The Wonders of Auggie

Wonder_Cover_Art Wonder was recommended to me by a young friend who really enjoyed it and thought I might too. Being the highly intuitive young man that he is, I knew better than to doubt him and downloaded it immediately. Wonder is the story of August, a ten-year-old boy who has been home-schooled his whole life. It’s not like he doesn’t have friends, or is behind intellectually, but still his parents have decided it’s time to go to school. Begin with all the other new kids entering middle school in grade 5. August is adamant about not going. You see, August has what he calls mandibulofacial dysostosis, which, as I read the description, sounded a lot like Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare condition characterized by severe facial deformity. Really he’s just an ordinary ten-year-old but few tend to work their way past the surface to find that out. Auggie’s used to the glances, the second looks, the looking away when people don’t know what to say. Middle school is hard enough as it is without looking different. After meeting the principal and touring the school, Auggie decides to go, beginning a journey that is both touching and inspiring.

What I loved most about this book is that it’s told from a variety of viewpoints. The first section is from Auggie’s point of view, then the same incidents are reviewed and the story is continued from his sister’s point of view. We then hear the story of Auggie’s journey through the first year of middle school from a continuing succession of his classmates and even his sister’s boyfriend, before returning to Auggie. The reader views the same incident from two or three view points, an invaluable lesson for many children as they learn to think outside of themselves.  Also, the author never loses sight of the characters’ voice. I could see and hear these children telling their story; the slang was right, the vocabulary was right, and the actions and uncertainties rang true.

Wonder is a exceptional story from start to finish. One of the most valuable lessons we can pass on to the next generation is to see through another’s eyes; feel what another is feeling and try to understand the reasons for another’s actions and reactions.

Not only does Wonder make us think, and hopefully make our children think, it’s also an enjoyable read. Never did I feel as if I was being preached at, which is what put it over the top for me because, trust me, kids know when they are being preached at.

Ages: 8-12              Rating: 5 stars

 

New Feature

As the new school year approaches and I prepare to return to my classroom, I am madly updating my student reading lists and recommendations.  I love to read YA and children’s fiction but even moreso I love to find that book that makes my students’ eyes light up with excitement when they talk about it.  And finding that book that connects with a reluctant reader?  Nothing like it.

My students love to share their favourites with me also, so starting Monday I will be passing on my finds and reviewing books with a focus on the classroom and specific age groups.

I’m also looking for new books to share with my students, so all you parents and teachers out there, send me your favourites.  Any genre, recent or classic, with a note about why you love it.

Ready Player One

ready-player-one-book-cover-389x600So, definitely not a book from my childhood as I read it only five years ago, but Ernest Cline’s fantastic dystopian novel contains so much 80’s nostalgia that I felt it deserved it’s own special post.

I have no idea how I heard of the novel as it is a debut, thus it can’t be that I’d read other works by the author. I also bought it in hardback so I must have really wanted to read it. I finished it and immediately read it again, right after buying copies for my pop culture loving friends and family (those my age especially). What makes the book so wonderful is that you don’t have to get all the allusions to 80’s pop culture to understand the story. In fact, I added the novel as an independent study for my grade 10 students, and they have thoroughly enjoyed it also. For us children of the 80’s, the pop culture references are a delight as you can’t help but get a little thrill each time you recognize one. I remembered vividly the scene from War Games and the swallows from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joust also features prominently and I couldn’t help but remember flying that friggin’ ostrich around with a joystick.  If you’re interested, the wonderful educational site, Schmoop, catalogues them all for us here.

Cline has created a vivid world and an underdog hero you can’t help but root for. The story is set in 2044 and the world has succumbed to decay and an environmental crisis. A la the Matrix, citizens escape into a more welcoming and idealized world in the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by James Halliday, an eccentric billionaire and 80’s pop culture fan. In his will, Halliday leaves his vast fortune to the first person to discover the Easter Egg he has hidden in the OASIS. Millions set out to find it but as the years go by with no progress, only the most devoted remain determined in their search.

Our hero, Wade, is an 18 year old orphan when we meet him, and he has devoted his entire life to searching for the Easter Egg, just have many others including a well-organized and well-funded conglomerate which is determined to find it before anyone else. When Wade is the first player to find the copper key (after beating the game of Joust), he becomes a target as all set out to beat him to the end.

As leery as I am about film adaptations especially of a novel I love, I can’t think of a more perfect person to take on the film version than Steven Spielberg, himself an 80’s geek. Cline is also the screenwriter so I’m feeling pretty good about this one, despite a niggling feeling it will be CGI and action heavy. Those lucky enough to attend the panel at Comic Con this past week were given a first look at the film which premiers March 30th. This will be one I see opening weekend.

I Love a Book That Keeps Me Up All Night

skinWell, I was hoping to finish The Arc Trilogy by Jesse Daro before writing about it, but I’m still only half way through part 3, and I wanted to get something out before I left on holiday, so here we are.

The Trilogy was recommended to me on Good Reads, and after failing to find it on Kobo, I headed over to Amazon where I had success. Not ideal, as it meant I had to read on the iPad but small sacrifices. Now, a heads up before you go any further; it’s a young adult series, so if that’s not your thing, no need to read any further. Personally I enjoy reading young adult as the stories are usually fast-paced, plus I love to know what my students are reading and I love to find books to recommend to them.

So, Book 1 of the trilogy (Skins) sucked me in immediately probably because it opened with “The bullet struck Naomi from behind, spraying blood onto the chipped blue-and-white tiles above the kitchen sink, thickest at the center and spackling upward in a thinning arc, like a Jackson Pollock painting”. Nothing like starting with a bang (sorry…). The story continues as it begins, and I was up far to late. But hey, it’s summer break so who cares.

The story is an easy read without being juvenile, and the world-building is vivid. The main character, Seth is well-developed and proves to be an entertaining narrator. He also happens to be a Werekin, a warrior descendant of an alien race who can transform at will into a jaguar. I know, I know stop rolling your eyes. Warriors, alien races, fighting animals, all over done yes, yes. Somehow, I wasn’t thinking that as I read it. Probably because of Seth. He’s such a genuine character. Actually, he reminded me of Syd in Alex London’s Proxy (go, read, right now). Independent, quick-witted, observant and completely sympathetic.

On the run his whole life, Seth has just lost the closest thing he has to a mother (the above-mentioned Naomi of the splattering brain), whose dying words send him to his natural mother. Once there, Seth realizes he’s out of options and has no choice but to stay with “mom” and her new family. Meanwhile it’s getting more and more difficult to keep his secret as he starts high school, meets the boy next door and realizes no one is to be trusted. Add in an I-want-to-take-over-the-world despot and a growing resistance and you’ll find yourself wondering what can possibly happen next.

Each character is fully developed and we are never told what they are like, we are shown (a basic but often over-looked necessity of a good story). I quickly grew to care about them and never found myself skipping or skimming as has been a practice of mine lately (due to some of the drivel I’ve been subjecting myself to).

Eventhough I didn’t devour Parts 2 (Blood) and 3 (Bone) as quickly as I did Part 1, they are equally as entertaining, and I’m quite anxious to see how everything turns out. Everyone better survive!!