Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Sky JumpersReading level: 5th ish?
Series: Sky Jumpers book 1
Genre: Dystopian, science fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

12-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.

But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or to die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help.

Sky Jumpers is a pretty great middle level, dystopian story. The premise and setting is interesting right off the bat: post-WWIII, deadly Bomb’s Breath, few modern inventions, a secluded community… I enjoyed learning about the history and issues facing White Rock, although I would have liked to have seen more mystery aside from Brock’s “mysterious” background…which we learn about in no time at all.

Hope, our narrator, is simply amazing – brave, smart, and a great friend. I really enjoyed her voice. I liked the end, especially, where she (being 12) realizes that her strengths may not lie with inventing but in something else – something her society tends to overlook. This theme spoke loud and clear to me as I struggle to find the “right” path and career moves now that I’m done with school and student teaching. More than anything in this story, Hope’s message will stick with me, and it would do well for students to think about it as well.

Sky Jumpers is the first in a series that is currently in the works. The first book ends with enough finality that I didn’t feel I needed to rush off and read the sequel, but there are enough unknowns to keep me interested in the rest of Hope’s story.

Unfortunately I was a bit bored with parts of the book, leading me to rate it 3/5 stars on goodreads. I felt pretty “meh” about a good chunk of the action and wanted more to happen and more mystery to keep me wondering. That aside, the book has gotten excellent reviews from many readers, so snatch this book up if you have a chance.

It’s definitely a middle level book with the main character being 12 and the simplicity of the plot. It’s ELL-friendly if students know some key words such as “bomb,” “bandit,” and “invention.” The reading level is my best guess because the book is not on record with Scholastic, and I don’t have the hard copy of the book in front of me to run through Word to get the approximate reading level.

Sky Jumpers is my ninth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

The Time Hackers by Gary Paulsen

The Time HackersReading level: 5.6
Lexile: 880
Genre: Science fiction, adventure
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

You ever open your locker and find that some joker has left something really weird inside? Seventh-grader Dorso Clayman opens his locker door to find a dead body. Thirty seconds later it disappears. It’s not the first bizarre thing that has appeared in his locker and then vanished. Something’s going on.

Somebody has decided to make Dorso and his buddy Frank the target of some strange techno-practical jokes. The ultimate gamesters have hacked into the time line, and things from the past are appearing in the present. Soon, the jokes aren’t funny anymore—they’re dangerous. Dorso and Frank have got to beat the time hackers at their own game by breaking the code, before they get lost in the past themselves.

The good:

The dialogue between Frank and Dorso (who names their kid Dorso?) is funny and witty. The plot is fast-paced and fairly engaging. I think this book could be really interesting for middle school sci-fi fans.

Bringing historical events and figures to the present as holograms sounds AMAZING. C’mon scientists, make this a reality!

As a cat lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes of Darling dressing the cat up in outfits. It was totally unnecessary to the storyline, but I got a kick out of it.

The first few pages are fantastic: Dorso opens his school locker and finds a dead body, but he hardly reacts. And the reader is like, “WHAT IS GOING ON? I MUST READ MORE.” I bet kids would be hooked if the teacher read the first pages out loud as part of a book talk.

The bad:

Why does Frank obsess over seeing naked female historical figures? It really is an obsession to the point that it’s just…too much. It’s not inappropriate, per se, but Frank’s constant mentioning of seeing naked women is obnoxious. I don’t care if that’s what all 12 year old boys are thinking about; they can keep it inside their heads.

I couldn’t get into the characters much. I thought they were funny, but that was about it. The book was so short that it was more about the plot and less about the characters, so it wasn’t a huge deal as these boys put themselves in danger. I just didn’t care.

Speaking of danger, these boys were trying to stop the demise of the universe, but I still couldn’t get into it. I guess I just didn’t understand what the gamesters/hackers were doing. I mean, I understood it, but why would anyone risk so much to play a game? Silly.

What even happened at the end? I just… I’m no sci-fi expert, but it seems like The Time Hackers was too simplistic and short for what it was trying to do. A longer, more in-depth book may have gotten me more involved with the characters and plot.

Anywho, the vocab is fine for ELLs, although the book requires high comprehension for the reader to understand the intricacies of what’s going on.

This is my second book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReading level: 9.5
Genre: Science fiction, adventure
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune–and remarkable power–to whoever can unlock them.

There is a used bookstore in my college town that leaves free books in boxes outside of the store. Among the outdated computer manuals and self-help books, there is an occasional gem. This is one of those gems. I was excited to snatch Ready Player One, but Husband was even more excited.

Now, you’ll remember that the last time Husband was excited about a book and wanted me to read it, it was Ender’s Game. Did not turn out well. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about this one.

I almost gave up, actually. An conversation I had went like this:

Me: I don’t think I can keep going. I’m on page 60 and nothing is happening.

Husband: WHAT. Don’t give up. Let me see. Literally on the next page, things start to happen.

Me: Fine. Oh, there’s the excitement. Never mind.

I did truly enjoy Ready Player One despite it being about video games and a time period that I was too young to remember (the ’80s). But you guys, I actually played Zork on a Windows 95. Anyway, I’m also not a fan of sci-fi, but I got into this one.  I think that both the character of Wade and the plot are quite well done, and that’s what kept me going despite some boring parts. Wade is your typical unpopular geek, but early on, we learn he’s exceptionally smart (if obsessively so), and not to mention pretty brave and selfless.

I also appreciated that Art3mis is a girl in a gamer world, and she’s a super good gamer, too. It would have been easy for Cline to not include women at all (which he almost did), and I wish he would have built up her awesomeness. Like Husband admitted, Art3mis turns into more of a love interest near the middle of the book and never recovers.

Spoiler:

Aech is black and lesbian. Maybe it was Cline trying to be inclusive (killing three birds with one stone) and tacked that twist on, or maybe that’s how he always saw Aech. Either way, props for having a second (the second of two) female character be black and lesbian. What I thought was brave, especially coming from a white man, was Cline’s having Aech explain why she chose to create a white, male avatar: white men have the most power in society simply because of their gender and skin color.

This book is pretty popular with middle schoolers despite it not being entirely appropriate at times. There is lots of swearing and several f-bombs. There’s an awkward description of virtual sex and some other things I’m not going to talk about. Those descriptions are brief and not too graphic, but it’s enough that I wouldn’t read the book aloud in class.

The tone and vocabulary of the book is pretty high level and sophisticated. The vocabulary in particular is complex and includes lots of made up and technical terms, making the book not appropriate for low readers or ELLs. It does offer a challenge to middle schoolers and 9th graders.

I would recommend Ready Player One to kiddos who have high reading skills, like video games, and enjoy snarky narrators. It’s difficult to explain the niche this book fits into. I’ve been typing out an explanation but keep deleting, so I’ll just leave it there.

This is my first book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Ender's GameReading level: 9.0
Series: Ender’s Saga book 1
Genre: Science Fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

I did not like this book.

Aaaand cue the angry mob of Ender’s Game fans.

I particularly enjoy reading books where I can imagine being friends with the author. I’m thinking of James Herriot, J.K. Rowling, John Green, Libba Bray. I couldn’t see myself being friends with a man  who is so against gay rights, as Orson Scott Card is. Therefore, I read the book with rather significant negative bias.

Knowing that Card is anti-gay rights, I found it incredibly hilarious that he wrote about his young, male characters sleeping and fighting naked. A lot. He mentions this detail ALL THE TIME so we don’t forget that the boys sleep naked. There were also many (unnecessary) references to boys’ “crotches.” It wasn’t inappropriate (if only excessive), and I won’t keep it off classroom selves, but, c’mon guys – the plentiful comments about boys’ nakedness leads me to believe that Card may be hiding a rather large part of his identity and trying to cover it up with hypocrisy.

Something else that irritated me was the lack of women. Aside from Ender’s mom, I think there are 2 female characters: Ender’s sister (she’s pretty awesome but in the end just barely escapes being a slave to Peter – her brother) and Petra, who is a rather minor character. But it’s okay that there are so few female characters because THEY’RE NOT SMART ENOUGH BECAUSE OF EVOLUTION: “They [girls] don’t often pass the tests to get in. Too many centuries of evolution are working against them” (24). I don’t even…

All in all, I found the book incredibly dull except for bits here and there. As the book failed to become any more interesting the more I read on, the more irritated I became. People LOVE this book! My husband, who doesn’t read much, adores this book and literally placed the book in my hands and watched me read the first chapter because he wanted me to read it so badly. He said that as a middle schooler, the book really spoke to him because he felt so isolated and different, like Ender. Like he said, maybe I have to be a middle school boy to like Ender’s Game.

The reading level is pretty high due to lots of academic language, which is why I say it’s not ELL-friendly. Each chapter opens with dialogue between two people men but who’s talking isn’t laid out. It’s just string of quotation after string of quotation. It was confusing to me, but I don’t think it would be any more confusing to ELLs unless they have limited reading proficiency in their native language(s).

I found it weird and rather disturbing that the kids boys would talk in the African American Vernacular, and it was described as slang. It’s not slang. It’s a dialect. I didn’t see the purpose of this “slang”…

And Peter is just downright creepy. He’s a 12-year-old psychopath. And Ender is 6 years old and being trained to be a killer. Creepy creepy creepy. I couldn’t even picture Ender being 6. The way he talked and thought was “advanced,” I know, but I had to picture him as 15 or older because my brain couldn’t comprehend a 6-year-old having these sorts of thoughts.

Ender’s internal struggle of being a killer/turning into Peter was interesting, I’ll admit. It’s not like he woke up one morning and realized, “oh dang, I’m a murder. When did this even happen?” No, Ender sees it coming, and he is very much aware of his transformation from innocent to killer. I heard from various sources my husband that some people don’t think this book is good for kids because killing is glorified. I didn’t think so. Because the book is told through Ender’s eyes, we see that killing people sucks. Don’t do it, boys and girls. The end, then, was my favorite part – when there’s the hope for peace and understanding. I thought this bit about coming to peace with and understanding the buggers (the enemy) was ironic because of Card’s intolerance to gay people, who, in fact, are human and not even aliens.

Edit: The reader is lead to believe that Ender is “off the hook” and innocent after murdering two children as well as millions (billions?) of buggers because he felt bad or because it was an accident. I found myself excusing Ender’s actions, but that’s not realistic or moral. When you hurt someone (or, heaven forbid, kill someone), there are consequences whether your feel sorry or not. However, I think that students (middle schoolers especially) would not think so deeply about this issue without being prompted, and I don’t think this book is going to turn kids into killers, even if it does plant the seed that you can do terrible things as long as you feel bad or if it was in self-defense (George Zimmerman trial, anyone?).

And thus ends my most cynical post to date. Good day.

Feed – M.T. Anderson

feed

Reading level: 6.7

Genre: Dystopian, sci-fi

ELL-Friendly: No; lots of slang and abbreviated words

Library recommendation: Middle or high school, though probably more of interest to HS-age.

I read this book about a year ago, so I’m struggling to remember much. I do remember that I didn’t like Feed a whole lot. As I skimmed through the pages, I remembered that I found the book boring. There wasn’t much of a plot but rather the reader following the everyday thoughts and actions of the main character Titus. The narration of Titus is also hard to follow with him using what I may venture to call “teen language” with lots of “likes.” But, as with teenagers, Titus is preoccupied with uninteresting (to me) teenage things like shopping and what is cool. But I guess that’s part of the point.

While I found the book rather dull, the ideas behind it are brilliant – a “feed” in your mind much like today’s facebook feeds, but with more advertisements – in your brain. Of course, that creates a totally brain-dead, materialistic, consumer society, which is why I didn’t care for Titus. I’m sure that was the point though – we have to see through the lens of a boy 100% in this system for us to understand it and for us to love Violet who rages against the system.

I read this book for a young adult lit class and I remember the class having in-depth conversations about the implications of this book and about technology in general, and these same discussions could easily take place in a classroom, especially during a unit on media literacy. Even selecting specific sections to have the class read could work.

Amazom.com says Feed is for ages 14+, which is high school age. You’ve got to read between the lines a lot with this book, but it wouldn’t hurt to have it in a middle school classroom library. If a kid doesn’t like it, he/she (I need a gender-neutral, singular pronoun) can stop. What middle school students might like is the language, as there are lots of words used by Titus (and everyone else) that you’ve got to think about in order to understand. It’s clever, but it did prove frustrating for me at times to figure what words like “mal” meant. Not a book for beginner ELLs.

Uglies Series – Scott Westerfeld

Reading level:
Uglies: 5.6
Pretties: 5.4
Specials: 5.6
Extras: 4.5

Series: Uglies

Genre: Dystopian, adventure, sci-fi

ELL-Friendly: Basically yes, but some jargon/made-up words are used throughout

Library recommendation: Middle to high school

So, SO good. All of them. Westerfeld reflects BRILLIANTLY on our current society in such a creativuglies-series_orig-coverse way. You’ll find yourself thinking about society’s influence on you and others while entranced in the action and love (not like soppy, teenage love, either) of the characters. What I particularly loved was the critical thinking you find yourself doing without realizing it, which lends itself to class or small group discussions.

Following Tally through this series was fascinating because she changed and developed so realistically. Sometimes I hated her for her choices but loved her for being strong. The downside is that, because the main character is a girl, I think this series would appeal exclusively to girls. I mean, just look at the covers. Girls. Girls everywhere.

With prompting, I think that boys would enjoy the series if they would just give it a chance. Because really, these books are about each and every one of us because we are all influenced by fashion, advertisements, technology, and society in general. It influences our thoughts, looks, and actions every single day.

These books in their entirety or in pieces could be used alongside a unit in media literacy, advertisements, etc.

The good news is that Westerfeld has written a ton of books, at least one of which (So Yesterday, which I am reading) is told from the viewpoint of a boy. More on Westfeld’s other books as I read them.

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