Sunday, June 29, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure books, by R.A. Montgomery, Edward Packard, and many others!

This is another series of “oldies-but-goodies” from my own childhood!  The Choose Your Own Adventure books feature awesome stories, and they’re written in a way that places the reader in the middle of the action like no other book could.  There were dozens of books in the original series, and I guarantee that any child of the 1980s has read at least one of them.  After a huge demand from readers, the series was continued into the 1990s and re-launched again in 2005.  With that many adventures to choose from and multiple endings for each one, the number of different stories you can read is literally endless!

Here’s how these books work:  as you start reading, you’re introduced as the main character and given a brief introduction to the setting and the plot.  After maybe 1 or 2 pages, you’ll be asked to make a decision about what you’d like to do next.  You’re then given 2 or 3 actions to choose from, each with a corresponding page number.  Once you’ve made your choice, you flip ahead and read about where your decisions have taken you!  It’s a completely different format from reading straight through a book, and what’s really cool is that as you move forward, your choices can lead to some drastically different conclusions.  Fair warning, though:  not all of the endings are happy ones!

The Choose Your Own Adventure books feature amazing illustrations and the “chapters” are amazingly short, sometimes less than a single page.  This makes them the perfect choice for reluctant readers or any kids who’d be more likely to pick up a video game controller before they pick up a book.  If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself reading the same book over and over, trying to discover all the possible endings.  One thing’s for sure, though:  once you pick up your first Choose Your Own Adventure book, you won’t be putting it down anytime soon!  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Card Turner, by Louis Sachar

Seventeen-year old Alton Richards is in an uncomfortable situation.  His free-spending parents have run out of money, and they’re counting on a huge inheritance to get out of debt.  Alton’s job is to get close to his grandfather, a rich but blind man with a passion for the game of bridge.  Alton quickly becomes much more than an extra set of hands to turn cards, and he ends up learning more about his grandfather than he could ever imagine.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise on this one, but I will say that this book is worth reading all the way through!  I didn’t see the ending coming, but I should have expected a few twists from an author like Mr. Sachar.  I especially like the way he gave a good deal of attention to Alton’s “everyday” troubles, like his relationship with his girlfriend.  This isn’t a particularly long book, but it’s very “thick” in terms of the character development.  I really enjoy these books where there’s not only an awesome story, but where you also end up caring about each individual character. 

In fact, my only complaint was that I don’t know how to play bridge, and so I couldn’t totally follow along with the sequences of cards as they were dealt.  Bridge isn’t nearly as popular as it was a few generations ago, which might be exactly why Mr. Sachar chose to base his story around the game.  It would take a new player a lot of effort to follow the excitement and strategy that comes with each hand, just like it took Alton a lot of time and effort to appreciate his grandfather.  Do you think that Mr. Sachar could be using the game of bridge as a symbol for Alton’s relationship with his grandfather?  Can you think of any games that could be used to portray the way that your family members interact?  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes

One of the neat things about this project is that it allows me the chance to re-read some of the classroom standards from my own childhood!  One of these books, Johnny Tremain, is about an apprentice silversmith working in colonial Boston.  Johnny is a cocky and prideful boy, but his career comes to a screeching halt when he burns his hand by accident.  While searching for a trade that he’ll be able to perform with his handicap, Johnny eventually becomes involved with the American Revolution.

My favorite part of this book was the way that historical characters like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock played supporting roles in the story.  When we read about these men in History class, they often seem larger than life.  By writing them into a story that focuses primarily on Johnny’s fictional character, we’re allowed to take a much closer look at these men in their everyday lives.  At a few points in the book, I almost felt like I was traveling back in time to 1775!  It’s incredible to see Boston as it is right now, and still try to imagine how it must have looked under the occupation of a foreign army. 

The book concludes in April of 1776, just after the battles of Lexington and Concord.  I found it interesting that the author chose to end Johnny’s story just as the much bigger story of the Revolutionary War was beginning.  We’re left to wonder about what happened to Johnny—did he become a soldier, or continue supporting the Revolution in any way?  Ms. Forbes left a lot of questions unanswered, but I think she did this on purpose.   Johnny’s fictional story is a way of paying tribute to the thousands of young men who lived and fought during that era, even though history has forgotten them.