Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Talk Tuesday

Summer is in full swing.  Which means spending some afternoons reading at the neighborhood pool, dinner on the patio, farmer’s market, mosquito bites and annoyance that a couple of tomato plants still have no blossoms. This summer there has been less reading because of the Denver Writing Project.  I am in the trenches right now and loving it, so expect a non book related post in a couple of weeks about my time as a Fellow.

My reading so far this summer has been some major misses (The Tragedy of Arthur), but mostly incredible hits.  One of the latter is my first read aloud of the new school year.  I initially entered the blog world of kid lit to find titles for new books to share with my students.  In six weeks I am excited that I get to share Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne with a new group of third graders.

Noah is an eight year old that runs away from home.  It is not an abusive home just a sad home.  He ends up in a very odd small village.  There is a magical tree, a talking donkey and dachshund, and an old man that shares his incredible life’s tale with the young Noah.  As the old man tells Noah his story, young Noah starts to realize that running away might not be the best thing to do.

The story takes place in England.  There are humorous references to the Irish and Scots.  Mr. Boyne points out that the Scots are the second smartest people in the world right after the Irish.  Kids in Southie will get this, but it is truly in the story for the adult reader.  At times the setting seems to take place in the “olden days” but then there is a reference to a mobile phone.  This will make for interesting conversations about the setting in stories. 

When I get to the end of some books I am sad that I don’t get to spend more time with my new friends, there are endings when I say “you’ve got to be kidding that’s it?” and in the words of Goldilocks there are ending that are just right.  This book is that.  Don’t worry there is no spoiler, but I enjoyed the ending.  It left me with the feeling that I knew the whole story.  Luckily, though I get to spend more time with Noah, the Old Man, Donkey and Dachshund.

(Thank you Random House for the copy of the book, but I also purchased one at The Bookies.  That one is being passed around by former students.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Most Excellent Year A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

Whenever I travel I am not allowed to bring schoolbooks along.  The directive from above is that I need to read adult books, “NO, kid books!”  Anyhow, while I was figuring out what to take to read on vacation in Spain I found a YA book I snuck in my bag.  I don’t follow rules well, which is why I often get called to the principal’s office.  (That’s another story!)  The book was My Most Excellent Year A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger. 

Recently, I have started to read YA books differently because so many of my former students still come to me for recommendations.  My Most Excellent Year A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park it is a tale of the friendship between three unique teenagers, two best friends and the new girl at school.  The book begins with an 11th grade writing assignment.  The students must write about their most excellent year.  Our three protagonists write about their freshman year.  The first is TC Keller aka Anthony or Tick.  He is a very special young man whose mother died when he was six.  Next is Augie Hwong, Tick’s gay Chinese-American “brother”.  Finally, is Alejandra Perez aka Alé a daughter of a Mexican diplomat and love interest of Tick.  Funny thing though tick is not the smoothest with the girls and says very corny things to Alé.  After his first line she asks him “Do girls really fall for that?”  The three friends tell the story, so the voice changes with each chapter.  Tick meets Augie after he returns to school following the death of his mother.  When Tick returned to school the other kids didn’t know how to interact with him, or were afraid that the cancer that killed his mom might be contagious and thus their mom’s catching it. Augie wasn’t afraid of him and joined him for lunch and asked a very casual question.  The two boys quickly become friends and soon “brothers”.  Their parents set up the boys bedrooms to make life easier because of all the time they spend at each others house. 

Tick is a very caring person that passionate about baseball.  His parents met at a Red Sox game. He started a web site to “Free Buck Weaver” one of the baseball players banned fro baseball after the White Sox cheating.  Buck Weaver was banned even though he didn’t participate in the cheating.  Once Alé  arrives at his school Tick’s starts his hilarious quixotic quest for her heart.  Teenage boys are dorks!  Tick’s passion through the book is what makes him so lovable.  He wants the best for those around him.  Augie is a gay teen whose “brother” and folks know he is gay before he admits it.  His coming out is more an opening night then quiet letting everyone accept the news.  His family and friends see his sexuality as just another part of Augie.  The newest addition to the boy’s life is Alé Perez.  Her parents and brother are diplomats that end up in Brookline Mass.  It was always expected that Alé would end up in the family business.  She is a blunt young lady who insults heads of states and doesn’t realize that others think she is snobby when she talks about having dinner at Madonna’s house.  Augie strong arms her into helping with the talent show and a funny thing happened on the way to the stage she found out she is an awesome singer and dancer.

I truly, enjoyed  My Most Excellent Year A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park.  I like the chapters with the different voice and how emails and texting also are tools to drive the story.  There is teenage angst, but not to the point of total despair and melancholy.   I laughed throughout the book, but also felt sadness when the characters were hurting.  In other words if I was a high school teacher (And thank god I’m not. WAY TOO HARD!!!) I would want students like these three kids.  Most importantly and the reason I think it is appropriate for 6th graders is the issues of relationships are honest and innocent.

PS Thank you to my Denver Writing Project writing group.