Review of Turtles All the Way Down

Friends, first of all, I must say, I love John Green. I love some of his books more than others, but what I like about his writing is that he doesn’t rush his characters. He develops them and the story follows. Often his books aren’t super plot driven, but a study of how characters, many with quirks and oddities, relate to people, themselves, and their environment.

Green’s most well-known work is probably The Fault In Our Stars, which is a good book. This is the book that sparked the ill teenager love story phenomena. (Although, Nicholas Sparks did it way back when…who remembers A Walk to Remember?) However, my favorites of his books are the ones that focus on the nuances of character that many of us have, but aren’t explored as deeply (especially in the Young Adult arena) as Green does in his work. Examples of these include An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska. I will say that I had heard some buzz online that this was targeted more for an adult audience than a young adult audience, and I did not get that at all. This seemed right in Green’s lane for a young adult book.

Turtles All the Way Down centers on a 16 year-old-girl named Aza who struggles with extreme anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. The book is somewhat touted as a mystery, and there is a mystery, but it played a distant second fiddle to Aza’s struggle to deal with her own thoughts and participate “normally” in interactions with her friends and in social situations. When I think of this book, I almost forget there was even a mystery at all. What sticks with me, and what I continue to think about is the apt way that Green handles Aza’s crippling anxiety and the care he takes in describing her spiraling thoughts.

Daisy, Aza’s best friend, and Davis, Aza’s love interest, are both strong secondary characters that complement Aza’s journey throughout the narrative.

The mystery in the book centers around Davis’s missing billionaire father, Russell, who has disappeared on the heels of a scandal within his multi-billion dollar company. When a $100,000 reward is offered for information leading to Russell’s whereabouts, Daisy and Aza decide they will try to find him to collect the reward. I waited to mention this here, because to me, this is the least interesting part of this story.

What I appreciate so, so much is the time that John Green takes to develop his characters. Aza is one of my favorite characters I have ever encountered. She has had a traumatic experience in her life that contributes to the manifestation of her anxiety. The deft handling of the events in the story, and just the way that Aza tries to fight something that the people in her life don’t understand, equals a character that I cannot forget.

What John Green brings to light in the pages of this book is that often, anxiety, depression, and mental illness as a whole are hard for people who are not experiencing these things to understand. However, it is very real to the person who is experiencing it. This is what Turtles All the Way Down relays so well. Aza provides a lense through which the reader can experience what it is like to be in this mental space. It is why I continue to think about Aza long after finishing the book.

If you can’t tell, I really loved this book. Green’s work isn’t for everyone. If you are a reader who loves a nice neat ending, Turtles All the Way Down probably won’t be a satisfying read for you. This aspect is what I love about John Green, but I know not everyone likes endings like these.

Bottom Line: For me, this is a 5/5. There is some language (Daisy has a potty-mouth.) and some alluding to sex, so I would be careful putting it in the lower middle grades. I think this would be a great read for high school students.

Review for The Losers Club

Thanks to Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of The Losers Club. All opinions are my own.

The Losers Club is Andrew Clements latest book targeted at upper elementary readers. Clements is known for his large body work for this age group with books such as Frindle and No Talking. (And so many more.) Clements’s fans will not be disappointed with this newest addition to his collection.

Alec is a lover of all things books and reading. In fact, his love of reading gets him in hot water with his principal, because he is constantly reading instead of paying attention in class. To make matters worse, his parents have new jobs, which means Alec and his younger brother Luke have to go to an after school program where Alec has to choose between unappealing options to occupy his time. Enter his idea of The Losers Club, a club devoted to sitting and reading. Along the way, Alec has to deal with a bully who used to be a friend, his new feelings for Nina, a girl in his club, and the fact that the club is required to make a presentation in front of other students and parents.

The story is simple and fun, which is appropriate for its intended audience. I enjoyed Alec’s character and his development over the duration of the novel. One ingenious aspect of this story is that Clements intertwines book recommendations throughout the story. Because Alec is such a voracious reader, Clements is able to mention countless books appropriate for this age group. Among the books mentioned in the novel are Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and many, many more. At the end of the novel, Clements includes The Losers Club Checklist, a list of all the books mentioned in the novel. Love that!

Bottom Line: This book is definitely for upper elementary because of its simplistic, straightforward storyline. I really like it for this age group and would not hesitate to recommend it to my son, who is 9. I think the upper elementary crowd will love it! My rating is 5/5 for upper elementary.

 

A Review HiLo: The Great Big Boom

Ok, Moms! If you are like me, I am constantly trying to find books for my kiddos. My son, who just turned 9, just became a true reader this year. His third grade teacher really pushed reading and especially CHOICE READING. This has been a game changer for him. Enter the HiLo series by Judd Winick.

Hi-Lo is a robot from a far away planet who comes to earth to help his friends and defeat his maker, whose goal is to get Hi-Lo back and take over the world. In Book #3, HiLo and The Great Big Boom, Hi-Lo and friends are attempting to help Gina who has been sucked into a portal. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

My son LOVES these books. He has even created his own illustrations for HiLo, which I tweeted to Judd Winick. And guess what? He responded. I had one ecstatic third grader on my hands.

What I love about graphic novels is that they make content accessible to a broad audience. What I love about Hi-Lo is that the writing is smart, funny, and engaging. The illustrations complement the writing perfectly.

As a former English teacher, I am not the biggest fan of graphic novels; however, because my son is such a fan, I read HiLo: The Great Big Boom for him. And…I enjoyed it. I am so grateful for this medium that has made my son a reader, and I am grateful that Judd Winick has created a world and characters that my son loves and connects with. He is already begging me to pre-order HiLo #4: Waking the Monsters, which comes out in January.

Bottom Line: If you have reluctant readers, try HiLo. I give the series a 5/5.

Windmill fun for everyone, Post #1

My son is finishing his 2nd grade year, and it has been an amazing one for him. He has always loved science and been an inventor extraordinaire at home; however, this year his rock-star teacher has ignited a love of history in him. He has come home talking about Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, and more recently, Helen Keller. He is amazed by her story and cannot believe how much she accomplished (my word, not his. I am taking some liberties with paraphrasing.) in her life. He was particularly enthusiastic about an activity he did in class wherein he created a word in braille. This got me thinking about the summertime, when I have the great fortune to be home with the kids and activities we could do together. So, this activity is one that is not my idea, but one I became aware of when I taught eighth graders which I have adapted to meet the needs of my younger children.

Enter the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba, a then 14-year-old boy who was inspired to build a windmill in his Malawian village after seeing the devastation caused by excessive drought in his area.  I think my son will love this story. William reminds me of Helen Keller in the diversity he has overcome to be the success he is today.  So, the cool thing about this story is there are three different versions of this story to choose from based on the age level of the reader. There is the full version, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, there is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition, which is recommended for grades 4-7, and lastly, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition for younger elementary students.

My plan for my kiddos this summer is to do an interactive activity with them centered around William. I think my son especially will love it, but I think as long as there is an art component my daughter will buy in.  I am on a quest to find enriching activities for them this summer that do not cost a fortune. I will leave you with this for now, but I will be back with a second post to let you know what I did and how I did it with some pictures to illustrate.

Disclaimer: This is not an original idea. I happened upon this story and ancillary materials during a teaching conference; however, the activity I did at the conference was not very exciting, so I am going to try something new.  More to come on this in the future!