Book Review: I Funny, by James Patterson

i_funny_coverI Funny stars a boy whose name is Jamie Grimm. His dream is to become the world’s greatest stand-up comic. Or, in his case, the world’s greatest sit-down comic. His legs are paralyzed, so he has to use a wheelchair. He doesn’t live with his own family- they died in a car accident- so instead he lives with the Smileys. Their name is really ironic, after all, they never smile, and they never laugh, so it’s impossible for Jamie to practice his jokes on them. And, even worse, there’s the threat of Stevie Kosgrov. He also lives with the Smileys, and he loves to pick on Jamie and beat him up.

Luckily, Jamie’s got friends that help him get back up and keep going, including his Uncle Frankie, who used to be a yo-yo champion and runs a diner, and Jamie’s best friends, Joey Gaynor and Jimmy Pierce.

This book is filled with jokes and is sure to make you laugh. I think it’s just amazing how James Patterson writes adult novels, young adult novels, and children’s books and still manages to make all of them great for that specific age group. I Funny is one of his children’s books, and is part of a side series to the Middle School series and in the sequel, I Even Funnier, (spoiler alert) there is actually a part in which Rafe Khachadorian meets Jamie Grimm! I can’t wait to find out if there is going to be a third book to this fantastic series!

-Linna C., 7th grade

Book Review: Paper Towns, by John Green

paper_townsIn continuing my mission to read every John Green novel known to man, I invested my time in Paper Towns.  This book follows the life of high school senior Quentin Jacobsen and his mission to find his first love, Margo, after she mysteriously disappears.  Margo is adventurous and exciting, and acts as a nice foil to Quentin’s shy and reserved personality.

As cheesy as this plotline sounds, Paper Towns was actually an interesting story filled with mystery, comedy, and a break-in to Sea World.  While the ending is somewhat disappointing and frustrating, everything leading up to it is exciting and enlightening.  This story is humorous, yet has dark undertones as it reveals faults in humanity and society.

What I learned through reading this book is that Green is an expert at creating relatable teenaged characters.  In Paper Towns, the main characters are worried about their future, but also concerned with living in the moment.  As we all know, these two tasks can be very difficult to balance.  In Paper Towns, Quentin teaches the readers how to balance the two, and how this combination of enjoying adventure and preparing for the future helps us to discover ourselves and what we want out of life.

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Series Review: The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

little_house_prairieLaura Ingalls Wilder, who was born Febuary 7, 1867,  lived in the pioneer days in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. She had a older sister named Mary, younger sister named Carrie and her Mother Caroline, and her father Charles. Her family moved to different parts of the United States when she was young and always enjoyed the new land they lived on. In this series about her life as an American pioneer, Laura wrote nine books:

  • Little House in the Big Woods
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Farmer Boy
  • On The Banks of Plum Creek
  • By The Shores of Silver Lake
  • The Long Winter
  • Little Town on the Prairie
  • These Happy Golden Years
  • The First Four Years

I love this series. The books will have scary moments, interesting moments, and a history experience that doesn’t seem like history. Farmer Boy is not about Laura but it is about her husband, Almanzo, when he was a young working at a farm. All the other books that I know of in the series is about Laura except Farmer Boy. Some of the books are a bit long but they are good to read if you like short and long mixed books. The age level I would recommend is 8-12 years old and the grade level would be 3rd-7th.

-Kate B., 7th grade

Book vs. Movie: The Book Thief

book_thief_bookmovie***A few questions and their answer***

Who would steal books before she knew how to read? Whose story caught the interest of Death? Who is Liesel Meminger?

Answer: She is The Book Thief

“She was clutching the book. She was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life.”

Liesel Meminger is in a new life. Her brother died on the train ride. Her mother disappeared. She never knew her father. Things start looking up when she is adopted by a couple who live on a street called Heaven, both to simply be called Mama and Papa. Her papa plays the accordion and teaches her to read her first stolen book; the one from her brother’s funeral. She befriends her next door neighbor Rudy, a boy with hair the color of lemons, who keeps asking Liesel for a kiss.  It could have been a perfectly happy story if they weren’t in Germany during World War II, hiding a Jew named Max in their basement.

The book itself was beautifully written, although it began a little slow for me. It isn’t a book you want to race through. The movie matched this the heart of the story, even when details such as how Liesel’s papa was drafted, the reason her mama was fired, and which books were stolen changed, but on the whole, I was surprised how close the movie followed the book.

There were a few changes I liked better in the movie, such as Max giving Liesel the diary and Rudy discovering she was hiding Max because it established a closer relationship to these characters that felt less due to some scenes like Max’s handwritten books or Rudy and Liesel stealing things other than books together being cut.

The thing that bothered me the most in the film was the lack of the narrator, Death. He had a prominent part in the book, making side comments and revealing what is yet to come. Although it was nice in the movie to not worry about jumping around in the story, Death barely speaking at all in the movie had an unsettling effect any time he spoke, which may have been what the movie intended.

The movie can stand on its own, but it loses some depth from the elegantly written book. There isn’t as much violence as one might expect from World War II, but that’s not to say it isn’t there. The ending was exactly the same as the book, but I won’t reveal any more. Maybe not being a lighthearted movie is the point, because that is how it becomes that much more powerful.

-Nicole G., 10th grade

Book Review: A Commonplace Book of the Weird, edited by Joseph Fink

commonplaceThough H. P. Lovecraft is today considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, during his life his stories were mainly published in pulp magazines and he died in poverty in the 1930s.

Lovecraft is credited with creating the genre of cosmic horror, which emphasizes the idea that humans are insignificant and helpless in a universe of unknowably powerful beings over the gore and suspense elements of the usual horror story. He often missed school due to illness and led a reclusive adult life, never knowing his father who was placed in a psychiatric institution when Lovecraft was three, influencing the often friendless and mentally unstable protagonists he wrote.

A Commonplace Book of the Weird is a collection of short stories by twenty modern authors, each randomly assigned a prompt from Lovecraft’s book of unfinished story ideas. Some are full plot outlines, others as simple as “Dream of flying over city.”

My favorite story in this collection is “Relative Damnation” by Joseph Fink, which tells the story of a teenage boy who can save his father from going to hell after a deal with the devil, but only by giving up all of his possessions, education, relationship with his girlfriend, and chance at a happy future. It raises the question of whether successful people should feel they owe their happiness to the suffering of others, even if they didn’t ask for it.

Some more of my favorites are “Dissipation” by Daniel McCoy, a series of seemingly random scenes that come together to tell the story of a future apocalypse, and “The Impossible” by Will Hartwell and Christopher Scheer, an account of the supernatural incident that made a Victorian gentleman unwilling to leave his home, with a twist introduction of another famous mythos.

I think that the book’s weakest points are the stories that rely too heavily on surrealism and have no clear plot. Though the intent may be to make the reader feel as unsettled as the characters, the narratives sometimes come off as series of disjointed imagery rather than cohesive worldbuilding or plot. “Levittown” by Mark Farr has a promising start with an alternate history in which an astronaut from the 1800s attempts to go to the moon in a steampunk rocket, but ends up switching between the astronaut’s story and unrelated scenes of angels, modern-day children, a mysterious old man, and quotes from Lovecraft himself. Though it has excellent imagery and concepts, the story eventually becomes too muddled for the reader to follow.

As is usually the case with anthologies by multiple authors, I found this book to be a mixed bag with several outstandingly imaginative stories and others of varying quality. I would recommend A Commonplace Book of the Weird to anyone 14+ (for thematic elements) who enjoys horror, science fiction, or the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which is written by two of the contributors.

-Miranda C., 12th grade

Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

giver_coverLois Lowry does a great job of completely engaging the reader in this story.  The meaning of the “precision of language,” the odd recalled memories, and the speaker telling everyone what to do is quite odd at the beginning of the story.  Jonas, an eleven year old boy, is living in a futuristic town and is feeling… apprehensive, as he would call it… for the Ceremony of Twelve.  For each year as the people in his Community grow up one year, there is a ceremony where something happens to them.  At eight years old, you get a jacket with pockets signifying maturity to hold onto your own things.  At nine, you get a bicycle with your name on it.  (Bicycles are the only transportation within the Community.)  At Twelve, you get assigned your job; that is what Jonas is apprehensive about.

The ceremony goes more quickly than he thought and when each twelve year old boy or girl is assigned his or her role, the community elders skip over him.  Only at the end they announce his assignment.  He is assigned something very special… to work with The Giver.  Jonas learns that not only will he have his lifetime job to be with The Giver and replace his job, but also experience the pain of the memories transmitted to him.  Two big themes I found important in this story were love and conformity, which always remind me of the song “All you need is Love” by the Beatles.  This conveys the message being told in the story—all you really need is love and a bond between you and someone else.

When I finished this book, I was not completely satisfied, but very moved.  I felt that this is not how our future should look.  The conflict between Jonas’s knowledge and the transmitted memories was very interesting.  I would recommend this book to any middle and high schoolers who have some time on their hands to really get the gist of the book.  Have fun!

Maya S., 6th grade

6th Grade

Thoughts on Book Banning

banned_booksIn a country founded on the ideas of freedom and the idea of self expression is encouraged, it’s hard to imagine that books, of all things, are sometimes banned. Personally, book banning wasn’t really something I had thought about until Ellen Hopkins and Sonya Sones came to the library for a visit back in September. Sure, I had heard of books being banned– but I had never really thought that it was still something that was going on, and more importantly, what the effects of it are.

In this country, books get banned mostly because of complaints steaming from a small group of people; parents who aren’t pleased with what their children are reading in school, small communities who don’t think a book should be in their local library, and other similar cases and effect only a certain place or school. Book banning isn’t necessarily on a huge scale, this isn’t really a case of the government trying to control what people think, this is a matter of people trying to control other people. Still, book banning is a huge problem.

Most books that get banned are children’s or young adult books. The process of banning books starts with a challenge: a group of people don’t like the content, so they bring it up with someone who can do something about it. For example, a class is reading something that a group of parents don’t feel is acceptable for their children to be reading, and so they bring it up with the school board. From there, the school board can decide to ban the book, which basically makes it disappear from the curriculum. It’s not that someone who wants to read the book can’t get a copy of it anywhere, it’s just that they are going to have to look a little harder for it. On a basic level, these challenges usually come from a well-meaning place- parents wanting to “protect” their children from ideas they view unfit for them- but that is really where the trouble comes in.

The main problem with banning books is that when you ban a book, you are sending a clear message that an idea that the book is conveying is wrong and forcing your ideas onto someone else. Books can open up someone’s mind to all kinds of possibilities- that is what makes them so amazing. But when you are preventing people from reading them, you are closing off ideas. It’s understandable that some parents may not want children, especially younger ones, reading books that contain tough subject like suicide, drug use, and so on, or excessive use of language or sexual content, but banning books takes away the book from everyone. It is completely understandable for parents to filter their children’s reading, but it needs to be on a one-on-one basis without affecting any one else’s ability to read the book. Furthermore, regardless of what content the book may contain that makes it “unsuitable” for children, that content is rarely the entire point of a book and rather is being used to somehow enhance the story.

bridgeA final note on book banning is that this isn’t a problem that is limited to a certain era or genre of books but includes a vast array of books, including several which I have personally read in school. Some of the books that I was most shocked to find that were banned were: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes– although there are many, many more books that I have read that are included on lists of banned books.

Books banning can cause all kinds of problems, even if the intentions are good. At the end of the day, I really feel that it is up to the reader to decide what makes them uncomfortable and to have the choice to read whatever they want.

-Angela J., 12th grade

Manga Review: Ultra Maniac, vol. 1, by Wataru Yoshizumi

ultra_maniac_coverCool Ayu Tateishi is a popular girl who everybody wants to be like. But all that is about to change when she meets Nina Sakura. This seemingly normal girl isn’t all she looks to be. She’s a witch. Or rather, a witch that got flunked out of magic school and came to Earth to study abroad.

Nina decides to reveal her secret to Ayu, and decides to help Ayu with her magic as much as she can. Unfortunately, this results in disaster for poor Ayu.

This series follows Nina and friends on their countless misadventures. Other characters include Tetsushi Kaji, Ayu’s boyfriend, and Hiroki Tsujiai, who soon finds out Nina’s secret. There is also an anime for the series, and there are some manga-exclusive characters and some anime-exclusive characters. The plot and storyline are probably slightly different in the anime as to the manga.

I really think that this series is flat-out great. It seems a bit childish at times, but when those times pass, the story is great. Even though it is a shojo manga, there are some action-packed tidbits. This series is yet another one of those books that is there to make you laugh. Even though the title sounds a little stupid (I thought that at first too), take a look inside. As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover!

-Linna C., 7th grade

Book vs. Movie: The Hobbit

hobbit_bookmovieAs many of you have already, I watched the new Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, last week. I am a huge Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan and I was so glad when I found out these movies are based on books, so I went and read them and watched the movies to compare the two.

The movies were all really well done, because I know it is hard to incorporate every little detail from the books. I also read The Hobbit because I thought that a prologue to the story must be very interesting and it was! The Hobbit was, and still is, one of the best books that I have read, and I read a lot. In the book, The Hobbit, as in the other J.R.R. Tolkien books, there is a lot going on. First, the dwarves are travelling to their mountain while Gandalf is searching for the source of darkness in the world while the elves remain fortified and unwilling to help at first and the lake people believe they are saved from the dragon. Sometimes it gets confusing to keep your mind focused. For example, in the movie, when they switch to a different character and a different place, it takes time for your mind to register the fact that it is a different character and a different place. And by the time your mind registers that fact, the different character in the different place starts talking to another different character in the same different place about some different topic that takes a longer time to register in your mind. That’s the only problem with a lot of things going on, but I feel that it is sort of necessary in such a big world that having a lot going on is normal and when there is a lot going on there is more of a wide area to expect plot twists. This keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and wanting to know what happens next. Both the movie and the book kept me on the edge of my seat.

If you haven’t read or watched The Hobbit, I recommend both the book and the movies to you, but there are two different Hobbit movies at the moment and a third one on its way so make sure, if you would like to see them, that you watch The Unexpected Journey first, and then The Desolation of Smaug, so that you get the story going in the right direction and not backwards. Post a comment below if you have seen the movie or read the books, and just say to those around you how epic they are and how both the movie and the book can take your breath away.

-Kyle H., 7th grade

Book Review: Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks

evil_geniusEvil Genius, by Catherine Jinks, follows a boy named Cadel, a typical child prodigy and hacker. Cadel is an orphan, and is living in a foster home with the Piggot family. In his life’s turmoil, he finds solace in computers. Whenever he can get his hands on one, his parents and teachers find him hacking into security and traffic networks. So, the Piggots turn to Dr. Thaddeus Roth, a child psychologist for the troubled. However, Thaddeus isn’t who he appears to be. Rather, he encourages Cadel’s illegal behavior, with the advice “Don’t get caught.”

Soon, Cadel finds himself at the Axis Institute, a school of villains. Your typical school course includes lying, computer infiltration, embezzlement, and assassination classes. For a while, Cadel feels at home, surrounded by other kids with special abilities. However, he meets Kay-Lee, another genius he met online. Ignoring Thaddeus, Cadel soon befriends Kay-Lee, and have long chats that only geniuses would have (not your average math). Gradually, she helps Cadel see through Dr. Roth’s institute so that he will find out what he really is meant for.

Catherine Jinks has a very entertaining story from a quirky perspective. We usually hate them, but now find ourselves rooting for Cadel in his evil schemes. At the same time, the readers know he is doing the wrong thing, so we appreciate his process of self-realization. The Axis Institute is also an interesting component to the story. How would a real school of deception be run? Would it be fun if you were an evil genius?

People of all ages can enjoy this book. However, teenagers would probably enjoy it the most, because of the action and computer science lingo. Evil Genius is the first book in a trilogy. Genius Squad and Genius Wars are just as engaging. So what are you waiting for? Find out for yourself what it’s like to be an evil genius!

-Phillip X., 8th grade