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All The Broken Pieces

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Burg, A.E. (2009). All the broken pieces. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.Grades 7 and up. Matt was airlifted out of Vietnam when he was only 10 years old. Although he lives with loving adoptive parents in the United States, the Vietnam War still haunts him. He remembers his mother telling him he must leave; his younger brother being hit by a bomb, which causes him to lose his legs; and his father who is an American soldier who promises to return, but never does.Not only does Matt’s past trouble him, but also he is the target of resentment. A few kids on his baseball team despise him, because they believe that their family members who were U.S. soldiers died for Vietnamese people like him. These kids constantly call Matt racial slurs. All the Broken Pieces is told in free verse. It is an extremely powerful story about pain, guilt, and reconciliation. The stanzas are heartfelt, gut wrenching, and deeply moving. Matt’s inner conflict will definitely move readers. They will be touched by his desire to heal from his past and to find his true identify. This story also presents the Vietnam War from different perspectives: Vietnam War veterans, family members who lost loved ones, and the Vietnamese. I highly recommend this book for a middle school library.
Riot

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Myers, W.D. (2009). Riot. New York, NY: Egmont.Grades 7 and up. Walter Dean Myers’s Riot is based on the race riots that occurred in New York City in 1863. Lincoln signed the Conscription Act in March 1863. This Act stated that any male citizen between the ages of 20 to 45 years old must fight in the Civil War unless he can pay $300 or provide a substitute. This was an exorbitant amount for a poor Irish immigrant. Many Irish began to resent the rich, those who supported the war, and African Americans. They especially resented African Americans, because they felt that they were risking their lives for their competitors. (There was tension between the two groups, because they both competed for jobs in the north.) In response to the Conscription Act, the Irish murdered African Americans, looted buildings, and attacked the wealthy. Fifteen-year-old Claire Johnson is half-black and half-Irish. Claire is constantly taunted because of her race. She wishes that people would see her and not her skin color. Riot is an interesting play based on true facts. Myers does an excellent job showing the tension between the Irish and African Americans. He provides insight into Claire’s struggle as an Irish and African American. While the play is engaging, I did not like the ending because it left many aspects unresolved. What happens to Claire’s best friend Priscilla who is African American? Do the two groups ever reconcile? Despite the many unanswered questions, the play is still interesting. It touches upon themes of love, fear, reconciliation, and resiliency. It would make a great addition to a middle school library.
Gathering Blue

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Lowry, L. (2000). Gathering blue. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.When Kira was born with a twisted leg, members of the village wanted to take her away to the Fields. Her mother and father fought to keep her. Soon after, her father died supposedly while hunting, and her mother died four years ago because of an illness. Now as an orphan, Kira has no one to protect her.Vandara, a strong, fierce woman in the village, wants to banish Kira from the village. She claims that Kira is worthless, because she cannot contribute to the community. Kira cannot dig or plant crops; she is slow; and she eats a lot. They take their case to the Council of Guardians. The Council decides that Kira can stay, but on one condition: she must restore the sacred robe of the Singer. The Singer recounts the history of the community at The Gathering. Although Kira is allowed to remain in the village because of her new role as an embroiderer, she discovers that her community is a dystopia. Kira then has a choice: Should she stay and try to change the community? Or should she escape to another world that is more humane and compassionate?Gathering Blue is not a sequel to Lowry’s The Giver, but it makes a nice companion novel. Similar to The Giver, Gathering Blue deals with the theme of the individual versus the community. However, here is my warning: If you read The Giver, you might be somewhat disappointed with Gathering Blue. This book definitely lacks the intensity of The Giver. While there are some suspenseful moments, such as when the Council of Guardians decides Kira’s fate, the plot sometimes unfolds slowly. Kira’s character though is believable. She is both vulnerable, yet courageous. Kira is fearful when Vandara tries to kick her out of the community. Yet at the same time, she is strong because she fends for herself. Although Gathering Blue is not The Giver, I still recommend it for a middle school library. The book is interesting and thought provoking. Appropriate for upper elementary to middle school students.
Coraline

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Gaiman, N. (2002). Coraline. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.“A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only her skin was white as paper…and [eyes] were big black buttons” (p. 28). When Coraline decides to explore her grandmother’s drawing room in her parents’ new flat, she opens a door and finds that it leads down a dark corridor. Coraline then discovers a whole new world that oddly mirrors her life at home. At first, Coraline likes this new place. Her other parents seem excited to see her; the food is delectable; she has a huge box of toys, and her room is filled with angels that flutter around like sparrows. Certainly this world is more interesting, but Coraline starts to miss her real parents. She also realizes that her other parents are strange and sinister. They have hidden her real parents; her other mother eats black beetles, and they even try to sew two large black buttons over Coraline’s eyes!When the other mother locks Coraline in a cupboard for lacking manners, she discovers other children who are trapped there. They tell Coraline that she must escape or else she will turn into them: dead shells with stolen hearts, souls, and lives. It is at this point that Coraline makes a deal with the other mother. If she loses, she will stay with other mother forever. If she wins, the other parents must release her real parents and the dead children. Will Coraline win? Can she rescue her parents?While the first two chapters move a little slow, readers will be hooked by chapter three when Coraline steps into the other world. The book is a twisted fairy tale. It is creepy, horrifying, magical, and humorous. Gaiman provides such detailed descriptions that it makes the story come alive. This book is definitely unique, because it strange, and somewhat bizarre: Buttons for eyes, rats that are spies, a talking cat, dead children in a cupboard, and a sac that contains a person with two heads.While it might seem like the book is for children, adults will enjoy it too. Readers, be prepared: This novel is scary. I definitely recommend this book for a middle school library. It is appropriate for children in grades five through eight.
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood

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Brashares, A. (2001). Sisterhood of the traveling pants. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.Grades 7 and up. Who would have thought that jeans costing less than $4.00 would be magical? Lena, Bridget, Tibby, and Carmen have been friends since birth. They discover that the jeans Carmen bought at a thrift-store fits them perfectly even though they each have a different body type. This will also be the first summer that they are separated. Lena will be in Greece; Bridget will be at soccer camp in Baja, California; Carmen will visit her dad in South Carolina; and Tibby will stay at home working at Wallman’s. Before leaving they create rules regarding the pants. For instance, the pants cannot be washed; clothes cannot be tucked into the pants; and they cannot double-cuff the pants when wearing them. Most importantly, however, they decide to set up a rotation system by mailing the pants back and forth throughout the summer. When mailing the pants to the next person, they must explain what was the most important event and most exciting incident that occurred while wearing the pants. While a story about “magical pants” might seem a little hokey, I enjoyed the book. The pants symbolize their love for one another. Ultimately, it is their friendship that sustains them during difficult times: Lena’s newfound love creates conflict; Bridget’s sexual encounter with her soccer coach leaves her empty and alone; Carmen feels hurt when she finds out that her dad has a new fiancée; and Tibby discovers the challenges in befriending a twelve-year-old girl who has leukemia. This coming-of-age story will appeal to girls, as they are likely to identify with the characters’ struggles. It is a powerful novel about friendship. Brashares writing is humorous, fresh, and direct. It will keep readers entertained and wanting to read the rest of the series. Highly recommended for a middle school library.
The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens

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Covey, S. (1998). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. New York, NY: Fireside.Sean Covey’s father wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for adults. Covey used that book to write his version for teenagers: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The 7 Habits is based on seven characteristics or habits that “happy and successful teens have in common” (p. 9). They are the following: Habit 1: be proactive; Habit 2: begin with the end in the mind; Habit 3: put first things first; Habit 4: think win-win; Habit 5: seek first to understand, then be understood; Habit 6: synergize; and Habit 7: sharpen the saw. Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens to help teens navigate through life. With each habit, Covey provides real-life stories of teenagers, jokes, illustrations, diagrams, and most importantly, the baby steps, which are practical ways to start applying the habits in one’s life. Covey writes in a casual way that appeals to teens. Yet the 7 Habits are actually very challenging. For example, Covey mentions how being proactive requires the realization that we cannot control others; we can only control our responses to others. In the back of the book, Covey provides “Info Central.” “Info Central” has a list of websites and toll free numbers of organizations that can assist those dealing with substance abuse, eating disorders, or physical abuse. This makes the book a great resource for teens in need of help.While The 7 Habits is meant for teens, having the characteristics is necessary for people to be effective individuals. The cartoons are sometimes a little childish, but overall, the book offers practical advice and hope for teenagers. This book has the right balance of serious and lighthearted content. I recommend this self-help book for any middle school or high school library. Appropriate for grades seven and above.
Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods

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Riordan, R. (2005). Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The lightning thief. New York, NY: Miramax Books.Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson seems like an average kid. He is dyslexic, has ADHD, and is about to be kicked out school again. Percy attends Yancy Academy, a private boarding school for juvenile delinquents. Percy struggles to do well in school, averaging usually Cs or Ds in his classes. However, there is one course that interests him: Mr. Brunner’s Latin class. Everything seems normal until Percy and his classmates go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at ancient Greek and Roman displays. He is then singled out by Mrs. Dodds for pushing his nemesis, Nancy Bobofit, into a fountain. When Mrs. Dodds and Percy are alone in the museum, she turns into a bat-winged monster and tries to kill him! Miraculously, Mr. Brunner throws Percy his pen, which turns into a sword. Percy uses it kill Mrs. Dodds who then vaporizes. Not only does this seem odd, but also other weird events start to occur. Percy’s mother is “killed” by a Minotaur (or as Percy would say a “bull-man”), and his best friend Grover is actually part goat!It turns out that Zeus’s master lightening bolt was stolen, and Mrs. Dodds who is one the three Furies believes that Percy stole it. It is only when Percy is transferred to Camp Half-Blood that he begins to realize that he is a demigod (half-god and half-human) and the son of Poseidon, the god of the Sea. Percy then goes on a quest to find the thief who stole the lightning bolt. Will he make it? If he does not make it by the summer solstice, which is in ten days, war will erupt.Even though I am neither a fantasy nor Greek mythology fan, I really enjoyed The Lightning Thief. It is filled with adventure and humor. At almost in every scene, disaster awaits Percy, making readers wonder if he will survive. Riordan skillfully describes the gods and thoroughly develops Percy’s character. What I liked the most about the book is how believable Percy’s character is. Riordan successfully writes through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. Percy’s language, thoughts, and interactions with people very much reflect an adolescent.In some ways, this book reminds me of Harry Potter. Percy like Harry seems like a normal boy. He goes to Camp Half-Blood just like Harry goes to Hogwarts. Both of them have keepers who watch over them, and they must fight villains.I highly recommend this modern-day Greek mythology book for a school library. I have no doubt that readers will find The Lightning Thief creative, funny, warm, suspenseful, and action-packed. Appropriate for children in grades 5 through 9.
A Single Shard

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Park, L.S. (2001). A Single Shard. New York, NY: Dell Yearling.Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge with his friend Crane-man who is a cripple. Tree-ear is fascinated by pottery, living in Ch’ulp’o, Korea, an important hub for ceramics. Tree-ear discovers Potter Min and secretly observes him for several hours a day. He even hopes to create his own pottery. One day, as he watches Potter Min, he accidently breaks one of his pots. Since Tree-ear cannot provide monetary payment, he agrees to work for Potter Min for nine days. During that time, he chops wood for the kiln. Once the nine days are over, Tree-ear asks if he could still work for Potter Min. Potter Min lets Tree-ear continue to work for him. However, he discovers that working for Min is difficult, because he impatient, stubborn, prideful, and a workaholic.When the royal emissary comes to Ch’ulp’o to look at pottery for the king, Potter Min works diligently to produce a few items, including a melon-shaped jug. Emissary Kim scrutinizes Potter Min’s work and Potter Kang’s work. Even though Potter Min’s quality is exceptional, Potter Kang uses a new technique with red and white clay, which creates pure-white blossoms. Unable to ignore this new technique, the royal commission selects Kang’s pottery for the royal palace. When all seems lost, Emissary Kim says that he still wants to consider Potter Min’s vases for the future. Tree-ear then offers to take a few items to Songdo on behalf of Potter Min so that Emissary Kim can examine them. On his journey though robbers steal the vases and throw them over a cliff. What should Tree-ear do now? What will he say to Emissary to Kim and to Potter Min?The Single Shard is a great historical account of celadon in twelfth-century Korea. Park describes the procedures of pottery: gathering the clay, forming it on a wheel, the process of building up the fire, controlling the heat, and making the glaze. With such details, it helps readers to visualize the art of making pottery. The characters in The Single Shard make the story interesting. Crane-man is the wise, loyal friend and caretaker. Potter Min’s cold attitude sharply juxtaposes his wife’s caring, gentle personality. Tree-ear is a young, but courageous apprentice. While I did enjoy the novel, it moves at a slow pace. It is not until about halfway that the story gets exciting. I have to admit that I was almost tempted to quit reading the book, because it seemed to lack a climax. However, The Single Shard is well worth the patience. I recommend this book for a middle school library. Appropriate for grades five through eight.
The Vacation

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Horvath, P. (2005). The vacation. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Road trips. Are they ever fun? Most of the time, they tend to be horrible. It is hot; people get annoyed of one another; and traveling is tiring. The road trip in The Vacation is no different from other car trips.When Henry’s parents abruptly decide to go to Africa for a mission trip, his Aunt Magnolia and Aunt Pigg take care of him. Although at first Mag and Pigg have fun remodeling and repainting Henry’s house, they get bored once it is complete. During the remodeling, Mag becomes extremely sick. On the verge of death, Mag and Pigg decide to take a road trip just in case Mag dies.They pull Henry out of school to take an extended vacation. Mag soon feels better with the right medicine. This vacation is the epitome of the world’s worst road trip. Not only do Mag and Pigg constantly bicker, but also they complain about every destination. This car trip around the United States is unforgettable. Henry gets lost in a swamp for several days; Pigg meets Cody in Oklahoma and decides to marry him; Henry meets his grandfather for the first time; and his dad runs over Benny the cat. There are quite a few adventures in the book. The characters are eccentric. At times, readers will feel like Henry, a twelve-year-old boy, is the only logical and sane person. When Henry’s parents return to the United States and join him on the road trip, he discovers that they are upset with each other. Henry then tries to repair his parents’ relationship. The book touches upon themes of acceptance and love. While the book has its humorous and deep moments, the plot was like a road trip; it dragged on. There did not seem to be a climatic point in the book. As a result, the story moved at a slow pace. At times, I found myself bored with the plot. This book could be a nice addition to a middle school library, but the book is not a “must-have.” The Vacation is appropriate for grades 5 through 7.
Killing Mr. Griffin

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Duncan, L. (1978). Killing Mr. Griffin. New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers.Who would have thought that a scare would result in a death?Mr. Griffin used to be an English professor at the University of Albuquerque. He then decides to become an English teacher at Del Norte High School, because he witnesses too many students ill prepared for college. Although Mr. Griffin is passionate about teaching, he is a tough teacher. He does not accept late work; he grades hard; and he is extremely strict with his students.Betsy, David, Sue, Jeff, and Mark are students in Mr. Griffin’s class. They are not used to earning Fs on their papers. Some of them are even endangered of not graduating high school, because they are failing his English course. However, they have a plan to make Mr. Griffin change: kidnap him, take him to the mountains, and teach him a lesson. Even though the kids meticulously plan all the details, the operation is a fiasco. To their surprise, Mr. Griffin dies! Consequently, the students embark on a massive cover-up.At first the characters might seem like your typical characters: Betsy the popular cheerleader, David the senior class president, Sue the loner who likes David, Jeff the athlete, and Mark the ringleader. Yet the characters are believable because Duncan develops each character in several chapters. By doing this, readers understand the characters’ lives at home, their emotions, their insecurities, and their motivations for participating in this scheme. It is also interesting because Duncan includes chapters on Mr. Griffin. Readers see that he is not a stoic, cold-hearted teacher. In fact, he cares deeply about his students, but that he pushes them to strive for perfection.The many unexpected twists in the plot make it exciting. Readers are left wondering what else can go wrong. Readers will be completely engrossed in the novel.At the same time, the story is very disturbing. Mark the ringleader is a budding psychopath. The book describes how he has no emotion or reaction to people’s pain. He actually finds happiness in watching people suffer. These parts of the book made me feel uncomfortable.Killing Mr. Griffin is often banned from school libraries, and I can see why. Duncan is an exceptional writer, and the story seems real. Nonetheless, by banning this book, teachers and parents miss the point. The book sends an important message to teenagers about the power of influence and peer pressure. I also do not think that banning this book will do much, since adolescents are exposed to more violent images through the media. While the reading level could be appropriate for middle school students, given its violent and emotionally disturbing content, it is more suitable for high school students. I highly recommend this book for a high school library
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