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There Was a Curse: The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott

“There was a curse. It was reversed. This is the boy who did it.”

It is fall 2004 and twelve-year-old Oscar Egg loves the Red Sox. In fact, he loves them so much because he believes that both he and the Red Sox are cursed. Oscar, an orphan, was dumped by his birth parents as a baby and always felt slightly unwanted by his adopted parents because he’s biracial. He sometimes even wonders if his skin color is the reason his parents separated.

When Oscar’s mom leaves him with his father, so she can spend time with a new boyfriend, all of Oscar’s fears and insecurities come back to haunt him. But soon, Oscar realizes that his strange and sickly dad has a secret. His father lives below Fenway Park and is actually a member of the Cursed Creatures a group of doomed magical creatures forced to live under the park until the curse is broken or reversed.

Oscar soon learns that he just may be the only one with the strength, talent and knowledge who can break the eighty-six year old Red Sox curse. If he can the Cursed Creatures will be free and he’ll make it possible for the Red Sox to finally win a World Series.

A fantasy about sports? This was a very strange concept to me at first. But as I read it I found myself actually enjoying the story.

Two things I liked about the story were the different cursed creatures roaming the tunnels below Fenway and theme of personal identity. There’s the Weasel-man with his pack of weasels, the Pooka and Banshee, his three fairy aunts and other horned magical characters. The characters, although not entirely fleshed out are pretty creative and interesting to read about. Each, as Oscar learns, as their position to play in the game.

Additionally, Baggott explores the theme of personal identity, specifically one’s racial identity. Oscar is biracial (black and white) and he always feels as though its a curse or problem. He fears that his parents wouldn’t have adopted him had they known his skin would be darker than their own. He fears bullies at school who harass him with questions like, “Who’s your daddy?” And he ultimately fears that he’s unwanted and not special. Readers, will be able to identify with Oscar’s feelings and insecurities, even if they don’t stem from the same reasons, because that what all of us fear at that age; “What if I’m not wanted?”, “What if I’m not special?”.

As, someone who isn’t a huge sports fan, I was a little bored with the baseball talk. Especially during the end of the book (to be honest, I skimmed the last few chapters). However, I do think this book would appeal to sports lovers, especially baseball fans, before it would appeal to fantasy readers. The Prince of Fenway Park could be a hook that gets readers who normally wouldn’t pick fantasy novels interested in a genre that’s new to them.

All in all a cute read.

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Tuesday Top Ten: Books I’m Excited to Read Next

NOTE:  I know that today is Wednesday.  I know that this post is called “Tuesday Top Ten”.  Well, I forgot to post yesterday.  So here it is.

I always have reading plans.  But here are some that I’m excited to have on my current “To Read” list.  There are tons more, but these are the titles I’m most excited about.

10. Incarceron by Cathrine Fisher

9. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

8. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

7. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

6. Matched by Ally Condie

5. One False Note by Gordon Korman

4. Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Andgleberger

3. Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

2. Rip Tide by Kat Falls

1. Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

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War Isn’t Pretty: Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

War is not pretty.  It is not easy.  It is not comfortable.

Thirteen year old Samuel Smith grew up in the wilderness of the Pennsylvania colony.  Sam loves the woods.  He loves hunting, tracking and providing for his bookish parents.

But the year is 1776 and one day Sam’s comfortable life is taken away from him.  Returning from an extra long hunting trip Sam finds his home ransacked and burned, his neighbors murdered and his parents missing.  Sam knows that he must find his parents, so using his tracking and survival skills he sets off to find  and rescue his parents from the English Redcoats and their Indian allies.

Through his journey Sam meets with others affected by the Revolutionary War; men joining the American side, families escaping the Hessians and English troops, and those trying to survive when their whole world has been turned upside down by war.

Paulsen manages to write a historical fiction novel for teens that is pretty fast-paced and adventurous (I’m not surprised with his massive list of past works).  What I, as an educator, really, really love about Woods Runner is that Paulsen includes intercalary chapters that provide readers with information about the Revolutionary War on a  bigger scale than just Sam’s story.  I frequently see students who have little to no background knowledge struggle while attempting to read and create a context for a historical fiction novel.  Whats so (soooooooooooo) incredibly helpful is that Paulsen provides the context and background information for the reader so they don’t have to guess, wonder or be confused.  Paulsen even explains in his Author’s Note that he wants “readers to understand what it was really like to live on the frontier at that time with…no money, no electricity, no towns, [and] few neighbors”.

Although Paulsen does portray the realism of life during the Revolutionary War well, he also does so with the knowledge that this book is intended for middle grades readers; i.e. the violence is not described graphically.

I’m hoping that my students will get past the “history=boring” mindset and read this novel because I really think they’d enjoy it if they give it a chance.  Plus the way Paulsen describes the war…its not boring!  This book would also be an excellent addition to a middle school level American History curriculum, especially with the intercalary chapters (the lesson plan possibilities floating around in my mind are endless!!)

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To Like or Not to Like? Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed

  I really don’t know what I think about this book.  My feelings are so mixed.

Maybe I can explain myself while talking about the book itself.

Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed is the story of Sam the Lion a priceless dachshund who was bred to be a winning show dog.  He was meant to live a safe, sheltered life as a show dog, but Sam’s life has been anything but.

The story starts with Sam at a very low point in his life; he’s being asked to fight for money.  While facing a very angry fighting dog, Sam remembers what got him to this low point in life.

The rest of the story is Sam’s life up until the fighting ring. Although Sam was bread to be a show dog, his most important job was being Heidy’s best friend at a time when she really needed one.  Heidy, an orphan, is sent to live with her reclusive uncle after getting kicked out of the St. Egregious Home for Troubly Girls.  She is scared and alone until she meets Sam.

Sam and Heidy seem to “get” one another and life is good.  One day, however, Cassius a snooty show poodle, who is incredibly jealous of Sam and Heidy’s relationship, frames and turns everyone against Sam.  Sam is forced onto the wild streets alone where he faces a world he was not bred for. Sam gets pretty roughed up by the world and this is where Flawed Dogs can be a difficult book to read.  Sam eventually gets nursed back to health by a man who gives him a soup ladle to replace his missing leg.

Despite the very hard and sad life Sam has led he is a fighter and along with a group of other flawed dogs, Sam decides to take revenge on Cassius and get back the best friend he has ever had.

So seriously, this book is super endearing and heart warming.  Anyone who loves animals and as a special animal best friend (or two) will love the author’s homage to the bond shared between pet and human.  But at the same time, this book will be tough for sensitive readers to take.  A dog is short, loses his leg in a bear trap, there is mention of how a dog is victimized at an animal testing facility and just the pain that comes with watching a creature get battered around by life when they can’t defend themselves.
This is where I had a difficult time with the book.  And actually wanted to put it down on several occasions because I’m one of those sensitive readers (when it comes to topics like this) that I mentioned earlier. You have to understand that I’m the kind of person who cries just thinking about the life my dog lived before we rescued him.  In the end I did finish Flawed Dogs (b/c I have to read all the Sunshine State books, or because I felt like I should push through sad feelings?  Who knows!).
Apparently Berkley Breathed says that he believes “kids’ books should take one into the valley of hard emotions so that one can climb out again” which is an interesting thought.  I started thinking about all the classic children’s literature out there that deals with difficult emotion: Where the Red Fern Grows (pretty sure I sobbed in my 5th grade class when we read this), Old Yeller, The Velveteen Rabbit (got me every time), Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web  to name only a few.  I mean think about it, life isn’t all puppies and kittens cuddling in flower filled meadows.    Breathed  does claim that this book is intended for older readers (8-13 year olds) than his Flawed Dogs picture book is.
Now, I do believe that this book is really funny at times (no surprise being written by the author of the comic strip Bloom County). And the illustrations throughout the book are really cute and also pretty humorous.
So, there you go.  I liked and didn’t like this book.  I’m going to stick with that and just be okay with it.
P.S. There are rumors about a Dream Works adaptation of Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster in the making….
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James Bond Jr.? Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted

Does anyone else, besides me, remember this show?

I used to love James Bond Jr.  I don’t remember what day or time it came on T.V. but I remember that whenever I’d catch it, I was a very happy kid.  Plus, I thought he was super cute (shocker I know).  Yes, I know he’s a cartoon. That didn’t matter to my 9 year old self.

Wait I thought this was supposed to be a book review?  Yes, you’re right.  I do have a point!

Point is that I see big connections between James Bond Jr. and Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted. 

In Alibi Junior High,  thirteen year old Cody Saron is not your normal teen.  Cody has spent his whole like traversing the globe with his CIA agent father.  Cody has been trained to be constantly on watch, be alert for enemies, an expert at karate and knows how to take down assailants.  In a sense, Cody Saron is James Bond Jr.  and is perfectly at home “chasing scum around the world”.

But when something goes wrong and things get a little too dangerous, Cody moves in with his Aunt Jenny in Connecticut. Cody knows absolutely nothing about normal suburban life and he knows nothing about junior high.  Slowly, Cody adapts to this new way of life, but just when he begins to feel at home, Cody realizes his father’s world has, in fact, found him making everyday life that much more dangerous.

I really liked this novel a lot.  It’s perfect for middle grade readers (remember that tend to be grades 5-8ish).  Cody is entering this new lifestyle as an outsider, someone who may be used to hunting down spies and illegal arms dealers, but knows nothing about the ins and outs of everyday teenage life.  Cody’s obvious cluelessness provides the reader with some pretty funny moments.

Two major saving grace for Cody are his relationships with his Aunt Jenny and his neighbor Andy.  Jenny is Cody’s mother’s sister.  Since Cody’s mom died when he was younger, he doesn’t remember much about her, so Jenny helps Cody know more about his mom.  Cody also isn’t used to sharing this thougts, since his father and he only talk about the job at hand, but Aunt Jenny encourages Cody to talk with her. Jenny is definitely a mother figure who is involved with her nephew, which is different from the common absentee parents in most teen fiction.

Cody’s other strong relationship is with Andy.  Recently injured from the war in Iraq, Andy seems to be the only other person who really understands and reaches out to Cody when no one else does. Andy sees in Cody the same special ops type training he experienced in the Middle East and quickly realizes that there is more to Cody’s story than he’s letting on to.

In the middle of all the cool espionage and spy stuff, Cody is dealing with some pretty important things including the loss of his mother, his anger over his father “dumping” him off somewhere, and the death filled memories of past missions that plague his nightmares.  I believe the author attacks these issues in a way that is humorous, real and appropriate for middle grade readers.

Although most likely geared toward boys, girls may like Alibi Junior High too. In fact, if you or your teen has enjoyed Roland Smith’s I.Q. series, this would fit into your list of good reads.

Definitely one of my favorites on this year’s Sunshine State list.

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Book Trailer of the Week: Divergent by Veronica Roth

My mom, a clerk in a public library’s childrens’ section, mentioned that she was going to be reading Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I hadn’t heard about it, but that same day I happen to be in two different book store and saw it everywhere. So, this is going to have to be an addition on my “too taste” list.  Seems dystopian teen lit is popular right now.