Review (Plus)

Review (Plus): The Square Root of Summer

TheSquareRootOfSummer_9781626723733_c3fe3BookShelf Blurb: Overwhelming grief makes 17-year-old math prodigy, Margot, discover wormholes and vortex time changes–giving her the ability to escape the reality of life continuing despite loss. If only we could all jump into a black hole, but as Margot learns, black holes, eventually, spit you out.

America’s Review: Once I caught a glimpse of the cover, I knew I wanted to read Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s debut novel, The Square Root of Summer. So when Beth Golay, my boss, gave me a copy, I was thrilled to see it was even signed to Ms. America!

Now, even though the cover caught my attention, I was a little put off that the The Square Root of Summer had been coined “The Time Traveler’s Wife for YA.” I don’t particularly like being told preconceived notions about anything: people, places or even books. I like to judge for myself… and judge I do!

I didn’t find The Square Root of Summer to be like anything I have read. I was instantly consumed with the characters and their relationships with each another. Margot, who is referred to as Gottie by all her friends and family, is suffering from delusions and it becomes obvious she has lost someone extremely dear to her named Grey. Without spoiling anything, we learn that this is her grandfather: the rock of the family of misfits. She has a Papa who is distant and stays at the Book Barn–the book store the family owns on the small island of Holksea; and she also has a brother, Ned, who has just returned from college to play in a band and is a eyeliner-wearing free spirit.

The summer has just started and with it a return of friends from the past reenter the silent life Gottie has lead this past year. As the last few days of term come to a close, Gottie is given a mathematical equation to solve due to her own questions about her disappearance into the past. She cannot understand the grey matter which has crept into her life, sucking her into a vortex of time past, leaving her body in two time periods without memory of the current one.

The math is beyond comprehension for this English-minded person, but the way in which it is woven into the story is well-crafted. I was never overwhelmed by the figures and I appreciated the drawings. I loved how we were able to catch a glimpse of the math Gottie works on and how it will figure into her life in the future. It was presented as a mere moment, and if I had been reading too fast I would have missed it. I found myself reading slowly and completely absorbed this book. (It made me wish that, when faced moments in my own life when grief was so overwhelming, I could just disappear as well.) Sadness has made Gottie encounter life without being a part of it, instead, she passes through the moments as a shimmer. And as the end of summer comes to a close and Gottie is faced with the one year anniversary of Grey’s passing, she has to accept the inevitable death of her grandfather and learn to embrace the forward motion of life.

In the classroom: Math and science are front and center in this book. Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s grandfather was a mathematician, so her love of math and YA collided together brilliantly! (She’s also from the UK, so I thought using ‘brilliantly’ was apropos.) Time travel and the concept of time is a unique concept and one which is still a mystery; however, Gottie challenges us to believe in the phenomena. I know to experiment with these equations would be difficult as none of them are truly present in the book, so in the classroom you could easily have your students write a “If I were to time travel I would go visit…” but this is more for the elementary classroom or a journal entry for the high school English teacher to assign. In the science classroom it would be fun to have your students create a vortex. You can do this with a tornado–oil and water in a soda bottle and swirl it up! Or you could talk about smoke rings like this physics teacher at Whitesboro High School who created them for his students:

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Roaring Brook Press | 9781626723733 | May 3, 2016)

Review (Plus): Booked

Bookshelf Blurb: Narrative poetry–short and concise, but the depth found in these pages about 12-year-old Nick and his passion for soccer, his struggles with his parents divorce and the middle school mayhem is an amazing read.

Booked_9780544570986_01048America’s Review: It is not a surprise that Kwame Alexander’s new book, Booked, is just as outstanding as his book, Crossover. Both stories are told in the same poetic fashion which won him the 2015 Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Award. His use of narrative poetry is vastly different from the typical middle grade read and one I found to be mesmerizing. Crossover is about a young man and his appetite for basketball whereas Booked is about a boy who only breathes because he can play soccer.

The depth found in these poems surpasses any poetry I have encountered–and I have taught a lot of poetry through the years in the classroom. I enjoyed the variety of poetry found while telling Nick’s story; he is a 12-year-old boy who lives and breathes for soccer, but there is more to this story than merely a teen boy obsessed with a sport. It is the apathy found in his daydreams I first adored about Nick; the honesty of his drifting because of a boring teacher teaching a so-so subject. This made my heart sink from my own experiences knowing I might have been the boring teacher who caused my student to drift or hearing through the teenage gossip of a teacher who bored their students to tears.

We jump to the next page with the teacher confronting Nick; and then we are having a debate with Nick’s best friend about who is the greatest soccer player ever–and all of this is delivered in the form of a HAIKU. I kid you not.

WOW. I was speechless–probably because I was laughing so hard at the haiku that was mildly crass with a double innuendo about a soccer play. Totally crafty, totally witty and a poem you could pull and teach an entire lesson to your students. Thank you, Mr. Alexander, for writing a book of beautiful, teachable poetry.

With all of that wonderful glory to be found there is still more to the layers. Call me a walking, writing cliché, but this book is like an onion. There’s Nick and his impressive relationship to sports, his hilarious best friend and their unique situation because they play on different soccer teams, and soon we discover there’s also a girl involved: a crush Nick cannot work up the courage to talk to, much less be around without freaking out!  All of this is wonderful middle grade novel stuff, but the onion keeps peeling away and soon we learn Nick’s parents are separating and there is a mean kid who starts bullying him. Keeping his head in the game has never been harder for Nick.

The poems made this an easy read. I had to reread parts to ensure I understood the dynamics of the plot. And since the chapters were poems, it made for a quick reread to ensure I was truly understanding the story line. (Yep, it offers so much depth that a reread of POETRY is necessary. Who would have thought?) I understand why Kwame Alexander is considered a champ amongst students and teachers.

In the Classroom: Poetry! Need I say more? You can find every element of poetic devices in this book. Often times poetry can have a negative connotation. Don’t let it. Try this: Read this story out loud to students without them knowing it is a poem and after completion of the story start a poetry unit using these poems as part of your unit. Your students may be surprised to learn the story you just read out loud for 10 minutes a class period for the last six weeks was actually your prequel to the poetry unit.

Booked by Kwame Alexander (HMH Books for Young Readers | 9780544570986 | April 5, 2016)

Review (Plus): Eddie Red Undercover

Bookshelf Blurb: Middle schooler Eddie Red has teamed up again with Detective Bovano to help capture the art thief, but this time the art thief is going to capture (or kidnap) Eddie!

EddieRedUndercover9780544582606_33a04America’s Review: Eddie Red is a kid who likes adventure when he has created it, but doesn’t enjoy the adventure when it finds him. Ever since his first mishap with crime, his photographic memory is now indispensable to the cops. When bombs start showing up around D.C. at prominent tourist attractions with the name ‘Eddie’ on them, it is time to re-enlist the help of Eddie Red Undercover in Doom at Grant’s Tomb by Marcia Wells.  

Eddie knows the money he earns helping the police department offsets his tuition at Senate Academy, but now that he has Paula, an FBI bodyguard, with him at all times he starts to question if this talent of his is as wonderful as he first believed. To make matters worse on the first day of 7th grade, Eddie discovers his new science teacher is none other than the detective himself. The amount of measures taken to ensure Eddie’s safety makes him realize it is a new level of crime he is undertaking.

Eddie wants a partnership with Detective Bovano and his unit, but he is finding they are limited with their supply of information. With the help of his best friend, Jonah, Eddie decides he must solve the case on his own leaving behind the FBI bodyguard and Detective Bovano. He concludes that if they aren’t willing to share information with him, why should he share his information with them? This seems like a great idea until someone gets hurt and with the name ‘Eddie’ attached to the bombs being, it may not be the wisest idea he has ever had.

Using his photographic memory, Eddie creates drawings of everything he sees. The illustrations, provided by Marcos Calo, allow the reader to experience the intimidation Eddie feels by seeing these ominous characters. Eddie is a smart and savvy kid who allows his knowledge to interfere with his better judgment of leaving well enough alone. This quality of Eddie’s–the one that tempts fate–is what draws me to this series. It is a wonderful recommendation for young boys who want to read a good mystery with adventure featuring a boy protagonist.

In the Classroom: This book offers a clean and clever boy protagonist who wants to blend in with everyone else although he can’t because he has a talent few possess. Eddie is a character who you could encounter in your 7th grade classroom–this book doesn’t offer fantasy and for some readers this is a strong pro in the Eddie Red reading recommendation. I don’t offer a Common Core element to this review. I offer a recommendation to your high level 2nd grade boys to the reluctant 8th grade reader–a wonderful boy read. There is math, science, mystery and mayhem in the Eddie Red series. I also offer this book as a wonderful ESOL/ESL read for both middle grades and young adults.

Eddie Red Undercover: Doom at Grant’s Tomb by Marcia Wells, illustrated by Marcos Calo (HMH Books for Young Readers | 9780544582606 | April 5, 2016)

Review (Plus): Let’s Play!

Bookshelf Blurb: Another adventure from New York Times bestselling author Herve Tullet–this time, yellow dot is full of surprises.

9781452154770_eabcdMs. America’s Review: The third book by Mr. Tullet is just as wonderful as his last two! When he introduced Press Here, an interactive story about a dot, it was a wonderful discovery of action, color and words. It allowed both the young and old reader to actively be engaged while reading a story.

This book is no different in the elements of mobility. Your finger is in constant motion through the clear directions given by a yellow dot. Yellow dot goes on many adventures, one even frightful and overwhelming! Never fear; you get to quickly turn the page and be happy once again. Plus the reader gets to play hide and seek AND red/light/green/light. Easy games, but not ones typically found in the pages of a book with your finger doing all the movements. Simple and fun.

In the classroom: This is a wonderful book to have your teacher aides or volunteers read one on one with students. If there is ever the opportunity to allow your students to partner with the older grades, this would be a wonderful story for a 5th grader to read with a kindergartner. Both students would benefit from this shared experience.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers focuses on creating activities using collaboration with students and within the curriculum. This activity allows for reading, summary, activity, discussion and partnership.

Let’s Play! by Herve Tullet (Chronicle Books | 9781452154770 | March 29, 2016)

Review (Plus): My Kind of Crazy

Bookshelf Blurb: What defines crazy? Who defines normal? The what and who of crazy is discovered within our souls. What is your kind of crazy?

MyKindOfCrazy_9781492631767_58997America’s Review: In an attempt to have the best Promposal ever, Hank Kirby lights sparklers on fire to spell the word “PROM” in a girl’s yard. But the sparklers end up igniting the mulch ,which surrounds the tree, and before he realizes his sparklers are causing a major fire, Hank yells out the name of the girl who comes to the window to discover her house is on fire while the body attached to the voice is fleeing in the night.

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul is laugh-out-loud hilarious, creating an authentic high school setting with realistic characters and situations. From beginning to end, readers will be charmed by Hank, who is not the most attractive or popular kid, but helps define what is crazy when nothing in high school, not even a well researched Promposal, can go right.

Hank lost his mom and brother due to a freak car accident, for which he blames himself. His dad, already a borderline alcoholic prior to the accident, soon becomes a raging alcoholic after losing half of his family. Hank lives in the shadow of his deceased brother and cannot do anything right in the eyes of his father.

Soon Hank is befriended by Peyton, an eyewitness to the Promposal who thinks they have something in common: Pyromania. As if Hank’s luck couldn’t get any more crazy, he knows he has to accept her friendship so she doesn’t rat him out.

The girl at the window, Amanda, just knows this fire wasn’t an accident, but a Romeo/Juliet romantic gesture to woo her. She creates a website asking for the boy who did this to come forward and she will take him to Prom as his reward for capturing her heart.

Hank, his best friend, and 573 other guys, enter the website questionnaire to have the beautiful and popular Amanda take them to prom. Hank knows he was the guilty party, but soon realizes he is falling for the crazy Peyton.  Who defines crazy? Is crazy okay if you are surrounded by it and president of the club?

I love the phrase ‘batshit crazy’ because it defines so many moments you can’t put into words. And I especially loved it when Hank states that Peyton is his kind of ‘batshit crazy.’ The soul connection between Peyton and Hank is encouraging for others who think they are a lost cause and are ‘crazy.’

In the classroom: I taught many students who were cutters. I only had one in over 15 years who was into fire. I had several more who liked to drive fast, do drugs and get drunk. All of these kids were GOOD kids, but had some kind of crazy going on in their brains. Some of them boasted about their behaviors, but most of them were introverted and had amazing grades. Who would have thought they were troubled within their minds because of their definition of ‘normal.’

When Robin Reul created Hank Kirby, she made him an authentic teenager with a hidden and amazing talent. Hank is an artist, but his artistry is in creating comics. The pictures and the storyline are awesome; however, he doesn’t believe they are worthy of the paper on which he creates them. It is the love of a girl who suffers from her own insecurities who shows Hank his work is outstanding. Without his knowledge or consent Peyton takes Hank’s comics and sends them away for a college admission to the Boston College of Fine Arts.

Many of your students have hidden talents and are scared to show it. By showing their skill sets, they open themselves up for ridicule, embarrassment and devastation. By keeping their talents hidden they will never know their true worth.

What assignment can you give in a unit to allow creativity to shine? I know I had a young man once who could sing, and man, could he sing, I had him audition for the musical without an audience. It was just the student and the teacher; it made all the difference. It was this pivotal moment which helped him confess to his talent and gain a scholarship to a community college. This may not be the case for every student, but for Hank Kirby it took someone having an ounce of faith in him to help him believe in himself.

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul (Sourcebooks Fire | 9781492631767 | April 5, 2016)