Monday, June 11, 2012


 Wow!  Another incredible book by Neal Shusterman!  A chilling look at the pro-life/pro-choice argument.  After fighting The Heartland War, a truce is finally reached.  Life is mandatory from the moment of conception until thirteen.  Once you reach thirteen, your parents can have you "unwound" and donate every part of you to someone else.  That way, you never truly die; you just live on through the donors.
     Unwind is the story of several teens who are scheduled to be unwound for very different reasons.  Together, they may have a chance to survive.
     This book was chilling, intense, and made me think.  What would happen to all the unwanted babies who become unwanted teens?  When do you have a soul - conception, birth, the moment you are loved?    Do our cells have memory?  How does it feel to live a life no one else feels is worth living?  Can we redeeem ourselves and make up for our past mistakes, or are some mistakes too big to erase?
     An awesome science fiction book with a great story and a warning about where we may be headed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dad, Jackie, and Me

     Jackie Robinson is one of my heroes, so I was thrilled to discover someone had left me this book as a gift the last day of school.
     This picture book packs an emotional wallop.  The boy in the story loves baseball, especially The Brooklyn Dodgers.  His dad takes him to opening day, 1947, to see Jackie Robinson.  The dad shouts "Ah-ghee, Ah-ghee" every time Jackie is up to bat.  Being deaf, he isn't aware that he is mispronouncing Jackie's name, but his son is embarrassed when the other fans begin to stare.
     The boy teaches his dad how to play baseball.  He throws the ball to his dad every night, but his dad is never able to catch it.  He never learned to play sports at the deaf school he attended.
     They go to every home game that season together.  When Jackie catches the last ball of the season, he throws it to the boy's dad, who catches the first ball of his life.  When he hands it to his son, Jackie smiles.
     Myron Uhlberg based this book on his deaf father, and his author's note at the end is very emotional.
     I really liked this picture  book a lot.  The theme of overcoming adversity is woven through Jackie's story and the father's story without being heavy handed.
     This book is a wonderful addition for a classroom because of its length, the focus on diversity, adversity, and the love between a father and son.  It has won two awards - The Teachers' Choices from the International Reading Association Project and the Schneider Family Book Award.  I recommend it for upper elementary students.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Van Gogh Cafe

    The Van Gogh Cafe is the story of a magical cafe.  It is not magical in the traditional sense, but the cafe's magic changes lives.
     The cafe was once a theater - which is where the magic begins.  "Some say magic comes from heaven, and others say it comes from hell, but anyone who has ever visited the Van Gogh Cafe knows that magic comes from a building that was once a theater..."
     Each chapter shares a new person or animal who experiences the magic of making a difference for the other people and animals in the book.  Once the magic has impacted others, the animal or person moves on to other places, while the ones impacted by the magic impact new characters.
     I loved the cause and effect idea and the connections between the various people and animals in the book.  Ten-year-old Clara and her father run the cafe and watch the magic unfold each day.  They tie the people and magic together.
     This is a very short book at 53 pages.  It is a great read aloud book.  


     Juice by Eric Walters is a short book about a new football coach who encourages his players to take steroids.
     The topic is relevant and the page count is great for reluctant readers, especially boys.  However, the 3rd person narrator keeps the story at arm's length, so it is hard to relate to Moose - the boy faced with the dilemma to take steroids.
     The other problem is the narrator tells us a lot of things that happen, but we don't see them happen, so it is hard to forget you are reading a book or connect with the characters.
     I recommend the book for reluctant teens, especially boys who play football or are interested in the topic of using steroids in sports.  

Have a Little Faith

    This book fell into my life a few years ago, but I apparently wasn't ready to have faith because it kept falling further down in the pile of unread books.  Suddenly it reappeared at the top and I picked it up again thinking, "I could use a little faith."  A coincidence that fell into place at just the right time.
     I often love Mitch Albom, but sometimes I feel like he takes the easy way out by minimizing the difficult questions he starts to ask.  This was one of those kinds of Mitch Albom books for me, but there were still golden nuggets of truth that made me think in a new way.
     Have a Little Faith is Mitch's first nonfiction book since writing Tuesdays with Morrie.  When the book begins, 82 year-old Rabbi Albert Lewis asks Mitch to give his eulogy.  Mitch agrees on the condition that he get to know the "Reb" as a man, rather than rely on his childhood memories.  Although Mitch left the Jewish faith years ago, he is intrigued with discovering the foundation of the Rabbi's faith.  The Reb is bigger than life for Mitch.  He is all that is good with the world.
     His foil is Pastor Henry Covington.  This man is a former convict, drug dealer, and recovering addict.  He now preaches to the homeless people living in the church.  Mitch has every reason to not have faith in the pastor's intentions.
     Though the men are opposites in all the least important ways, they never vary from their faith in something bigger than themselves.  Through their life lessons, sermons, and actions, Mitch learns to have faith again.
     Although the story seemed contrived and forced in parts, I truly liked the Rabbi and the Reverend.  These men had great lessons to teach.  I wish Mitch would have let their words speak for themselves rather than trying to convince me of their profoundness.
     One line that struck me the most was a line by Rabbi Lewis.  After being treated poorly by a doctor because of his religion, Rabbi Lewis made s condolence call when he learned the doctor's brother died.  When Mitch asked why, the Rabbi replied, "In this job, you don't retaliate."  I loved this view of life and the flawed humans that live here.  What a wonderful way to see everything in our lives.  In this job, family, marriage, religion, country...we don't retaliate.  What a world we would live in.
     When a Catholic priest became enraged over a parking situation and spat out, "They didn't exterminate enough of you," the Rabbi manages to walk arm in arm with the priest around the playground of the Catholic school during recess.  Because of his ability to forgive the man, the people in both congregations grew to accept and understand one another.  No one would have blamed the rabbi for being bitter and angry, but  instead he used the moment to teach an unforgettable lesson of forgiveness and love to everyone else.
     Another life-changing moment for me came from Mitch.
 I used to think I knew everything.  I was a "smart person" who "got things done," and because of that, the higher I climbed, the more I could look down and scoff at what seemed silly or simple even religion.  But I realized something as I drove home that night; that I am neither better nor smarter, only luckier.  And I should be ashamed of thinking I knew everything, because you can know the whole world and still feel lost in it.  So many people are in pain - no matter how smart or accomplished - they cry, they yearn, they hurt.  But instead of looking down on things, they look up, which is where I should have been looking, too.  Because when the world quiets to the sound of your own breathing, we all want the same things: comfort, love, and a peaceful heart.
     I have many flaws, one is thinking too highly of myself.  I need to be continually reminded that I am not better or smarter, only luckier.      

Friday, June 1, 2012


     First, you should know I love Neal Shusterman.  Second, I usually hate sequels and trilogies.  Third, I hate the second book, Everwild.
     I also have a strange obsession with rereading all of the books in the series before I read the new book so I can truly appreciate the nuances in the new book.  Since it is a school library book, and the end of the year, I reread the series quickly.  Everlost is one of my all time favorite books.  Everwild is the only Neal Shusterman book I do not like.
     When Everfound starts, Nick is still a puddle of chocolate, Mary is encased in a glass coffin like Snow White, and Milos is trying to kill as many children as possible to fulfill Mary's evil plan.  In her own, twisted way, she truly believes she is saving the children from a fate worse than Everlost - death.
     Unfortunately, Milos is not Mary.  He is not charismatic or protective or reassuring.  He is not enough of anything. The kids desert him quickly.  Milos resolves to kill more children to replace them.  He must prove his love to Mary when she awakes by ensuring her kingdom.  Luckily Mikey, Jix, Nick, and Allie are there to do what they can to stop Milos and Mary from destroying the living world.
     I liked the book, but I didn't love it.  I missed the characters I fell in love with in Everlost.  Like the living children in my life, they grew up and moved on, even after death.
     One of my favorite parts of the book is seeing Nick begin to resemble a boy when he remembers the love he shares with Mary.  Love can change even the most horrific aspects of ourselves into the most human.  Love can conquer all.
     My favorite character in the book is a jukebox machine called Wurlitzer.  If you feed it the coin you died with, it plays you a song, but the lyrics seal your fate.  Like the fortune cookies in Everlost, this idea of fate vs. coincidence complicates the story line and makes me think in a new way.  How much of what we dismiss as coincidences are actually messages to ourselves about the lives we are living?  Are these markers left to remind us of the path we should choose or are they only our mind's need to find meaning in the chaos?
      This book and the series make me think.  What is life?  What is a soul? Can your belief in something, even if that belief is wrong, be strong enough to kill you?  What fates are worse than death?  Is killing an evil person justified or is it still murder?
     It is definitely worth the read, although it is too long for reluctant readers at 500 pages.  If you love Everlost or Neal Shusterman, you will like this book.  Note - You cannot read it without having read the other books in the series first.