Pompeii and the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

In 79 AD, on August 24, the volcano Vesuvius, erupted on the unsuspecting Roman town of Pompeii. It came as such a great shock to the people who lived there because the volcano had been silent for centuries up until that fateful day.
The residents of Pompeii attempted to get out of the town and away from the violently erupting volcano. They grabbed their most treasured possessions, most of which were precious pieces of jewelry. Some doctors saved their medical tools. All of them fled, but not many got far. Many of these artefacts were not found until around 1748, when the city Pompeii was rediscovered.
Some of the remains of people who died in the eruption have been preserved and put in museums. I went to an exhibit today called Pompeii: Tales from an Eruption. I thought it was tragic and awful that all those people died, but I also thought it was interesting.

Fiction about Pompeii:

Young Adult Fiction of 2007: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

Brown Bear’s Review:
This book has two main characters.

First, there’s Kirsten McKenna, a slightly plump girl with a genius younger sister named Kippy, two parents who fight all the time, and a giggle that Kirsten insists, to use it, you have to be “…size three and named Barbie.” She also has a best friend named Rory. But suddenly, Rory doesn’t seem like the best friend she had been. She’s been hanging around with Brianna, the queen bee of Mountain School, whom Kirsten hates. Her mom keeps giving her unwanted advice, and Kirsten dislikes the way her father calls her a genius when everyone knows that’s Kippy, not her.

Then, there’s Walker Jones, who’s being sent to a private school and is trying his best to stay out of trouble, somewhat aided and abetted by his cousin, Jamal, with whom he went to school before switching. Even though Walk has better friends now, like Matteo, his mother, Sylvia, is still afraid he’ll wind up in juvie hall. Walk says, “Don’t have to worry, Momma. Before I go bad I’ll let you know, send a Hallmark card ready-made for the occasion…’On the Eve Your Son Messes Up’,” but Sylvia doesn’t think it’s funny.

Kirsten and Walker are similar to each other. They go to the the same school, they are in the same grade, and they are friends. But there is one, seemingly important, difference: One is white and the other is black.

I enjoyed this book. It was a very good story and it was funny. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud.

There were, however a couple of things that bothered me. For one thing, the two main characters, who were supposed to be in seventh grade, seemed to act much older than that. Maybe it was just me…?

Also, the book starts out involving, mostly, Kirsten and Walk’s problems at school and how they deal with them there and at home, and for about two thirds of the book, this is most of what the story is about. However, the key part of the story, which takes place in about the last third of the book, doesn’t really involve the school at all. There is very, very little foreshadowing of what happens at this point.

But despite this, it was a good book, funny and interesting.

Sherry’s thoughts:

The two main characters alternate chapters; one chapter is told from Kirsten’s point of view, in first person, and then the next is told from Walk’s point of view, but in third person. I found this switch in persons, especially, somewhat confusing, and I couldn’t really discern the author’s purpose in organizing the book this way. Also, Brown Bear’s right: the kids in the story do act more like ninth or tenth graders. The mom in the story is disturbing. Her emphasis on popularity at any cost is not doing her daughter any good at all, and mom’s problems seem to overwhelm her parenting abilities and make her into Monster Mom.

This book may be more appropriate for older kids, young adult rather than middle grade. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for children who are still in elementary school. There are plot developments, the ones Brown Bear refers to at the end of her review, that would confuse many younger children.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period has been nominated for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction.

More reviews:

Becky’s Book Reviews: “Anyway, the book is well written. And it’s a fast, enjoyable read. While not all the characters are likable, all are well-developed.”

In the Pages: “I absolutley HAD to read this one as I loved her book, Al Capone Does My Shirts. I will preface by saying it didn’t hit me AS HARD as Al Capone, but I did like it, and I think teens will enjoy it as well.”

Books4Ever: “This is a great story with a major surprise that really looks at what it means to be a family. The book switched off perspectives between Walk and Kirsten which gives you many sides to what life is like for these two middle schoolers.”

Book Review: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, by Lauren Tarshis

Reviewed by Brown Bear, age 12:

When I first saw this book, I looked at the jacket blurb and got an entirely incorrect first impression, as almost all of my first impressions are. I thought I would not enjoy the book because I thought I knew what kind of book it was. It thought it would be very typical and predictable.

It was not typical and it was not predictable in any way.

Emma-Jean Lazarus is suddenly faced with many difficulties. Emma-Jean doesn’t understand other kids. She considers them illogical and she knows that some are very rude. She keeps her distance from her classmates, observing them but never really interacting. But, despite this, when Colleen Pomerantz, whom she discovers sobbing over the bathroom sink at her school, asks desperately for her help with a problem of her own, Emma-Jean decides to help her.

On top of this, a boy named Will Keeler is being injustly picked on by a teacher, and she decides to help him as well. Emma-Jean solves both of their problems using methods involving forgery and trickery. But what happens when her deception is found out? Will Emma-Jean decide that getting into other people’s business, even with their permission, is a bad idea? Will she go back to the Emma-Jean she was before she walked in on Collen crying in the bathroom?

I enjoyed this book very much because A) The kids in it were exactly my age, which pleased me, B) It was original and wasn’t too reminiscent of any other books, and C) It had many different angles, so I never grew bored.

I don’t know what my favorite Cybil nominee is yet, but this one was one of the best I’ve read.

Sherry’s Thoughts: When Emma-Jean Lazarus’s classmates taunt her and call her “strange”, she and her mother look up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, “kept out on her mother’s dresser for handy reference.”

The second definition for strange is “extraordinary, remarkable, singular.” Emma-Jean and her mother decide that the description is quite accurate as applied to Emma-Jean, and they further decide that Emma-Jean should take such an epithet as a compliment rather than an insult. The “strange” thing about the episode is that Emma-Jean does deal with all her problems just so logically.

Emma-Jean reminds me of the TV detective, Monk. She’s never labelled with OCD or Asperger’s or any other of the multitude of labels we give to those have strange (and remarkable) personalities, and that’s a strength of the novel. I’m not like Emma-Jean, but I can identify. Which of us isn’t extraordinary, remarkable, and singular in the unique way God created each of us, and which of hasn’t known the feeling of not fitting in with the crowd?

Emma-Jean learns and grows over the course of the novel, and at the same time she remains a singular, remarkable young lady. I agree with Brown Bear Daughter that this book was one of the best of the Cybil nominees I’ve read.

Review of A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, is a sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. As in A Wrinkle in Time, it is another story of Meg Murry and her family. The story starts as Meg begins to notice that her younger brother, Charles Wallace, has become very weak. Every step he takes costs him much strength. Her mother, as Meg finds out, fears that this might mean there is something wrong with his farandolae and mitochondria. Meg goes even further than her mother, however, to save Charles Wallace’s life.
This book was riveting and exciting, just as a Wrinkle in Time was. Some parts of the book had you scared, disturbed, and made you squirm until you finally found out all the answers.
A Wind in the Door is, I think, more serious than A Wrinkle in Time, and more difficult to follow along with. Some things are still mysteries by the end of the book, where you would expect to find out everything. When you read the book, you get the feeling of not knowing why something is happening, but knowing that it has to happen. You can’t possibly see how the characters will make the right choice, or do the right thing, but you know they will. It’s the sort of book that you must be relieved when you remind yourself that everything has to turn out alright in the end, but then you can’t even be sure everything will turn out all right.
I enjoyed this book because, while it answered a few questions, it still left some unanswered, giving you something to look forward to when you finish it and move on to A Swiftly Tilting Planet. And, also, while the books is fiction, it is science fiction and did teach me a bit. I must admit, however, I liked it more for the “fiction” part of it and less for the “science” part. But overall, it was a great book.

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins

I started this book, didn’t think I’d like it, and put it down. Then, in about a month, I started it again. And, of course, I liked it. Because my first impressions of books are usually completely wrong.

I suppose you might say there are two main characters in this story. First, there’s Debra (Debbie), an imaginative, wishful and thoughtful girl. Some of her favorite pastimes are helping elderly Mrs. Bruning around the house (and consequently meeting and falling for Mrs. Bruning’s handsome grandson, Peter Bruning, later in the book), hanging out with her neighbourhood friends, and speculating over things (usually nothing at all).

Then, there’s Hector, a slightly pudgy adolescent boy who sees a guitarist and is inspired to learn how to play. Taking lessons from a Presbyterian minister with a few others is how he meets a young girl named Meadow and develops a hopeless crush on her, hopeless because the striking, football-playing Dan Persik is interested in her as well.

Debbie loses her necklace, which is found by a few different people, all of whom make an effort to get it back to her, but in the end of the story…

Well, now you’ll have to read it.

I really enjoyed this because of the different perspectives of all the different characters. The author didn’t just stick to following Debbie and Hector around, but decided to bring their friends more into the story. Just the way the book was written was intriguing.

I liked this book and hopefully anyone who reads this review will want to read it as well.

Book Review: First Daughter, by Mitali Perkins

I started this book as a school reader and I must say, at first, I could not get interested in it. It was school, I didn’t want to read it, it was a waste of my time, etc. But finally, after much urging from my mother, I sat down and made myself read it. And I liked it.

It is about a Pakistani American girl named Sameera Righton, the adopted daughter of the Elizabeth Righton and James Righton, 2008 US presidential candidate. While in public, the Rightons may seem on top of things and sure of themselves, but alone, James is unsure of and struggling with his stance on religion, Elizabeth is still having trouble finishing her “freaking” report, and Sameera just wants to blog on her “myplace” and ignore her fake website that was set up in order to boost her father’s presidential campaign. She is disturbed by the fake personality set up for her by her father’s campaign manager. Covered with makeup and costumed in the latest styles, giggly and girly, she feels very much unlike herself.

Then, Sameera meets a group of middle eastern teenagers who are rooting for father to win. They convince Sameera to publicize a blog that shows her own thoughts, and who she really is.

One of the things I especially liked was the use of a blog, which gave me the feel of it being “real,” to refer to places such as myspace.com. I also liked the insight to being “famous.” So, despite the occasional crude words thrown in here and there, it was a good book.

Book Review: Bella at Midnight, by Diane Stanley

Note from Sherry: This book is on my list for the Once Upon a Time Challenge because Brown Bear Daughter read it and enjoyed it so much. I haven’t read it yet, but she did and here’s her review:

I wasn’t too enthusiastic about reading this book at first. I didn’t think I would like it very much, though I love a few others similar to it (Ella Enchanted, to name one). Nevertheless, I did read it, and I really enjoyed it. I like books with romance in them almost as much as I like depressing books, and this was a romantic book.

The whole book is in first person, but the chapters switch from character to character narrating, which was interesting. (I wrote a story like that except that it switched between two characters while this one switched between many more than two.) I really liked this because it gave me different views of different people though of the same situation.

It starts with Maud, the title character (Bella’s) aunt, narrating. She is sent a letter from her brother-in-law, which said that her sister, was pregnant and that he wanted Maud to be there during the birth. Maud, greatly surprised at this because her brother had never shown any interest in her family except for her sister and had moved his family away soon after the marriage, rode quickly to Sir Edward, to her brother-in-law’s, house. There, Catherine, her sister, gave birth to a baby girl named Isabel, but died soon afterwards. Maud gives the baby to Beatrice, who fosters Isabel for a time. Beatrice has also fostered Julian, a prince of Moranmoor, who, when he was about three years old, left them. He came back to visit them, however, and there he met Isabel, still a baby. He could not pronounce her name, so he called her “Bella.” Later, when many events have changed Bella’s life to where she lives with her unloving father and his harsh, new wife, Bella discovers that the life of Julian may be in danger. Julian, who is a truce hostage at a neighboring kingdom, is far away and Bella despairs of warning him soon enough to save his life.

I liked this book for its adventure and romance. It’s too bad I’m not going to give away the ending, which is one of the best parts of the entire story. You’ll just have to read it.

Book Review: Mary, Bloody Mary, by Carolyn Meyer

This book was fantastic. I hate to start off a book review with such a vague word describing the book, but what else would I use? Amazing, fascinating, interesting? The book is all these and more.

The book starts when Mary Tudor is about eleven years old, and her father, King Henry VIII, has decided she should marry the king of France, King Francis. Mary does not look forward to marrying, even meeting, her future husband. During a masque while her betrothed is visiting England, Mary notices a certain lady-in-waiting named Anne Boleyn. Anne wears mostly black and white clothing, and a ribbon about her neck. Mary is not particularly interested in Anne until she catches her father, the king, staring at her during the masque. Mary is troubled, but she hears no more about Anne Boleyn until she discovers that her father has exiled her mother and is trying to marry Anne! The King, searching for some Biblical reference that supports his claim that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was illegitimate, says that since Catherine had been his brother’s wife before she had married him, his marriage to her was unlawful. And though the Catholic Church still will not allow Henry to divorce Catherine, Mary, who knows her father’s stubbornness and anger, fears her father will find a way to marry Anne despite the Church…

I really love books set in this time in history. In the time of King Henry VIII, Elizabethan times, et cetera. And this is one of the best books I’ve read that take place during that time period. Before I had read anything about Mary, my view of her was of an evil, oppressing queen. I was horrified by her persecution of protestants. While most of this view didn’t change, after reading this book, I realized Mary had had her share of hardship and suffering.

There were a couple of rather disgusting parts, including the description of Anne’s beheading and the birth of Elizabeth. They were not so horrifying, however, that I couldn’t push them out of my thoughts.

I loved seeing into a view of Mary’s feelings as though she were a real person, not just some character in history who had no personality. I enjoyed meeting Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, as though they were a part of the story, too, and not just nameless people who had no part in her life. I liked reading about her thoughts, her feelings.

It says, that before Anne was beheaded, she begged for Mary’s forgiveness. But at first I doubted whether she had really repented, because I imagine it would be easier for one to apologize to someone when you know it’s going to be the last chance you get to do it. But then I reconsidered and I like to believe that Anne really repented of how terrible she had been to Mary. I can think whatever I want to of characters in a book, no matter what they may have done. Because I suppose we’ll never really know the whole truth. And that’s one thing I really enjoyed about the book.

All that is to say, it was a great book and you should read it.