Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey
When my students bring back books I have lent them, I can tell how good a book is by the expressions on their faces. Every one who has borrowed this book has come back looking very happy and has had the same question, “When is the sequel coming out?”
Skin Hunger is two stories told in alternate chapters separated in time but united in plot. It is as complicated as it sounds, but it is magically executed. What the characters strive for in the earlier time has been fully realized in the later time; what feels ominous but hopeful in the earlier time darkens greatly in the later time. The fear-inspiring unknown unites the two. The effect is deliciously thought- provoking. The resolutions of both stories lean ever more closely towards each other as the novel progresses. That connection appears imminent as the last chapter ends. It is no wonder my students breathlessly ask for the next book. I can hardly wait myself.
High school students and avid middle school readers love this book. There is romance, cruelty, villainry, magic, and sorrow. While I found nothing inappropriate in this book, the themes are mature – the abuse of power, the elusiveness of compassion – and the plot is complex. However, the depth of the two main characters – Sadima in the earlier time period and Hahp in the later – make the complex plot easier to follow. This is a book for teenagers that their parents and teachers can enjoy reading.
Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrow & Sophie Blackall
Ivy & Bean
A baby’s first step is a turning point into walking. The reading equivalent is not as easy to spot, but for my daughter, Georgia, it happened while reading Ivy & Bean. She went from being a struggling new reader, to a confident reader. I know it took years of work, but, just like a first step turns instantly into walking, it really appears as though my daughter got over the ‘reading hump’ with this book. As a result Ivy & Bean will always have a special place in my heart. I also owe a special thanks to Georgia’s good friend Elsa. Elsa’s love of the series was just the incentive Georgia needed to focus and become the reader she has wanted to be for a long time. A little peer pressure can be a good thing in young children.
There are several books about mischievous young girls that drive me crazy. At best they glamorize bratty behavior, and at worst they are riddled with bad grammar in the guise of ‘child talk.’ Ivy & Bean is neither of these. It is a sweet book about creative and independent girls who discover a great friendship. There is certainly plenty of naughty behavior, but it is funny and, along the lines of the older brother in the Wonder Years, it does really seem like the older sister deserves it. The writing is excellent, with the perfect balance of a quick paced flow and enough details to make children relate. It is rated at a 2nd grade reading level, and is tolerable as a book to read along with your child. I highly recommend this book for 1st grade girls, particularly ones that have strong friendships. You can learn more about the series at this url: http://www.anniebarrows.com/ivyandbean/ivyandbean/about/
Friendship is what brought Georgia this great book about two girls who become unexpected friends. Georgia saw Elsa enjoying this book, and, for her part, Elsa would read Georgia the funniest parts. That was just the enticement Georgia needed. Like Bean with Ivy, I’m sure over the years Elsa will entice Georgia into many things I am not so happy about, but for now I am grateful.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
Much is missing in this story told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy whose father is the Kommandant of Auschwitz. I was not even sure if my high or middle school students would recognize what it was about. They do recognize the setting and they do find the cheery voice of the child wending his way through unmistakably dark times a compelling read. The missing specifics make this story read like a folk tale, without time and place, with an edge of unreality, and with completely familiar human truths.
A boy’s world consists of his imagination, his friendships, his ongoing struggle to make sense of the adult world that swirls around him. This boy, Bruno, appears at first glance to be unduly naive. But he is not naive; the belief that comfort can exist alongside absolute cruelty is naive. That perspective is like a knife cutting through the twisted intentions of the severely misguided adults, laying bare the only truth: no safe haven exists unless it exists for all.
Even with its lack of factual detail, this book is clearly about the Holocaust. While strong readers as young as eight could read this book, parents may want to decide when their child is ready for this information and might want to read it with their child. Middle and high school kids should be fine with it. In fact, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of those books clearly written for all ages of readers.