words and tricks to get high scores. The book will keep your interest until you discover the Scrabble Tournament outcome. So, I challenge you to analyze all possible anagrams and make as many bingos as possible, but please no coffee-housing or brailing. I’ve never been a fan of the classic word game, but after reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman I may need to play soon. The book had a similar writing style compared to E.L. Konigsburg. The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was an enjoyable read.
Scrabble Glossary (What is coffee-housing?)
Marty McGuire is a third grade student who loves everything about the outdoors and nothing about fancy dresses. She’d rather be caught with mud than wearing a frilly dress or dancing. Third grade started terrible, since her best friend was stolen from Veronica Grace Smithers who now controls recess. Things turn even worse when her teacher casts her to be the princess in the class play, The Princess and the Frog. Marty wants nothing to do with being a princess, but her teacher says that she has confidence and is perfect for the play. Marty has trouble being frightened by a toy frog, since she’d rather capture real frogs. She plots a plan with a classmate to make the play more memorable.
I thought Marty McGuire was a cute book about the importance of being yourself, but also learning how to handle moments when you don’t want to do something or don’t think you’re the best person for the job. Marty often has personal struggles, since she wants to call people names who upset her, but she never does because she’s not allowed to. Marty handles the situation without getting too upset while still being herself. The book is sometimes predictable, but I’m sure young readers will enjoy Marty’s humorous situations. A second book, Marty McGuire Digs Worms, releases February 1, 2012.
I read The Lemonade War during the wrong season, since I wanted a refreshing drink while reading it. Evan Treski deals well with people whereas his younger sister, Jessie, works better at math. Together they’d make the perfect lemonade team, however they’re at war with each other to sell the most lemonade. The tension began when Evan discovered that Jessie would be skipping a grade and both would be in fourth grade together. Normally, they get along fine as siblings but Labor Day weekend they use any business skill to make the most money. Every chapter starts with an economic term that relates to the chapter. The book changes perspectives between Evan and Jessie. I thought this was an enjoyable book that explains math and business in a fun way. The lemon business gets sour as the war ends with an interesting twist that leads into the next book, The Lemonade Crime. A third book, The Bell Bandit, in The Lemonade Series releases May 2012.
I don’t want to reveal too much about Wonderstruck, since letting the story unfold makes it a great book. You may already be familiar with Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was recently made into a film. This book is similar, since part of the story is told through pictures. Don’t let the page numbers scare you, since the pages fly by and you’ll wish there was more to read. The book is about two individuals set 50 years apart who eventually intertwine together. The stories are separate, yet both desire something in their lives. Ben’s story begins in Minnesota, in 1977, who desires to learn about his father. Rose’s story begins in New Jersey, in 1927, who keeps newspaper clippings of a woman and feels out of place. Both discover a clue that leads them onto a quest. The stories move back and forth, Ben’s story is told through words and Rose’s story is told through pictures. This is the first graphic novel that I’ve read and it was magical. Brian Selznick’s illustrations and details make the story come alive. The pages need full attention, since there are messages within the illustrations. The book wasn’t exactly a mystery, instead it was as though Wonderstruck slowly revealed its secrets. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Ben’s hands were still shaking from the dream. Ever since the accident, the wolves appeared, galloping across the moonlit snow, red tongues wagging and white teeth glistening. He couldn’t figure out why they were stalking him, because he used to love wolves.
– Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, page 17)