Saturday, May 23, 2015

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a TreeWhat do Ally Nickerson, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison have in common?  They are all different learners.  In Ally's case it's dyslexia, unfortunately having attended seven schools in seven years hasn't helped her situation.

Ally's mother and older brother work hard to take care of the family since Ally's father is in the military and is currently deployed.  Her mother wants Ally to have friends and have fun, but making friends isn't easy when there's a different school every year.  Ally is also the perfect target for bullies who immediately seem to sense her weaknesses.

When her teacher Mrs. Hall leaves in the middle of the year to have a baby and Mr. Daniels arrives to take over the class, Ally begins to get the help she needs.  Mr. Daniels recognizes Ally is an incredibly intelligent girl who learns differently.  Things don't change overnight, but when it is discovered that Ally is dyslexic, Mr. Daniels is able to begin helping Ally learn to read and write with more success. 

Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt captures the frustration and confusion of a student with a learning disability.  She perfectly describes a typical classroom with a variety of personalities and behaviors.  Hunt provides an encouraging story for both children and educators.  Caring teachers can indeed make a difference in the lives of their students.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

Bird BoxA few days ago I had the pleasure of attending a reading of this book by the author, Josh Malerman and his fiancĂ©e.  As a result of hearing the a passage from the book and listening to this enthusiastic author, I purchased a copy of BIRD BOX and began reading it the same night.  Now I'll attempt to write a review that I hope will encourage readers to head to their local library or bookstore to get their hands on a copy for themselves.

The world has become a frightening place.  There are creatures lurking that can cause instant insanity.  The only way to prevent it is to avoid looking at the creatures. 

The few who have managed to survive live in constant fear of seeing the creatures.  Windows are covered with wood or blankets and blindfolds must be worn by anyone who attempts to leave the protection of their homes.  One survivor named Malorie witnessed the insanity when her sister saw one of the creatures.  One look at the creature had Malorie's sister plunging a pair of scissors into her own chest. 

Soon after her sister's death, Malorie makes the decision to risk leaving the house to seek the help of others.  Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy complicates an already difficult situation as Malorie takes a few meager supplies, dons her blindfold, and heads out in search of other survivors.  She makes it safely to a house sheltering a small group of people.  She joins them and quickly becomes close to several members of the group.  But as supplies begin to run low, decisions must be made about trips into the outside world to search for the things they need to survive.  Each moment outside the house causes danger and risk for everyone.

Author Josh Malerman's descriptive prose takes readers into this terrifying new version of the world.  Readers will learn of the past and present as Malorie struggles to protect herself and those who depend on her for survival.  Malerman's intense storytelling is sure to emotionally grab readers and not turn them loose until long after the story ends. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015


The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's ListI constantly have students asking for books about the Holocaust, and now I have another great one to add to my collection.  THE BOY ON THE WOODEN BOX by Leon Leyson will add an interesting perspective for students searching for more knowledge about that terrible time in the history of our world.

Leon Leyson lived in Krakow, Poland, with his family.  His childhood was filled with family, school, and friends until the Nazis arrived and at the age of ten he was forced to leave school and begin the fight to survive.

Leon's father was a respected, expert machinist working in a factory owned by Oskar Schindler.  In the end that is what saved Leon and most of his family.  They were herded together with the other Jews in the city and pushed into the Ghetto, forced to survive in crowded, unsanitary conditions with very little food.  From the Ghetto they were sent in cattle cars to the concentration camps where Leon and his mother were separated from his father and brother.  They experienced the horrors described in many other accounts of the Holocaust.

What made Leon's story different was his family's connection to Oskar Schindler, a Nazi who secretly believed the Jews deserved a life just like everyone else.  Schindler worked tirelessly to protect the Jews working in his factory, and because of his kindness, Leon and his family were able to escape the horrors of the concentration camps and return to the city to work for Schindler.

THE BOY ON THE WOODEN BOX tells Leon Leyson's story.  Readers will appreciate the honesty of this Holocaust survivor as he recounts the atrocities at the hands of the Nazis and shares his undying gratitude for the man he credits with saving his life and the lives of more than a thousand others.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BACKLASH by Sarah Darer Littman

BacklashBACKLASH is the best book involving cyber-bullying I have read.  Author Sarah Darer Littman captures the crazy madness and destructive behavior that results when teens and even adults act without thought to the devastating consequences of those actions.

After living through years of being bullied due to her weight, Lara takes control, loses weight, and has just earned a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad.  Her family was concerned about her depression and fragile emotional state during her middle school years, but hope that her newfound popularity will increase her self-esteem.

Life has improved for Lara, and when she receives a Facebook friend request from a hot looking guy from a nearby school, she is ecstatic.  Their online conversations give her more and more confidence every day.  But, just when Lara is expecting an invitation to Christian's high school dance, he starts posting horrible things about her right on her wall where everyone can see.  His comments are joined by others who threaten and taunt her telling her she should die. 

One evening she makes the decision to lock the bathroom door and swallow any pills she can find.  She wakes up later in the hospital and must deal with the results of her actions. 

In a parallel storyline, Lara's former best friend Bree is dealing with jealousy.  Bree expected to earn a spot on the cheerleading team but didn't.  As she observes Lara's excitement, she decides to take action.  Bree invents Christian, the hot guy who contacts Lara with a friend request.  Bree's mother gets involved in the scam as well, and things spiral out of control.

BACKLASH was excellent for several reasons.  I appreciated Littman's use of the real Facebook social media site rather than making up some generic site as many authors do.  It added a realism and authentic feel lacking in other books.  Another reason I was captivated by the story was the incredibly poor judgment on the part of some of the adults.  One would think that adults would use caution and common sense and not get involved in petty acts, but through experience in dealing with my teenage students and how some of their parents behave, I found the behavior of Lara's mother and Bree's mother all too real.  This is a must read!

Monday, May 4, 2015

SWEET by Emmy Laybourne

SweetSWEET by Emmy Laybourne is about a luxury cruise like none you could ever imagine.  For Laurel and her friend Viv this seven day adventure promises to be life-changing, but neither of them expected it to have the potential of being life-ending.

Laurel is grateful that the parents of her rich friend Viv have offered to pay all the expenses for this incredible vacation.  Not everyone has a chance to participate in this unique cruise.  In addition to a luxurious stateroom, massive buffets, pools, spa experiences, and interesting side trips, each cruise member will be given the opportunity to partake of a brand new diet drug called Solu.  This miracle concoction promises to help those who are overweight shed their unwanted pounds while still eating whatever they desire.  Absolutely incredible!

Solu, a sugar substitute, is added to the guests' desserts and offered in lovely lavender packets that can be added to beverages, etc.  The weight loss results are almost immediate.  Laurel observes those results in her friend Viv, but due to an unfortunate bout of seasickness, Laurel isn't able to participate.  Is she missing out or will she end up being one of the lucky ones when it turns out that Solu may not be a miracle as advertised?

Author Emmy Laybourne has successfully combined the attractive backdrop of a luxury cruise with the ever present desire to be thin.  Readers are in for a treat complete with colorful characters, spot-on descriptions of cruise ship activities, romance, and eventually, raving lunatics.  Laybourne is also the author of the popular MONUMENT 14 trilogy. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

LITTLE FISH by Ramsey Beyer

Little Fish: A MemoirIt was exciting to stumble across this book at my public library.  When I read the blurb on the jacket flap, I couldn't believe it.  In LITTLE FISH author Ramsey Beyer tells her own story -- a small town Michigan girl leaving home after high school graduation to travel to the big city and major in art.  What was so incredible, is that this is also my daughter's story.  Small town Michigan, then big city art major!

Beyer uses not only her talent as an author, but also her artistic talent in this graphic/collage style memoir.  She tells of a loving and encouraging family and her decision to challenge herself by going far from home to attend a school that would allow her to cultivate her talent.  Recording her experiences over the course of one year, she shares the excitement, the adventure, the homesickness, and the occasional doubts that filled that first year.

LITTLE FISH is the perfect book for those about to embark on the grand adventure of life after high school and for those who remember similar times in their own lives.  So glad I found this treasure.


Heart TransplantI have mixed emotions about the message in this book.  Author Andrew Vachss takes readers into the dysfunctional life of a boy named Sean.  The victim of an absentee father, a distracted mother, and taunting, physically abusive classmates, Sean must learn to cope with the mess life has thrown his way.

Sean comes home to find his mother and her current boyfriend shot to death.  As the police arrive and begin to discuss calling social services, an elderly man arrives claiming to the father of the murdered man, and therefore, Sean's grandfather.  Although, Sean has never seen the man before, he has little choice but to go with him.

As time passes, Sean and Pop become close.  Pop shares the wisdom of his life experiences with Sean and tries to help the young man make something of himself.  One life lesson is to teach Sean that you cannot be bullied if others don't think you are worth associating with.  Boxing lessons allow Sean to feel able to defend himself, and when he exercises some of the skills he has learned, it seems that the bullies finally leave him alone.

The book is designed as a picture book for teens.  The illustrations by Frank Caruso are bold and intense.  Each illustration furthers the accompanying text in a powerful way.

My discomfort with this book is the suggestion that fighting back is Pop and Sean's solution to bullying.  The idea of meeting force with force would definitely have an impact, but my instinct is that two wrongs don't necessarily make things right or solve a problem that effects so many.  Despite my misgivings, HEART TRANSPLANT is still worth a look as a tool to present and discuss the issue of bullying.