March 25, 2020

Audiobook Review: Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Title: Children of Exile
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Narrator: Erin Moon

For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

One sentence review: I was very intrigued throughout the whole thing wondering exactly what was going on. 

Longer thoughts: I've been reading books by Haddix for a long time starting with Among the Hidden. I found a copy of the audiobook of this one at Half Price Books, so I thought I'd give it a try as well. I really enjoyed it. Well, most of it. From the start, I was super curious about what was going on with the whole situation. Why were Rosi and all the other kids with the Freds to begin with? What were the Freds? And then when they went back to their families what was going on with the place their parents were??? I really really wanted to know. And then I had no clue who I could really trust. Could I trust her real parents? Could I trust the Freds? Could I trust anyone!?  I love books like that, so this one was really right up my alley. 

Rosi was a great character. She was brave and strong. Yes a bit naive, but she learned fast and grew a lot as a character. I couldn't help but cheer for her!

I will note that the ending deflated me a tiny bit. I do want to read the rest of the series, but I was a little disappointed it went that way. 

Best stick-with-you image: The description of her real parent's house. I could completely see it. 

Thoughts on the audiobook: The narrator did a great job.  Loved how she read the story! 

May 20, 2019

Audio Review: All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Title: All the Lovely Bad Ones
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Narrator: Jeff Cummings

Travis and his sister, Corey, can t resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother s quiet Vermont inn, where they re spending the summer, has a history of ghost sightings, they decide to do a little haunting of their own. Before long, their supernatural pranks have tourists flocking to the inn, and business booms. But Travis and Corey soon find out that they aren't the only ghosts at Fox Hill Inn. Their thoughtless games have awakened something dangerous, something that should have stayed asleep. Restless, spiteful spirits swarm the inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn s grounds. Only Travis and Corey can lay to rest the ghosts they've stirred. This means discovering the secret of Fox Hill and the horrors visited on its inhabitants years before.

One sentence review: A nicely spooky story that would make my young middle school students sufficiently scared, but also get a good story as well. 

Longer thoughts: Mary Downing Hahn is my go-to writer when a younger middle school comes in and says they want something scary. She's scary for them, but not so much so that they stop sleeping! In this book, the ghosts start out scary because they almost swarm Travis and Corey poking and pinching them and making all kinds of things fly around. The thought of something like that really happening would be super scary! As the story continues the ghosts - well in particular - continue to be a source of fear but the history of the inn becomes a more important source of both fear and sadness. I really liked how almost a history lesson about poor houses was included in the story. I don't think most kids know what a poor house is, so this book was fantastic in explaining it. 

I liked what needed to be done to get the ghosts to leave the inn.  I thought it was perfect (I won't say to avoid spoilers). The first thing was easier, but the second thing I think would be the scariest for the reader. The second thing involved exorcising the meanest ghost. She was scary, so going up against her would be scary! And what she was capable of made of some great tension. Sorry to be so vague - but again: spoilers! And the ending to all that - wow! Very well done! 

Best stick-with-you image: The part where the meanest ghost is trying to get them. She was scary! 

Thoughts on the audiobook: I really wasn't fond of this narrator. He tended to differentiate characters by giving them a lisp of some sort, so it was kind of annoying to have so many characters talk that way. If they were said to have a lisp in the story that would've been one thing, but none of them were described that way. Otherwise, he did a fine job. 

May 15, 2019

Nonfiction Review: Taking Cover - One Girl's Story of Growing up During the Iranian Revolution

Title: Taking Cover: One Girl's Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Copy Obtained: From publisher in exchange for an honest review

About the Book from Goodreads
This coming-of-age memoir, set during the Iranian Revolution, tells the story of a young girl who moves to Tehran from the U.S. and has to adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, and starting a new school during one of the most turbulent periods in Iran's history.

This true story of Nioucha Homayoonfar offers a window into an at-once familiar yet foreign culture. Religion classes are mandatory at her new school. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes. Her cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave the country. And yet, in midst of so much change and challenge, Nioucha is still just a girl who listens to music and idolizes pop stars. But she has to be careful when Western music is banned and she cannot be seen in public together with her new boyfriend. Will she ever get used to this new way of life?

One sentence review: Good memoir of a part of history I didn't know much about, but now I feel I understand better. 
Best for readers who: Like nonfiction especially a more narrative nonfiction
Best Stick-with-You Image: Just the everyday things - seeing how a different culture lives
Library Thoughts: I'm trying to increase the amount of narrative nonfiction so this would be one I would add to that section. 

I'm not a huge reader of nonfiction, but I'm trying to increase the amount of it I read. This one fit my interests, and it was one that I thought would be a window into a culture and time I didn't know much about. I felt it did both! This really wasn't a part of history I knew much about, and hearing about Nioucha's first-hand experience was a great way to learn about it. I liked that it read more like a story because it made it easier for me to understand and take in. I think that would be true for my students as well. As much as I liked the historical context of the story, I also really liked the daily living in the book. I love learning about how other people live, and this book gave me a nice picture of her life and the life of her family. That's important to me. It wasn't just about the history, but it was about showing the lives of the people who experienced it. 

Can I add that I also like that it has a center section of photographs from Nioucha's life? When I was younger I was a sucker for books that included real pictures, so that part was perfect for me. But I also think it would be great for some of my middle school students. They like to see the real people in the story as well.

As I work to make sure my media center's collection is more diverse, I think this will be a great addition. It will be a great window into a culture and way of living that most of my students don't have experience with. But it will also broaden their knowledge of historical events. 

May 6, 2019

Book Review: The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young

Title: The Pumpkins War
Author: Cathleen Young
Copy Obtained: From the publisher in exchange for an honest review

About the Book from Goodreads
At the end of every summer, Madeline Island hosts its famous pumpkin race. All summer, adults and kids across the island grow giant, thousand-pound pumpkins, then hollow one out and paddle in it across the lake to the cheers of the entire town. 

Twelve-year-old Billie loves to win; she has a bulletin board overflowing with first-prize ribbons. Her best friend Sam doesn't care much about winning, or at least Billie didn't think so until last summer's race, when his pumpkin crashed into hers as she was about to cross the finish line and he won. This summer, Billie is determined to get revenge by growing the best and biggest pumpkin and beating Sam in the race. It's a tricky science to grow pumpkins, since weather, bugs, and critters can wipe out a crop. Then a surprise visit from a long-lost relative shakes things up, and Billie begins to see her family, and her bond with Sam, in a new way.

One sentence review:  A great book for anyone who has fought with their best friend or has had their family change in unexpected ways. 
Best for readers who:  Like realistic fiction or like to garden
Best Stick-with-You Image: Seriously anything about the pumpkin growing or the size of the pumpkins. That always impresses me!
Library Thoughts: This book is perfect for younger middle school students. It has a great message, and I like the uniqueness of the story with the pumpkins. 

This book had some very unique aspects. I haven't read a book where kids grow giant pumpkins, hollow them out and use them as a boat to race. That was pretty cool to read about. I think kids would find that interesting as well. The book begins with Billie planting her seedlings for that year's pumpkin, so it was fun to hear about what she all had to do. Very detailed. BUT that's not all she does. She also has a bee farm and harvests and sells honey. I loved how she did all this stuff. It makes her a great role model for any kid to show them what they are capable of if they just try! Love that. 

I will say Billie was a struggle for me at times. She could be very stubborn and blind to her own faults. That was tough for me to see beyond at points. She was so mad at her former best friend for something she thought he did, and would not even fathom to believe she could be wrong. Her actions surrounding that whole part of the story would help kids this age maybe learn better or how to act if something like that happened with a friend of theirs. That's a great learning experience for them! 

I did like the story involving the person who enters her life and her family. I won't go into to much. I don't think it would be too much of a spoiler to say who joins their lives, but I won't give that way. I thought it was something that some kids could relate to because it has happened in their family. Again - a great opportunity for them to learn how to deal with something they might be experiencing. 

Over-all great little book! Well done.