Adam Canfield Watch Your Back

Author: Michael Winerip
Reading Range: 4.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Adam Canfield is shoveling snow in a neighbor’s driveway when he is attacked by a group of older teens who steal his money. After this happens, Adam’s parents call the police and the teens are arrested. They are charged with assault. Adam is the editor of his school newspaper called “The Slash.” His co-editor, Jennifer, suggests they have a survey on the bullies at school. He vetoes the idea even through everyone likes. He comes around and decided the paper should have the survey. While this is going on, Adam is taking an advanced science class where they have to come up with a project for the science fair. Adam decides his project will focus on how parents helping their child with their projects give them higher grades. Adam has a lot of other things going on because he gets involved with a group that wants to expose the fact a corruption scheme by a local Realtor developer. Will Adam to solve the various mysteries around him?
Review: After writing the plot, I realized that they were a lot of subplots going on in this story. Another reviewer talked about how the author is spoofing over-scheduled kids. I have to say that both Adam and Jennifer fit that mold. They have sports and activities everyday after school. During school, they are working on the newspaper. I have no idea how they find the time to interview people for articles or much less get their homework. The one subplot that I liked was where Adam was researching how parent help can raise student’s grades. I remember at different fairs that I attended the kids who had parents who helped them were usually the ones that had the best presentations. I had to agree with Adam when he found that to be true. I did enjoy this book. I liked Adam because of how earnest and passionate he is about journalism. He thinks it is important. Even through, it get him into trouble some times he still tries to live up to his ideals. I would recommend this book to older tweens who like stories with complicated plots.
Additional Info:
This is the second book in the Adam Canfield series. I did not realize it until after I read it.
Main Characters:
Adam Canfield-Adam is the editor of “The Slash” which is the school newspaper. He has many activities he is a part of. It is very important to him to follow his journalistic ideals.
Jennifer-Jennifer is his co-editor. She is just as passionate about the paper as he is.
Phoebe-Phoebe is their third grade reporter. She is very interested in nature.
Mrs. Boland-Mrs. Boland is the temporary principal. Adam got the last one fired in the first book.
Mr. Devillio-Mr. Devillio is Adam’s science teacher. He is lazy and not a very good teacher.

Theme: Individual versus society, Knowledge versus ignorance, Power and corruption,

Bibliographic Info:

Winerip, M. (2007). Adam Canfield watch your back! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

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The Limit

Author: Kristen Landon
Reading Range: 4.4 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: This book is set in the future where everyone has a limit to how much they can spend. Matt’s family has just gone over their limit. A new law was enacted that forces children above a certain age to go into workhouses to work off their families debt. Matt is forced into a workhouse and he ends up on the top floor. The top floor is for children who are the smartest and earn the most money. Matt starts to enjoy his time on the floor making friends and doing his best to work off his debt. He has not heard from his family so he escapes and goes home. There he discovers what his parents are doing to get out of debt is actually making their situation worse. His mother is involved with a pyramid scheme. His sister, Lauren, is forced into the workhouse next. Matt notices that some of the children are getting headaches and becoming sick. He and the other topfloorers discover that they are being experimented on. Also, the money they are earning for their family is being mismanaged so that they cannot leave until they are eighteen. Matt and the others have to figure out a way to expose what is happening at the workhouse.
Review: To many children, it might seem impossible for children to be removed from their families because of debt. In the past, there were debthouses where people had to work to get rid of their debts. This is something that has happened. This book is also talking about the current situation that many people are living in. There are many people who are in thousands of dollar worth of debt because of credit cards. It critiques the mentality of buying stuff now and not thinking about the future. Everyone in Matt’s family spent money without really thinking about it. Both of his parents were reckless with their spending and they encourages that in their children. Right before his family went over their limit, Matt was thinking of asking his parents to buy him several thousand dollars worth of computer stuff. Matt is forced to think about that when he is put in the workhouse. He is forced to look at the way that he and his family lived their lives. I would recommend this book for tweens who like science fiction. I think this book could be used to start a discussion of how credit and debt work.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Matt-Matt is forced into a workhouse after his family go over the limit.
Matt’s Mom-At the beginning of the story, Matt’s mom does not work. She is at a stay-at-home mom taking care of her family.
Matt’s Dad-Matt’s dad works but he spends a lot of his time on the golf course with clients.
Lauren-Lauren is Matt’s younger sister. She is forced into the workhouse after him.
Becca-Becca is Matt’s baby sister. He is trying to keep her from having to go into the workhouse.
Sharlene Smoot-Smoot runs the workhouse. Matt calls her “Honey Lady” because of her skin.
Reginald-Reginald is a weird kid on the top floor who never leaves his room.
Madeline-Madeline is a top floor girl. She is interested in fashion.
Paige-Paige is another top floor girl. Her family went into debt because of her sibling’s medical bills.
Neela-Neela is another top floor girl. She starts getting headaches and then she is moved to another floor.
Jefferey-Jefferey is a top floor boy. He does not want to go home to his family.
Henry-Henry is a top floor boy. Matt and him become friends.

Theme: Dangers of ignorance, Facing reality, Greed as downfall, Materialism as downfall

Bibliographic Info:

Landon, K. (2011). The Limit. New York, NY: Scholastic, In.

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The Vindico

Author: Wesley King
Reading Range: 5.1 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 6 and up (AR Finder)
Plot: In this world, superheroes are real. Five teens are kidnapped by a team of super-villains called the Vindico. The Vindico want to create the next generation of super-villains because they want the teen to take over of them when they retire or are killed. The villains each have a personal vendetta against the League of Heroes (or the League) and wants to destroy them. They picked each teen because they have certain skills they believe are useful or their personality fits a certain type. Each of the five teens is parted with a villains who teaches them what they need to know to be a villain. They start to discover things about their lives that rock them to their core. They also discover that the League of Heroes is not as heroic as they thought it was. In some ways, they are just as bad as the Vindico. Each of the teens start to embrace being a villain until they have their first fight against the League of Heroes. They discover how real and awful the fighting between the two groups can be.
Review: I have a soft spot for superhero stories especially ones that play with the expectations. This book would be good for people who like to read stories about superheroes and super-villains. An issue with the book is keeping track of all of the characters. There are so many characters in this book. There are the Vindico, the teens and their families, and the League of Heroes. Two of the characters have close names in the book: Lana and Leni. Lana is one of the teens and is girl while Leni is one of the villains and is male. This book does not downplay the fact that the Vindico has killed members of the League of Heroes. In fact, one of the trainees kills a character during one of the fights. The trainee does react with horror over what she did. For that reason, I would recommend this book for older tweens.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
James-James is getting over the fact his girlfriend cheated on him. He admires the League of Heroes wanting to be one of them. He is paired with the Torturer.
Lana-Lana is tough and able to take care of herself. She is paired with Avaria.
Hayden-Hayden does not live with his parents. He has the power to move things with his mind. He is paired with Leni.
Emily-Emily is a hacker and technology genius. She is paired with Rono.
Sam-Sam is the youngest member. He discovers he has the power to read people’s thoughts. He is paired with Sliver.
Baron-The Baron is the leader of the Vindico. He was once a member of the League before he was kicked out for wanting to give others powers.
Torturer-The Torturer was given his powers by using a formula. For that reason, he was barred from joining the League. He joined the Vindico instead.
Sliver-Sliver is able to read and manipulate minds. He is a double agent betraying the Vindico to the League.
Rono-Rono is a technology genius. The League took his technology but refused to allow him to join.
Avaria-Avaria’s husband was a member of the League. He was killed after giving her powers. She sworn revenge against them for his death.
Leni-Leni was a member of the League until he was kicked out.

Theme:  Chaos and order, Facing darkness, Good versus evil, Illusion of power, Loss of innocence

Bibliographic Info:

King, W. (2012). The Vindico. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Tagline:  Lie. Cheat. Save the World.

Loser

Author: Jerry Spinellli
Reading Range: 4.3 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: This book traces Donald Zinoff’s life from first to sixth grade. Zinoff is a very unusual boy. His first day of school he goes wearing his favorite hat which is a giraffe. He thinks the best job in the world is to be a mailman like his father. Zinoff can be loud and laughs at inappropriate times. His handwriting is terrible and he is bad at sports. Yet, he has a good heart. He tries to do what he thinks is right. Some of his teachers like while others can barely stand him. He is very hyper. He does not have many friends. As the years past, the kids in his class notice how different he is from them. They start to call him a loser because he cannot seem to do anything right. At first, Zinoff does not notice that he is different from the other kids around him. He starts to realize how different he is from them. He tries to fit in but he is not always successful.
Review: What makes someone a loser? To many of the characters in the book, Zinoff is considered a loser. He does not excel at the things that most people consider important. He is not good at school. He is not good at sports. He does not fit in with the other kids. He lives in his head more than he lives in the world.  The thing is that Zinoff has a good heart. He does not give up. Even when others think he is terrible, he keeps going and trying to do the best he can. He sees the world differently then most people. Zinoff is not really a loser. He is just different but at that age many children have a hard time accepting children who are different. Even some adults have a hard time accepting people who are different. He reminds me of a boy I used to know. This boy had trouble because it was hard for him to read social cues. He ended up annoying more of his classmates to the point they snapped at him. He did not understand what he was doing to them. I would recommend this book to just about any grade. I think it is a good book to use to discuss what a loser is and maybe people we think are loser are actually not.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Donald Zinoff-Zinoff is different from many of the children in his class. They consider him a loser because of his differences. He tries his best and he has a good heart. He used to throw up until he had a surgery to fix his stomach.
Mr. Zinoff-He is Zinoff’s father. He is a mailman and he loves his son.
Mrs. Zinoff-She is Zinoff’s mother. She gave him stars when he did something good.
Andrew-He was Zinoff’s neighbor until he moved away. They meet again in sixth grade and he is considered a cool kid.

Polly-She is Zinoff’s little sister.

Mr. Yalowitz-He is Zinkoff’s 4th grade teacher. He is one of the teachers who likes Zinoff.

Miss Meeks-She is Zinkoff’s 1st grade teacher. She is one of his favorite teachers.

Mrs. Biswell-She is Zinoff’s 2nd grade teacher. She hates children and especially hates Zinoff. He drives her crazy.

Theme: Individual versus society, Inner versus outer strength, Will to survive

Bibliographic Info:

Spinelli, Jerry. (2003). Loser. New York, NY: Scholastic

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The Trouble with May Amelia

Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Reading Range: 4.0 ( AR Finder)
Interest Range: 3-5 (AR Finder)
Plot:  This story is set in 1900 in Washington state. It tells the story of May Amelia and her family.  She is the only girl in a family of boys. The family is poor and has to work very hard to make a living off their farm located on the Nasal River.  May Amelia is always working to prove she has sisu, which in Finnish means “guts.”  Her family is Swedish immigrants  However, she gets into trouble all the time by burning the family dinner when her mother is birthing babies for the neighbors.  Things do not go well for the family after the father invests in a bad scheme offered by a snake oil type salesman. May Amelia translates for her father because he does speak English well.  Her father decides to invest by mortgaging the farm and so does the rest of the small community. All the farmers go belly up and lose their farms when the truth is found out.  May Amelia’s father blames her for their troubles and stops talking to her and acknowledging her existence. Everything goes wrong for the family. Her favorite brother loses his hand in an accident at the lumber mill and her mother goes to work at a fish cannery. The family tries their best to get back on their feet.
Review: The thing that strike me about the book is May Amelia is the only girl her age in the story. There are no other girls she can be friends with. The only other girl in the story is her cousin, Helmi, who is three. Helmi is treated differently than May Amelia. The boys tease her and her father is cruel to her telling her he thinks girls are pretty much worthless. The boys are charmed by Helmi and treat like a girl. Even her father is nice to Helmi. When they lose their money her father pretty much blames her for everything that happened. I did not like her father because of how mean he was to her. He saw girls as not worth much especially since they are living in the frontier. He needs boys to work the land. It is interesting to read how she is expected to act like a boy and a girl. They expected her to work the land and act like a lady. Even through I did not like that part of the book, I did enjoy reading about May Amelia. She is a likable character as she tries her best. I would recommend this book to people who like historical fiction.
Additional Info:
I did not know this when I read the book but it is the sequel to another book called “Our Only May Amelia.” Honestly, it did feel like I was reading a sequel and that it was it own book.
Main Characters:
May Amelia-May Amelia is the only girl in her family. She tries her best.
Mamma-She is May Amelia’s mother. She helps women have their babies.
Pappa-He is May Amelia’s father. He does not like her because she is a girl.
Wilbert-He is her favorite brother.

Theme:  Family – blessing or curse, Greed as downfall, Oppression of women

Bibliographic Info:

Holm, Jennifer L. (2011). The trouble with May Amelia. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Reading Range: 5.0 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Bud Caldwell is an orphan during the Great Depression. He is also an African-American living in Michigan.  His mother died when he was five and he never knew his father. The only things he had left from his life with his mother is a suitcase that contains a bag of rocks, a photograph of his mother as a child and fliers that show Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band. Bud thinks that Herman E. Calloway is his father. He is sent to a foster home where the son picks on him. He fights back and is punished by the mother for hurting the son. They tell him they are going to send him back to the home. He decides he does not want to return there. He escapes from the shed that the family puts him in. He gets his suitcase and goes on his way. He tries to find a librarian that was nice to him to get information about what to do. She is married and gone. He ends up in a shantytown where he is treated nicely by the people there. He helps out and does what he can. He wants to hop a train but he is not able to get on the train. He decides after that he is going to find his father. He does find Calloway but he does not like Bud or believe he is his son. Bud has to try to win him over.
Review: Reading the book, even through it is not explicitly stated, there is a hint that African-Americans were treated like second class citizen. It must have been even harder for children like Bud who did not have any family to protect them. It sounded like there were too many children already living at the home where Bud used to live. It seemed like luck of the draw if they were going to get a foster family that would treat them well or not. The family that Bud lived with already looked down on him because he was an orphan. They expected him to be grateful they even took him into their home. They did not stop to consider that Bud lost everything in his life when his mother died. They did not seem to care about him at all and look at him as a bother. When Bud is on his own, there are examples of how hard it was for a child trying to survive on his own. He had to relay on the kindness of adults yet he had to be weary of them. Would they try to hurt him or help him? Bud kept fighting and trying to make a good life for himself even with everything being against him. I would recommend this book to people who like reading historical fiction. I thought it captured that time period well.
Additional Info:
This book won a Newbury Medal in 2000. The author also won a Coretta Scott King Award in 2000.
Main Characters:
Buddy Caldwell-Bud prefers to be called Bud and not Buddy. He is ten years old and an orphan. He is trying to survive and find his father.

Mr. Herman E. Calloway-Calloway is the band leader. Bud believes he is his father. Calloway does not trust Bud and thinks he is trying to pull a scam. He is also sad because he lost his daughter.

Angela Janet Caldwell-Angela is Bud’s mother. She dies before the story even begins but Bud thinks of her often. The lessons she taught him help him to survive.

Deza Malone-Deza is the girl who teaches Bud how to survive in the shantytown. She teaches him the rules. She also gives him his first kiss.

Lefty Lewis-Lefty is the a man who picks Bud up when he is trying to find his father. He takes him to his daughter’s home to fed him and give him new clothes. He takes him to his father.

Miss Grace Thomas-Grace is the “vocal stylist” in Calloway’s band. She takes care of Bud and tries to get Calloway to accept him.

Theme: Desire to escape, Fate and free will, Inner versus outer strength, Injustice

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. New York, NY: Delacorte Press

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Kira-Kira

Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Reading Range: 4.8
Interest Range: MG
Plot:  This story is set during the 1950s and it involves the Takeshima family who are Japanese. The story is told through the eyes of the middle child, Katie. Katie is telling the story of her family but also of her sister, Lynn. The girls are very close and shared everything. Lynn taught Katie to call everything kira-kira, which means glittering in Japanese.  Lynn is the beautiful, smart and popular daughter while Katie is the middle child. They have a Japanese grocery store in Iowa that goes broke because there are not enough Asian people to frequent the store. They moves to Chesterfield, Georgia so the mother and father can work in the chicken hatcheries where Uncle Katsuhisa has gotten them jobs. The parents work very hard to provide a minimal existence for their children. After several years of living in Georgia, Lynn becomes ill. At first,Katie’s parents keep telling her it is because her sister is anemic. Katie has to take over more and more responsibilities as her sister gets sicker. She must care for her little brother, Sam, as her parents work more and more to help take care of Lynn.Katie’s parents finally tell her Lynn is dying. The family has to get ready to say goodbye to Lynn.
Review: This story shows the love that two sisters can have for each other. Katie loves her sister. Her sister is the center of their family. She is the one they think is going to go far. She tries to give them hope even when they are struggling. That is what she meant by kira-kira. There are so many wonderful things in this world. She tries to tell Katie how wonderful she is. The Takeshima family struggles with racism and poverty. The parents work at a chicken hatchery where they are treated like slaves. The owner is cruel to his workers. He works them as hard as he can. It becomes harder for the family when Lynn becomes sick. They have to work even more to pay for her medicine. Lynn knew she was dying in the story. She tries to leave something beyond for her family to have hope after she dies. One of the themes of this story is to still have hope even when things are hard and bleak. This is a tough story to read because there are no easy answers. I would recommend this book to kids who like reading sad yet hopeful stories.
Additional Info:
 This book won the Newbury Medal for literature in 2005.
Main Characters:
Katie Takeshima-Katie is the middle daughter. She is the one who tells the story.
Lynn Takeshima-Lynn is the oldest daughter. She is smart and talented. She develops cancer.
Sam Takeshima-Sam is the youngest son.
Kiyoko Takeshima-Kiyoko is Katie, Sam, and Lynn’s mother. She is delicate and nervous but practical.
Masao Takeshima-Masao is the father of Katie, Lynn and Sam. He is a quiet and thoughtful man.
Uncle Katsuhisa-Katsuhisa is Masao’s brother. He helps the family after they lose their grocery store.

Theme:  Coming of age, Death, Everlasting love, Injustice, Love and sacrifice

Bibliographic Info:

Kadohata, Cynthia. (2004). Kira Kira. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.

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