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Book Light

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I’ve always loved to stay up late reading in bed. When I was a kid I hid a flashlight under my bed for this very purpose. As soon as I knew my parents were watching TV or in bed, I’d pull the flashlight out and settle in underneath a tent of my sheets and read until I fell asleep. A few months ago I received an actual book light for attending a breakfast event with my principal. Between my husband and I this thing gets some good use!

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Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Vampire Stalker by Allison van Diepen

Imagine your favorite fictional hero has left their fictional world and walked straight into yours?

Teenager Amy has a major book crush on a fictional guy; Alexander Banks, the gorgeous vampire hunter in the wildly popular Otherworld trilogy. Her love is so deep that she even writes fan-fiction about Alexander.  Even her screen name,  “MrsAlexanderBanks8021″ is an homage to her obsession!  Amy pretty much spends much of her time wishing and dreaming that Alexander Banks was a real person. (le sigh)

Then late one night, as Amy is walking home alone she is saved from a violent attack by a boy who looks strangely like Alexander Banks.  Amy soon realizes that he is in fact the real Alexander Banks; her love from the books and he needs her help!  The evil and unstoppable vampire Vigo has mysteriously entered Amy’s world and Alexander is determined to stop him from destroying Chicago like he has done to Otherworld.  Together, Amy and Alexander must track Vigo and figure out how and why Alexander crossed over into her world and time.  After chemistry seems to spark between her and Alexander, Amy questions whether or not she even wants him to return to the world of fiction.

I first noticed The Vampire Stalker in our school’s fall book fair, when all of my girls wanted it; it was the best seller of the week.  Once I took the time to read the summary on the back cover, I was hooked immediately while visions of my favorite fictional crush (Mr. Darcy- how ardently I admire and love you!) danced through my mind; I could totally relate to Amy and the premise behind the novel.  What female reader wouldn’t be drawn in by this?  Amy is a teen version of myself and I couldn’t help but love her for it.
So, I totally enjoyed the story and thought it was really fun and creative.  There were some flaws, however.  I wasn’t crazy impressed with the character development.  I felt like there were pieces missing.  As much as I like Amy I felt like her anger towards her father and her frustration with her little sister ran a little flat.  I would have liked Van Diepen to flesh Amy out a bit more.  Additionally, things just seemed to move to fast and I wasn’t scared of Vigo like Amy and Alexander suggested I should be; I wasn’t worried about the safety of the characters while Vigo was on the loose.  I guess the length of the book didn’t allow for more of what I was hoping for.
Plus, literary physics?  Is this a real theory?  If not, totally creative and unique.  Even if it is a preexisting theory, it’s a great idea.  I’ve decided I want it to happen to me. Now.
Despite the flaws mentioned above, I am  incredibly intrigued by Otherworld, the fictional world Alexander Banks hails from.  I really hope that Van Diepen will write a sequel or companion novel to share more of Otherworld with us.  All in all, The Vampire Stalker was a fun and entertaining read for middle grades readers and up, although it’ll probably appeal most to younger teens (and anyone who has been crushing on fictional guys for years).
PS…sorry for the strange formatting issues. WordPress has a mind of its own tonight I see.
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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!!)