Are you a teacher? A parent? Both? Neither? Doesn't matter -- if you can read this, you probably went to school, and this blog is for you. Also, the occasional portable elephant might drop by.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Goodreads Challenge 52 - 56/85: Dogs, Losers, and Crazy Girls
Here's a hodgepodge of books--classroom drama, young adult, fantasy, and dysfunctional character study.
Goodreads Challenge 56/85: Loser by Jerry Spinelli
Heartfelt, sad book about that kid in your class who is always picking his nose.
Goodreads Challenge 55/85: Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
I can't remember experiencing this much pain reading a book since...oh yeah, since Twilight. Fire Study is the third installment of the "Study" series, which began with Poison Study. I really enjoyed the Poison Study book, even though it wasn't very well written. The whole angle of food taster really hooked me in. The second book, Magic Study, held my attention with its explanation of the use of magic in its world. But Fire Study--blecch!
Poorly written, rambling, too many characters with weird names, a plot that literally goes all over the place--reading this book was just one giant lesson in frustration. The only reason I finished it was because I felt I had to complete the series. What's really mind-numbing is that this book was a whopping 440 pages long.
I seriously wavered between one and two stars. This book does have a couple of cool things in it, like the glass figurines that glow. And Kiki the horse adds a lot to the book. I would give it two stars just for Kiki--but really, this book has an average of close to 4 which is completely insane so I'm overcompensating by giving it one star.
Maybe I'll write more details later, but right now I am so fatigued from plowing through this miserable mess that I won't spend any more time thinking about it.
Goodreads Challenge 54/85: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
I read Pippi Longstocking for two reasons. First, apparently Steig Larson based his Dragon Tattoo Girl on this premise: What would Pippi Longstocking be like as a grownup? Urban legend or not, it was certainly the carrot that led me to this book. The second reason is that I am screening this book for reading next year with my fourth graders.
Anyway, it's entirely believable that Lisbeth Salander (the dragon tattoo girl) is Pippi all grown up. Pippi has no sense of relating to other people and has a limited sense of morality. Or a weird sense of morality. Oh it's hard to say. Leave it at this: Pippi makes me cringe. She lies, she invades, she disregards. She is pure id. Just think--Salander's diet of nothing-but-pizza is something that Pippi would do. Now, Lisbeth Salander isn't really pure id, but don't forget that she's Pippi grown up. You wonder what happened to Pippi to make her that...anti-social.
Many of the images in this book are vivid--Pippi riding a horse at the circus, battling a strong man, and annoying old ladies at a coffee klatch. The images are great. However, I don't particularly care for the episodic nature of the book--it is really a string of short stories.
I gave this story four stars because freckle-faced Pippi is an icon. You have to get to know her, at least once. You might not like her, but that doesn't matter--boy, does she take you for a ride. I probably won't read another Pippi story, but I'm always happy to learn more about classic kids' stories.
Goodreads Challenge 53/85: Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a charming fantasy story written by Roald Dahl. I read it because I might use it as a read-aloud in my fourth grade class. This book definitely lends itself to a class read-aloud, with uncomplicated language, but enough rich vocabulary to make it challenging. There are also several moral themes that will be great to discuss in class, such as: Is it okay to steal if you are starving? This short book will be a great way to introduce chapter books to my students. Long enough to build reading stamina, but short enough to give them a carrot with a short stick. Thanks, Mr. Dahl!
Goodreads Challenge 52/85: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was a weirdly compelling book. Told in the first person by an obsessive-compulsive (or maybe Asperger's) teenager, at first it's quite difficult to read. Christopher Boone's voice comes out loud and clear as he dictates the details (i.e. facts and observations) of his life. At first I was annoyed by his inability to use contractions and was thrown back to my Star Trek Next Generation days of Data, the cyborg who can't use contractions either. But this book reads as clunky. Eventually, though, you get used to his voice, and in fact this story couldn't be written any other way. It's through the main character's voice that you really get to know him deeply and understand the other characters in the story.
"Why were you holding the dog?" he asked again.
"I like dogs," I said.
"Did you kill the dog?" he asked.
I said, "I did not kill the dog."
"Is this your fork?" he asked.
I said, "No."
Sounds boring and sophomoric, right? Yet, Christopher Boone lays out the facts dispassionately--which, by the way, describes him personally. He has trouble understanding people's emotions, yet can recite all the prime numbers up to the 7,000s. (Come to think of it, that sounds more like Asperger's...) So dialogue exchanges like this, which in the beginning of the book seem annoying, by the end of the book make perfect sense once you have gotten to know our hero.
Anyway, this kid is certainly an unreliable narrator, and you really have to read between the lines (and in fact wait for other characters to reveal things) in order to discern what actually happens in the story.
Reading the selection above, I'm reminded of The Sun Also Rises, which I read recently. I was completely annoyed by The Sun Also Rises because the story was told so plainly and dispassionately. But that book was different, because the narrator was a journalist and who should have quite frankly had a more interesting voice. In The Curious Incident, though, this lack of emotion just lends depth and mystery to the character. And it makes Christopher Boone sadly charming.
I suppose I should include a brief summary--this book is about a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome who is investigating the murder of the dog next door while dealing with the death of his mom. I can't reveal anything else or I'll spoil it! This story unfolds bit by bit, until at the end, all of the mysteries have been solved.
Random things I liked about this book:
Christopher Boone reminds me of Adrian Monk--one of my favorite television characters.
His favorite book is The Hound of the Baskervilles--also one of my favorites.
We get an in-depth description of taking the Tube in London.
I can't recommend this to my fourth grade students because it uses the f-word too many times. *sigh*
Are you a voyeur? You'll love this book because it gives you a great opportunity to climb into somebody else's mind. Twisted as it may be.