Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Update: New Pages!

Hello all,
Take a moment to check out the new pages up at the top of the blog. The categories where were formerly on the Archives page (which no longer exists) are now their own pages for ease of finding what you are looking for.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Frindle

Title: Frindle
Author: Andrew Clements
Release Date: 1996
Genre: children's fiction, school, friendship
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 8+
Awards: 2016 Phoenix Award  

Nick isn't a trouble maker. He just has good ideas. He's also a pro at the teacher-stopper question, that question asked right between the end of the lesson and the giving of the homework.
So when he tries this on the notorious 5th grade English teacher Mrs. Granger, he's expecting success.
No such luck. Nick ends up giving a lengthy report on the creation of dictionaries. But this report isn't a waste of time. He learns something about words and where they come from.
Then, he launches an experiment of his own. What does it take to make a word?

Word of Warning
Little to be concerned about here except perhaps the stubbornness of all involved. Nick ends up waging "war" with Mrs. Granger over the word, and various students join in his rebellion. They keep using the new word despite orders not to, and end up serving many after school detentions.
It is explained multiple times that Nick doesn't intend to cause trouble, he just wants to see if he can create a new word. He is a respectful boy even during his "war" with Mrs. Granger, and as we see later in the book, Mrs. Granger was well aware of that.

My Thoughts
For a teacher, at first this book is a little sad. Mrs. Granger tries to squash the good ideas of Nick Allen. But Nick Allen is trying to hijack Mrs. Granger's lesson time. So maybe she's justified?
Then things become more intense, until you reach the end of the book and realize the truth: Mrs. Granger, like all good teachers, helped Nick. Not only did she teach him a valuable lesson about words, society, and what one person can do, but she believed in him enough to wage war with him.
Then we learn the power of words, and how even though the world will continue to change around us, the power of words will never go away.
And as a teacher who has encountered many Nick's, and a writer who believes in the power of words, well, this simple little romp of a book made my heart melt.
Short, sweet, and truthful. This one isn't worth missing.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Blog News: Archive Update

Hello all!
I'm excited to bring you two new sections on the Archives page: Author/Actor, and Publication Year
I have also updated/added a few genres.
The authors and actors section is not complete. Recently I have been tracking authors and actors (well known ones) and putting them as labels so I could link to them later. This does not mean that I've listed every big name who participated in something I reviewed. I'll continue to keep this up, and slowly go back and add to the past posts which do not include this.

I've noticed the Archives page is getting rather long. Vote on the sidebar on whether I should break each section into its own page to make it easier to search please.

Thank you for continuing to read, even in this barren time where posts are few and far between!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: Maniac Magee

Title: Maniac Magee
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Release Date: 1990
Genre: children's fiction, family, adventure, cultural fiction, racism
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 14+ (probably good for 12+, just keep in mind the drinking problem)

Summary: Jeffrey Lionel Magee. His parents died in a train crash, and he spent the next eight years with his aunt and uncle. They couldn't share, so they had two of everything, except, of course Jeffrey.
Well Jeffrey eventually tired of the fighting and being shared. So he ran away. He ran very far away.
One day, Jeffrey wanders into the town of Two Mills. A huge war is going on, just below the surface, but he doesn't even realize it. Instead, he waltzes right in and crosses the boundary from one side to the other as he pleases. This causes all sorts of problems, and eventually Jeffrey has to face what he believes to be a complete lie: the difference between the people on West End and the people on East End.
Tensions rise. Jeffrey continues to wander. Until one day when he finally decides to bring the war to an end--so he brings a friend to a birthday party.

Word of Warning
  • Racism. The people on West End are white, the people on East End are black. Each side thinks poorly of the other, almost considering them to be sub-human and forbidding any interaction between either side. Probably the most outlandish example of this is the McNabs, who build a "bomb" shelter from which they plan to attack the "enemies."
  • Drinking. Neglect. Death. Divorce. Families for real, and families torn apart.
  • A character sleeps in a zoo.
  • A character dies a rather heartbreaking (but calm and peaceful) death.
  • Characters are rude to one another.
  • Someone hits a frog with a baseball bat (we're assured the frog is not injured).
  • Lying, bribing, cheating, screaming, whining, all the stuff that kids will do from time to time. For the most part, they don't get away with it.
  • "Trash talk". No actual words, but Jeffrey apparently learns trash talk while playing football, and is quickly told that is not to be used in the house but only on the football field.

My Thoughts
Right up there at the top of my list, this book. The author ingeniously chose the perfect narration style for a tall tale like this one, and it worked wonders on the story itself.
The story itself? It's a wild tale of a boy who completes crazy feats, sometimes for a cause, sometimes just to do it. It's an insane cast of characters who are just unique enough for you to fall in love with them (no matter how crabby), and yet just common enough for you to match them up with all of your own neighbors.
It's also the story of differences. Spinelli creates a mirror world in East End and West End, something a careful reader will notice. This mirror world is eventually forced to face the other side, and even that confrontation is well done.
Honestly? It's just a great book.

"They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept. They say if you knew he was coming and you sprinkled salt on the ground and he ran over it, within two or three blocks he would be as slow as everybody else. They say....
But that's ok, because the history of a kid os one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. And if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these parts, well, just run your hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth."

With a beginning like that, how could it not be?