Ungifted

Donovan Curtis’ middle name should be “Trouble.” He can’t seem to stop himself whenever the opportunity for mischief arises. Usually, he can get out of the messes he makes…but this time is a little different. All he did was hit a statue with a stick. How was he to know that the statue actually had two parts…and one of them was loose? Could he have possibly predicted that a large metal globe would careen down the hill at school and crash into the Hardcastle Middle School gymnasium during a big basketball game? Probably not…but all of it is his fault, and he knows that a severe punishment is coming.

…or is it? Donovan knows that it’s just a matter of time before the superintendent calls him to the office for the punishment of a lifetime. Finally, the call comes…but it’s not exactly for what Donovan was expecting. It seems that there was a little mix-up, and Donovan is being transferred to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD). No detention.  No community service. No paying for the damaged gym. No, thanks to a paperwork snafu, Donovan is being moved to a school for gifted students. Nevermind that he’s not what any teacher (or parent, sibling, friend) would call “gifted.” While everyone is a little perplexed by this news, Donovan sees it as his chance to escape from the trouble he’s caused at Hardcastle Middle. After all, if he’s not there, it’ll be a lot harder for the superintendent to find him!

On Donovan’s first day at ASD, it becomes pretty clear that he doesn’t belong there. He doesn’t excel in any subject, and he spends more time in the bathroom than anywhere else. Both his teachers and his fellow students question why Donovan was placed at ASD. Soon, though, Donovan makes a place for himself at this prestigious school (that has much cooler, expensive, and newer stuff than the “normal” school down the road). Maybe what the high-IQ crowd needs most is a little dose of normal!

Donovan brings new life to his ASD homeroom. He convinces the class to give their robot a name. He shows them that playing lots of video games might give someone some mad skills in operating said robot. He gets his very pregnant sister to provide the class with a much needed human growth and development credit. He introduces one genius to YouTube (which may or may not have been a mistake). It’s also thanks to Donovan that his new friends get to experience their first school dance. (It doesn’t end well.) Even though Donovan knows he’s not really one of them, he feels more at home with his genius friends than he ever did with his trouble-making buddies at Hardcastle.

Even as he’s starting to fit in at ASD, Donovan’s past is closing in on him, and it’s just a matter of time before it’s revealed that he’s responsible for destroying the Hardcastle gym. What will happen to Donovan? And how will it effect his placement at ASD and the friendships he’s created there? Is Donovan really as “ungifted” as everyone seems to think, or do his gifts lie outside the realm of academics? Read Ungifted by Gordon Korman to learn how one kid can bridge the gap between “nerd” and “normal.”

This book is a great read for anyone who’s ever struggled to fit in. The story is told from multiple perspectives–kid and adult, student and teacher, nerd and normal–so every reader should find something to relate to in Ungifted. I think this book highlights that everyone has gifts. Some are just more obvious than others.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel

Last night, I both started and finished reading the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.  The Third Wheel is the seventh book in this series.  This past summer, I read the first six books in the series IN ONE DAY. I read the seventh book in about two hours.

It is a super-fast read, but, in my opinion, The Third Wheel might just be the best book in the entire series. Like the others, this book is hilariously funny, but I think the seventh book had even more funny moments to offer than the previous six books. I especially enjoyed Gregory’s account of what life was like for him before his birth. (Apparently, he remembers much of his time in the womb. It’s kind of weird to think about.) His recollection of his life as a baby is equally side-splitting.

Greg Heffley’s distinctive voice is probably the best thing about this entire series, and it really shines in The Third Wheel. His tales of his relationship with his family, his turmoil over finding a date to the Valentine’s dance, and his confusion when things don’t go as planned (and they never do) make for a book that young readers will absolutely devour. Greg is a thoroughly relatable character, and I know that children of all ages will find something to identify with in this book (and the rest of the series).

For even more information about The Third Wheel and the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, visit http://www.wimpykid.com/.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

Warning!  Read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back before continuing.  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee picks up right where Darth Paper left off.

When we last saw the students at McQuarrie Middle School, Dwight (the “owner and operator” of the famous Origami Yoda) had been suspended.  He is now attending Tippett Academy, and his friends (Tommy, Kellen, and the gang) aren’t quite sure what to do without him…or Origami Yoda.  Who will give them the advice they need?  Who will keep them from embarrassment and trouble?

Chewbacca to the rescue!!!   Sara has arrived with the Fortune Wookiee!  This paper fortune teller, along with his companion Han Foldo, has come to McQuarrie Middle to guide students in the ways of the Force (even though Chewie and Han never used the Force).  But why does the Fortune Wookiee’s advice seem to get the guys to do exactly what the girls want them to do?  This is one mystery that needs to be solved!

Another mystery that is plaguing the students at MMS concerns Dwight.  According to reports, ever since he transferred to Tippett, Dwight has become normal (boring).  He does his homework, he behaves in class, he’s given up origami (even Origami Yoda), and he’s just not as lively as he used to be.  What’s going on here?  Can Dwight’s friends—and even his arch-nemesis Harvey—discover the truth before both Dwight and Origami Yoda are gone forever?

Just like the other Origami Yoda books, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee combines humor, Star Wars, art, and mystery to create a fun, fast read that everyone will enjoy.  And this isn’t the last we’ve heard from the students of McQuarrie Middle!  Something horrible is about to happen at their beloved school, and they’ll need to harness the power of the Force to fight it!

If you’d like to learn more about this fantastic series (including how to fold your own origami Star Wars characters), visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/.  Have fun!

Wonder

Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, a boy who’s about to enter fifth grade. This will mark the first time Auggie has ever been at school with other kids. He’s been homeschooled up until now, and he’s not entirely certain he wants that to change. Auggie’s nervous about how the kids at school will react to his face. See, Auggie was born with a facial deformity–for lack of a better word–and he doesn’t exactly look like most kids. But everything else about him is perfectly normal. He’s a good student, he’s funny, he loves Star Wars (a kid after my own heart), and, most of all, he just wants to belong somewhere. But will anyone be able to look past his appearance and really be Auggie’s friend?

As it turns out, there are a couple of kids who befriend Auggie, but Auggie worries that he’s some kind of charity case to them.  Nothing about middle school is easy–especially when your face might as well be a target for bullies–but it’s a lot easier when you’ve got a couple of friends who have your back.  Even though Auggie has doubts (sometimes justified) about his friends on occasion, he’s forming lasting relationships with people who see him for the wonderful person he is.

Read Wonder to discover how one very special kid can change the minds, hearts, and attitudes of those around him and turn an entire school–even a community–into a model of kindness.  This book gives me hope that the world we live in can change for the better.

I haven’t touched on a lot of what happens in Wonder–Auggie’s relationships with his parents and sister, how he deals with all of the changes in his life, etc.–but these are things you need to experience for yourself.  This book isn’t just Auggie’s story.  Yes, it’s told primarily from his point of view, but we also get glimpses into the minds of his family and friends.  It’s eye-opening and humbling, and I challenge readers to examine their own thoughts and prejudices against people who may look different from them.  We’ll all relate to the characters in this book in different ways, and reflecting upon how we relate to these characters could have the power to change our attitudes about ourselves and others.

Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles

Sometimes drawing helps students to focus…and that is the case with the main character in Doodlebug by Karen Romano Young.  This book–written almost entirely in doodles–tells about a girl who moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco and how she tries to find her voice–even when it seems like no one understands her.

After a bit of trouble at her school in Los Angeles–and her dad getting a new job–Dodo (real name Doreen) and her family are moving all the way up to San Francisco.  Dodo is not really happy about the move, and she decides to cope in her own special way…by doodling.  She doodles about her parents, her sister Momo, the new apartment they’re staying in, and her new school.  She even uses her doodles to reinvent herself.  Dodo is now known as the Doodlebug.

Doodlebug kind of likes her new school.  In a very short time, she makes a couple of pretty cool friends.  Unfortunately, she also gets in a bit of trouble (also in a very short amount of time).  She doesn’t want to screw things up at this school, but she just can’t seem to help it.  Things don’t get much better when a couple of her teachers try to make her quit doodling.  (The horror!)

While Doodlebug’s worrying about staying out of trouble (or at least covering up the trouble she’s already in), her sister Momo is dealing with her own brand of defiance, and her mom and dad are trying to keep the jobs that brought them to San Francisco in the first place.  Doodlebug does her best to be a good student (while still being able to doodle), and she may find some help–with a number of her problems–in some unexpected places.

Doodlebug is yet another nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  It’s a good book, an extremely quick read, and it’s different from a lot of other books out there, but part of me feels like it’s more suited to readers in middle school.  The main character is kind of sarcastic and has very little problem with rule-breaking.  (She is a seventh grader, after all.)  She’s impulsive and hard-headed as well.  I guess I just think that middle school readers will relate to the character of Doodlebug more that my sweet little angels in elementary school.  (See…I can be sarcastic, too!)

Even though I am a visual learner, it was sometimes hard for me to focus while reading this book.  My eyes didn’t know where to look first on some of the pages.  (I may be visual, but I’m also a very linear thinker.  I like order.)  Some readers may be turned off by the “busyness” of the pages.  On the other hand, it will be just what other readers are looking for.

I would recommend this book to readers in upper elementary (mature 4th or 5th graders) and middle school.  It’s a fast read that Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans will most likely enjoy.

If you’d like to learn more about Doodlebug and author Karen Romano Young, visit http://www.karenromanoyoung.com/.

Darth Paper Strikes Back

If you haven’t already read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, do that before proceeding.  The events in Darth Paper Strikes Back directly follow Origami Yoda.

Last year, students at McQuarrie Middle School began taking advice from a finger puppet.  This wasn’t, however, just any finger puppet.  This was Origami Yoda, and it seemed as if he was one with the Force, even though he was probably just a piece of paper sitting on Dwight’s finger.  Origami Yoda helped guys talk to girls, predicted upcoming pop quizzes, and stopped bullies in their tracks.  The Force was strong with this one.

Now, it’s one year later, and the Dark Side has descended on the students of McQuarrie Middle.  Dwight—along with Origami Yoda–is in danger of being expelled.  Who will give students guidance as they navigate the rough halls of middle school?  Chaos is rampant in Origami Yoda’s absence, and the situation is not helped by a new presence at the school—Darth Paper (an origami Darth Vader resting on the finger of Harvey, general negative guy and Dwight’s nemesis).  Darth Paper has brought the power of the Dark Side to McQuarrie Middle…and things are bad and getting worse.

It’s also becoming clear that Harvey and the evil Darth Paper could be responsible for getting Dwight and Origami Yoda kicked out of school in the first place.  Can the friends of Yoda overcome the Dark Side and redeem Dwight’s good name, or will the Sith rule at McQuarrie Middle School?  Read Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger to find out!

Just like The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, this book is a must-read for Star Wars fans.  In addition to an awesome story, Darth Paper Strikes Back contains instructions on how to create origami Star Wars figures and a cool game that would be super easy to play.

Adults, particularly educators, who read this book will also find something to enjoy.  Darth Paper Strikes Back addresses such issues as encouraging student creativity, how much emphasis is placed on standardized testing, school fundraisers, and taking action against bullies.

There is truly something for everyone in Darth Paper Strikes Back, and, if you pay attention, you’ll see that there might just be more origami Star Wars fun in the future.  For more information on this series, visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Dwight is not a normal kid by any stretch of the imagination.  He’s probably the weirdest kid in the sixth grade, and he’s about to take his weirdness to a whole new level.  Dwight has created his own origami Yoda.  Yes, Yoda.  The little green Jedi master from Star Wars.  Origami Yoda even gives advice to the people around him, including Tommy, a sort-of friend of Dwight’s who needs an answer to a really important question.

Everyone knows it’s just Dwight speaking in a really bad Yoda voice, but why, then, does Origami Yoda seem to know things that no one, not even Dwight, could possibly know?  Is the Force flowing through Origami Yoda and helping the students at McQuarrie Middle School?

Tommy and his friends want to know the truth about Origami Yoda.  How can he possibly have all the answers?  And why does Dwight, on whose finger Yoda rests, not follow Origami Yoda’s advice?  Will Tommy be able to find out what’s up with Dwight and Origami Yoda before asking the most important question of his entire life?  A question about–gasp!–a girl?

Join Tommy, Dwight, Origami Yoda, and a whole cast of characters as they navigate the confusing world of middle school and try to find the answers to the really tough questions in life.  Can Origami Yoda help?  Read this book you must if to find out you want!

If you’d like more information on the Origami Yoda books, including the next book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, visit http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/.  May the Force be with you!