Monday, May 5, 2014

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

The age old ugly head of persecution rears its deformed head once again. Have you ever experienced prejudice while encountering a situation you have never experienced? Or even worse, in a place or situation where you are supposed to feel safe?

Habo, the protagonist of this story, lives in a poor village where someone who has albinism is considered a freak or unlucky. Yup, you guessed it, Habo is an albino. As such, he is marginalized and is treated as a second class citizen of his own village. the situation that Habo's white skin brings eventually land him and his family in a village far from where he was originally born. In this new village the body parts of albino's are considered lucky. Yeah you read that right, their body parts.
The members of this village kill individuals who are albinos and treasure their white skin as some sort of sick ivory. When an attempt is made at Habo's life, he decides that he must run away and live in the big city. Habo must struggle in this new city that holds opportunity but that also provides him with endeavors that will even threaten his life...

Before you continue, this video might be a good prelude.
This book was one that reflects events that have happened in the not too distant past. This is one of the strengths of this book in relation to a middle high school setting. The book takes on issues that occur openly and subtlety in a very specific region and explores how this issue affects individuals socially and economically. The strength of this book is that it is simplex while still retaining its accessible language. However, the book suffers from a slow start. It takes some time for the reader to sympathize for Habo, his story is presented in a detached manner and this causes the reader to feel ambivalent. I thought this was only my own reaction but after reading a review I realized my opinion was shared. The text does a good job of exploring philosophical ideas of morality and wether humans are naturally good or bad. In essence, this text could be used to explore current events. The fact that this text echoes a modern day crisis seems like it could be a point of interest to young readers. The author seemed to have this in mind when she wrote the book, check out an interview with her here.

I believe that this text should be included as a resource that students can read in relation to a lesson. I do not believe that this text should be read as a stand alone book in a lesson. It can, however, serve as a prelude to more difficult texts and ideas. This book, which is accessible, can be used to explore more complex themes of superstition, economics and culture.

Grasshopper Jungle by Smith, Andrew

This book was extremely comical. I am not much of a fiction reader unless it is love story, but this was fun to read. I will say that it was very confusing and disturbing. The author must have a very, very creative imagination to write a book like this. The end of the world has not been viewed in a funny way, until you read this book. Smith combines praying mantises are compared to horny teenage boys.
Although this book also tries to relate to the harsh life some teen go through as they struggle with addicted mothers both teenagers are to face a town full of violence. Personally, I don't believe I would recommend this book to many. You really need to keep an open mind and try to realize this is fiction and it is supposed to be extremely creative. The author is comical and very funny even as he explains how he came out with this crazy book. Take a look at the take five with the author from this website I still personally do not know how he would be so creative and come up with such a book. Students that are very creative and appreciate to be different would love this book. However, I was not impressed with it and would probably not recommend it in a classroom environment only because I would not be able to come up with a good classroom discussion,

Mind Games by Kiersten White

When Fia is sent on a mission to murder a possible threat to the company she works for, she uses her uncanny instincts that are always right to question her purpose in the company and wonders if she can escape from them. But she can't leave her sister who is being held as leverage to make Fia do what the company wants her to do. She decides to let the man go and to go into hiding, to make him disappear. Little does she know that she is being watched by another company who can also use her abilities. They want to use her to take down the company, the company that stole her past and controls her every move. With her sister, Annie's life on the line the decision becomes more complicated for Fia. Being the first book in the two part series, what will her decision be?

Some strengths of this book are through the characters. This novel is set in a supernatural world where humans have special abilities like seers who see the future, people who can feel the emotions of others, and Fia who can make the right decision every time just by her instincts. These characters make this book captivating by having something new and unique about them that readers are intrested in. The emotional aspect of the characters is strong so it makes readers feel for what happens to them. We start to care about the decisions they make and how it affects them and the people around them.

Something that I found that was different in this book from other books is the flashbacks are a big part of the novel. The flashbacks take up about half of the novel being woven in and out of the present day scenes. This form gives more meaning to the present day actions and there is also parallels that run between the two narratives that make it captivating read. The flashbacks can be a little disorienting and it depends on the reader's preference if it works for them or not. For me it made the book seem shorter than it was, but still a good read.

This book is written a little too elementarily with an easy plot. What makes it a little more difficult was the flashbacks. I would recommend this book to be read outside the classroom on the student's own time. This book is important for entertainment purposes. It can show through Fia's instinctual abilities what and how to make the right decision.

Here is author, Kiersten White's blogger.
Want to read it yourself? Buy it here!
Another review of Mind Games.
The Goodreads page for Mind Games.

The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow

Do you believe in magic? (Insert song reference here and get ready to learn about the greatest magician of all time)

Let me set the mood before we delved into the book. Let’s go back in time. A time where there was no movies, radio, television or even….the internet (dun dun duuuuun). The way that people would be able to be entertained was through public shows in lecture halls or opera houses. Before mainstream media, beautifully made posters with vibrant colors were seen on fences and on buildings announcing a show. One of those shows and people that would incite great commotion was Harry Kellar. 

Gail Jarrow does a great job in telling the story of America’s most famous magician in this short and illustrated biography.

While many magicians would travel from abroad (most magicians during this period of time came from Europe) to mesmerize audiences with their illusions and grandeur shows, Kellar was unable to perform his tricks in his native land without acquiring recognition first. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Kellar had to tour in other continents with his magic show long before he was able to perform in his native land. 

Readers are going to be able to see the posters that Kellar used to advertise his shows as well as photographs of the time. This book would be greatly used in a middle school classroom. What is the most interesting part of the book is that Kellar was the magician that paved the way for many other famous and successful acts, one of which was the famous Harry Houdini. 

Pros: Fun, short and great. Illustrations are great to help the reader get the real life context of the time period that Kellar resided in. It’s a good book for students to use as a stepping stone to biographical reports. The language is easy to comprehend.

Cons: (not really a con) there is no telling the reader how the tricks worked [not a literary critique but I was sad because I was not told how to levitate a person]

The best part of this book was knowing that Kellar was Houdini's mentor: 

A page made for anyone that wants to know about magicians and their life should go to this page. There is more information on Kellar on here:

PBS has an info page on Kellar that is worth the read:

To get more information on America's most famous magician, go to the author's page. There, you will be able to find more information on Kellar and fun illustrations as well:

Here is a fun video on Harry Kellar: