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People Are Like Plants: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Bonjour!

Today is my Husband’s birthday! I think he’s pretty awesome so Happy Happy Birthday to him!

HusbandOkay, on to more bookish things! Since my school is an International Baccalaureate World School, I’m always on the lookout for titles that have a global focus. TSerafina's Promise by Ann E Burghis is why I had high hopes when I started reading Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg.

Serafina has
a secret dream.

She wants to go to school
and become a doctor
with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But in their rural village
outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
many obstacles
stand in Serafina’s way–
little money,
never-ending chores,
and Manman’s worries.

More powerful even
than all of these
are the heavy rains
and the shaking earth
that test Serafina’s resolve
in ways she never dreamed.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful,
this exquisitely crafted story
will leave a lasting impression
on your heart.

Serafina’s Promise gets points for being a beautifully written novel. But it also get’s points for having an international (non USA) setting, and extra points for being a novel in verse! This book has it all…a librarian’s dream!

This book is set up into three clearly cut parts. To start out, we meet Serfina a preteen Haitian girl living in extreme poverty. Serafina is responsible for hiking to gather the family’s daily water provision but we quickly learn that she deeply desires to go to school and one day become a doctor. I’m impressed with the way Serafina is written because it’s impeccably realistic. Serafina is very innocent, yet she struggles with jealousy toward her friend who can afford to go to school. She deeply loves her family and sick baby brother yet is resentful towards her worried mother’s strictness. Despite living in a different setting Serafina’s realistic character allows teens from more privileged circumstances to connect with her.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the setting. The descriptions of Serafina’s home, the flood scenes, and the city details after the earthquake, it is clear that this story takes place in Haiti, not just any random developing nation. The Haitian Creole words sprinkled in throughout the verse only add to that already strong sense of place. Sometimes non English words in a story can distract the reader, but these fit in well and are usually easily understood based on context, however there is a Haitian Creole glossary in the back of the book to help with this further (*the educator in me cheers in delight!*).

And to make this book that much better, while reading I stumbled upon a few short lines that immediately became one of my favorite quotes ever. To set the scene Serafina is working on a garden with the help of Gogo, her grandmother who praises Serafina’s hard work with the plants.

“Gogo’s word make me feel taller.

People really are like plants -

kind words make them grow.”

Serafina’s Promise is one that is strongly recommend to middle grade readers because it is such a sincere and well written story. I also think it could be a very powerful book in a classroom or book group setting, so teachers and librarians…have at it!

Author: Ann E. Burg

Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 24, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 304 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

 

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Something Familiar: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Hola!

As you may know my husband and I moved from Florida to Columbia, South Carolina this past July. We’re loving the fact that we get to experience the change in seasons and that we’re really close to the mountains. It is just a great area to live in. It’s not that we didn’t like Florida, it’s just that it wasn’t the place we wanted to be forever.

Pretty shortly after we moved however, I realized that Chomp by Carl Hiaasen was on the South Carolina Junior Book Award list for the 2013-2014 school year. I was pretty excited to read Chomp because it, like all of Hiaasen’s books, takes place in southern Florida and in the midst of our move I needed to read something familiar.

Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he’s grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his bChomp by Carl Hiaasenackyard. The critters he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one.

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called “Expedition Survival!”, Wahoo figures he’ll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show’s boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo’s acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who’s sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.

They’ve only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna’s dad shows up with a gun.

Although I’ve always enjoyed the Hiaasen books that I have read, his books are not always my favorite. However, I think out of all of them Chomp might have been the one I liked the most. There was just so much more humor in this story and I stopped my husband to tell him about the story more than I usually do when reading. I especially loved the reality show idea and my husband and I are big fans of Bear Grylls and his survival shows, so I got a kick out of the Derek Badger character, who is obviously a mocking portrayal of Grylls and survival show hosts like him.

In Hiaasen’s books the setting is always a character in its own right. And although I’ve never been to the Everglades (even after living in Florida for around 15 years) I know enough about Florida wildlife and geography to completely understand and appreciate this setting. Hiaasen throws in so many Florida “inside jokes” or references that I absolutely felt like I was back in the Florida sunshine.

The main character, Wahoo and his friend (something more?!), Tuna, are really fun and lovable characters. These two are one of the main reasons why I enjoyed Chomp more than Hiaasen’s other books. Wahoo and Tuna were both so realistic and tender in their new-found friendship that you can’t help but fall for them both.

OMG! I almost forgot! Do you even know who narrates this audiobook!?  I freaked out when I pressed play for the first time and heard the voice I hadn’t heard in like 10 years…DAWSON LEERY! Yes. You read correctly. Chomp is narrated by James Van Der Beek! High School Tina swooned a little. For real.

Chomp, definitely comes recommended for middle grade readers considering jumping into Hiaasen’s books who enjoy survivalist stories with some humor thrown in. Although, I do enjoy Hiaasen’s books they are definitely written mostly for their middle grade audience and I think it would be a stretch for older readers (especially adults) to really get into.

Author: Carl Hiaasen

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 27, 2012)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 6 hours and 13 minutes

Narrator(s): James Van Der Beek

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: Chomp

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Living

Hi there!The Living by Matt de la Pena

Let’s celebrate Wednesday by talking about an upcoming new release! Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine and I love participating in it every week!

This week’s spotlight book is The Living by Matt de la Pena.

Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed. The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living.

Doesn’t this sound like a cool survival, adventure story?! What an intriguing premise; summer dreams turn into a fight for your life against the forces of nature?! Very exciting!

The Living will be released on November 12, which is actually the day before my birthday!

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I Only Had Eyes For Nancy Drew: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Hi!

So, somewhere in elementary school I missed Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  I know why.  I was engrossed in my Nancy Drew mysteries.  Seriously.  I read them all (and there are about 150 originals).  So, if it wasn’t a Nancy Drew book, I ignored it.  This is why I never read Hatchet by Gary PaulsenHatchet, until now.

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered windbreker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self-pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

Of course Hatchet was awesome. It is a twentieth century classic. It’s a Newberry Award book! I finished it thinking, “Well that was just a darn good book”.

From the fist few sentences I was hooked.  Paulsen’s style of writing is so clean. By clean I mean uncluttered.  Paulsen only writes what is important and the reader doesn’t get bogged down with other information, because he only describes the important things. The whole time the reader is experiencing every thing right alongside Brian. From the pilot’s heart attack, to the plane crash, to the moose attack (Yes. That’s right.) I was right there beside him wondering, like Brian, if he’s going to survive on his own in the wilderness.  I was so involved in Brian’s story that I found myself feeling excited and joyous whenever he made a small victory, or holding my breath when he made a mistake. Talk about engrossing!

Another aspect about Hatchet that I liked was Brian’s memories and dreams. Throughout the story Brian is alone. All by himself. No one for miles. He is forced to deal with his thoughts and memories, especially those relating to the secret about his mother. Brian isn’t only trying to survive physically, but he is also trying to survive his parents’ divorce emotionally.  Both survival attempts mirror each other as the story unfolds.  Brian learns that self-pity doesn’t work.  In order to move beyond things, in a healthy way, is to face them head on – a lesson I can always use a reminder in!

Would I have enjoyed Hatchet as much if I’d read it when my classmates were reading it?  Probably not. (Nancy Drew I only had eyes for you!)  But I am so glad I finally took the time to read this modern-day classic.  Middle grade readers and older  who enjoy survival stories will probably love this book and anyone who hasn’t read Hatchet yet really should add it to their To Read List.  I highly recommend the audiobook because the narrator, Peter Coyote, did a wonderful job (plus it’s a super fast listen).

Author: Gary Paulsen

Publisher: Listening Library (April 27, 2004)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 3 hrs, 37 mins

Narrator(s): Peter Coyote

Series: First in the Brian’s Saga series.

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:  Hatchet By Gary Paulsen

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Right in My Own Backyard: Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

The third 2012-2013 Florida Sunshine State book I’ve read this summer (out of fifteen).

A science-class field trip to the Everglades is supposed to be fun, but Sarah’s new at Glades Academy, and her fellow freshmen Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorbyaren’t exactly making her feel welcome. When an opportunity for an unauthorized side trip on an air boat presents itself, it seems like a perfect escape—an afternoon without feeling like a sore thumb. But one simple oversight turns a joyride into a race for survival across the river of grass. Sarah will have to count on her instincts—and a guy she barely knows—if they have any hope of making it back alive.

This is my favorite of the three Sunshine State Books I’ve read so far this summer!  I think the title, Lost if the River of Grass is fabulously foreboding and terrifying.  This is an incredibly exciting survival tale that is that much more exciting to me because the Everglades are only a few hours south of where I live so it makes it that much more real (and scary!).  After reading this book I am reminded of how much I need to learn about survival skills!  I know some basics (thanks Bear Grylls!) but I don’t think I’d know enough to get myself out of The Everglades alive.

I like Sarah, the city girl main character, and can totally understand her behavior when faced with intense difficulties and fear.  The way she complained and argued with Andy made total sense to me, even if I found it annoying at times.  If I had been stuck out on the swamp (IT’S THE SWAMP, PEOPLE!) with no way of getting out but walking through it surrounded by snakes, mosquitoes, gators and God knows what else, I’d be pretty annoying too!

Rorby’s descriptions of the Everglades and the problems you’d face were spot on.  I felt like I was there trudging alongside Sarah and Andy the whole way.  I was so engrossed with this page turner the whole way through that I actually prayed multiple times that I’d never, ever get stuck in the Everglades!

There is a pretty cute romance between Sarah and Andy, the boy who offers to take Sarah on a boat ride that I think girls will like, but it isn’t a huge part of the story so I think boys will still find Lost in the River of Grass interesting, despite the romance. In the end I think this survival story will appeal to readers in the middle grades and up, although I believe it will have special appeal to those living in Florida.

Note: Just realized author Ginny Rorby grew up in Winter Park, Florida where I live! I knew she went to school in my county, but had no idea she was from Winter Park! Very cool!

Author: Ginny Rorby

Publisher:  Carolrhoda Books (February 9, 2011)

Format: Paperback

Length: 255 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: Lost in the River of Grass

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Book Trailer of the Week: After the Snow

After the Snow by SD CrockettAfter the Snow by S.D. Crockett is a book I received from NetGalley a little while ago. It’s S.D. Crockett’s first novel and its centered in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom and follows teenager Willo, who is struggling to survive in a frozen terrain while searching for his family. I like that After the Snow has a male main character, something I always struggle to enjoy, because this one sounds really intriguing.

Lets take a look at that cover, which is absolutely gorgeous in its stark simplicity.

Watch the book trailer to find out more about S.D. Crockett’s debut novel.