Levi's Review of My Side of The Mountain

My Side of The Mountain

Reviewed by Levi Stewart, Author Jean Craighead George

My Side of The Mountain is a book about a boy named Sam Gribley who runs away from his city life to make a home in the wild. He builds a home in a tree and learns to find food, and even tames a falcon. There's more to the story, but I won't spoil it for you. I really like this story. I have always dreamed of doing the things Sam does, but I would never be able to leave the comforts of my home permanently. My Side of The Mountain is a great book that you can read over and over again (I know I have!).

The book is about 175 pages long, but has pretty small text. I would recommend  it for everyone, but especially ages 9-12. It will take some knowledge to understand what it's talking about, and there are some diagrams in cursive, but it's not difficult to grasp the general concept. I first read it when I was about 8, and have read it lots of times since. I just read it this summer. Overall, I really love this book. 10/10. I would love to read more books like this!

Jubilee's Review of Secret Coders

Secret Coders series

 Reviewed by Jubilee Stewart, Authors Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

The series Secret Coders is an awesome story about three main characters, Hopper, Eni, and Josh. When Hopper moves to Stately Academy, she notices things. Why are there so many nines around the school? What's hiding in the janitor's padlocked shed? What's up with the birds? As she struggles to figure out these mysteries, Hopper learns to code, and we learn along, too. Repeats, parameters, Ifelse (If-fell-see) statements, and much more. Hopper, Eni, and Josh's struggle creates a beautiful story of friendship, courage, and laughter. As you get to know them, you'll agree; they make great secret coders.

The series is made up of 6 graphic novels which each have about 100 pages. I would recommend these books for ages 7/8-11. Though the books are small, it takes a bit of knowledge to understand the code. There are small puzzles throughout the book in the form of solving code. I thought that they were fun. Five out of five stars. If these authors ever paired up again, I would definitely be in line for their book! 


Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand

One of the reading goals I've made this year is to read the books that my son is reading in his high school English class. So, that's what gave me the guts to finally pick up Unbroken

Unbroken is a biography of Louis Zamperini who as a kid was a trouble maker, as a young adult was an Olympic runner and who then enlisted and fought in World War II where he was lost at sea and became a prisoner of war. His life is truly amazing and inspiring to read about, and it's no wonder this book was chosen for the Honors English unit on survival. He survived not only these things, but post-war difficulties as well. 

The original edition of the book is subtitled "A story of survival, resilience, and redemption." An apt description! 

I first heard about Unbroken when my book club read it ten or eleven years ago. For one reason or another I couldn't read the book at the time, but I attended the discussion. It sounded like an amazing story, but maybe a bit too graphic or disturbing for me -- some of my book club friends had said it was very detailed about the violence that Zamperini experienced as a prisoner of war, and shared some of the truly disturbing cruelty he faced, so I was hesitant to read the book, despite their reassurances that it was worth it.

I was glad to see that the class was reading the young adult adaptation of the book. I looked up what the differences were between the original edition and the young adult edition, and the version I read was shorter, had fewer detailed descriptions of violence and fewer details about Zamperini's alcoholism after the war. Perfect for me. 

I had just read Life of Pi, so reading the story of Louis Zamperini being lost at sea was particularly heartwrenching and fascinating. How I wished that he had known sharks are edible! My heart is still a little bit crushed over that detail of his ordeal. After reading Unbroken, I read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and saw some striking parallels, but that's a post for another day.

I'm happy to recommend this book for teens and adults. It has just about everything you could want from a biography. It has moments of daring, moments of heartbreak, tender moments, funny moments and miracles. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched, never drags along when giving context but somehow perfectly tells the story in a way that incorporates all the surrounding details you need to know. I'd like to own a copy of myself. I've lost track of how many small moments from the book I have told to friends and family members. It has been a little while since I finished it, and it continues to be on my mind. 

Just yesterday I read the famous poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley and thought, "That's Louis Zamperini." A friend mentioned that her son is doing some troublemaking, and I thought, "There's hope. Just think of Louis Zamperini." It really is an inspiring book, and worth the read.

Life of Pi

Such a famous book! I have been meaning to read this one for a long time. Ashlee chose it for our book club book this month, so I finally read it.

A far cry from Pi's circumstances!

Life of Pi is a book about a young man named Piscine, who goes by Pi. His father is a zookeeper, and when the family decides to move from India to Canada, they emigrate on the cargo ship that is bringing some of their animals to zoos in the U.S. and Canada. Disaster strikes and (as shown on the cover of most editions of the book) that's how Pi ends up stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger. But as the title suggests, there is more to the story than just Pi's time on the lifeboat. It's really the story of his life.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The writing was very well done -- I was surprised, disgusted, moved and provoked to deep thoughts. Knowing that I was going to get to discuss the book with friends was icing on the cake. 

Our discussion was rich - there is plenty of meat in this book (pun intended!) for talking about the human experience and I can see why its considered a classic. Ashlee, who chose the book, has read it many times over and always finds something new in it, which I can relate to! I've only read it once, but already in our discussion I was finding new things to think about and angles I hadn't considered. 

The book was also made into a movie in 2012. I hear they did a really great job, but that of course the book is better. So, I might watch it now that I've read the book. 

In some ways this book reminded me of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, and the Odyssey. All three  stories have direct applications of the hero's journey specifically to life's journey in general.  

Levi (who is in 7th grade) said he was interested in reading it, and I wouldn't have any problem with that. I don't think it would appeal to readers much younger than 7th grade, but I could be wrong. The book has a high vocabulary and plenty of survival violence and peril. The story incorporated more religion than I was expecting, no swearing or sexual content, except to talk briefly about animal's needs to reproduce. It's definitely the sort of thing I could see English teachers enjoying teaching and book clubs enjoying discussing! We had a good time -- and Ashlee brought bananas and coconut cream pie. 

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

Horse riding lesson

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! I picked it up from the library because it's by Faith Erin Hicks and I have liked her books in the past (One Year at Ellsmere, and Friends with Boys especially!) There was a great ensemble cast to this book. Although the front cover has just one of the main characters on it, (kind of two, if you count the horse, I suppose!) there are a bunch of awesome characters in this book. 

I was never super into horse books (it was all about the Babysitters Club, for me!) but that didn't stand in the way of my enjoyment of this book. My dad loves horses and our family owned a few now and then (see the picture above). Even though I didn't ever consider myself a horse girl, many sweet moments, some silliness, and some real conflicts made the book compelling. It's realistic fiction.

Norrie is always stirring up drama.

Sam's brothers tease him like crazy.

What happened with Victoria to make her change stables?

I loved all the positive sibling relationships in this book. Victoria's sweet older sister, Norrie's sweet older brother, even Sam's brother's eventually have some sweet moments.  I loved that Victoria's mom was an accountant, haha! Yeah, accountants know better than to buy horses.

Ride On is set in middle school, and as far as romance goes, there is just the barest hint of a crush. It's a super sweet book. Some themes of Ride On are friendship, growing apart or growing closer, what it means to you to be around a good friend, working hard, competing. I loved it, and my kids did, too. 

Ride On on Amazon

Have you read it? What did you think?

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

For book club, I read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. I did not love it. 

Addie LaRue is a young woman in a time that is unkind to young women. She has always loved the local unmarried woman and aspires to be her. However, her father arranges a marriage for her. In a last-ditch effort to avoid the wedding, Addie enters into an agreement with a higher power, agreeing to live a life where once she has gone out of sight of someone, she will go out of mind, too. She can move through life forever: immortality! But no one will remember her, even from one interaction to the next. 

The writing was good. The story really pulled me along! I enjoy high-concept books and movies, and this one did a particularly good job exploring at least one branch of "Hmm, what would that actually be like?" I just didn't like Addie. I found it pretty hard to relate to her in most cases. I vacillated between not really liking Addie and really not liking Addie. 

Clare and I tried on some clothes recently.
Addie LaRue steals all her clothes because ...she can? ...she has to? 
The book made for an interesting discussion, especially because Tara helped us along. She hadn't read the book but wanted to hear about it and form conclusions about it, so she asked lots of thoughtful questions. We discussed morality and relationships and mental health and more. 

So, I find myself ambivalent about the book. I was complaining about it to my husband Jacob about three quarters of the way through -- how the characters were all ridiculous and made the worst possible choices all the time. He reminded me that I didn't have to finish, to which I responded, "Yeah...but I think I want to." I knew that finishing the story via an online summary wouldn't answer my deepest questions about it, and that not finishing wouldn't either. I disliked pretty much all the characters and disliked the way the author seemed to buy in to what I consider Hollywood tropes: sex, drugs . . . rock and roll? But the author did raise interesting questions about time, morality, relationships, what people want out of life, etc. So, though I don't hesitate to put a book down when I hate it, this one walked right along that line, pretty much start to finish. Ha!

Have you read it? I'd love to know what you think. I'm writing this a few months after reading the book, so if it's been a while for you, too, tell me what stuck with you.

Two Recommended Native American Non-fiction Picture Books

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Natasha Donovan.

This is a picture book biography of Mary Golda Ross, who grew up with a strong connection to her Cherokee tribe. As a woman in the 1920's who lived until 2008, her love of math and eventually engineering was uncommon, and she helped blaze a trail for other women and Native Americans. 

From the first page, Classified focuses in on four Cherokee values: gaining skills in all areas of life, working cooperatively with others, remaining humble when others recognize your talents, and helping ensure equal education and opportunity for all. I love how the material in the back of the book shows the syllabary, transliteration, pronunciation and English translation of each of these values. In my review here I thought of summarizing the four values, using one word each, but that doesn't really capture what the actual, translated values are. It feels more true to share the direct translation. 

Classified by Traci Sorell
Sprinkled with interesting truths about Mary Golda Ross, this biography tells us some of the work that Mary accomplished -- but much of it is still "classified." This made it a little bit difficult for me to remember the book, when I read it among a stack of contenders, and after it had been a little while between readings. What was it she did, again? There is no "one thing" that the book gives her complete credit for. However, this is the big truth -- our accomplishments are cooperative, and Mary Golda Ross apparently understood that well. Upon re-reading the book, I realized it's not the sort of picture book biography that is meant to tell you about one person so much as it is meant to teach you, through one woman's example, these four Cherokee values that she lived by. 

On my first read? Meh. On my reread? I like it a lot!

The illustrations are well done, and add to the understanding you get from the text. Simple, but not oversimplified, colorful yet still realistic, the art isn't showy, but it is solidly helpful. The backmatter of the book includes a timeline, source notes, bibliography, author's note, and the aforementioned four Cherokee values. 

This book was shortlisted for the Cybils Award in the Middle Grade Nonfiction (ages 8-12) category, and I think ages 8 and up is about right for it.  I would recommend it to kids parents and teachers who are interested in learning about other cultures and the core values that drive us! Bonus, you will also learn about women in STEM.

We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Another Cybils nominee in the elementary nonfiction category, We Are Still Here reminds me of a young adult graphic novel I read for the Cybils called This Place: 150 Years Retold. This Place won the Cybils award (for Young Adult Graphic Novel) back in 2019. It was so good. I can't believe I didn't review it here! But I helped to write the review of it posted here. Anyway, We Are Still Here gives readers a lot to unpack, and I was grateful for the context that I had from previously reading This Place

The premise of the picture book, We Are Still Here, is that each page is the project that a student has created to teach classmates about some aspect of indigenous people's history that still affects life today. There are twelve topics covered and they range from assimilation and allotment to language revival and sovereign resurgence. The text of We Are Still Here has very high vocabulary and a lot of information on each page, but the repeating refrain "we are still here," ties each page to the next. 

Hand-painted art sets the scene for each "presentation" and features a lot people -- presidents of the United States, children at school, and people on the street just to name a few. 

Backmatter is robust in this book, and includes more information on each of the twelve topics, a timeline from the 1870s to the 2007, a glossary, sources, an authors note. While I feel like this book packs a lot of information in, it also gives readers resources for further learning so that they can delve deeper into each of these topics. 

I really appreciate that repeating refrain which titles the book: We are still here! The more I have learned and the older I've become, the more I realize the truth of this and the obstacles that indigenous people have faced. I still have a lot to learn. When we moved to Connecticut, I enjoyed learning that "The Last of the Mohicans" -- a movie/book I've never watched/read -- was wrong. The Mohegan tribe is still here! 

I recommend this book for older elementary school kids and as a great resource to older students and adults. I have to agree with the books subtitle, it contains history that everyone should know. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...