Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mini Reviews:Middle Grade Goodies

I usually prefer YA to MG.  That being said, I still try to read a decent amount of middle grade novels.  Not all of my students are ready for YA content, and the MG novels that are good are REALLY good.  Here are a handful I read this summer that I enjoyed.  These are short reviews (more of reactions) from my Goodreads account.  If you want to know what the story is actually about, the links go to their Goodreads pages.  

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen

I listened to this on audiobook, so I really have a distorted sense of the timing. I can't think it would have taken more than a few hours to read, but it took days and days to listen to. I say this because the only two issues I have with the book could be direct results of this. 

1. The first few chapters felt really slow. It was basically an info-dump about the situation in East Germany in the early sixties. I imagine that most MG/YA readers might need that background, but since I didn't, I thought it was pretty boring. I nearly stopped listening. 

2. Things eventually picked up pace, and I wound up REALLY getting interested and invested. But the constant barrage of obstacles and problems thrown at Gerta and her family started to get to me. I figured from the tone and audience that it would all end successfully eventually, so every time disaster struck, I was both anxious (which is good) and exasperated (not so good). I wonder if this would have seemed so obvious and frustrating if I'd been reading at my regular pace.

All that being said, it's a very good book with a very gripping story. As a presidential candidate talks big about building a wall at our borders, I think this fall will be a good time to read this book to my classes and give them something to think about

4 stars

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

If I'd never heard of this book before reading it, I think I might have liked it more. But since although I didn't actually know what it is about, I knew it had rave reviews, my expectations were a little too high. It seems to be one of those books that adults would love and kids would find kinda preachy. It's not dull--danger, war, animals, runaways, and even peg legs are key parts of the story. But it still doesn't feel like a book the average kid will really get into. 

3.5 stars

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

Oh, what fun! I went in expecting sci fi and instead got Merlin and Arthur. I've always been ambivalent about Camelot stories. They are romantic and classic and wonderful--but there's always betrayal and death lurking. So to focus on their descendants lets the glamour of the stories shine through without the depressing doomed feeling overshadowing everything. 

I love the varied world and characters Salerni created here. Everyone felt fresh, strong, and individual. I'm eager to read the next installment of this series. There's enough action and twists that even students without background understanding of the legends will still be engaged, so I'm also eager to start pushing this on kids next year!

4 stars

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

So, I'm torn.

As a reader, I really enjoyed this story. I rooted for Ally and her friends, I loved her way with words, and I found the emotional arc satisfying. I got invested in the story, and felt pleased by the ending.

As a teacher and critical thinker, I was annoyed. Just as in One for the Murphys, Hunt makes everything too neat and tidy. From the shutting down of the class bully to the teacher who saves the day, it is all too pat. Yes, Ally had to struggle, and will have to continue to struggle, in order to learn to read. Yes, Mr. Daniels made some mis-steps along the way. But overall, everything is wrapped up with a pretty little bow, and it's just not that simple in real life. I work with plenty of kids who struggle to read, and many of them do NOT have balancing areas of genius, and many of them do NOT have readily identifiable learning differences with already-discovered methods of conquering. 

Splitting the difference at a 3.5. I'm really curious to see if students enjoy it or not. Sometimes they are fools for sentimentality, and sometimes they have their BS meters set high.

3.5 stars

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

There's a lot going on in this book. Maybe a little too much. Dead mom, dead brother, school shooting, Asperger's, bullying, counseling. I'm not convinced that ALL of the elements needed to be included.

As a parent, my heart goes out to the dad, who's still standing after losing half of his family and having to be the sole provider and family support for a very complicated and challenging young woman. My favorite moment in the book is when Caitlin enchants a group of first graders by burping the alphabet, and thinks of herself as Snow White with the dwarfs.

3 stars

1 comment:

  1. Great mini reviews. I’m always looking for more MG recommendations. The only one in this post I’ve read is Mockingbird, and I felt pretty “Meh” about it.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!


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