Review: Away West

“Everett had been wandering around for almost an hour. His body ached from the cold, and he had no idea where to go.” page 19

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Away West (Scraps of Time 1879) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006.
Elementary historical fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile:  510L  .
AR Level:  3.4 (worth 1.0)  .

The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic.  One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.

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Scraps of Time 1879 Away West by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon C. James.

In this case the item is a Civil War army medal, although the story does not deal directly with the Civil War.  Instead, Gee tells them about her grandfather, Everett Turner.  The youngest of three brothers, he was determined to find his place in the West.

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Review: Code Talker

“But I had no idea, even in my wildest dreams, that the very language those bilagdanaa teacher tried to erase – the way you wipe words from a blackboard – would one day be needed by important white men.” page 27

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2005.
Historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile:  910L  .
AR Level:  6.4 (worth 9.0 points)  .

This novel follows fictional narrator Ned Begay through his life, focusing particularly on his experiences as a Navajo code talker.

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The framework of this story is that it is a story that a grandfather is telling to his grandchildren.  This idea is presented in the introduction and mentioned sporadically throughout the novel as well as in the final chapter.  I was a bit iffy about this device, but Bruchac used it beautifully.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Shark King

This slim early-chapter-book graphic novel retelling of a traditional Hawaiian story will appeal to adults as well.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson.
TOON Books, New York, 2012.
Graphic novel, 40 pages.
Lexile:  GN410L or GN380L ?   ( Also what does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  1.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: I have some disagreement with these levels, see review for details.

This is the story of Nanaue, from the day his parents met onward.

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Most graphic novels I’ve reviewed here so far fall into the middle school, teen, or adult categories.  While some might be appropriate for younger MG readers, most were not.  This book is aimed at elementary students – although I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to a middle school library or even a high school if high-low books were needed.  The age of the characters is not specified, and while Toon Books specializes in elementary graphic novels, they do also make some for older readers.

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Review: Seedfolks

“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.

Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole.  Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.

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Review: Tiger Boy

“Theirs was the only property for kilometers where a grove of tall sundari trees provided shade for the house and most of the yard.” p. 22

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan.
Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA, 2015.
Middle grade fiction, 140 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  770L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Neel lives on an island in the Sunderbans, but might have a unique opportunity for a scholarship to a boarding school in Calcutta.  But he’d rather stay on his beloved island with his family.  A tiger cub escaped from the nature preserve, and an unscrupulous man wants to find it to sell.  Can Neel find the cub first?  If he does, will not studying ruin his chances at the scholarship?

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Graphic Novel Review: Monster

If the play didn’t work for you, give this graphic novel a try.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
Graphic novel, 153 pages.
Lexile:  GN420L  ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  not yet leveled

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Monster.  I’ll repeat my summary of the novel:

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster graphic novel

You might recall my review of the novel Monster, which took me more than six months to read and review (thankfully it was checked out from a library I work at, so I could keep renewing it).  In contrast, this graphic novel took me a few hours to read and is being reviewed instantly – because I can certainly recommend it.

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Review: Felix Yz

“The day before yesterday, when I wrote about Flatworld, there was a reason I didn’t say anything about the day, which was that when I woke up, I couldn’t move at all.” page 43

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker.
Viking, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG science fiction, 283 pages.
Lexile:  940L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled

Felix is your average kid, trying to do enough school work to get by, dreaming about his crush, drawing in class, and trying to avoid the school bully.  However, he’s also a very special kid, because at three years old, he was fused with an alien from the fourth dimension.  With Zyx inside of him, Felix has a lot of disadvantages, and a few advantages, that most kids don’t.  But the biggest problem is the Procedure, which is designed to finally separate them but might also kill them both.  And it’s happening in 29 days.

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This book had a great tagline: “It’s what’s inside that counts… and what’s inside Felix is an alien.”  Also, the cover is fabulous, simply presenting the style and major problem of this stand-alone book.

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