Lirael – Garth Nix

LiraelReading level: 7.5
Series: Old Kingdom series book 2 (UK) / Abhorsen series book 2 (US)
Genre: Fantasy, adventure
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Okay, so the cover may be a bit weird, but this book was sooooo goooood. I dove into Lirael right after finishing Sabriel, and I was immediately pleased to find that Lirael, the character, was more developed than Sabriel ever was, in my opinion. I really felt bad for Lirael for being the outsider. We’ve all felt that. Maybe she was being too melodramatic, but I didn’t really think so. Poor girl. But man, she really develops into an amazing, strong, and intelligent character. I might recommend this book to someone who feels left out and alone. And, like I said, we’ve all been there.

All of a sudden, just as I was really getting into Lirael’s character and her adventures, the book turned to Sameth and his story. I thought, “No! What are you doing? Get out of this story! Let’s get back to Lirael!” Then I fell in love with his plot line. And oh, hey, Sabriel and Touchstone show up! And they’re married! ❤ Then, just as I was getting pulled into Sam and the adventures of his parents, the story went back to Lirael. I was consistently pulled between the two – in a good way – because I loved each plot line so much.

Sameth did get on my nerves a little bit, being all sulky and whiney. But, like Lirael, he too showed his true awesomeness, although Lirael was not outdone. There were some plot twists that I was NOT expecting, and I had to whip out a family tree that I learned to make through being an anthropology major.

Enough of how much I loved the book and am SO EXCITED to start the next in the series. The made-up words and the world in general was easier for me to understand since I had gotten used to it by reading Sabriel. But still, I wouldn’t recommend the book to ELLs unless they are advanced or are intermediate and are up for a challenge.

There’s a touch of swearing here and there, and Lirael mentions sex once or twice in relation to looking into the past and seeing her parents. Nothing too graphic and nothing that would keep me from putting it on my classroom shelves.

Perhaps the content is more oriented towards middle school (as Harry Potter is), but younger high schoolers may really enjoy it. I mean, I clearly did, in case you haven’t noticed.

The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien

Return of the KingReading level: 9
Series: Book 3 of The Lord of the Rings series
Genre: Fantasy, adventure,
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Well, I’ve finished The Lord of the Rings series. It was a good ride, but this series just wasn’t for me. Most people absolutely love these books, the movies, and the story in general, and that’s great. But I couldn’t really get into it. There’s nothing inappropriate (except orc killing and whatnot) so I’ll definitely put it on my classroom shelves. The reading level says 9th grade, but there are hundreds of words I didn’t know and that my dictionary didn’t know either. It’s a difficult read.

Not until about a quarter of the way through this book did I realize how to read this series: skip all the crazy names and places. Don’t even try to remember who those random people are or where those places are located. Not important. I was spending way too much time beating myself up about not understanding made-up words for people and places. I suppose I just committed LOTR heresy or something.

There’s a lot of LOTR in the Harry Potter series. For example, Wormtongue is like Wormtale, both bad guys are called the Dark Lord, and both Harry and Frodo let their enemies live (Wormtale/Peter Pettigrew and Sauroman, respectively). I’ll always be a Harry Potter gal. 🙂

In my review of The Fellowship of the Ring, I whined a bit about the lack of women. There are some awesome women in the series as it goes on, but Eowyn was the awesomest. Or so I thought. She went into battle against her father’s wishes, killed an evil thingy, refused to sit idle, put Faramir in his place…and then became all submissive. Whaaat?! Allow me to explain.

After Faramir and Eowyn are hurt in battle and are recovering, Faramir is all, “I’m sad.”

And Eoywn is like, “How come? Can I help?”

And Faramir’s all, “You’re so beautiful. And fair and bright. And pretty.”

Then Eoywn is AWESOME and says, “Alas, not me, lord! Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle. But I thank you for this at least, that I need not keep to my chamber…” And then she walks away.

A little bit later, Faramir confesses his love for Eowyn and all of a sudden she’s on board. She says, “Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor? And would you have your proud folk say of you: ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?”‘

So she turns her “wild shieldmaiden” into something negative, something that must be tamed. I’m just going to end this post here…

Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell

teaching hopeI began reading Teaching Hope when I was feeling bogged down by the education system (which is frequently) and needed an upper. I had read it before, but I couldn’t remember much. It wound up depressing me even more because such terrible things happen to students and teachers within these pages. Most of the stories are supposed to resonate hope and resiliency, but I was just more and more bummed about all the terrible things that children and teachers face every day. It’s a good book, really it is, it’s just not great in the hands of someone so…cynical…as myself. I still know my place is in the classroom, even being aware that parents, teachers, administrators, students, poverty, violence, and society may be against me. But it’s where I belong.

Here are some important points I wish to remember:

  • Here are 150 teachers who would do anything for their students.
  • They have seen the worst and have been able to move on.
  • The students are always worth it.
  • Even if you can’t change every student’s life (who can?), changing one life for the better is worth it.
  • Always get permission before teaching a controversial book (such as The Freedom Writers Diary).

Double Eagle – Sneed B. Collard III

imagesReading level: 8.5

Genre: Mystery, historical fiction

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: Middle school or early high school

Let’s just take a moment and chuckle at the author’s name.

I randomly bought this book for $0.25  on a whim, and to my surprise it was a pretty awesome work of historical fiction. Score!

I learned a lot through Double Eagle:

  • coin-collecting terms and other awesomeness
  • perspectives of southerners about the Civil War War Between the States
  • other cool facts about the Civil War regarding forts and minting

The book begins with Mike, 14 years old, drooling over a pretty college girl. I was afraid that it would soon turn into something inappropriate, but it really didn’t. The two “inappropriate” parts were Mike’s friend Kyle saying “he-ell” frequently as well as Kyle’s cigarette habit. Smoking and swearing weren’t glorified, so I’m not too worried.  Also, two characters have an affair but the “worst” of it is just them kissing.

The reading level is pretty high due to academic words for coins, place names, and other jargon related to sailing, minting, fishing, and the like. Amazon.com says the book is good for readers ages 10 and up, but I could see youngsters getting lost in some of the language. I think that the content is great for middle to lower high school, but it’s a bit juvenile for older readers. I could see Civil War junkies (and/or coin collectors) being quite interested. I also wonder if my Civil War interest made me breeze through this book, which wasn’t that eventful until the end with the hurricane. It might be pretty boring for some students.

The book might appeal, at least in a small way, to students whose parents are divorced and who are shuttled around from parent to parent.

The book isn’t for ELLs for reasons listed above. Also, Kyle and other characters speak with a southern accent, which would make the dialogue difficult to comprehend.

Lemme just say that I love old Mr. Dubois. He’s a minor character, but I fell in love with him, his secrets, knowledge, and willingness to help out two teenage treasure hunters.

Sabriel – Garth Nix

sabrielReading level: 7.9

Series: Old Kingdom series book 1 (UK) / Abhorsen series book 1 (US)

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: Middle or high school

I am in love with this series.

Sabriel (SAB-ree-ehl) is an awesome, strong, and independent main character who kicks zombies’ butts even when scared and filled with grief. And by zombies I mean dead people who are controlled by evil sources after they have died. So they’re not zombies in the traditional sense but still fit that definition. Anyway, moving on.

Like several people on goodreads have noted, the book is a little slow at the beginning, but I would encourage students to keep going anyway. It gets much more exciting. The whole premise of necromancing and going into Death is just plain cool. It’s not a world I would want to live in because, well, dead people/beings/things everywhere. But that’s why the Abhorsen exists – to keep the dead in Death.

Mogget, the “free magic” being in the form of a cat, reminds me of Gollum. Is he a good or bad character? A little of both, definitely. I hope Mogget comes back later in the series because he holds such knowledge and mystery.

The only reservation I have about putting this book in a classroom library (which I will) is due to one scene in which Sabriel was taking a bath and heard a couple in another room, er, doing it. Nothing graphic, just awkward.

The romance between Sabriel and Touchstone was pretty cute. Nothing soppy, fake, annoying, or inappropriate. How it should be. 😉 One of my favorite parts was when Touchstone said something like, “I love you. Is that alright?” And Sabriel replied, “Yes, I think so,” or something of that sort.

When I finished the book, I realized that I didn’t care about Sabriel much. I mean, I didn’t feel that I knew her. This really hit home when I began reading (well, listening to) the second book in the series, Lirael. There is so much character building of our heroine Lirael that, a few chapters into the book, I felt much more connected to her than I ever did to Sabriel. The world-building in Sabriel was amazing, and I think that perhaps the author focused too much on that rather than building his characters.

This isn’t a book for ELLs. Crazy (but awesome) made-up names everywhere. I wouldn’t have known how to pronounce much without having listened to the audiobook, which, I might add, is narrated by THE Tim Curry. He can’t do a female voice to save his life, but all other voices were awesome.

In the Stone Circle – Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

in the stone circleReading level: 5.5

Genre: mystery, paranormal

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: Middle school

I confess that I love ghost stories, and I was quite pleased with this one. Although it was a tad juvenile, I turned on a few extra lights when I went to bed.

Cristyn came off as annoying and spoiled at the beginning, but her true (non-obnoxious) colors showed when she befriended 8 year-old Dennis and served as mediator between Miranda and her family. She really turned into a likeable character in very little time.

Miranda is a little twerp annoying. She reminds me of Phoebe in Walk Two Moons in that her character was pretty unlikable, but underlying stressers were causing her nasty attitude. The lesson here is that to know someone truly, we must understand all that they’re going through, their past and present. This lesson also applies to Dennis who acted out for various reasons and to Dennis and Miranda’s mother. Essentially, judging people is bad.

I think this book could be powerful in the hands of a student who has lost a family member through death or divorce. Although in this story Miranda’s dad is sort of the bad guy, we see how divorce can tear apart families, but also how they can be put back together. It might be good for students to read about kids like them struggling due to their parents divorcing. This story might also help students with the loss of a loved one because it highlights how hard it is to talk about and that it’s impossible to “get over it.”

I recommending this book to middle schoolers; it’s too easy of a read for high schoolers, and the subject matter is, like I said, juvenile. There are a dozen or so instances of characters saying things like “My God” or “Oh my God” to the point where it was a little excessive. That might bug some parents/students. There’s also about half a dozen-ish curse words – but not really bad ones, or anything. I don’t think these two reasons are enough to keep it off the shelves. I mean, if zero swearing were allowed in school books, there would be no school libraries.

Something that did really bug me was one or two characters using the term “retard” in a derogatory way. The first time, I pretended I didn’t see it. The second time, I crossed it out with a pencil so students will know that the word is there (I’m not censoring) but will know that it’s “bad” essentially.

The book is good for ELLs, but there are colloquialisms throughout, not to mention Welsh names of places and people. But I think that in the hands of an intermediate student, it could be just the level of familiar and difficult to get students thinking a little harder than they’re used to (Vygotsky’s i+1, anyone?). I mean that the language is at a low-level and is written how people casually speak. Throughout, there are academic words, Welsh terms, and figures of speech that might be a bit confusing.