Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Boom, by Mark Haddon

Title:  Boom
Author:  Mark Haddon
Publisher:  David Fickling Books
Year: 2009
Pages: 208
Genre:  Science Fiction
Themes:  Friendship, Adventure
Age Range:  4th-7th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
From the moment that Jim and his best friend, Charlie, bug the staff room and overhear two of their teachers speaking to each other in a secret language, they know there's an adventure on its way. 

But what does "spudvetch" actually mean, and why do Mr. Kidd's eyes flicker with fluorescent blue light when Charlie says it to him? Perhaps Kidd and Pearce are bank robbers talking in code. Perhaps they're spies. Perhaps they are aliens. Whatever it is, Jimbo and Charlie are determined to find out. 

There really is an adventure on its way. A nuclear-powered, one-hundred-ton adventure with reclining seats and a buffet car. And as it gathers speed and begins to spin out of control, it can only end one way . . . with a BOOM!

This middle grade book, originally published under a different title in 1992, is a fun, fast-paced romp full of dry humor and characters that any middle grade child could relate to.  Jimbo is your average boy-suffering through school, hating his big sister and her greaseball boyfriend, worrying about his unemployed dad, and hanging with his best friend Charlie.  Once they over hear that conversation in the teacher's room, his life becomes mystery! intrigue! aliens!  Once the action starts, it doesn't stop...

This novel is a decent introduction go middle grade readers to the genre of science fiction.  It is a quick, easy read with an easily understood plot.  In fact, it is maybe a little too easy.  Let's just say that the book is long on action and short on backstory.  It is fairly simplistic, but for middle grade readers I suppose that is not necessarily a bad thing.    The idea of an alien race that wants to repopulate their world with sci fi fans is pretty amusing, especially when Haddon starts throwing out Doctor Who references, which kids might not get but some adults certainly will.  All in all, I think this is a great book to add to your classroom library.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

Title:  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author:  Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher:  Scholastic
Year:  2009
Pages:  338
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Themes:  Coming of Age, Feminism, Science, Family
Age Range:  4th-8th Grade

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Kelly has done an admirable job of highlighting how limiting society was for girls at the turn of the 20th century, without really demonizing the men and boys that fill this story.  Callie has six brothers, and she landed straight in the middle of the birth order.  Her older brother Henry is her hero, and he calls her his "pet", even as he struggles with the idea that she could do anything else with her life than get married and have children.  All of her brothers, and her father, seem slightly bewildered by her interest in science and the natural world, but their attempts to "put her in her place" are more confused and benign than purposely oppressive.  Men (and women) of that time were just not raised to believe that anything other than the current social order was possible, especially in small town Texas.

Kelly uses quotes from Darwin's Evolution of the Species to highlight the various stages of development that Callie goes through in the course of the novel.  This identification with human beings as part of the natural world was a rather unique perspective to most people in a society ruled by the idea that we were created by God to have dominion over the Earth.  Callie's character is very likable and relate-able, even for a non-sciencey sort of person like me.  Her grandfather, the formidable patriarch of the family and founder of their wealth, turns out to be affectionate in his own gruff way.  They are kindred spirits, and Callie blossoms under his tutelage at the same time that she withers under her mother's prescription of cooking lessons and sewing projects.  At the end of the book, we are left wondering if Callie will be able to break with convention and get her wish of going to university, but it is a hopeful wondering, given how much love her family has for her and her grandfather's confidence in her.

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