Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Thank you Random House for my copy.

Last spring I was reading a blog post about John Boyne’s new book.  I got excited because at the beginning of last year I read Noah Barleywater Runs Away as my first read aloud.  I loved it and more importantly my class loved it.  After I finished reading the blog post I called The Bookies and asked them to order me a copy.  “No problem.  It will be published January of 2013.”  I went back to the post and realized that it was a British blog.  Needless to say I had to wait a few months to read it.  I am happy to say it was worth the wait for The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket.

Barnaby is not a normal eight year old. He is far from normal.  Barnaby floats.  He does not obey the laws of gravity.  This is a major problem for his parents because they DO NOT want anything to do with the abnormal.  Something terrible happens that sends Barnaby on a fabulous journey.  He travels from Sydney to Brazil and beyond.  On his journey he meets wonderful people that don’t fit the normal standards.

Mr. Boyne’s writing is not your typical middle grade writing.  It challenges the reader.  Not because it is too hard to read, or too weird.  He just makes us think really hard about our lives.  The longer I spend with young kids the more I realize that they like to be challenged this way.  At one point one of the joyful characters Barnaby meets says, "Just because your version of normal isn't the same as someone else's version doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you," Kids (actually we all) need to hear this, or in this case read something like this. 

I have a list of kids I can’t wait to share this book with.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Four Mile by Watt Key

Judging the Cybils Book Awards is quite the adventure.  The excitement starts in August when I apply to be a judge. It is an honor to be chosen.  Then the waiting starts.  Which books will be nominated?  How many have I already read?  The lists start appearing.  Yay, I read that one.  I have no idea what that book is.   Next it is “Oh my god!  What have I done?  I can never read all these!”  Short lists are started, revised, revised, revised.  Discussions start, and finally the BIG chat about what we will send on to the final judges.  (For the record that job sounds WAY TOO stressful!)

Through the whole process I am reading books that I can share with students. Every year I end up shortlisting books I have never heard about.  This alone makes it worth the experience.   One standout this year is Four Mile by Watt Key. Foster is a twelve year old that lost his father to a fatal accident on their farm.  His mother starts dating a lowlife named Dax.  Foster knows the guy is bad news, but doesn’t have much control in what happens.  Foster’s anger towards Dax is understandable, but not always controllable.  In one of their fights Foster smashes the windshield on Dax’s truck.  He must paint the fence along the property to pay for the damage.  It is here that Foster meets Gary, an Iraqi war vet wander the country.  This chance meeting changes everything.

Four Mile is gritty.  It is everywhere in the book.  This grittiness is what makes this book stand out.  The sorrow that Foster and his mom are feeling is dark and gritty.  The relationships with Dax are stressful for the characters and the reader.  The secrets that Gary carries are unnerving.  I had trouble putting down this book.  At the end I immediately thought about what Foster will be like as an adult.  These are just some of the reasons why it was easy for our group to shortlist Four Mile by Watt Key for the Cybils’ shortlist.

It is definitely a high middle grade book.  Given the theme I would say 5th grade to 8th grade.