Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Accidentally Fabulous (Accidentally, #1)

Accidentally Fabulous (Accidentally, #1)
Accidentally Fabulous (Accidentally, #1) by Lisa Papademetriou

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just by looking at the cover of this book, you might expect a total fluff book about girls and fashion, which it was to some extent. Yes, it is a typical middle school girl book, complete with a new preppy school, mean girls, first boyfriends, etc., etc. But the author did something with this book that not only caught my interest, but elevated it in my eyes above the total fluff concept. In this case, the protagonist doesn't jump immediately to condemning the head mean girl. She gives her and her posse every chance to show that they are really nice girls. Only when she is absolutely convinced that the head mean girl is really intending to think only of herself and act as if the feelings of no one else matter, does the MC retaliate - and she does so in a way that everyone else viewed as humorous, just not the mean girl herself.

This is the kind of book that middle school girls might look to to explore relationship dynamics - girl to girl to group and girl to boy. When my daughters were young, the Sweet Valley series served this purpose - lifelike situations and possible ways to react to them. While these types of books are no literary classics, I do think that they help girls work through situations that come up in their lives and perhaps gain a greater perspective about them.

And, I like the jobs that they were given for their detentions - better than just sitting doing nothing for the time.

I don't think this book would appeal to many boys, though.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Classroom Portraits

Classroom Portraits
Classroom Portraits by Julian Germain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suppose this book is more fascinating to me, because I am a teacher and now a substitute teacher. The book is a series of photographs of classrooms and their students in nineteen countries around the world. I am fascinated by classrooms and have been them, as a student, a teacher, or just as a visitor in 3 different countries. Within the US, I have taught in four different states, a dozen or so school districts, and hundreds of classrooms.

I will probably look through this book many times, but on my first time through, I was curious about two main things: the number of students in the classes and whether you could tell anything about the students in the classes from their portraits. Specifically, as I looked through, I would count the students first. The class sizes ranged from four to over fifty.

Then, I would look through the students and pick out two or three from the class that I would be interested in getting to know better. Which kids seem to tell a fascinating story with their faces, their dress, their body posture? Some kids seem to hide any hint of their personalities; others can't seem to hold their personalities in. Most American kids, if not told otherwise, would have had big grins on their faces. Most of the students in these pictures did not have huge smiles. I would guess the photographer must have told the kids to look natural and not to smile specifically for the picture. But I don't know. Maybe the students in other countries don't normally smile for pictures; maybe they take school more seriously and don't consider this portraiture to be a subject for merriment.

Of course, there are many other things that show in the pictures and which I plan to take a closer look at the next time through: the types of buildings, the things on the walls, the types of desks or seating arrangements, the uniforms or lack thereof, the hairstyles, the diversity or lack thereof racially, ethnically, gender-wise, ability/disability. I was glad to see that the photographer also included several classes for differently-abled students. Some classes appear to be multi-aged; others less so.

And a final puzzle: why was the book of Narnia shown in the photo of the class studying religion in Qatar?

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Review: The Chicken Scandal at No. 7 Rue Petite

The Chicken Scandal at No. 7 Rue Petite
The Chicken Scandal at No. 7 Rue Petite by Ellen Shire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book about the people who run a restaurant and their rival. Good service and good food make for happier customers -- who would have thought??? (just kidding). The illustrations are very engaging as well.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Ivy

Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Don't take my review as definitive: I have tried, but I really can't get into manga. I tried this one, because the art work, especially the cover DID appeal to me, but pictures aren't enough story for me. I am sorry, to all of you who love manga.

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Review: Tea with Milk

Tea with Milk
Tea with Milk by Allen Say

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I actually read this book before the other Say book I have just reviewed. I like this one, but it didn't fascinate me as much as Drawing by Memory. The art work is great, though, and I continue to be surprised at how much I actually like it. It is sort of like the Japanese gardens we visited in Kyoto and Tokyo. I was pretty sure I would find them boring and repetitive, but instead found them surprisingly appealing and engaging.

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Review: Drawing from Memory

Drawing from Memory
Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first saw books by Allen Say, I was subbing in a 3rd grade class where they were just beginning author studies. There were books by Tomie de Paola, Jan Brett, and several other authors, either with their own illustrations or illustrated by different artists. I took a look at the Say books and wondered if any of the students would choose those books, because they were so dull compared to the bright colors of the other books. But two students did choose the Say books, to my surprise. And, since I have been looking for books about/from Japan, I decided to take a closer look at them, too.

I just got back from a short trip to Japan in January and I have been looking for a book that I could take with me on subbing jobs, in case I have some extra time here and there to talk about my trip and to show off the yukata (cotton kimono) that I got there. I have been pleasantly surprised by the Say books. The muted colors have definitely grown in appeal for me. And, surprisingly, I really enjoyed this one's story, too. This book is mostly an autobiography of Say's early years, before he moved with his father to the US. I found it very intriguing - the amount of freedom he was allowed, his education, and his development as an artist. His struggle to reconcile his passion for art with his parents' lives and wishes is probably more interesting to older children than would normally be looking at a picture book like this.

All in all, I was surprised to find myself liking this book a lot. I am a little puzzled, however, about who would be the best audience for the book. It has too much text for a picture book read-aloud (and is not well suited to the purpose I had for it), but I don't know if older children would pick it up.

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