Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
I chose this historical novel because of how well it covers the Russian Revolution. In the story, Katya, the daughter of a noblewoman, becomes the playmate of Stana, better known as Princess Anastasia. However, a close family friend, Misha, keeps trying to tell her how precarious the situation in their country is and as the book progresses and the first World War begins, followed by the revolution, Katya sees it all. I’m a big fan of Whelan’s historical fiction, which brings history to young readers in ways they can really relate to. I taught this book years ago in school, but I wasn’t sure about reading it. However, the kids really loved it and it provoked lots of interesting discussion.
The School Story by Andrew Clements
Mushroom was on a huge Clements kick last year, but he didn’t make it to this particular book, so we took it out on audiobook for the car. After listening, I can say it’s not one of my favorites. All of Clements books have a sort of magic about them where kids dream big and accomplish big things. In this book, a young student writes a novel so good that it becomes an automatic property in the publishing world. While I have enjoyed seeing how newspapers, camping trips, big concerts, amazing words and comic book empires come to life in Clements’ books, for some reason, this one strained my credulity a little more. However, the boys both enjoyed it and the author’s books always have solid writing.
Mushroom and BalletBoy’s Required Reading
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Both boys ended up reading this wonderful little book that won the Newbery this year. In case you haven’t read it, it tells the first person story of a gorilla named Ivan who lives in a mall as a tourist attraction. Ivan’s life and story are extremely sad, but through the intervention of a little girl and a young elephant, the ending isn’t as tragic as the start. It sounds like an odd topic for a children’s book, but Ivan’s voice is wonderful and the story provides a lot of potential avenues for discussion. One thing the boys and I talked about was how the book turned the traditional plot structure of rising action leading to an exciting climax followed by a resolution on its head completely. Instead of looking like a mountain, the book’s plot feels like a valley, as Ivan’s story only gets sadder until, about two thirds of the way in, it hits a terrible rock bottom before Ivan can begin to take control of his life.
Mushroom’s Pleasure Read
The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger
After some pestering, BalletBoy finally got his brother to read all the Origami Yoda books. I saw Mushroom carting this one around and then I saw BalletBoy pick it up to read it a second time. While I sometimes wish the boys would read new fun books, I know there’s a big value in rereading as well, so I have been trying to let it go.
BalletBoy’s Pleasure Read
Big Nate: On a Roll by Lincoln Pierce
While BalletBoy got his brother to read one of his favorites, Mushroom got him to read a Big Nate book. Having only read a few of the comics, I can’t review this one much. Only to say that BalletBoy read it nearly all in one go, which is generally a sign a book was enjoyed.
Justice League Unlimited
Both boys have turned to more traditional comic books more lately and this title from DC has been a popular pick here. I don’t think they’ve seen the cartoon of the same name, but they’ve been reading these short, one off stories on the iPad and BalletBoy seems especially drawn to having a superhero comic to read and follow. While the habit can get expensive fast, most short comics through DC and Marvel’s respective apps are only 99 cents, which is less than trying to buy individual paper issues. Titles are also rated by age and the ratings so far seem pretty fair to me. This one, for example is rated 9+, though I think it would be fine for younger kids too.
Farrar’s YA Reads
Champion by Marie Lu and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Okay, I read Allegiant last month, but I thought I’d toss them both together because they were both disappointments to me, despite the fact that I didn’t even have high hopes for either one. Both books are dystopian novels that finish off their respective series. In Lu’s Legend series, two characters from different walks of life must deal with a repressive government trying to reform. In Roth’s Divergent series, a girl must decide how to act when the classification system she lives under falls apart. Both series introduce some interesting elements that should be fodder for discussion. In Champion, which government is better or worse: a flawed meritocracy or a free market where the government is run by corporations? In Allegiant, whether our lives are determined by our genes is the central question of the final book. In the end though, neither book really lived up the potential of its first entry in the series and the exploration of the issues was pretty shallow, even for YA. I think it’s just an indication of how done this subgenre of YA really feels to me. However, with a Divergent movie on its way and the number of young teens I saw carting around Allegiant over the last month, maybe it’s not as done as I wish it was.
War Game by Michael Foreman
This book about four young soccer playing British friends who join up in World War I was beautifully done. It’s hard to read anything about the first World War that isn’t just utterly tragic, and this book was no exception. All four of the characters die at the end of the story, their blood on the snow in one scene becoming the red of the poppies in the illustration on the next page. But before their deaths, they have a final moment of glory playing soccer against the Germans in the Christmas truce that occurs in the first winter of the war. We’ve been struggling through World War I and there are so, so many amazing resources for it. However, this book has been my favorite so far.