Coming of Age Amidst the Storm: Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods

Hello there! 

As you may already know, one of my goals is to read all fifteen books on the Florida Sunshine State list every year so I can better promote these books to my students.  Well, I read Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods a few months ago, but hadn’t been able to get around to writing the review until now.

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda WoodsSaint is a boy with confidence as big as his name is long. A budding musician, he earns money playing clarinet for the New Orleans tourists. His best friend is a stray dog named Shadow, and it’s because of Shadow that Saint’s still in town when Hurricane Katrina hits. Saint’s not worried about the hurricane at first – he plans to live to be a hundred just to defy his palm-reader friend Jupi, who told him he had a short life line. But now the city has been ordered to evacuate and Saint won’t leave without Shadow. His search brings him to his elderly neighbor’s home and the three of them flee to her attic when the waters rise. But when Miz Moran’s medication runs out, it’s up to Saint to save her life – and his beloved Shadow’s.

This is a quick read about a teenage boy caught up in the middle of the historic Hurricane Katrina. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach, our main character, is as lovable and energetic as his beloved New Orleans. Although a story about Hurricane Katrina, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach is really a coming of age story where Saint is forced to reckon with the truly meaningful issues in life.

Wood’s writing had me hooked and from the beginning I wanted to read more and more.  She included so much pre-hurricane build up that by the time the storm sets in, you’re already anxious with anticipation. Living in Florida since middle school I’ve experienced my own share of hurricanes (although none as devastating as Katrina) and I can say that Woods hits the pre-storm anticipation and build-up right on the nose!

So far, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach has been very popular with my students.  I have a school full of reluctant readers and this book is high interest and very short in length (heaven in their eyes!).  I sincerely recommend this book if you’re searching for a good read for the reluctant reader in your life, but remember  it is also captivating enough to entertain those middle school book lovers as well.

Author: Brenda Woods

Publisher:  Penguin Books (September 1, 2011)

Format: Paperback

Length: 144 pages

Series: standalone


Buy the Book:  Saint Louis Armstrong Beach


Best in Show: Showoff by Gordon Korman

Happy 2012! This is my first post/book review of the new year!

There is no way I can’t start this review without referencing one of the funniest movies ever, Best in Show. It relates I promise!

The movie and this book (although not connected in any way) are both centered around a dog show. (See, I told you it’d all relate!)

The fourth SWINDLE book, centering around a dog show that goes horribly awry!

The heroes of Swindle, Zoobreak, and Framed are back – and this time, things have gone to the dogs! When Luthor goes berserk at a mall dog show, he’s accused of ruining the career of the three-time best-in-show beagle. Griffin always knew that Luthor’s viciousness was simmering just below the surface – so why does he feel bad enough to spring him from the pound?

Showoff by Gordon KormanGriffin and his team have a new plan. This one involves New York City, a sinister saboteur, a reclusive dog-trainer who’s quit the business, an international dog show, and a whole lot of dye. But if they pull it off, no one will even notice their sting operation…right?

To start I really, really love Gordon Korman. He is such a prolific author, with over seventy-five books written, and is so good at his craft! Korman writes for kids/teens and seems to know what they want. In fact, the Swindle series is hugely popular among the most difficult portion of readers at my school—teen boys. Although there is no waiting list for these books, they are consistently off the shelf and going home with a student (Thank you Korman for making my job that much easier!).

Now, I must confess that I have not read the first three books in this series, but that being said, I really enjoyed Showoff and feel that this series is written in such a way that the reader could read them out-of-order and not be lost.

The characters in Showoff , although fun to read about, didn’t have much depth to them. For example, each character’s personality could be completely explained in one word. But this doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy what I read, because I really did like the story and trying to figure out if Griffin and his team of friends would manage to pull off their wild plan. I did appreciate how every one of Griffin’s friends have their own special skill or talent that makes them essential to the success of the scheme. Plus, Luthor (the dog) is a lovable character despite his sometimes scary security dog behavior!

Korman set this story in the middle of a dog show and dog show culture. I’ve always loved watching dog shows on TV and have been interested in the type of culture that breeds (haha get it?!) in this unique environment. Maybe that’s why I hold Christopher Guest’s Best in Show as one of my favorite movie comedies ever. Korman manages to pull a little bit of that same eccentricity and humor into Showoff.

Overall the story is entertaining and adventurous with a hint of mystery added in and I think that it is a fun read and would be enjoyed by readers in the early middle grades and older.

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press; January 1, 2012

Format: Advanced Reader Copy

Pages: 248

Series: Fourth in the Swindle series

YA/MG: Middle Grades

Buy the Book: Showoff (Swindle)