Skinny bones

SkinnybonesSkinnybones by Barbara Park

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

Alex Frankovitch is a little on the skinny side for his age and definitely on the uncoordinated side. He has extra talent, however, for making the people in his life (and readers) laugh. It’s this talent that helps him get through baseball season and life as the target for the school jock and bully.

My review 

I consider read aloud time in my third grade classroom to be sacred. Ok maybe not sacred, but pretty darn important. Kids need to be exposed to “good” literature, not just curriculum stories formulated to teach information or a concept. They need to know what it feels like and sounds like to read a story with an interesting and smart author voice, one in which all the story elements are present, consistent, and complete. They need to be exposed to different genres as well. This is how experienced readers can motivate those still learning to want to keep at it. A read aloud experience at home or the classroom can show kids the adventures that wait them when they can independently read.

So I take seriously the responsibility of choosing “good” books to read aloud to my class. The BFG was our first read aloud this year, and then The Magician’s Elephant. Both of these books were fantasy though with very different voices. But I decided we needed a realistic fiction for our third read aloud. I perused all kinds of library lists and blogs to get ideas. On one list I saw Skinnybones. The name sounded vaguely familiar so I looked it up on Goodreads. As soon as I saw the cover memories from 5th grade came flooding back. My teacher read it to my class that year and I suddenly remembered bunting in baseball being confused with vomiting and other hilarious antics from Alex Frankovitch (a.k.a. Skinny bones). I knew it had to be the next read aloud in my classroom.

I was certain boys and girls with love this book and that we would all have a good laugh. I was 100% right. Alex Frankovitch is definitely the class clown, but an often misunderstood one. He makes some pretty dumb choices that get him into trouble but never out of maliciousness. He just doesn’t always think through his decisions. And he loves to make people laugh. The result is a laugh out loud journey through the perils of being an uncoordinated 5th grade aspiring baseball player with a problem with the class bully. My students were literally on the edge of their seats at times as we waited to see what Alex would do or say next. Everyday there were groans of disappointment when read loud time was over.

I loved the trip down memory lane. There are so many times that I would read a line or turn a page and suddenly remember what was going to happen next despite it having been over 20 years since my teacher read the book to my class. Occasionally I would start laughing at just the memory of what was to come and then have the hardest time reading it out loud without laughing through it. The laughter was contagious and my students would start laughing along with me before they even knew what the funny part was. Some highlights of the book for me are the beginning with Kitty Fritters fiasco, Alex’s conversations with God, and of course “Ooga Booga” in the middle of a baseball game.

Alex is just a lovable character despite his trouble-making tendencies. He reminds me of a boy in my class actually. I love how his parents handle his personality with their own sense of humor. The writing is genius. Though it was originally published in 1982, but it could just as easily take place today. So much of the story telling is dialogue and Alex’s thoughts which made it extra fun to read aloud with different voices and expression.

If you are in the mood for a ROTFL read pick up Skinnybones. I’m looking forward to seeing how many of my students pick up the next books in the series when we go to the library.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were the perfect age for appreciating this book. 5th and 6th grades would love it as well. But this book isn’t just for kids. Adults will appreciate the story and especially the perspectives of Alex’s parents and teachers.

Appropriateness: I love that this book is relatable for girls and boys. There is vomit talk, as would be expected when entering the mind of a 5th grade boy. Alex also has conversations with God but not in relation to any specific religion or spirituality. It was interesting to watch my students’ faces as I read the word “God” over and over. I live in a very religious area and yet students are not used to “that word” coming up at school. I loved being able to show them that it’s not taboo in all forms and that God is a real part of life for some people and even characters in books. I found nothing offensive in this book and it made for a perfect classroom read aloud.

Discussion Material: In my classroom this book inspired discussion about how to handle bullying, how to make up for mistakes we make or trouble we might cause, and how to keep a positive attitude and to like yourself even when life isn’t perfect.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Skinnybones I think you would also like Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet AgainUntil We Meet Again by Renee Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

The last thing 17 year old Cassandra wants to do is spend her summer marooned with her mother and stepfather in a snooty Massachusetts shore town. But when a dreamy stranger shows up on their private beach claiming it’s his own—and that the year is 1925—she is swept into a mystery a hundred years in the making.

As she searches for answers in the present, Cassandra discovers a truth that puts their growing love—and Lawrence’s life—into jeopardy. Desperate to save him, Cassandra must find a way to change history…or risk losing Lawrence forever.

My Review

Until We Meet Again was exactly the type of book I was in the mood for when I picked it up. It’s not a literary masterpiece or anything, but it was entertaining and engaging, easy to read, and well-written. It is a young adult romance novel and it doesn’t claim or try to be anything else. It simply does a great job of being exactly what it’s meant to be.

I enjoyed the wit of the main character and her totally realistic teenage thought processes and motivations. I liked Cassandra right away even with her teenage angst because she was smart and funny, and despite her poor choices her motivations were not cruel or mean. She was pretty relatable.

I didn’t relate to or connect with Lawrence as a character quite as much. He actually seemed like a bit of a player, especially at first, but he was nice enough, and the interaction with Cassandra was fun, cute, and had plenty of romantic tension, so I was still able to get wrapped up in the story.

The only real problem I had with the book was that I wanted more. I would have liked an epilogue maybe 6 months to a year later. I would have loved to know how Cassandra had changed because of her relationship with Lawrence and what choices she made for her future.

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Age Recommendation: 14 and older. Probably would appeal to girls most.

Appropriateness: There is lots of kissing, and some eluding to greater intimacy than that, but nothing is told in graphic detail.  I thought it was tastefully and subtly done.

Other Book Recommendations:  If you liked Until We Meet Again you might also like Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy and Goose Girl both by Shannon Hale, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Golden by Cameron Dokey, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

 

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood #5)

I reviewed this book on Goodreads in May 2012 and just this week had someone respond to it. I enjoyed hearing another perspective and then considering what I agreed and disagreed with. So I thought I’d share my original review, the response I received, and my thoughts that it inspired.

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood, #5)Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really liked the first book in this series. Thought it was insightful, funny, and emotionally cathartic while being a great teen romance/drama entertaining read. The second book was good. The third had enough redeeming qualities to be ok. Didn’t like the fourth because of the “adult situations” that these teens I had connected with were in and the drama was getting old.

Now there is a fifth. The characters really are adults now, my age, but they are still acting as immature and childish as in the first book. The crisis they are faced with would certainly be a difficult one but wow the drama dragged on and on. just a little communication eventually solved everything and it was hard for me to believe that capable, intelligent, human beings would have taken so long to realize that and then act on it.

Most frustrating was that the same character flaws just keep reappearing to cause all the drama. Supposedly the characters learn so much about themselves in each book. They vow to do better. And then the next book they are making themselves suffer all over again because of the same flaw they supposedly repented of before. Now I admit that my flaws don’t disappear completely after one learning experience. They do rear their ugly heads again, but I believe I handle it better each time and the flaw disappears little by little. Don’t see that in this series. In fact, their responses get worse as it goes on because they get older, the problems are more “adult” but the characters responses stay consistent with 13 year old girls.

And I might add that I don’t write about my constant battle with my flaws and invite people to read it as entertainment. Just too immature for me which i should expect I guess from something that started as a teenage fiction series, but it is frustrating because these are characters that I cared about at one point in time. Totally ruined for me. No respect or care for them after this read. I was interested in reading about the wrap up of their adult lives. If only they could have been portrayed as decent, functioning adults, especially after all the growing I already saw them through in the other books.

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Age Recommendation: Well, I wouldn’t really recommend this book in the series to any age, but the first 3 are better and I think girls 12 and older would enjoy them.

Appropriateness: In books 4 and 5 of the series there are “adult” situations that I thought detracted from my liking the characters.

Other Book Recommendations: I obviously recommend a lot of books over this one including the first book in the series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It was my favorite of all of them. If you like that one I recommend Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli,  Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved both by Katherine Patterson.

Here is the response I received from Katelyn: 

While I see where you are coming from, and know that each person interprets a book differently (which is the beauty of books and our imaginations), have you thought about what drove the women to respond the way they did? I encountered some similar frustrations as I read, but then I remembered the main premise of the book, which is their sisterhood. Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they every knew. When one piece of this bond was suddenly taken from them, their world turned upside down. Tibby may have been the strongest piece of this sisterhood, and it wasn’t until she was gone that they realized it. I think Brashares did a wonderful job of capturing the passion that these women had for each other, and their unbreakable bond, even after one had passed. It’s a beautiful message of true friendship, and how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love the most.

More of my thoughts:

Thanks for sharing your point of view Katelyn! I definitely can appreciate a message about true friendship. I still have a great bond with several friends from my elementary school days and there is something special about that kind of connection, knowing someone through all the growing up and finding yourself years. That was why I connected with the other books (particulary 1-3) in this series. I could relate to the adventures and dramas of those formative years, of turning to friends for comfort and help, that bond of sisterhood that comes with sharing so much time and experience together.

But in life and in friendships change is necessary. If I still went to my girlfriends at age 31 with all of my problems like I did at age 16 my relationship with my husband and my children would suffer. And while I treasure my friendships, my marriage and children must and should take precedence. It means the same kind of closeness in other friendships is just impossible, but I wouldn’t trade my family relationships for anything. It’s the way it is supposed to be.

It’s always great when my closest girl friends and I do have that rare opportunity to come together from across the country. I love that no matter how much time has passed and no matter the distance between all of us we can still find that comfort and love. We still get each other in a way that no one else can. We have a history and connection that nothing could ever change.

In addition to seeing how so much stays the same between us we also get to see how much changes. We get to celebrate our successes, hear about our different and separate experiences, relate in new ways, and get used to our unique quirks and various lifestyles. Because of our special bond we accept our differences just as easily as our similarities. We communicate and love each other better than we did all those years ago despite interacting with each other so much less, all because we have grown, changed, and matured. That’s what an unbreakable bond looks like.

I just didn’t see that the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ever got to this level of true friendship. Their friendship actually appeared toxic; this powerful bond they all had was actually destroying their lives because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) grow up and allow the friendship to grow as well. In addition, as individual they were lost and dysfunctional, still trying to “find” themselves and using the same ineffective methods from the teenage years, and therefore making the same mistakes.

If I had friends with their inability to take communicate or think rationally or have any healthy relationship with anyone, I wouldn’t work very hard to keep the friendship together. There’s too much good to do in the world and too little time to be caught up in all of that drama at 30 years old. That kind of angst was understandable, even entertaining and sometimes enlightening when these characters were teenagers; their behavior was age appropriate then, but in adults I just find it all tiring, especially since I had read it all before in the 3 previous books.

You said, “Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they ever knew.” I did see that in the book and in 30 year old characters I see that as a problem. The bond of friendship from babyhood is great and all, but if that bond is still the glue sticking your life and identity together you probably should see a professional who can help you find happiness and peace within yourself rather than it being based on other people. Our relationships can and should bring us joy, but relying on them for our self-worth and purpose in life will smother and destroy the relationship and won’t bring us the happiness we were seeking. I don’t see true friendship as “how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love most,” but about how much of yourself you can bring to a friendship and how much of yourself you are willing to sacrifice to build up the ones you love most.