Book Review: Slave Day

Thomas, Rob. Slave Day. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
(Yes, The Veronica Mars Rob Thomas in his former YA author career)

Genre: Young Adult (14 to adult)

Summary: Eight different characters narrate the story of Robert E. Lee High School’s student council “Slave Day” auction starting with honor student Keene Davenport’s call for a boycott due to Slave Day’s racist undertones. First person narratives from an activist, football player, cheerleader, computer geek, popular girl, class clown, student council president, and burnt out teacher tell the story of the entire day.

What’s to Like? Each of the 8 characters is distinct and reaches beyond the cliché. I liked following each of the four plots and seeing how they were woven together to complete the story. I wasn’t really sure how any of the plots were going to end and kept reading to the end to find out.

Parental info: Curse words and racial slurs used, mention of rape drug, and a bit of a sex scene

Book Review: Stargirl

Spinelli, Jerry. Stargirl. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Genre: Young Adult

Summary: 14-year-old Leo remembers the day Stargirl left homeschooling and started going to his Arizona high school. Who could forget the old fashioned dresses, the tablecloth and flower vase at her desk, and the mouse in her pocket? But it’s Stargirl’s knack for knowing exactly who’s having a birthday and dancing around the cafeteria playing her ukulele while singing to them that gets her the most attention. Leo’s friend Kevin definitely wants to interview Stargirl for his school-run video show. Leo’s not sure why he’s against it; he just knows he wants to know more about this girl.

What’s to Like: I loved this book. Stargirl was an interesting character and I enjoyed the story told from Leo’s point of view. I was never quite sure what was going to happen next.

Other Info: No sexual content, appropriate for pre-teens and insightful older elementary students too.

Book Review for: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Fiction for grades 5-8

It’s 1935 when 14-year-old Moose and his family move to Alcatraz Island. His father hopes he can make enough money there as a prison guard and electrician to send Moose’s sister, severely autistic Natalie, to a special school that is suppose to help kids like Natalie lead a normal life. Moose is not happy about leaving his friends in Santa Monica. Things get worse when Natalie’s deemed “not ready” for her school and a specialist recommends Natalie hanging out with Moose to normalize her. Meanwhile Moose tries to find himself friends in the small guard community of Alcatraz, avoid trouble from the warden and his troublesome but good looking daughter, and deal with a mother whose happiness hangs on saving Natalie and all but ignores Moose.

The Alcatraz setting made this book interesting and Moose’s interactions with Natalie are compelling. As an adult I enjoyed the story, but I did wonder what an elementary school boy would think. The book title and setting make hints that this is an exciting plot based novel when really it’s more of a sweet character based novel from a male perspective in an interesting setting.

Book Review for: Learn Any Language

How to Learn Any Language by Barry Farber,© 1991

Genre: Non- Fiction

Who Might Like It: Anyone interested in learning a language from middle school on up.

Summary: Farber focuses on how to learn a language on your own. He begins by talking about his own experiences with learning languages and what he learned from each. He then moves on to specific advice on learning a language using “The Multiple-Track” approach. This means that you use different materials from different companies to help teach you, (i.e. text book, language tapes, newspaper, phrase book, etc.) He says this method keeps you from getting bored and helps reinforce vocabulary because you end up seeing it in more than one context. The author lays out exactly what materials you might want and how to use this approach, recommending that you use several different audio courses because “you no more want to limit your hearing of the language to one cassette course than you’d want to confine your tennis playing to one partner.” He also describes how to make and use flashcards and how to use mnemonic devices to better remember vocabulary. At the end, there’s even a review of each language you might want to learn written just like a restaurant or movie review.

What’s to Like: This book is like having my own personal coach to give me pep talks and advice. The author so enthusiastic about learning new languages, I wanted to start learning 2 or 3 right away too. I also found his multi-track approach idea very helpful. Gathering lots of different materials really did make language learning much easier and more fun. I learned a whole new way to make flashcards that takes less space and time, and yet is perfect for easy learning. His mnemonic devices were helpful too. Plus the language review guide was a lot of fun to read.

Other Info: The edition of the book I read is a little old so the author doesn’t mention anything about all the new computer programs out there. A new edition of the book just came out but I haven’t read it.