Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Kindling - Braden Bell

Home work? Of course. Crushes? Sure. But who knew seventh grade included superpowers?

All thirteen-year-old Conner Dell wants is to pass pre-algebra, play lacrosse, and possibly kiss Melanie Stephens. He didn't mean to set anyone's gym shorts on fire, or make school lunches explode. But now that the strange powers inside him have been ignited, Conner's normal teenage life is about to go up in flames!

One “dark and stormy night,” Conner, his twin sister, Lexa, and her friend Melanie are studying at home, and all is well, despite the storm. Until Melanie opens the front door. 

Waiting in the street is danger, and they all three sense it. The lights go out, the dogs bark furiously, then mysteriously stop, and a lone man, dressed in black, is standing in the street. A coincidence? A scene right out of a scary movie? 

Perhaps it's all innocent enough, until the same man is spotted near their school. Who is this guy, and what does he have to do with magi, kindling, and the Dark Force? 

Bell weaves magic and telepathy into what most would consider the mundane world of middle school in this easy-to-read novel. Although at times as an adult reader, I felt the world-building needed to be a little stronger, and occasionally the telepathic talk was confusing, the book was enjoyable and has received great reviews from my students who are curious about what will happen next in the lives of Conner and Lexa. 

Years of teaching middle school students has helped the author target the voice he gives to the characters, as well as the emotions they experience at discovering their lives are now special and in danger. The Kindling   could serve as a gateway for young readers interested in moving from juvenile books which average 100 pages, toward heftier novels such as Harry Potter, helping readers build their skills in text complexity. 

Recommend for grades 5-8, depending on the student's independent reading skills.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone - Shannon Hale

When Miri and a few of the girls from Mount Eskel's princess academy travel to the capital to help the princess-to-be get ready for her wedding, they have no idea what to expect. Some are worried about leaving their beloved mountain for the first time, others are thrilled about going to the big city, and Miri is mostly just happy to see her best friend.

But not everything in Ashland is as perfect as the mountain girls hoped. As Miri learns more about her new home, she finds herself deep in the missdle of an up heaval that affects everyone she loves. Torn between her loyalty to the princess and her belief in her new friend's daring ideas, and between an old love and a new crush, Miri must test the strengths and skills she gained in the princess academy.

Palace of Stone serves as a perfect sequel and continuation of the story readers loved with the original Princess Academy, and will open the world of Shannon Hale to middle grade readers who are certain to love the vivid descriptions, interesting characters, and almost-magical worlds she creates.

Miri's exploration of ethics introduces readers to the idea of choosing between two perhaps equally worthy or appealing choices, options in which the final outcomes may be drastically different. With the new Common Core Standards' focus on writing argument papers, teachers may want to use this novel to read together as a class, or as a support text for independent reading.

The inclusion of poetic epigraphs and informal letters expands the opportunity for student-centered writing activities and teacher-directed discussion of text structure and writing styles.

Educational uses aside, Palace of Stone is a wonderful story for both independent reading or to read aloud. Highly recommended for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.