100 Chapter Books Project: The Ruins of Gorlan

ruinsofgorlan

Some of the votes for the Top 100 Chapter Books list came from students and I’m guessing that The Ruins of Gorlan (2006) by John Flanagan was one of the ones that they voted in. This isn’t a literary wonder or an instant classic but it was sure a fun start to a series!

What it’s about: Will is an orphan, and for all of his life he has been a ward of the castle of Baron Arald. He’s now fifteen and of an age to become apprentice to one of the Craftmasters and he’s hoping to attend Battleschool, to train as a warrior and become a knight. However, his skills uniquely qualify him to apprentice as a Ranger, a spy/scout. Whether this path will be fulfilling and if he will be successful is up to him.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: I actually loved the hints of The Lord of the Rings in the story and I also enjoyed the way the relationships between Will and the other wards changed through time. Also, nobody (and no horses) died, which was refreshing.

Worst part: I now have 11 books ahead of me to find out what happens in the war and beyond to Will and his friends!

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

This series was written by the author for his own reluctant reader son so it’s heavy on plot and emotion. I definitely found myself reading it faster and faster to find out what was going to happen. It was definitely derivative of a lot of different adventure series but it was still compelling. I really didn’t expect to like is as much as I did. I do hope that the rest of the series is as engaging because I’ll be recommending it to some of the reluctant readers at Z’s school.

Now, I don’t know why I never read Island of the Blue Dolphins but I’m finally getting my chance. I’ll admit that I still don’t know what it is about but I think it’s based on a true story? I guess I’ll find out!

*****
Schedule – May through July
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)

100 Chapter Books Project: Maniac Magee

maniacmagee

Lots of people voted Maniac Magee (1990) by Jerry Spinelli onto the Top 100 Chapter Books list as it came in at number 40 but, if you read Betsy’s post about the book, you will see that there are a few reviews that are on the fence about this book as well.

What it’s about: Jeffrey Magee, a.k.a. Maniac, was orphaned at age three and ran away from his aunt and uncle’s home at age eight. He turns up a year later in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, a town divided down the middle by black and white, but has trouble finding where he belongs.

Age level: Grades 5-7

Best part: There are a lot of great characters in this story — Amanda Beale, who loans him a book and brings him home, Mars Bar Thompson, who has the best transformation of the book, and Earl Grayson, who is able to reconnect to his past through Maniac.

Worst part: It was a bit difficult to believe that there was never a social services investigation into this kid. He slept in a zoo park, an equipment shed, park benches, and multiple neighborhood houses and porches but nobody ever seems to worry about him. This bugged me enough that I could never quite lose myself in the story.

Verdict: Borrow

This was not a bad story and there were some great scenes — but also some meh ones. I think kids today would benefit from studying the horribly racist McNab family. Many of the things that the father and three sons say are things we’re hearing from a certain political candidate’s supporters and they are just as hateful even though they’re about different ethnic groups. I wonder if the wrongness of these thoughts would be more apparent if readers could see them in a truly “black and white” situation. However, there are too many unrealistic things and actions without consequences to make this a truly great story (even though it has a Newbery Medal).

Moving on … Ramona the Pest is another one that I know I read regularly as a kid but I’m worried that it won’t hold up. Still, it’s a short book so I’m sure I’ll make it through!

*****
Schedule – March through June
March 31 – #24 Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary (1968)
April 15 – #69 The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (2006)
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

100 Chapter Books Project: Flipped

Flipped_by_Wendelin_Van_Draanen

I seem to have hit a rough patch in my Top 100 Chapter Books project. This latest read, Flipped (2001) by Wendelin Van Draanen was at #92 on the list so it wasn’t incredibly popular but there were some people who listed it as a favorite. I truly have to wonder why.

What it’s about: The chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Bryce Loski and Julianne Baker from the age of 7 until 8th grade.

Age level: Grades 6-8

Best part: A set of truly loving parents.

Worst part: Calling a mentally-challenged adult “retarded” and “retard” many, many times and then giving him a non-descript mishmash of personality/emotional traits that come from many different conditions. A few moments of thoughtfulness and research would have improved this greatly.

Verdict: Borrow

I finished this book feeling quite underwhelmed. There were things that seemed like they belonged more in a YA novel than a chapter book (like Bryce’s dad accusing two teens of being drug dealers). There was also the strangeness of a book that focuses on what is eventually a potential romantic relationship between pre-teens. Multiple times the parents of these kids see a glimmer of attraction between them and give a knowing look or try to kindle the relationship and it’s frankly creepy, especially when it happens on the day they meet when the kids are only seven years old. Even Bryce’s grandpa implies that Bryce should appreciate Juli’s uniqueness and look at her differently, in the way grandpa did with grandma when he fell in love with her. This is when the kids are in SIXTH GRADE. The dialogue is also poorly written in places, using words and phrases that kids just wouldn’t use. It makes the story awkward, again like an adult speaking for children.

I did like seeing the events from two different points of view and I think the message that you shouldn’t judge someone else’s life without knowing their full story is always an important one for kids. Still, I’m sure there are better stories out there that touch on some of the same issues.

Thank goodness for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’m so relieved to be reading it next!

*****
Schedule – February through May
February 28 – #61 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
March 15 – #40 Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1990)
March 31 – #24 Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary (1968)
April 15 – #69 The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (2006)
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)