This week I finished reading Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick.
Actually, this one was on audiobook, so I suppose I just finished listening to it. Anyway, it was great. I have to say that the narrator, Joel Johnstone, is one of my favorite male narrators. He “does” a young teenage boy perfectly. He is also the narrator for The Wednesday Wars audiobook, which is probably the main reason I love him so. Anyway, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie is well-written, funny, and heartfelt. The main character, Steven, is an 8th grade boy whose younger brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with cancer. I love how honest the book feels when Steven is torn between being annoyed by his brother, feeling guilty about the annoyance, and having pity on him.
My 12 year old son, Tyler, just finished reading this book for his Book Club class. I feel like I should say here that it is an enrichment class he did not sign up for because he “really doesn’t like to read that much.” He told me this book was really good and I should read it. A book with the Tyler Seal of Approval MUST be something good since he doesn’t approve of a whole lot! I think it’s such a great middle grades boy book because the male protagonist is so honest about his feelings and they are very relatable – and funny.
As for the teachability aspect of this book, what I noticed the most was the excellent use of various types of figurative language. I thought there were so many examples that were so well written. Here’s one: “With my braces, I looked like I tried to swallow a train wreck.” I’ll use this example in class, because I can sure picture that one! The elements of plot were easy to follow, so this would be a good book to break down. Also, the author does an excellent job of characterizing the protagonist, faults and all, so a character analysis would work well, too.
There is definitely no questionable content or language in the book that would keep it off my bookshelf. I’m going to try to use this book for literature circles in the future!
I started reading Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.
I haven’t read much, but I’ve definitely read enough of it to know that it’s NOT anything like her first novel, Between Shades of Gray. I’m not sure if I like it yet. More on this one next week.
Back to Between Shades of Gray.
When I first saw Between Shades of Gray in the Scholastic Book Clubs catalog, I was honestly shocked and outraged. How could Scholastic market a book that sounded so much like that.. err.. “other” book? So I of course ignored it. Then, as my class was watching the monthly Scholastic Book Talks, I saw it featured there. It was only then that I found out it was a historical fiction novel about the deportation of thousands of people from Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia by the Soviet Union during WWII. I recently became intrigued by the horrors of WWII experienced by people in the Soviet Union, especially after reading Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. I had been on a Kristin Hannah kick last summer and stumbled upon that little gem by accident, leading me to do more research and find out more about what was going on in the Soviet Union during WWII. So, I swallowed my pride and bought Between Shades of Gray despite the title. It was good enough, and I enjoyed it enough, but the first time I read it, it seemed too upbeat. Here’s a girl, Lina, whose father was arrested and is “missing,” whose mother and little brother have been deported along with her to Siberia to some sort of labor camp, experiencing all the same horrors that the Jewish people did on the deportation trains. And yet the tone of the book was positive and upbeat. Even after an important character dies from the elements, the book’s tone remained too upbeat for me. So I finished the book feeling disappointed, like it wasn’t serious enough.
Still, I put the book on my shelf in the historical fiction section and forgot about it. Then, one girl checked the book out, read it, and started telling her friends. It quickly became a sensation in my classroom library like not many books do. Apparently, Ruta Sepetys knew what she was doing when she selected this upbeat tone for the book. Tweens and teens like reading books that are of a serious nature but are not TOO heavy, and this book fits the bill. So, I had to go back and read it a second time through their perspective. It remains one of my more popular books, and though it will never be one of my favorites, I’m thankful that the students are checking out historical fiction and enjoying it!