Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Special Edition)

wonder_rjpalacioInspiration comes from everyday things. Imagine walking into a restaurant and having everybody look at you with a horrified expression. You turn around, and expect to see something terrifying . . . and then you realize that they’re looking at you. Now what if this happens every time you meet someone new? Each and every time a stranger sees your face. Each and every single time, until they get used to you.

This is what it’s like for 10-year-old Auggie Pullman. Born with severe facial differences, he’s had to live his whole life like that. So he’s gotten sort of used to it, or so he thought. Twenty strangers in a grocery store now seems like a grain of sand when Auggie’s parents tell him he’s been enrolled into an actual school for the first time. (Because of his many surgeries, Auggie had been homeschooled until now). An actual school, with actual hundreds of kids, who are worse at hiding their reactions than adults are, named Beecher Prep.

I’d be less than honest if I said this book didn’t change my point of view on people who are different from me. Even though the main characters are younger than me, this book really opened my eyes. Even my mom thought it should be required reading. It doesn’t matter who you are, we can all learn something life changing from this book. Even from the bully. Which brings me to . . .

What’s the special edition? Well, Wonder was originally written in six different points of view, but due to curiosity from the fans, the author wrote a bonus chapter, written from Julian’s (the book’s antagonist) view. The bonus chapter is actually 100 additional pages, and consists of more than one chapter, but all the same, it adds more to the primary theme of empathy – understanding those who are different, whether on the outside or inside. Empathy is necessary for each of us to grow as human beings.

This book is great for all ages because it shares so many typical events that touch our lives, from losing best friends to starting over fresh, to embracing your differences, to standing up for what you believe in. The greatest (in size and in goodness) takeaway from this book is to always choose kind. It’s a wonder that this is not always the automatic choice.

-Danielle L., 7th Grade

Wonder (Standard Edition) is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library, Overdrive, and Axis360.

Book Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

running_dreamThe Running Dream is a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. It follows the story of a high school girl named Jessica who loses one of her legs in a school bus accident. This would be a tough experience for anyone…but Jessica is on the track team. She doesn’t just love to run – she considers running just as important as breathing! This book takes us through Jessica’s emotions, her mental and physical challenges, and her extraordinary journey to her “new normal” life.

I’m not a runner. In fact, I am more of a creative mind than a physical one. I wasn’t sure I could fully get into this book, but I could, and it was an awakening experience. Not only did it make me eager to experience the feeling of running so adeptly described by the author who is a runner herself, but I learned so much about life and its challenges.

There are just so many life lessons that The Running Dream takes the reader through. It is a worthwhile read for anyone, of any age. Empathy, compassion, and respect shine through as the reader learns that humanity shines through when understanding others.

(This book does not carry any inappropriate content and really is suitable for any age. It also has been awarded the Schneider Family Book Award; “it honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”)

-Danielle L., 7th grade

Book vs. Movie: The Giver

giver_bookvmovieThe Giver is an award-winning book written by Lois Lowry about a futuristic dystopian community of “Sameness.” The book was written in 1993 – before the teen dystopian literature era took off so I guess you could say it was before its time in two ways!

Because most middle-schoolers end up reading The Giver as part of their curriculum, I don’t want to go into the novel or movie details. However, I will share that the novel was originally written by Ms. Lowry as a result of realizing her father was losing his memory. This sad, negative situation was developed into imagining a society that had lost its memory; that is, it had no past. Eliminating a “history” means that many ingredients making up that “history” must also be eliminated. The protagonist in The Giver is Jonas, an 11-year old who lives in this resulting community known as “Sameness,” a seemingly utopian society where everything is the same and everything is equal. Jonas, through a developing uniqueness, is able to see past this “sameness” and perceived utopia.

After 18-19 long years of hoping and trying to bring the novel to the big screen, Jeff Bridges, who plays The Giver in the movie, successfully premiered the movie on August 11th and opened it nationwide on August 15th. I have seen it twice: I attended a special showing on premiere night and then saw a regular showing about a week later. I had been anticipating the release of this movie since last August when I first learned that Taylor Swift was going to play a small, but important character role of “Rosemary.”   As a Swiftie and a lover of Lois Lowry’s Giver Quartet (of which The Giver is the first novel), my excitement was barely containable!

So because I saw the movie twice within one week, you probably think I LOVED the movie the first time and went back to enjoy it a second time. Not exactly . . .

I was actually disappointed when I saw The Giver movie the first time. I thought the beginning was very rushed. I was annoyed by the changes made in the movie. I sort of expected the movie to be a bit more accurate because I had read they kept writing, discarding, and rewriting the screenplay in those 18 or so years. And I was extremely “let down” that the anticipation of the movie was over.

When I saw it the second time, I went into it expecting to be disappointed again. (I had promised my friend to see it with her.) Surprisingly, I found I liked the movie this time. I really did!! So what changed?

Yes, compared to the book, the beginning is rushed. But you can’t fit a 200+ page book into a two-hour movie. So, I guess I’m okay with that. The “rushed beginning” still set the stage for the movie which was what it needed to do.

As for the changes in the screenplay . . .all the people involved, including Lois Lowry, agreed that the movie stayed true to the book’s storyline. So who am I to get upset with the changes? Yes, the movie is different than the book.   But that’s not necessarily a bad or negative thing.

And as for being “let down” . . . I left the movie the second time feeling more satisfied, happier, seeing the positives more, and appreciating the movie for its differences. I actually LIKE the movie and hope that the other Lois Lowry books in The Giver Quartet also find their way to the big screen!

-Danielle L., 7th grade

Role-Play: An Interactive Form of Creative Writing

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

It’s time to take a break from my normal book reviews and introduce the world to a fantastic hobby of mine: role-play (RP for short).

What’s role-play you ask? Well role-play is basically creative writing with a friend. It can be done face to face, or over e-mail or text or social networks or even phone calls. It’s a great hobby that helps expand your territory of creative writing that can be done really anytime and anywhere.

I figured it’s just be easier to give you step by step instructions for role-play and explain it along the way also. So here we go!

  1. Find someone to do it with. Role-playing is typically done with two or more people, since doing it by yourself isn’t as much fun, and is more just creative writing than actually role-play.
  2. Choose your characters and settings. The great thing about role-play is that you can do so many things with the characters and settings. You can choose characters and settings that already exist from TV shows, books, movies, etc. or you can make up your own character/setting! Or, my personal favorite, combine the two! You can be a character created by someone else, and your friend can be her/his own character, and vice versa. You can combine things from your brain and things from somebody else’s brain into one great story. There’s great exercise for your creative writing in all alternatives. By playing a ready-made character, you get to think of things that character would do in situations that never happened in their original story. When writing your own story, you typically change something. It helps by thinking of things that character would do that he/she was not originally intended to do.
  3. Create a story. With role-play, you can’t plan out the whole story. You just can’t. However, you can plan the main base of it. Either you or your fellow role-player (or both) write a paragraph setting the scene, vague plot, and tone of the story you are about to role-play. It’s like a first paragraph of a chapter. There are endless possibilities with this one.
  4. Role-play. Once the first paragraph is written by someone, a different person continues. When writing role-play, don’t write for somebody else’s character. Just write your character’s thoughts, what your character says, what your character is doing, etc. You can carry on the story however you want, as long as you are controlling only your character and things that are inanimate or parts that aren’t assigned to anybody. Once you’ve written your part (try not to make it too long or too short, but it doesn’t matter much if the person you’re role-playing with doesn’t mind), the person/people you’re role-playing with continues the story, and it goes back and forth. Since you don’t have control over the entire story, it’s a great exercise for creative writers or people who wish there was more to a book/TV show/movie/etc. If you’re doing it live with somebody, it’s great for thinking on your feet, and practicing improv and/or acting.
  5. Make it your own. When it comes to role-play, there aren’t many official rules. Just have fun, and customize it to your own! Try making characters you use reccurringly! It’s lots of fun, I promise!

So get out there, and have fun! If you have any questions, comment them and I’ll answer. Happy role-playing!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: From Lightning to the Light, by Dennis Koranek

lightning_lightFrom Lightning to the Light by Dennis Koranek is a very different type of book. I have never read anything like it before. Whether it’s a good different or bad different I have yet to decide. This is probably why it took me an unusually long time to read. But persevere I did, and I’m glad because the book is unique.

This book starts out with a professor getting hit by lightning, suffering temporary amnesia and ending up with a lightning-fast brain (get it?). Physically, his body no longer requires sleep, but otherwise, he is normal. He now spends his days and nights inventing interactive machines that help humanity. The chapters fly by as the words are written as if you’re in his fast-paced mind.

The story evolves quickly and soon introduces his “superhero” daughter, with each following chapter involving a new mission for her to complete.

Being a Spider-Man fan, I appreciate the superhero aspect of this novel. However, I think it would have been more engaging if it was slowed down a bit and involved more human details. I would have enjoyed getting personally closer to the characters. I did appreciate the unusualness of this novel in that all “gifts” were consistently credited to God, not man. There was no ego involved, and these “super humans” were God’s instruments. The novel ends with time travel, tying the previous chapters together but leaving a lot of room for character development in future books or even a TV series.

This book will satisfy all of us sci-fi fans out there while still keeping a focus on God, not man, as the ultimate Creator.

I would like to point out that this book is a work of fiction. It is very extraordinary and unique in the sense that this combines the Bible (non-fiction) and fiction together. However, for me personally, this makes me uncomfortable as I don’t know if this “merging” trivializes the Bible. But please, as this is my own personal opinion, give this book a go if it interests you! There aren’t too many like this one out there!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book vs. Movie: Heaven is For Real

heaven_real_bookvsmovieHeaven is For Real is a book written in 2010 about a little boy named Colton Burpo by his father Todd Burpo. When Colton was almost 4 years old, he became very sick with appendicitis – and almost died. However, he didn’t. All his doctors and nurses thought this was a miracle in itself because he was that sick. Even more miraculous, Colton later told his parents that he went to Heaven during his surgery. That’s right. Colton went to Heaven!

Now one’s reaction at first would be “What? No way! Impossible!” and then be flooded with questions that they just have to ask. Even though Colton’s dad is a pastor, he too felt this way. Mr. Burpo’s book takes you through the impossible yet true journey of his little boy’s experiences as told by Colton to him. It really is extraordinary, and the book itself is definitely worth a read. Especially since it’s a true story about Heaven – a topic many of us wonder about and not many people know much about.

Now recently, the movie based on the book came out. It’s never expected that a book-to-movie-adaption will be exactly the same as the original book (even the Director’s Cut, which is what I saw). But I did love this movie, and it stayed very close to the book! I suggest watching the movie first, as it’s a type of movie that leaves you wanting more, and the book is the perfect solution for that as the book goes into much more detail!

As for the movie itself, I think it’s really good! It seems harder to believe though versus reading the book. Also, some of the special effects are a little cheesy and made the experience harder to believe. The movie makers changed/unincluded some significant things from the book which I think that if they would’ve kept those things the way it had actually happened, it might’ve been more emotional.

I definitely recommend the book over the movie. It comes straight from Colton’s dad, and everything in it is true. But I’m not ruling out the movie, it was very good as well!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Books and Movies: Watch or Read First?

read_or_watchHave you ever wondered which is better: Read the book and then watch the movie, or watch the movie and then read the book? If you ask your friends, chances are everybody will have a different opinion… unless you have friends like my sister, who would rather just watch the movie and not read the book at all.

When comparing a movie to a book, you notice all of the differences. Considering most movies are about two hours in length, and it usually takes longer than two hours to read a book, I don’t think this is fair. Rather than trying to pick one over the other, I think it’s better to appreciate both of them for their differences. Watching the movie before reading the book that it was based on gives you the opportunity to get interested in reading the book.

Another benefit of watching the movie first is that you can be captivated by the movie without having anything spoiled for you. However, when you read the book first, you can imagine the characters and scenes in your head because you don’t have somebody else interrupting it for you.

An alternative is the movie-book sandwich. You watch the movie, read the book, and then watch the movie again. This works because you can still be captivated by the movie and captivated by the book (because the book usually has more detail and differences), and when you watch the movie again you notice more subtleties and feel more adept. I recently did this with Johnny Tremain.

johnny_tremainJohnny Tremain is a historical fiction novel written by Esther Forbes who was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1944. Ms. Forbes’ inspiration to write this novel was to help remind war-torn America during World War II about the principles of freedom that America was first founded on. Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. The fictional character of Johnny Tremain interacts with key people and events of the American Revolutionary War. Ms. Forbes’ message of “so every man can stand up,” is beautifully communicated in her novel.

I watched this movie, read the book, and watched it again. The first time I watched the movie adaption, I thought it was a pretty good movie. The second time I watched it, I noticed some differences. Lots of characters were not included, a song was added, there was a plot change (Johnny does fight with Rab in the movie but not in the book), and a horse (which was a sort of main character) looked very different than its description in the book…But the biggest difference I noticed between the book and the movie is that the movie seems to be the book sped up. You could tell very much so that this movie was based on this book. However, lots of characters and details were left out and/or changed, probably to make the movie adaption shorter.

Overall, the book was very good and educational while still being exciting and entertaining. The movie stuck pretty well to the book, with a bit of Disney added to it, of course. I recommend the book to ages 11 and up, whilst I recommend the movie to ages 8 and up. If you choose to read/watch Johnny Tremain, I hope you enjoy it! (And be sure not to miss the special features on the classic Disney DVD.) Learning can be so fun!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Never Give Up: An Interview with Author Christina Baker Kline

kline“Never give up” is what Christina Baker Kline advises those of us who are aspiring writers. “[And] to be sure to also have a [backup] skill, doing something that you really like . . . Before I could make a living as a writer I also knew that I could be an editor or a teacher… [Writing a book] takes a long time and you aren’t earning that much money from your writing so you need something else to do that you really like. So for me that’s editing and teaching. For me those things are also a very nice complement to writing because it involves both.”

As a guest of Mission Viejo Library, Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, came to speak at the Council Chamber last month.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person and attending her interesting historic presentation on orphan trains.  Although Orphan Train cannot be classified as historical fiction because the story switches back and forth from the present to the past, Mrs. Kline says her novel is factually accurate except for one small detail:  A horticulturist informed the novelist that there is no such thing as a pink crocus!

orphan_trainFor those who may not be aware, orphan trains were part of American history from 1854 through 1929 and affected as many as 200,000 to 250,000 children.  Because these orphan train riders often thought they were “the only ones” and because they felt ashamed of their past, they just didn’t talk about this part of their lives.  Even Mrs. Kline’s husband didn’t know his own grandfather had been one of these orphan train riders!  But now as more and more families are doing genealogy studies, this history is coming out.  Soon, we will all come to know about this important part of our country’s history.

Much like her book subject, Mrs. Kline is a very interesting person.  Born in Cambridge, England, she moved to America in her youth, living in the South and on the East Coast.  She obtained her BA in English at Yale, her MA in Literature at Cambridge University, and her MFA at the University of Virginia!  Mrs. Kline has worked as a personal chef, caterer, an editor, a published author of nonfiction and fiction, and a university teacher.  Along the way, she met and married David Kline and together, they are raising their three boys. Amazingly, Mrs. Kline apologized for not having her hair styled for the presentation because she had been climbing up to the Hollywood sign that morning!

As you can see, Mrs. Kline is a very accomplished woman. I can’t wait to read her book Orphan Train!  (Please be advised that Christina Baker Kline cautions young readers about page 150 as it contains mature content.)

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

gathering_blue_coverIf you’re in middle school, you’ve probably already read or are going to read The Giver, a John Newbery Medal award winning science fiction novel by Lois Lowry. I decided not to do a book review on it so in case you haven’t read it yet, you won’t be dying to read it before you’ve been assigned it.

By the way, The Giver is being made into a movie and will be coming out around August this year. If you are a big Swiftie, like me, you’ll be excited to hear that Taylor Swift will be playing a character in the book named Rosemary.

The Giver is actually the first novel of a quartet by Lois Lowry.  The second, third, and fourth novels are Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son respectively.  (You don’t necessarily have to but it helps to read the books in order.)

This review will be on the second book, Gathering Blue.  A thought-provoking book, it took me longer than usual to read this one. A bit less exciting than The Giver, but nonetheless a wonderful book. It takes place in a dystopian future, where a girl named Kira is orphaned after her mother’s death. She was born with a bad leg in a harsh society that shuns imperfections. To her surprise, she is taken in by the Council of Guardians, given a comfortable room with food and indoor plumbing (which is a rare and generous thing in this era), and allowed to pursue her beautiful and amazing talent: embroidery. She trains with an old woman in how to make dyes, and is given the task of restoring the robe worn by the Singer once a year, when he sings the history of the world to the people of the village. Things are pretty good, but Kira comes to realize not everyone and everything is so true and kind…

I’m glad I didn’t give up on finishing this book; it was definitely worth the read! I can’t wait to start the third book in this quartet! I understand it ties the first two together!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Michael Hingson: Speaking With Vision

MHingson_Author Headshot

Michael Hingson, author of Thunder Dog

On November 20, 2013, I had the unexpected honor of meeting author Michael Hingson. I had recently read and reviewed his book, Thunder Dog, and within 24 hours of my review being posted on Teen Voice, Michael Hingson posted a comment!  I was thrilled!  In his comment, Mr. Hingson invited me (and my parents) to his upcoming presentation: Speaking With Vision at Irvine Valley College.

Even though he has been called a hero for surviving the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the World Trade Center through the partnership of his guide dog, Roselle, Mr. Hingson focused his speech on his life experiences before and after his terrifying ordeal.

Being completely blind, Mr. Hingson has challenges due to his physical inability to “see” with his eyes. True, this means he is forced to take a different approach to things designed for a sighted world. But this isn’t a disability to him.

Those of us who pre-judge and limit Mr. Hingson when we learn he is blind have the real disabilities. Much to the dismay of his well-meaning neighbors, Mr. Hingson grew up riding a normal two-wheel bicycle around town!  He did this without crashing into objects or running into people.  He rode his bike just like the other kids who were not blind.  How did he do it? Much like dolphins and bats, Mr. Hingson learned that our environment “sounds” different when you pass a solid object or open doorway and that distances can be determined by sound bouncing off objects. He has become an expert at echolocation.

He has also become an expert at determination and having a “can-do” attitude.  His philosophy on life first began by his parents who never believed or treated him as if he was disabled.  Rather than insisting he live in a “safe” environment, they just cautioned him to be careful. Mr. Hingson has never expected or welcomed special treatment.  But he has insisted that he have the same opportunities sighted people have.

Mr. Hingson and his parents don’t spend time worrying about what isn’t in their control (like being blind or being inside the WTC when the hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers). Instead, Mr. Hingson believes we should “focus on things you can [control].  The rest will take care of itself.”

He wholeheartedly believes that “We have to make the decision to use our tools to move forward and progress,” just like the one-word command he gives his guide dogs to signal when he is ready to go:  “Forward.”

During Mr. Hingson’s speech, it was hard to tell he was blind. If he wasn’t talking about his disability (though it’s not really a disability at all), I would’ve forgotten he was blind! This is just another way to show you that Mr. Hingson doesn’t let his blindness drive his life.

After his speech, Mr. Hingson gave me a pre-release copy of his new book aimed towards 8-year-olds and up, Running with Roselle. Running with Roselle is a children’s version of his New York Times bestseller, Thunder Dog.  I will be honored to read and review this book in an upcoming blog!

-Danielle L., 6th grade