Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (2014) Suggested age range: 14 and up (Dutton Juvenile, 264 pages) Rating: 4/5 stars Source: Library Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy The Book: Jam has been sent away from home. She now temporarily lives at a boarding school … Continue reading
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (2014)
Suggested age range: 10 and up (Random House Books for Kids, 208 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: e-ARC from Net Galley
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley & Random House Kids in exchange for an honest review.
The Book: Ellie is eleven and in middle school. Transition is difficult in itself but throw in the sudden arrival of her grandfather at her home, and things are even more complicated. That’s because he’s thirteen years old! As a famous scientist, Melvin has successfully reversed the aging process through his discovery of a jellyfish compound, dubbed T. melvinus. So Ellie is essentially going to school with a teenager who has a 76 year old brain. Ellie and her friend Raj decide to help Melvin break into his lab in order to safeguard the compound, and if they accomplish this, perhaps the world will finally have its “fountain of youth.” What ensues is a humorous adventure in which Ellie discovers more about herself, the changing nature of friendships, and the value of love from family and friends in the midst of growing up.
Spirituality in The Fourteenth Goldfish: The book’s ability to make the reader consider the realm of the “possibles” in the world of science is one of its highlights. I, for one, think that the relationship between spirituality and science is a relevant one. Especially when you get into quantum physics. I’ll save that for another post though. What I want to say is that some points and themes in the story leave gaps for spiritual ideas to poke through. For example, the cycle of life is important and the way that cycle runs is significant—if we have the power, should we be able to alter that? Should we play God? Such questions raise what could be heavy issues with readers.
Who Should Read This Book: Fans of When You Reach Me or A Tangle of Knots would get this title as a reading option from me (were you in my 6th grade classroom). The journey of a girl navigating the beginnings of middle school and also harboring a great secret (her grandfather who has discovered how to reverse aging is a teenager living in her home) is one that I think many readers of fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. I also think there are some cool events that could coincide with this text—jellyfish research and fountain of youth creations and even lunch at a Chinese restaurant where segments of dialogue could be read from the book in a reader’s theatre presentation. Don’t ignore the ‘possibles’ with this one!
The Final Word: Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newbery honor winner, and this novel’s unique premise is reason alone to delve into the world of middle grade science fiction, if that’s not your normal cup of tea. If you found a fountain of youth, would you take advantage of it? If you could have your grandparent live with you, but as a teenager, would you say yes? You might never have to answer either of these questions in reality, but they’re amusing to think about. This story is charming, but it also gives science nerds something meatier to read as well. Readers that aren’t as interested in science might get a little bogged down at times, and there were a few points where I wanted more to happen faster, but all in all, I enjoyed the story and was satisfied with its conclusion. I’m especially drawn to middle grade novels that highlight enduring themes like this one: “Never ignore a possible.” Challenge accepted.
What did you think of The Fourteenth Goldfish? Are there other middle grade science fiction titles this reminds you of?
The Infinite Sea [Book #2 in The 5th Wave Series] by Rick Yancey (2014)
Suggested age range: 14 and up (Putnam, 480 pages)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
The Book: The sequel to The 5th Wave, this second book in Rick Yancey’s gripping series continues the story of Cassie as she attempts to survive on the earth in the midst of an alien enemy. But who and where is the enemy? The first book raised this question, and it’s asked again in the second. The stories of Ringer, Razor, and Teacup also continue, giving readers chapters in different perspectives. Ringer and Cassie are both given large chunks of the narrative to tell their story, and even if readers are jarred by the shifting perspectives, they should be familiar with the novel’s twists and turns. Who will triumph: aliens or humans? There are strong odds stacked up against the humans, but the aliens didn’t count on Evan Walker, whom we meet in Book 1.
Spirituality in The Infinite Sea: Hope, Despair, Love, Hate—these emotions are threaded throughout the experiences of the characters in the novel, and the story grapples with that age old tension between giving up and persevering/hoping that something good will come out of what seems to be a very bleak situation.
Can a world overrun with aliens get better? Can it be saved?
There are points in the story where you might think it can’t (as there are times in our own lives where we think, how can I get through this or how can anything good come out of this situation?!) but I think Yancey successfully shows how hope is powerful and the tiniest bit of light makes a difference. There isn’t any doubt that love is going to win—at least that’s my take, but we’ll have to see what happens in Book 3.
Who Should Read This Book: If you read Book 1 of The 5th Wave, you’re going to want to read the sequel. If you haven’t read Book 1, and you like post-apocalyptic reads with aliens and a strong female lead, I would recommend Book 1 for sure. Obviously you’re then going to want to pick up Book 2. Book 2 draws the readers inside the mind of another strong female, and I think Yancey gives really interesting portrayals of these two girls caught up in a very cruel and dangerous world. If you like unpredictable turns in a book, this is one for you. I did not see that coming at the end of Book 2 (no spoilers here).
Warning: There is some strong language in the book! (remember this is the end of the world with aliens–but if strong language is an issue for young readers you might be giving this book to, etc., take a look at the story first)
The Final Word: I didn’t like Book 2 as much as Book 1, and one reason for that was the shifting perspectives. I can understand why Yancey chose to give us Cassie’s perspective as well as Ringer’s. He even gives us a glimpse into the minds of several minor characters, which I actually liked. I think I’m just more interested in Cassie’s story, and that may be why I didn’t like it when the narrative switched to Ringer. Though, at the end of the book, I think I understood more why a good chunk of the narrative belonged to Ringer. At the same time, I also felt like a lot of questions and issues were raised, but weren’t really answered. I didn’t expect Yancey to wrap things up neatly, but I felt more satisfied at the end of Book 1 than I did at the end of Book 2. I’m looking forward to Book 3, to see how it all goes down. Now, how long will we have to wait?
Did you read the sequel to The 5th Wave? What did you think?
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustr., Marc Lizano, Color by Greg Salsedo, Trans., Alexi Siegel (2014, English translation)
Suggested age range: 10 and up (First Second, 80 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
“It was hard…but we were together.”
The Book: When her granddaughter finds Dounia crying late one night, Dounia takes Elsa on her lap and begins to share her story. Hidden tells the story of Dounia, who was forced to hide from the Germans in France in 1942.What ensues is a touching, and at times saddening tale of one child’s experience during the Holocaust. Her parents do all they can to keep Dounia safe, even at the expense of their own lives. Originally translated from the French, Hidden underscores the bravery and courage of those who helped Jews during the Holocaust, but also highlights the resilience of the very young during a terrible time in world history.
Spirituality in Hidden: Needless to say, there are several ways this story revealed a spiritual landscape. First, in the area of relational connectedness: I love the stronger connection that develops between Dounia and her granddaughter as she shares her past—including its joys and tragedies. Because Dounia is opening up about her history, she also develops a deeper bond with her son, and this is revealed visually at the very end of the story. That alone is a strong spiritual aspect of the story and could be a meaningful point for readers. Another spiritual aspect to highlight with any group discussion of the book is the bravery and sacrifice of those who risked their lives and gave of their resources to help hide children during the Holocaust.
A question for you to think about: What’s so spiritual about people helping others they don’t even know? And risking their lives for them? Both the textual and visual geography of this graphic novel further reinforce the potential spirituality of children’s literature.
Who Should Read This Book: Recommended for age 10 and up. This would be an excellent book for the classroom, and I think it’s a graphic novel that would be equally as meaningful shared between parent(s) and child reader. Just as the story opens with Elsa on her grandmother’s lap, hearing about her grandmother’s past and heritage, children and parents could talk about their own family background after the reading of this story. There’s a plethora of other types of discussions that groups of readers could dive into with this story, and I’m sure educators would see a lot of potential for curriculum development with this book related to both language arts and social studies curriculum.
The Final Word: The teamwork revealed through this book among author, illustrators, and translator is brilliant. I especially would look closely at the relationship between the words and the pictures. There are rich gaps within the story—pictures that extend the text, and text that fills in gaps in the pictures. This isn’t a simplistic graphic novel, but a rich and rewarding experience. This is another one that might require the tissue box, but it’s worth it.
Strongly recommended! I waited too long to read this one, and I read it all in one sitting. A fantastic addition to the already rich field of middle grade graphic novels for 2014.
Have you read it? What did you think? Are there other graphic novels set in this time period that you would recommend?
Check out the French cover below:
Opening Meme: Introductions!
The read-a-thon began at 8am and I started with Cress, a cup of coffee, a pumpkin croissant. So far I’m having a delightful time. I only have a little bit of Cress to finish—I think I told you that I was already 361 pages into it for the read-a-thon, but I couldn’t wait another day to finish it—it’s such a page turner and full of twists and turns—all with some of my favorite fairy tale characters.
One aspect I love about today is the way I get to connect with readers from all over the world. So if this is your first time to visit my blog, welcome!!
Here are my answers to questions from the Opening Meme:
What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Unlike April, when I was reading from California, I’m reading from New England today! I was happy to be able to sleep in a bit more.
Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to reading Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I have read Finnikin of the Rock, and have been meaning to read Jellicoe for ages! I’m also excited because my friend Diana, who is participating in the read-a-thon also has it in her stack. I’m excited about this!!
Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I made pumpkin chocolate chip bars and I am most looking forward to those as needed throughout the day! I also love Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice tea.
Tell us a little something about yourself!
I love to read and write! I am actually writing a children’s middle grade fantasy novel at the moment (in the revision stage), but normally you will find me reading children’s and young adult literature (books for adults too), teaching, and developing curriculum. You’ll also find me baking whenever I get the chance.
If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
This is my second read-a-thon and I am looking forward to having more time to devote to today’s reading! I am a little more organized this time around, I think, and I have sorted things out so that I have maximum time to read and also connect with other reading folks!
HAPPY READING EVERYONE! Share links to your introduction posts!