Escaping the Giant Wave – Peg Kehret

escaping the giant waveReading level: 4.3
Lexile: 750
Genre: Adventure, realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Thirteen-year-old Kyle thought spending a vacation on the Oregon coast with his family would be great. Kyle’s perfect vacation becomes a nightmare while he’s babysitting his sister, BeeBee. An earthquake hits the coast and starts a fire in their hotel. Can Kyle and BeeBee outwit and outrun nature’s fury to save themselves from tsunami terror?

One of my 6th graders recommended that I read this book, which she and others LOVED, so I checked it out from the library. I had really high hopes since the kiddos raved about it, but I was disappointed. But first, the good.

The plot is intense. It is also creepily realistic and hits home, especially since I live on the Washington coast. I probably won’t look at tsunamis and earthquakes the same way. Kyle is a nice character and is a good amount of kind 6th grader trying to be responsible and typical pre-teen boy who loves wheelies and pizza. Beebee is adorable, and I am pretty fascinated by how much she loves finance.

If you read this blog at all regularly, you’ll know I’m a big fan of bullies turning good/being able to see the good in bullies. We don’t necessarily see any redemption from the bully, but he does turn himself around a little bit. Ironically, he had to be told off before showing any sort of compassion. So not only does the book bring to light what might happen in a legitimate natural disaster, but it makes the reader think about the importance of standing up to bullies without being a bully oneself.

I thought the writing was…a little off. For example, Kyle, who’s about 11, uses words and knows bits of information that typical 6th graders don’t know. Kyle sees a little too good for me, and a little too smart. Has this kid no faults besides nagging his parents for more allowance?

The action is intense, yes, but I would have been MUCH more interested if the title of the book didn’t highlight half of the adventure: escaping the giant wave.

With Hatchet, Brian becomes a different person after his adventure. I mean, there is character development. I didn’t see any of that with Kyle. The characters are sure cute but so flat.

It’s definitely ELL-friendly, and the whole book is fast-paced and (sort of) exciting. Kids love it. But honestly, I would have looked over it if my students hadn’t recommended it.

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The Titan’s Curse – Rick Riordan

titan's curseReading level: 3.4
Lexile: 630
Series: Percy Jackson & The Olympians book 3
Genre: Adventure, myth
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

IT’S NOT EVERYDAY YOU FIND YOURSELF IN COMBAT WITH A HALF-LION, HALF-HUMAN.

But when you’re the son of a Greek god, it happens. And now my friend Annabeth is missing, a goddess is in chains and only five half-blood heroes can join the quest to defeat the doomsday monster.

Oh and guess what. The Oracle has predicted that not all of us will survive…

The fun continues! Seriously, these books are a hoot. I saw many of the twists and turns coming, but several of them got me right in the feels.

For example, the ending made me tear up on so many levels. We think Luke is dead for a little bit (I don’t understand how he’s still alive, honestly), and it’s so sad because he was never redeemed. Plus, Thalia and Annabeth were so close to him. He was their legitimate friend whom Thalia died for. I love that there is still hope for Luke and that Annabeth and Thalia hold on to that hope even if Percy doesn’t.

The message of acceptance between the demigods and hunters was very well done, I thought. Just like we learned to accept people who are different, like Tyson, we learn to appreciate the strengths of people who might be obnoxious or egotistical. Zoe Nightshade did get on my nerves a little bit, but her unwavering commitment for Artemis was touching. Okay, it was more than touching because I teared up at her death scene.

The very ending was particularly good as well. Hades has kids? What has become of the di Angelos? Also, have we seen the last of Thalia now that she’s joined the hunters?

The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan

the sea of monstersReading level: 4.7
Lexile: 740
Series: Percy Jackson & The Olympians book 2
Genre: Adventure, myth
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

The heroic son of Poseidon makes an action-packed comeback in the second must-read installment of Rick Riordan’s amazing young readers series. Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.

Rick Riordan’s done it again. There’s always the fear that books will get worse as the series progresses (The Hunger Games, anyone?), but The Sea of Monsters was pretty much golden. I did like The Lightning Thief better but only because it was our introduction to this magical world of gods and goddesses, and the introduction is always magical (okay, I’ll say it: Yer a wizard, Harry).

I’m enjoying our trio of characters becoming a cohesive unit, even if silly Grover is absent for most of the book. I wasn’t sure about Annabeth at first (like I wasn’t sure about Hermione who was, let’s face it, an annoying know-it-all), but she’s definitely becoming friendlier and like-able. She’s got her rough spots, but her soft spots are starting to show through.

And who doesn’t adore Tyson? I absolutely love the message of acceptance that we learn by Percy being friends with him and finally accepting him as his true brother. Here’s a reminder that everyone needs a friend and to belong somewhere.

We hate Luke. We’re supposed to hate Luke because Luke is a terrible person. But he’s just a kid, really. The author brilliantly sets us up to hate him while fanning a small flame of an idea that Luke can be saved. I’m a big fan of bullies turning nice. At this point, I really don’t know if Luke will turn into the ultimate evil or return to being a regular demigod.

I’m also wondering about Clarisse. We hate her too. Will she ever be redeemed? She’s a jerk, but she’s no killer like Luke, although there’s really nothing likeable to her. I’m guessing we’ll see some soft spots in Clarisse’s armor, much like we do with Drako Malfoy near the end of the Harry Potter series. There is hope for our villains yet.

Then there’s Percy. He’s a funny guy, making me smile or laugh quietly myself as I listen to the audiobook. I appreciate that the author wrote him with some flaws like not listening to authority, ADHD, and dyslexia. Percy embraces his weaknesses but moves beyond them, not letting those flaws define him. Like Harry Potter, he jumps at the opportunity to save his friends and/or the world, never giving his decisions a second thought, because he knows what’s right.

For commentary about appropriateness for ELL and grade level recommendation, see The Lightning Thief.

Shabanu – Suzanne Fisher Staples

shabanuReading level: 7.6
Lexile: 970
Series: Shabanu book 1
Genre: Realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

Life is both sweet and cruel to strong-willed young Shabanu, whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. The second daughter in a family with no sons, she’s been allowed freedoms forbidden to most Muslim girls. But when a tragic encounter with a wealthy and powerful landowner ruins the marriage plans of her older sister, Shabanu is called upon to sacrifice everything she’s dreamed of. Should she do what is necessary to uphold her family’s honor—or listen to the stirrings of her own heart?

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind was a truly eye-opening and beautiful read. I bought my copy at some library book sale because it features a “diverse” family, different from the white American norm. And it really was different in the best ways; it made me think about my own culture and what is moral and right to those of us who come from different backgrounds.

As an anthropology major, I’ve learned to open my mind to arranged marriage and polygamy, both featured in Shabanu. It’s great when she wants to marry the boy her parents arrange for her, but then we also side with her when she doesn’t want to marry a much older man who already has several wives. It was all fine when Shabanu wanted to marry the first boy, but the second arranged marriage seems unfair, which paves the way for classroom discussion. There are some great articles out there (can’t remember where, of course) that discuss arranged marriage and how many women love it, because who better to find a great man than wise parents? After all, finding a good man is hard work.

What bothered me the most was the forced and accepted submissiveness of women. However, as I learned through my major, even though women of various cultures are expected to be “submissive,” they can have a lot of power. This could be discussed by students as well, especially after reading other sources about how much power wives have over their husbands, other wives, and their children. The violence of the father and the obedience of the mother still made me squirm with my liberal, western ideals.

Shabanu is also put in the impossible place of having to choose whether to be miserable her whole life and marry the older man or to run away and risk her sister’s life. If she marries the man and he loves her, the other wives will be jealous. If he doesn’t love her, then she’ll be unhappy for sure. Here is a young girl having to make adult decisions that no human should have to make.

The language of the book itself is beautifully-crafted. There are many Pakistani words that would be difficult for low readers and ELLs whose native language is not Pakistani or a language similar to it. For this reason, this book is not ELL friendly unless it were taught as a whole-class novel and scaffolded appropriately.

This book contains many “adult” topics such as a part where camels breed, Shabanu thinks about how she and her sister’s breasts are developing, and her monthly bleeding. There’s absolutely nothing graphic, but some of these topics might be enough to upset a parent, especially if the book is read by a middle schooler. My policy: if students read something that makes them uncomfortable, they can stop. Also, if we took out all the books with anything “inappropriate” or “adult,” then there’d be no books in the classroom beside picture books.

Oh, that ending. It tore my heart out with each turn. Shabanu is the first book in a series, so I might just follow her story when I can find the other books in the series.

Exit Slip Stoplight Method

The Teaching Channel introduces a teacher’s idea of the exit slip stoplight method: There is a green, yellow, and red dot on the wall, and students are each given a sticky note. At the end of class, students write something they learned and put it on the green dot. Or they can write down a question they have and put it on the yellow dot. Or they can write down if something stopped their learning and put it on the red dot.

The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

The lightning thiefReading level: 4.7
Lexile: 740
Series: Percy Jackson & The Olympians book 1
Genre: Adventure, myth
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Yer a halfblood, Percy.

Okay, yes, The Lightning Thief is quite similar to the Harry Potter series: two boys and one girl set of on an adventure, there’s a magical camp (like Hogwarts), Percy’s stepdad is like Harry’s uncle/cousin, and the gods co-exist with humans.

That said, though, I LOVED THIS BOOK, and so do a lot of my 6th graders, especially the boys. I was skeptical because I didn’t think it’d be convincing enough to draw me in. Like, the Harry Potter world is plausible (uh, kind of ) to me! As it turned out, Percy Jackson’s world is brilliantly crafted, and I was immediately drawn in. The writing itself is quite well-done, too.

Needless to say, I’ve already started the 2nd book.

Something I found weird is that Percy is clearly very close to his mother. But even when he believes his mother is dead, he’s pretty much fine. He’s like, “Yeah, Camp Halfblood is fun. Yeah, friends! Oh, right, I’m a little sad about my mom…” However, he does go to great lengths to get this mom back, but still. I’d be pretty frantic if I were him.

I learned a lot about the Greek gods – like, who’s the god(dess) of what. Riordan definitely did his homework.

ELLs may struggle with all the Greek names, but that’s really the only problem that I see. It’s a low reading level, and all the gods (and an occasional goddess) are explained as they are introduced.