(P.S. Posting early, who knows if Hurricane Sandy will leave us with power when she pays us a visit later tonight?!)
A new Patricia Polacco book is always a gift – both because she writes with such conviction and authenticity about the lives of our children inside and outside school, as well as because her illustrations are truly a marvel. I’ve been waiting for her latest, Bully, and now it’s finally here!
In this story, Lyla moves to a new school and slowly finds a place for herself, even though starting out all over again in a brand new middle school is never easy. She meets Jamie on the first day of school – and although he is definitely NOT a “popular kid,” Lyla finds his generous, funny spirit comforting. She is glad for having made a true friend, someone to watch movies with and sit with in the cafeteria no matter what. But, everyone at school knew who the three most popular girls in the school were, the ones EVERYONE else wanted to be like, look like and be friends with. When Lyla makes the cheer leading squad, she is suddenly befriended by all three – and things go well, at first. But Lyla soon learns that her new friends have a secret game – leaving terrible comments on classmates’ Facebook pages. When the girls make Jamie a target, Lyla decides she has had enough, being a “popular girl” is not worth the price of letting her best friend down. But, her new group of friends is not prepared to be cast aside so easily – they devise a scenario where it looks as though Lyla cheated on her state tests, and then spread terrible rumors on Facebook. Jamie comes to the rescue, and the plan is exposed, but not before Lyla learns first hand what a internet-based campaign of bullying feels like.
Here is a page from Polacco’s wonderful website which captures that moment so powerfully:
This is the perfect book with which to launch a class discussion on bullying and the internet. I know our kids really value the opportunity to talk about this new reality in their lives, and it would be a great way to get them started.
I loved Because of Mr. Terupt, Rob Buyea’s remarkable debut novel about a remarkable fifth grade teacher who teaches his kids much more than they could have ever expected about responsibility and kindness and truth. I had read that there was a sequel in the works some time ago, and was thrilled to see it prominently displayed in our local library on Friday. Mr. Terupt is back to teach the same group, and to lead them into learning adventures in their sixth grade year. Buyea’s website describes the plot this way:
Fifth-grade was full of unforgettable events for Mr. Terupt and his class at Snow Hill School. Seven students were particularly affected by Mr. Terupt. Now those seven students are back, and they’ve been granted the rare opportunity to send one more year with their beloved teacher before they graduate from elementary school.
Peter’s parents expect him to attend private school after sixth-grade, but Peter has plans to stay right where he is. Eager to grow up, Alexia gets in over her head with some older kids. Danielle suspects that her family is keeping a secret from her, and she’s determined to find out what it is. Jeffrey makes a life-changing discovery. Curious about her teacher’s past, Jessica uncovers startling details about Mr. Terupt. Anna finally decides she’s ready for the truth about her absent dad. And Luke’s keen observations lead to questions with unexpected answers.
It’s a roller coaster of a year as Mr. Terupt helps his students be the best they can be—and enlists their help to pull off an extra-special project. But will there be a happy ending for all?
I began the book with great anticipation, but was soon disappointed (I am sorry to say). I felt that the plot was rather contrived, with all the various “problems” rather hastily put together. What really put me off was the way Mr. Terupt takes center stage – he is the one who pretty much solves everyone’s problems, who all the kids look to to solve their problems. The first book, I thought, made full use of multiple perspectives – you got to know the kids and Mr. Terupt through layers of interpretation. Although Mr. Terupt’s was the one missing perspective – you came to know him through his students, and this was a wonderful way to tell the story. I felt that it was Mr. Terupt himself, not the kids, who were the focus of the new book – he was everywhere, orchestrating rescues and “meaningful moments,” and the kids took a secondary role. Halfway through the story, I knew exactly how things were going to be resolved – and I think my kids will, too. That said, I know my students will leap at the chance to pick up where they left off with characters they had grown to love – a powerful first book will do that. So, it will be interesting to see how they respond to Mr. Terupt Falls Again.
For Non Fiction, I was drawn to this book – mostly because of that cover photograph, and the wistful look of the young lady gazing so directly at me. Happily, the inside of the book turned out to be just as arresting.
Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the never-ending search for a cure is the story of the TB germ. The book begins this way:
“This is the story of a small, harmless-looking germ that has been infecting people for millions of years. It’s the story of how this microorganism became the greatest killer of humans in the history of the world; of the terrified, desperate people invaded by this tiny creature, and what their families and friends tried to do to save their lives…of physicians struggled for centuries to find a cure for their illness; and of a miraculous medical discovery that finally stopped the killer of billions of humans – only to have this germ stubbornly evolve again into something even more insidious and deadly.”
I found the whole story fascinating, like a puzzle that hundreds of people were striving to figure out over hundreds of years. Everyone, it seemed, had one critical element or other figured out, but never at the same time. Jim Murphy and Alison Blank have researched their topic thoroughly, and written about it in an informative yet engaging way. The photographs they’ve chosen to include add to the narrative beautifully, as well. I also liked the fact that they included an extensive bibliography and source notes section for students (and teachers!) who wanted to research TB more extensively.