Book Review: Drizzle, by Kathleen Van Cleve

drizzleIn the book Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve, eleven-year-old Polly Peaboy lives on her family’s rhubarb farm. You must be thinking that living on a rhubarb farm must be boring, but the Peaboy’s farm is far from ordinary. At the farm, the rhubarb tastes like chocolate, it rains on the farm exactly at 1:00 p.m. on Mondays, and diamonds sprout from the ground.

On one unusual Monday, it stops raining and a ripple effect of unfortunate events happened afterwards. The plants start to wither, and her older brother, Freddy, gets a deadly, peculiar illness. Realizing that she is the only person who could save the farm and Freddy, Polly must believe in herself and be brave enough to do it. Although she does not realize this, Poly is the savior of her farm and must carry out this huge task.

I thought this book was average. The story was sort of slow and dull. It got a little boring in the middle because of Polly’s personality. The plot could have been better if some inconsequential events were eliminated. Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who is looking for a magical, whimsical book about rhubarb plants (just kidding… there’s much more to the book than only rhubarb plants).

-Anmol K., 7th grade

New Hip Hop Class will have Students Moving to The Beat

photo by flickr user bobbievie

photo by flickr user bobbie vie

Local middle school students listen up: If you’re interested in learning the latest hip-hop moves, then sign up for the new 6-week Hip-Hop class that’s part of the Middle School Enrichment Program at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center.

More than 40 years old, hip-hop dance became widely known after the first professional street-based dance crews formed in the 1970s. Led by Artist Director Sharon Sandor of Sol Dance Academy, the hour-long class, which starts February 26 at 3:45 p.m., will teach students an array of cool moves, and they’ll be invited to show off their newfound skills at this year’s Arts Alive Festival and Street Painting event on May 3.
Along with hip-hop, the Middle School After-School Enrichment Program features a cornucopia of courses like print making, guitar, pottery, financial basics for teens, Algebra, chess club and art.

Participants must be in grades 6 – 8 to take part in the courses that each cost $25. Register online at or call 949-470-3062.

The Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center is at 24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo, CA.

Reading for Fun


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I think we can all agree that reading for fun has declined in popularity over the years.  I believe this may be partly due to the widely-held opinion that those who read for fun are “antisocial.”

This irks me a little.  I find it really annoying how the general populace believes that those who read for fun do not have any lives.  I read for fun.  However, I am also an International Baccalaureate student, a coach for a local running program, an avid watcher of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and an involved friend. I have several interests outside the world of reading and overall, I would call myself a fairly busy and social person.

Just because I read for fun does not mean I have never had a boyfriend, or a job, or a social life.  I simply read because I enjoy it.  It helps my writing and critical thinking skills, and also serves as an escape, just like music, movies, or television.

According to the New York Times, reading literary fiction can actually help boost social skills.  During an experiment conducted by the students at New York’s New School for Social Research, those who read literary fiction performed better on tests measuring emotional intelligence and social perception than those who did not read often.  In other words, reading can actually make you more social.

Now, I am definitely not saying you have to read 24/7 and never see the light of day.  I am saying that as teenagers, we all need to try new things and find our places in the world, and reading can help you with that.  It’s all about balance.

Have you ever been labeled as antisocial because you read for fun?  What’s your opinion on this? Sound off in the comments!

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Series Review: “Dear America” by Scholastic

dear_americaAs we have many history-making moments in our time, you get to see big historical moments through a girl perspective in the series “Dear America” from Scholastic. The “Dear America” books are stories about big moments in history, like Hitler, in a form of a girl’s diary. The original series published by Scholastic in 1996, had hard covers, ribbon bookmarks attached inside (to hold your place), and 36 books.

The books out of the series I have read, and are my favorites, are Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847 by Kristiana Gregory (1997), Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic, 1912 by Ellen Emerson White (1998), The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West, Utah Territory, 1868 by Kristiana Gregory (1999), One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938 by Barry Denenberg (2000), and many more.

The series was cancelled in 2004 with its final release, Hear My Sorrow. However, it was relaunched in the fall of 2010. The 2010 re-launch series came out with new covers and had no ribbon bookmarks were attached. The re-launch series has 19 books, from the original series like A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859 by Patricia McKissack (January 2011), Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918 by Lois Lowry (January 2011), as well as new “Dear America” stories like Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy, Bodie, California, 1880 by Susan Patron (January 2012).

As I am reading Color Me Dark by Patricia McKissack, I think the reading level is a bit low for middle school and high school, it is a great way on getting a learning on historical moments in a creative, non-boring way. The reading level I chose was from 3rd grade up to 7th grade.

-Kate B., 7th grade

Book Review: The Treatment, by Suzanne Young


“The girl I used to be is dead-The Program killed her. And for better for better or for worse, I’m what’s left.”

Starting where The Program left off, Sloane and her boyfriend James are on the run. They barely survived The Program, an organization that “cures” teenagers from depression by stealing their memories, isn’t ready to let them go.

When forced to team up with some rebels, Sloane and James have the time to ask themselves who they are. Without their memories, so much of their past is unknown. How much of their life is a lie? The good news is, they have an orange pill, more commonly known as The Treatment, that can bring back their memories and ensure those memories will be safe from The Program forever. The bad news is, there are two of them and only one pill, a pill The Program won’t rest until they find.

This book felt less dark than the first. Since they have been “cured,” suicide is more a thing talked about other people doing rather than the main characters contemplating doing themselves. Instead, they learn to accept that they must live for the present, leaving the past behind them, if they ever want to live for the future.

It always seems more hopeful, at least for me, when characters are on the more instead of isolated in a single area when they are being hunted down. There are plenty more places to hide and ways to evade, but when The Program needs to keep their 100% success rate, it could only be a matter of time. If or when they are caught, it won’t be the same as before. Because this time, The Program won’t merely take their memories. This time, their personality will be sucked out of them as well.

I don’t think it is necessary to read the first book in the series. All crucial elements of The Program is revealed over the course of the novel, whether referred to directly or indirectly varied. Other than understanding the characters and their situation better, I think it would have been more interesting for me to learn along with the characters the past events and who people are versus who they claim to be.

Even so, I believe the mature content of the book she be reserved for older teens. Depression and suicide, even in a futuristic world, still seems so terrifyingly real.

This review is based on an advance reader’s copy. The Treatment, published by Simon & Schuster, will be available in bookstores everywhere on April 29.

-Nicole G., 10th grade

Series Review: The Quantum Prophecy, by Michael Carroll

quantum-prophecy-thePicture being able to fly, run fast, or hear far away sounds. Now reading about all these super powers makes me want them even more than my normal daydreams do. In the series The Quantum Prophecy, all these daydreams become a reality when Colin, Danny and their superhuman friends fight super villains and save the world from their evil plans. When the super humans disappeared ten years ago, everyone mourned their loss on Mystery Day, until now.

Since Colin and Danny’s thirteenth birthday, their powers have shown more and more powerful. Danny saved a girl from getting hit by a bus when he was on the other side of the street. Turns out he can run so fast that time actually slows down around him. When Colin first heard what the family several doors down from their house were having for dinner, he began to freak out a little.

Now with their joined power and with help from Diamond and Paragon, Colin and Danny fight the bad guys. When they find out that a man named Victor Cross is making a power damper, they try everything in their power to stop it. Danny losses his right arm in the process and kills his father, Quantum. Quantum had had a vision that his son, Danny, would lead an army that will destroy the world. Danny has that vision then loses his right arm. Colin and Danny go back home and agrees that it is over. But Danny has a secret, in the vision; he has a mechanical right arm.

There are three books in this series and I am on the second one so far. If you haven’t read these books, you should. Post a comment about these books if you have read them!

-Kyle H., 7th grade

Audiobooks: A Different Way of Reading

audiobooksIf you are like most kids and teens, you may think that audiobooks are for adults.  Perhaps they are learning another language or getting some information on a new subject.  Or maybe they are looking for a book to distract themselves from a long road trip.  However, in my family, audio books are an everyday treat.

It is really interesting to learn how audiobook recordings  are made.  First, the reader auditions for the voice(s).  Sometimes there is one reader doing all of the voices, and in other cases, there are separate readers for different characters or voices.  Once a reader is chosen, he or she records several takes of a few chapters at a time.  If there are sound effects, then the company will sometimes hire a semi-professional sound effects person from the movie business to make the sounds.  If a door is slamming, then the sound could be made from celery slapping against leather!  The last step is to add music.  The music can come from any music group.  (Music is typically heard at the beginning and end of the audio tapes.)  It can cost anywhere from $1,000 (for a small children’s book) up to $10,000 (for a larger book) to make an audio book.

I’ve been told that I’ve been listening to books on tape since I was strapped into a car-seat.  Some of my earliest memories of audiobooks include  “Junie B. Jones”; “The Magic Tree House”; “Skippy-jon Jones”; “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”; and “Ramona.”  Later we graduated to books like “Peter Pan”; “Poppy”; “The Doll House”; and “Harry Potter.”  One of my favorite voice actors is Jim Dale, the man who has recorded all seven books in the Harry Potter series.  In fact, he created and recorded 146 different character voices for one book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”  His British accent is amazing as well as his other unique voices.

In my opinion, the best strategy when concentrating on an audiobook is to stare off into space without taking anything in except hearing the words from the book.  If you like the actual feel of a book, you can read along with the CD.  However, if you’re a fast reader, you may find yourself accidently reading ahead if the audiobook narrator isn’t going quickly enough.

The best part of an audiobook is you can read your book on the go!  You can just insert the disk into the car and listen.  Or at home, while you are getting ready for bed, you can put the CD into a CD player and listen to your book as you are brushing your teeth.  If that’s not convenient,  you can go on eBooks or Kindle read (on an electronic device) and download the book and listen with ear buds.  If you haven’t experienced this way of reading, try it out and comment below.  If you are also an audiobook enthusiast, tell me your favorite book on tape, voice actor, and where you enjoy listening.

-Maya S., 6th grade

What Would Katniss Everdeen Read?

In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss’ life seems very busy. But in the times that she is not spending as the star of the books, what does she do with her extra time, other than hunting, of course? Here are a few books that might catch Katniss’ attention.

giver_cover1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Giver is about a young boy named Jonas, who becomes trained by the elderly Giver, to eventually learn about the world outside of the controlled dystopian society. Katniss would enjoy this book because she could relate to Jonas’s frustration that there was no possible escape from the dystopian society. She would also relate to Jonas when he was learning about emotions and color, since before she went on her Victory Tour, she knew nothing about the other districts. However, both characters then developed a deeper understanding about the world around them because of their unique experiences.

2. The Maximum Ride Series, by James Patterson
The Maximum Ride series is about genetically modified ‘bird-kids’ who are trying to protect each other from several wolf-human mutations, not to mention the lab which created them. Katniss would enjoy this book because Max, the main character in this series, is a lot like Katniss in that they both care about their family and others to extreme measures. Max treats the other ‘bird-kids’ that live with her as family, even though they are not the slightest bit related. Likewise, Katniss makes the ultimate sacrifices for her sister, Prim, as well as her ally in her first Games, Rue.

3. My Brother Sam is Dead, by Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier
My Brother Sam is Dead is about a boy whose older brother goes to fight in the Revolutionary War. Being the younger brother, he always looked up to and wanted to do everything his brother did, always believing that it was special or fun. In this book, he wanted desperately to fight in the war. Katniss felt this way when she was being filmed during the war against the Capitol, which caused her leave safety of her protectors and cameramen and fight on the front line with Gale.

Now you’ve heard what I think Katniss would read in her spare time, what do you think? Are there any other titles you can see Katniss pulling off the shelves to read? What do you think she would read in the solitude of the woods on a peaceful afternoon? Let me know in the comments section below.

– Leila S., 8th grade

Book Review: Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier

peter_nimble_coverPeter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is probably my favorite book that is not part of any kind of series. In it, a young blind boy named Peter Nimble, after a misremembered nursery rhyme, embarks on a magical journey to save the world after meeting the Haberdasher and stealing a box full of what feels like eyes. Along his way, he ends up in the Just Deserts, meets Sir Tode, and helps save HazelPort from the clutches of the evil Lord Incarnadine and his army of apes.

All in all, I really love this book and have reread it over and over again. This book is filled with just so many things that make you want to smile and laugh. I would consider it to be of the action-adventure and fantasy genres, and is appropriate for people of all ages, though geared more towards kids in 4th-7th grade.

There are a lot of events throughout the story that will make you think about what is going on. Also, it is one of those books that has a thief as the hero in the end, and for some reason, that small factor makes it all the more enjoyable. I would highly recommend this fantastic book to anyone, and I would give it the five stars that it truly deserves.

-Linna C., 7th grade

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

13_reasons_whyTo follow the style of the original book, this review will be divided and counted.

Thirteen Reasons Why follows the story of Clay Jensen, an ordinary high school student, unwillingly tied up with the recent suicide of his classmate, and first crush Hannah Baker. After her death her “tapes” (listing the thirteen reasons why she decided to commit suicide) are distributed and mailed around to the thirteen people who are mentioned in the tapes. Jensen, as one of the recipients of the tapes, spends the evening listening to them- retracing Hannah’s steps throughout the town…eventually learning more about the girl who slipped away, out of his life.

Overall I had many, many problems with this book. There were a few positives, but the way the author addressed the serious topic of suicide and depression disturbed me and left me unnerved. Here are my own eight reasons why…

Negative aspects of this work:

1. Hannah Baker holds a very shallowly based argument for suicide.

A majority of the reasons for her suicide are connected to her romantic interactions with other males in the town, or her own reputation at stake. Although it is irrefutable that suicide/and or depression could be triggered by anything, societal problems being one of them, the story portrayed by the author struck me as if it was written by someone who had no idea of the weight of the topic they were discussing.

2. There was too much focus on males within the story.

Let me explain a little more, the males within the story were portrayed as the main instigators of most of Baker’s reasons for suicide. All of them also connected to her because of some romantic, or sexual exploitation turned rumor. Perhaps the author was trying to hint at the fact that males should be more aware of their actions towards others and how it affects them, but I still saw it as a sometimes anti-male tirade.

3. Some parts of the novel were incredibly unrealistic.

Much like the first point I made, other details in the story showed up as questionable. One of those is that Baker’s parents are never mentioned as being a source of help for her within the duration of the narrative. And what about the fact that the whole new town that she moved into seems so messed up, and against her? The fact that she seems unable to make new friends despite how charismatic and kind she is. This book definitely had a few plot holes, and things left unexplained- which did not help with the overall narration style taking place.

4. Uninspired story

Overall, you can tell that the author probably has had no personal experience with suicide or depression- as it shows through the work itself. And according to the author, it was inspired by audio tours that people take at museums, seeing artifacts, and listening to the story in place- not exactly the inspiration you would think would be needed to portray such a serious topic.

Don’t worry though…there are some positive aspects:

1. The author does a very good job of highlighting the idea that “it’s all a matter of perspective.”

No matter how trivial something may seem to you-that same thing, or action or thought may mean something entirely different for someone else based off of their own life experiences. Basically you don’t know the back story, so don’t be so quick to judge.

2. There is a very good portrayal of the ripple effect.

The author did a wonderful job in explaining and showing how one action may unwittingly set off a whole chain of events following, despite the connections being almost unseen to the people experiencing it.

3. There is very good characterization of the main person Clay Jensen.

The author did an incredibly realistic illustration of how he was reacting to the tapes. His immediate train of thought as he was visiting the places mentioned within the tapes. As the tapes explain back stories to people that he was completely unaware of. All of his reactions were incredibly relatable, and maybe even something I would do within his situation, allowing me to extend more empathy to his character. His emotion and anxiety was palatable, something completely tangible that you could almost feel as you were reading along.

4. There is a very good sense of “what if.”

The entirety of the story leaves you thinking about “what if.” And in turn makes you reflect about your own life and the “what ifs” present there.

Overall, the book’s negative aspects outweighed the positive for me, but it came as an easy read, with parts that left me with little bits of (sometimes shallow) introspection to mull over. Perhaps read it with these bits of commentary in mind, but don’t take it too seriously- after all, the author didn’t seem to take such controversial topics that way either.

-Sophia U., 11th grade