Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #4

Thanks to pure chance, and what was available at my local library, this week has served up some enjoyable reading. I love it when I read a popular book that actually lives up to the hype.  This week, I listened to two audiobooks, read one novel, and one graphic novel. Of the four, there is one that I'll be recommending to everyone.  Keep reading for details...

The Heist Society by Ally Carter

Heist Society, book 1.

Katarina (Kat) Bishop tries to escape the family business by enrolling herself in a fancy boarding school, but inevitably, she gets pulled back in.  When a dangerous mob-boss type has five paintings stolen from an underground vault and inexplicably accuses Kat's father of the theft, she decides to steal the painting back to get her dad, and the rest of her family, off the hook.

This is a fluffy YA read without much substance, but the audiobook was a fun diversion during my commute and I might read more of the series at some point--possibly poolside or at the beach.

I absolutely love the cover art, which will help convince the teen readers I know to give this series a try.

Trinity:  A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

This nonfiction graphic novel tells the story of how the United States created the first atomic bombs during WWII. Though I'm not normally all that interested in nonfiction, I thought Fetter-Vorm did an excellent job, both in telling the story through words and pictures, and in breaking down some extremely complex scientific concepts into understandable chunks. The book also touches upon the morality of actually using this weapon, without getting preachy. With science, we often come back to this question:  Just because we can, does it mean we should?

I would absolutely recommend this to my students. 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Humans and dragons, thanks to a treaty forged forty years ago, co-exist under an uneasy peace. Dragons can take human form in order to study and teach alongside their human counterparts. However, with the treaty up for renewal, Prince Rufus is brutally murdered, perhaps by a dragon. This ignites a firestorm at the royal court. 

Seraphina Dombegh, the court's new assistant music mistress, is drawn into the investigation of the Prince's death. As she grows nearer to the truth, she is forced to consider her own secret--one she keeps hidden at all cost. Seraphina finds it harder and harder to hide her true self as she forges bonds with those around her.

Although I was definitely drawn into Seraphina's story by the end of the book, it took a loooong time to get its hooks into me. The world-building is phenomenal, but the plot takes about two hundred pages to get going. If you, dear reader, do not require major plot happenings right away, and can be patient with the world-building, you will be rewarded with a satisfying and well-told tale. Seraphina is a wonderful character and I look forward to reading more of her (and her friends') adventures.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WOW. I loved this book.

As a teacher, I see both the kindness and the lack of it in my students every day. Most people, in one way or another, can relate to the experience of dealing with bullies. August (Auggie) Pullman feels it on a whole different level.

Because of a severe facial deformity and his resulting health issues, August has been home-schooled by his mother and is used to the loving cocoon of his family who attempt to protect him from the outside world. Despite the best efforts of his father, mother, and older sister, August knows how horrified people are when they see his face. He is a completely normal kid on the inside, but people who only see his face tend to turn away from him before he can let them see what a great kid he really is.  He loves Halloween because it gives him the freedom to wander the world without having to suffer the horrified glances of strangers. He says, "I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."

When Auggie's mother decides that he should begin attending school for 5th grade, he worries not only about being the new kid, but about being the new kid with a face that scares small children. I'll avoid spoilers here, but let's just say that if this book doesn't make you shed a few tears, from joy and/or sadness, then you are probably a person I would not like to meet.

Most of the story is told by Auggie, but other narrators to crop up to give their insights into his life. The transitions to other voices were smooth and I found it illuminating to flesh out what those characters were actually thinking and feeling. Auggie is pretty perceptive for a 10-year-old, but he doesn't always get it right.

I am constantly on the lookout for books to share with my students. Sometimes I find myself settling for simply tempting a kid to read anything at all. It is truly a joy to find a book that can inspire its readers to strive to be better people.

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for readers of all ages.

No comments: