Atlantia

AtlantiaAtlantia by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

My Review

I didn’t love Matched by Ally Condie so I’m not sure why I decided to pick up Atlantia. Maybe because I thought there were a few redeeming qualities in Matched, at least enough for me to give Condie a second chance. The plot also intrigued me, and I was looking for something easy to read and entertaining to read over the holidays.

Well, Atlantia certainly fit the bill for easy to read and it was entertaining enough that I finished it. However, it had many of the same disappointments that I found in Matched. It’s difficult not to compare the two books because they are both dystopian fiction for teens, written by the same author.

In both books I was quickly drawn in to the premise, the excitement of exploring a new world, and the anticipation of how the story and characters could develop within the rules of the new world. I think the author did a better job of creating a believable world for Atlantia than she did with Matched. I didn’t find myself questioning so much whether the human responses were plausible given the circumstances. I was actually quite impressed by the beginning of the book. I loved how Condie “showed” me the rules of the world she had created rather than “told.” The pacing was quick and engaging, and the world itself was interesting and had some unique aspects. Through the first quarter of the book I had high hopes that it was going to succeed where Matched had failed me.

At the halfway mark, unfortunately, my hopes crumbled. The book centers around conflict between the world Below (the city Atlantia which was built in a “bubble” on the ocean floor) and the world Above (the world we inhabit). The main characters and the storytelling begins Below, but it’s clear early on that the story will, at some point, have to continue Above. I was disappointed and bored to get halfway through and still be building to the point where the action would switch to Above. I knew at that point that there was going to be rushed action to the climax and rushed resolution in order to wrap up the story in the number of pages left.

I was right. I didn’t get nearly the feel or Above that I needed to balance the care that had been taken to show me Below. The characters Above were weak without the needed development and I didn’t care for them like I needed to in order to really care about the plot. In the world Below the author used mystery and the characters’ gradual discovery of important information to build tension. A little over halfway through that method completely broke down and information just starts getting handed out left and right. It felt like the author knew how she wanted to wrap it all up, but she didn’t have a great grasp on the steps needed to get there. She spent an overly long time building up which could have been ok if the same care had been taken in the action and resolution. But instead it just fell flat and became forgettable.

I debated on whether to give 2 or 3 stars. I settled on 3 because I respect the potential of the author’s ideas. I even liked the poetic style she tried to give her prose. I felt like it fit the idea of an underwater civilization that worships “the Gods.” Had she just been able to balance the story elements better it would have been a satisfying entertainment escape.

Age Recommendation: Because of the dystopian elements as well as some teen romance this book would be enjoyed best by 14 and older.

Appropriateness: There is no swearing, no graphic violence or gory descriptions. Some kissing but not overly descriptive. Pretty squeaky clean in my book.

Other Book Recommendations: If Atlantia interests you, you might also like Matched by Ally Condie, Until We Meet Again , Remember me Always, or Relic, all by Renee Collins, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, or The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

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Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.

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.

The BFG

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! It’s lucky for Sophie he is the Big Friendly Giant. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My review

It had been over 20 years since I read this book, but I remembered thinking it was hilarious as a 10 year old. So I decided to pick it up as our first read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. It was a hit! My students loved the way the BFG mixed up his words and they could not get enough of “whizpopping.” The story develops quickly so it kept their interest well, but it also has a great balance of developing details and really painting a picture of the characters, settings, and action. There is a lot of dialogue in the book which makes it especially fun as a read aloud. The text was on the perfect level for a class of 8 and 9 year olds.

Discussion material: The BFG inspired class discussions on metaphors, stereotypes, and geography. As a class we got to practice comprehension strategies inference, predictions, character mapping, sequence of events, and cause and effect.

Age Recommendation: Readers of any age can enjoy the fun, creativity, and humor in The BFG, but I think 2nd-4th graders will be especially enthralled.

Appropriateness: I didn’t find anything offensive or inappropriate; however, if you have a problem reading about passing gas (called whizpopping in the book) you may want to avoid this one. But if you are willing to loosen up and give it a chance, despite the whizpopping involved, you won’t regret it! It’s a clever and humorous adventure.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the BFG then you should give other Roald Dahl books a try like Matilda, The Twits, and George’s Marvelous Medicine. You will also like Frindle by Andrew Clements, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

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An Uncommon Blue

An Uncommon Blue (Colorblind, #1)An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

In Télesphore, the glowing color of a person’s palm determines their place in society, and touching hands with another mixes the colors permanently. When sixteen-year-old Bruno accidentally kills a royal soldier, he goes from favored to fugitive. Now Bruno’s only chance at survival is to become someone else. That means a haircut, a change of wardrobe, and most important, getting rid of his once cherished Blue. Now he’s visiting parts of town he never knew existed, and making friends with people he would’ve crossed the street to avoid only weeks ago. At the last minute, Bruno’s parents arrange a deal to clear his name and get his life back. All Bruno has to do is abandon those in the Red slums that look to him as a leader and let an innocent Green boy die in his place.

My Review

The first word that comes to my mind to describe An Uncommon Blue is fast-paced. It starts out with the action and conflict right away and it just keeps moving. I was enthralled at the get-go and I didn’t want to put it down until I had read the last word. This is absolutely a dystopian novel, but the world created in it is unique and fresh; it stands out in the very popular genre.

I appreciated a main character worthy of admiration, one who is trying to do good and make a difference as he faces the harsh realities of his world. However, I did feel there were some holes in his character motivation and development that left me wondering why, exactly, he was so generous and cared so much for the unfortunate people he met. With his privileged upbringing and naivety when it came to the “lower classes” in his society, I would have thought it would have taken him more time to be ok with sacrificing his privilege for the sake of those beneath him. But he was willing to risk his reputation and coming to bodily harm right from the beginning, even for the kid that had pretty much just ruined his life. Just made me wonder how he got to be so caring, especially while it was also clear that his main concern up to that point had been keeping his privileged status and easy life as a star athlete.

This unclarity in character motivation didn’t keep me from devouring every page, however. The writing style is simple, no stand-out prose, but it’s well-done. I wasn’t distracted at all by awkward phrasing or overly flowery description. Easy to read. The rules of the fictional world were conveyed through the story-telling; I appreciated that I didn’t have to get bogged down or interrupted from the story to read long explanations. In fact, the story may have even moved a little too quickly for me. I would have like a little more time spent on introducing the world and its rules, and the people and their motivations. There is a sequel so I hope that more will be explained because there were quite a lot of unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries at the end. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel quickly after it is released.

Overall though this is just a fun, fast, interesting, read. If you are looking for a book to get lost in for a few hours, I recommend An Uncommon Blue.

Age Recommendation: I suggest 15 and older. There is some killing and harsh inequalities in the book, and while the description isn’t graphic it could be disturbing to younger readers.

Appropriateness: Clean with great examples of selflessness and kindness. It would be of particular interest to boys. It has great book club discussion material too. The prejudices and inequalities based on the color of a persons’ light in their hand gives an interesting way to talk about the difficulties in our society as well. The sacrifices and rewards of selflessness and kindness would also be fitting topics.

Book Recommendations: If you like An Uncommon Blue you should read The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Beyonders series Brandon Mull, and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.

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