Friday, June 7, 2019

Hurricane Child, written by Kheryn Callender, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Caroline Murphy was born during a hurricane, which left an imprint on her personality. She is rough, tough, and often finds herself in trouble. But it doesn't take long to realize that Caroline is being bullied every day at school, not only by the other girls, but also by her teacher. To add insult to injury, her mom left her and her dad to fend for themselves, and Caroline is desperate to find her and correct her life. She is miserable and alone, until a new girl starts at school. Kalinda is amazing and somehow manages to tame even the worst of the school bullies. Caroline can't seem to understand why, but Kalinda wants to be her friend. Soon Caroline recognizes that the feelings she feels for Kalinda are more than just friendship, but maybe even love. Caroline's life is suddenly filled with choices. Should she tell Kalinda, or keep her feelings a secret? Should she search for her mom, or accept her fate? And how will her decisions impact the rest of her life? This is a touching story told through the raw emotion-filled eyes of a 12 year old grappling with growing up.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This story touched my heart in two very personal ways. First, Caroline's family has been torn apart, not by divorce, but when her mom leaves overnight without saying goodbye. At first she sends post cards from foreign countries, but when they stop coming, Caroline finds out her dad threw them away after she read them. She starts to question, how could her mother have left her? Doesn't she love her? How can she surviv
e without her mom? There's so much pain behind these questions, and that sadness is beautifully written throughout the story. I think any child who has dealt with losing a parent from their home or their life will really identify with that part of Hurricane Child. Caroline is desperate to seek the answer to these questions, yet fearful that perhaps the answer won't be the one she hopes. Secondly, Caroline is coming to terms with her first crush. Though their relationship begins as a simple friendship, she quickly recognizes her feelings are more powerful than that of friends. She is physically attracted to Kalinda, wanting to hold her hand everywhere they go. Her mind is consumed with thoughts of her friend, and all she wants is to spend time with Kalinda. Kalinda has openly expressed her disapproval of same-sex relationships, but Caroline holds out hope that there may be some chance for a relationship with her friend. Somehow Callender explores this first love with both hesitation and passion, making the reader wonder if Caroline is brave enough to defy society and stand up for the relationship that brings her such joy. Throughout the book I continuously found myself searching for a historical time frame. The book opens with the school teacher using physical discipline on her students as frequent punishment. Also, it is established early on that the school teacher has light skin, the majority of the kids in Caroline's class have light brown skin, and Caroline has the darkest skin in her class. Because of the color of her skin, Missus Wilhelmina likes Caroline the least and purposely targets her for punishment. These two facts quickly set the seen for a historical setting. Later in the book it is expressed that lesbian couples are not acceptable in society, which further adds to the historical context. Yet a year is never stated, and I found myself desperately searching for any clues to the year. Caroline's mother often sings a song, identified at the end of the book as Blackbird by Nina Simone, which was released in 1966. Her mother states that this song expresses how she felt when Caroline was young. I'm assuming that this book is set in the early 1970s, but I am completely guessing this, and I found that frustrating through the entire book. Aside from the way Caroline is treated in school, this could be a realistic fiction novel, and I found myself picturing the characters in a school similar to the one I work in. Yet, the way Caroline was treated at school always kept me wondering what year it was really set in. The cover of the book is beautiful, it would attract attention on any display, but would be great to feature on a LGBTQ display. I hesitate to recommend it as historical fiction because the time frame was not set. I do believe this would be a great book to suggest to students grappling with seperation within their home or their sexuality. It approaches both topics from a safe and love-filled perspective. Never was there an inappropriate situation that might cause a student to feel embarrassed or awkward. Both topics were handled delicately and with kindness. I am excited to recommend this book to many of my students and add it to our school library. I think this will be a book the social workers, councilors, teachers, and I can all recommend for so many students who are trying to find their place in their family and their own relationships.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Survivor Diaries: Dust Storm!, writen by Terry Lynn Johnson, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Survivor Diaries: Avalanche! is the final book in a four part series. Once again, we find the reporter interviewing Jen, a middle school aged student who, on a group geo-caching trip, found herself and former best friend lost in the New Mexico desert in a dust storm. After the storm subsided, Jen and Martin struggle to survive the desert heat by day, cold and coyotes by night. They fight to find water, make shelter, and not get eaten. Guided by a burrow, weather real, spirit, or hallucination, they rely on each other and skills they learned from school, reading, and camping to find their way to safety. Accompanied by real survival facts in the back of the book, this story will thrill any reader who is interested in adventure, survival, or the outdoors. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: The final book in the series, it held up to the others, but I was slightly disappointed in the level of action and character development. Jen and Martin are lost in the desert. Though they have a small encounter with coyotes, most of the storyline centers around the search for water and shade. This makes the book move a little slower than the rest. Also, I found Martin’s character to be very whiney, but in contrast, that made Jen’s character look smart and in control. I did like the discussion and resolution of their friendship. In the beginning of the book it seems as if the two despise each other. As the story develops, you realize neither wanted to lose their friendship, and both would like to repair it. For me, this book centered more around relying on their friendship to survive rather than specific survival skills. 
Once again, the book is 109 pages, filled with large text and a number of pictures. It’s got the reference glossary at the back of the book, and has the online game to accompany it. 

After reading all four books in the series, I HIGHLY recommend them for upper-el or middle school readers. I think they have the ability to grab and hook any low reader, especially those with an interest in adventure, survival, or the outdoors. Each story was a fantastic page-turner, keeping my attention locked from page one to the very end. Each book in the series features two main characters, one boy, one girl. In every book they have a different relationship, whether they are friends, siblings, or classmates. I think exploring these different stages and types of friendship is a really cool side-element of these stories. Every book features the large text and pictures, and is accompanied by the online game to test the reader’s survival skills. These books have a great appeal for readers who struggle to stay focused. Because the action moves so rapidly from one event to the next, there is hardly time to take a breath in between pages, and certainly no time to become bored while reading. My only hope is that Johnson continues to write more books in this series, as I think they will be so appealing to my lower readers, and they may be that book that inspires them to build a love for reading. 

Survivor Diaries: Lost!, written by Terry Lynn Johnson, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Survivor Diaries: Lost! is the third in a four part series. The story begins with a reporter interviewing Carter after his escape. The reporter asks Carter to tell how he survived being lost in the rainforest from start to finish. Carter is different than most of the kids in his class, he has severe anxiety and often has attacks. He and his mom have a very close relationship and share a deep love of birds. They came on this trip in order to add new bird sightings to their “life list.” Together with his mom, Carter has learned if he focuses a little more on life, and plans for any contingency, he feels more prepared for anything that could go wrong and can handle unexpected situations a little easier. Anna is the exact opposite. She is the tallest in their class, incredibly strong and athletic. Her dad taught her to take life as it comes and rely on her instincts, so Carter’s planning is a little much for her to handle. When they are suddenly overrun by howler monkeys, they take off running and end up lost in the rainforest. Carter has to rely on Anna for her strength and determination, while Anna relies on Carter for his knowledge of the rainforest and survival. . Will they make it out of the rainforest alive? Accompanied by real survival facts in the back of the book, this book will thrill any reader who is interested in adventure, survival, or the outdoors. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: I love that the books do not have to be read in any sort of order. A reader could pick up one that he or she was interested in without ever reading the one before. 
I think this may have been my favorite book in the series so far… maybe. I love how relatable the characters of Carter and Anna are. Carter’s anxiety is so raw and emotional that, as the reader, you not only sympathized with him, but you start to feel stress and relief on his behalf. The challenges they face are so Indiana Jones-like, and yet two middle school kiddos are able to rely on what they know to find their way out. I will note, many of the situations in this book felt a little lucky, but I think a young reader would think this was extremely exciting. Just like the books before it, this book is a little longer, at 93 pages. It has large print and many pictures, as well as easy-to-understand definitions of science and survival terms. It has the survival facts glossary in the back. It is also accompanied with the online game, which will be such a hook for kiddos. I think this series is such a great choice for low readers in middle school. I can’t wait to read the last book. 

Survivor Diaries: Avalanche!, written by Terry Lynn Johnson, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Survivor Diaries: Avalanche! is the second in a four part series. Set as if a reporter is interviewing her after the event, Ashley tells the story of how she survived an avalanche and also carried her brother to safety. Away with their family on a ski-vacation, Ashley and Ryan veer off from the trail, curious to see a wolverine, when an avalanche comes sliding down the mountain, capturing them in its wake. With only the supplies in their backpacks, they rely on the survival skills they learned in ski club to take care of each other. Yet, with Ryan’s extensive injuries, Ashley is challenged. Ryan has always been more successful in school and athletics. Can she, now, be the one to help save him? Accompanied by real survival facts in the back of the book, this book will thrill any reader who is interested in adventure, survival, or the outdoors. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: After I had finished the first book, I was so excited to pick up the second one. It was just as good as I had hoped. Every time you think Ashley has succeeded at a challenge, something else comes up and she has to think and struggle to find another solution. Just as exciting as the first book, filled with the easy text and large pictures, I will suggest these books to my middle school kiddos in a heartbeat! My favorite part about this book was that Ashley (a girl) is taking care of her brother, who is known for being faster, stronger, and smarter than her. Because of his injuries, she has to save both of them. She has to learn to believe in herself and never give up, no matter what the odds are. She is a wolverine, the animal her brother so wanted to see. She is strong, fierce, and brave. I am so excited to put an action book with a girl who is the head survivor on my shelf. Further, this book also is packed with facts and situations that could happen in real life. It teachers readers, through Ashley’s actions, the meaning of terms, as well as tips and tricks for how to survive in the cold. 
Finally, to further entice the reader, this book is the first in the series to be advertised with the online game. The game uses the skills you learned from the book to put you through a quick test where you choose what you would do in the given situation. If you guess all of the answers correctly, you survive. If you answer incorrectly, it will tell you why you have died. It’s kind of neat to see what would happen if you were in the same situation as the kids in the books. I have two more books in this series, and I can’t wait to finish them! 

Survivor Diaries: Overboard! writen by Terry Lynn Johnson, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Survivor Diaries: Overboard! is the first in a four part series. Set as if a reporter is interviewing him after the event, Travis tells the story of how he survived his boat capsizing off the shore of Washington state. In frigid cold water, he rescues Marina, and the two of them fight and test their survival knowledge to stay alive until they are rescued. They make their way to land, which brings a whole new set of challenges with it. Accompanied by real survival facts in the back of the book, this book will thrill any reader who is interested in adventure, survival, or the outdoors. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: My first impression of this book was that it would be simple, easy to read, and great for low readers in my middle school library. I’m always searching for books that are exciting while still being at their reading level. It met every requirement I had. The text is quite large, and the books are an easy 88 pages. Many chapters have large picture in them, and chapters are short and sweet, sometimes only being 3-4 pages long. It is packed full of action, keeping even a low reader excited to read the next page. In her every-day life, Johnson lives in Northern Canada, and teaches survival classes. Those lessons come through in her text. She uses words like condensation and solar still casually, giving quick and easy definitions for the words or accompanying them with pictures. She frequently uses the main characters to teach brief survival skills such as staying warm after you’ve been in cold water, then using them to show how they do this, and finally backing up her situations with real facts in the back of the books. Because the stories are short, there is only one main story arc, and it would be easy for low readers to follow along with. I really enjoyed these books and will not hesitate to recommend them to my middle school low readers as I believe it will challenge and captivate them.