Review: Extra Credit

An interesting idea but a lackluster novel.

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mark Elliott.
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 183 pages.
Lexile:  830L
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 5.0 points)

Abby is a smart sixth grader who could care less about homework but is obsessed with mountain climbing.  Sadeed is the top of his school in Afghanistan, living right next to real life mountains.  When Abby’s about to flunk 6th grade, she has an emergency project to complete – write to a pen pal in another country.  What starts off as a quick project turns into a real connection.

extra-credit-cover

The premise seemed to work okay, but as I often feel with two-person stories, one side was definitely lacking.  The chapters about Abby had a lot more realism and detail.  Sadeed’s chapters started off strong but while the premise was interesting, seemed to lack the specifics and connection that would have made me care about him.  Even when his village was undergoing a lot of problems, it just felt dramatic and not real.  The scenes with him and his sister were probably the best on his side.

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Catching Up

Hello all,

We had a family emergency, so although I had posts written for the last two Fiction Fridays, I didn’t have them set to auto-publish and wasn’t able to do it in the midst of events.

I’m slowly catching up on all manner of things and trying to decide if I will just start fresh this week or try to backdate some of the posts I had planned for the last two weeks.  If I do, I’ll edit this post to link them below.

Thanks for reading!

Edited to Add:

2/10/2017 – A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane.

2/17/2017 – The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

2/24/2017 – Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mark Elliott.

I decided just to post the Fiction Friday books (since I have a fiction review backlog) and will post the others another time.  The family challenge took another turn so I had to backdate another week.  Hopefully this coming week I’ll be able to post on time, even if I have to schedule it!

Review: The Snowy Day

A favorite read-aloud for generations.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.
Viking, New York, 1962.
Realistic fiction, 33 pages.
1963 Caldecott Medal Winner
Lexile:  AD500L  (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR Level:  2.5 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: This is the first of seven books featuring Peter.

Young Peter’s day in the snow is a classic for all children, as well as a book of historic importance.

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The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I posted some time ago about how I originally got this book – however a friend recently gifted me a new hardcover copy!  There is a book by Andrea Davis Pinkney about the making of The Snowy Day that I can’t wait to review as well.

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Review: A Wizard Alone

“Everybody laughs. Especially the ones who don’t do it out loud; they do it the loudest.” p. 186

A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane.
Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, my edition 2003, first published in 2002.
Middle grade fantasy, 320 pages + excerpt.
Lexile:  820L
AR Level:  5.8 (worth 13.0 points)
NOTE: This is the 6th book in the Young Wizards series.

“Becoming a wizard isn’t easy.  In fact, it can kill you.
All first-time wizards must go through an initiation in magic called an Ordeal.  Most last only a few days.  So why has Darryl McAllister been on Ordeal for three months?
Or has he?  Darryl hadn’t actually gone anywhere.  His body is still here; it’s his mind that seems to have departed.  And that’s where Kit and Nita come in.  Only together can they unravel the mysteries around Darryl – who he is, what he is, and why the  source of all death in the universe, the Lone Power, is desperately trying to destroy him.” -back cover blurb

Even that is a little spoilery, but better than the synopsis you will find on most popular websites (including the two linked above), which give major spoilers.  Unfortunately, this review will also be somewhat spoilery since this is the sixth book in a series.  Discussing this book will give away some plot elements from the first five books.

I last read these these books many years ago and had forgotten that one of the two main characters is Latino.  The other might be Latina (her given name is Juanita, her father is Irish-American but I don’t think her mother’s background is specified).  When younger, I only cared about female characters.  Although the two have very equal parts, I inaccurately recalled Kit Rodriguez as a sidekick to Nita Callahan and her younger sister Dairine.

a-wizard-alone
A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane.

Most of this review will be have spoilers for either the book or the series, but be sure to scroll down to the non-spoiler end…

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Review: Hidden Figures

“They would prove themselves equal or better, having internalized the Negro theorem of needing to be twice as good to get half as far.” p. 48

Hidden Figures:The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.
William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2016.
Adult non-fiction, 346 pages including notes and index.
New York Times Bestseller.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level:  9.7 (worth 18.0 points)

In 1969, a human being set foot on the moon for the first time.  Although you wouldn’t know it from the all-white, mostly-male camera coverage, the calculations of a black woman helped him get there.  But this story starts much earlier, when the labor shortage of WWII allowed highly qualified, extremely intelligent, and very respectable female African-American mathematicians a chance at a job with pay and work closer to what they deserved.

They came in droves to Langley, in Hampton, Virginia, for a unprecedented opportunity in the midst of a heavily segregated community.  Those who stayed, and their white female counterparts, spent decades breaking barriers and proving their value to aeronautics over and over again, so that when John Glenn needed the numbers for his first spaceflight checked, Katherine Johnson would be in the right place to be able to perform those and other calculations.

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This book is so superb you should run out and get it right now.

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Review: Rickshaw Girl

“Most of the homes in the village looked the same, with smooth clay walls, thatched roofs, dirt paths, and large stone thresholds. They only looked different on holidays, when girls decorated their family’s paths and thresholds with painted patterns called alpanas, just as their ancestors had done for generations.” p. 8

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan.
Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA, 2007.
Elementary chapter book, 91 pages.
Lexile: 730L
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 1.0 points)

Bangladeshi girl Naima is a gifted painter and a free spirit who spends every moment thinking about her next alpana pattern, until her family experiences a turn of fortune and she desperately wants to help drive her father’s rickshaw, like her best friend Saleem does for his family.  But as a girl she can’t even speak to Saleem now that they are older.

rickshaw-girl

This is a library book which I am hoping to use as a read-aloud at school.  It crossed my path very randomly but I am starting to get in the habit of noting (and trying to read) any book with clearly non-white characters on the cover.  This sometimes pays real dividends as I find new treasures to read and discover new-to-me authors!

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#DiverseAThon TL;DR

A quick overview of my results from the January 2017 #DiverseAThon:

Elementary Chapter Books

I enjoyed Encore, Grace! but was confused until I learned that there was another book in the series which I missed reading.  I chose not to read Bravo, Grace! because it is a collection of short stories, not a novel, and thus better suited to reading another time.

The alternate Scraps of Time 1928 I didn’t read as I didn’t finish my original TBR and would prefer to read the books from that series in order if possible.

Middle Grade Novels

I liked One Crazy Summer a lot (and finished it) but didn’t like The Red Pencil as much as I hoped (thus didn’t finish it yet).

Teen/YA Novel

I didn’t get a chance to read Flygirl.  My plan was to read it on one of the weekends when I had an uninterrupted block of time, which never happened.  I am still very excited to read it at some point soon.

Nonfiction

Hidden Figures (which I had started reading on my lunch breaks before DiverseAThon) continued to be great.  I’ll be going to see the movie and starting the young reader’s edition.  Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice had a different format than I expected, but was still a worthwhile read.  I’m close to the end of both.

Overall

I wasn’t super happy with my reading for this week but given the busier than average week and emergencies, this is what happened.  It was interesting limiting my reading for one week to books with black characters that I already owned.  This won’t often be a possibility for me, given how much reading I need to do for my various works and classes, but it was a fun challenge.

If you want more details, I kept a running record of what I was reading each day of the DiverseAThon over in this post.