The View from Saturday (E.L. Konigsburg)

Oh, this book. This thing was really something! Lately I've really been making the most of my daily commute by listening to lots of books on CD, and this was one of those audio versions...the only thing about that is, I am so not an auditory learner! This was an okay book and all; I just had to keep skipping back on the CD's to figure out what was going on.
The View from Saturday is about four 6th grade students who are members of the academic quiz team at their school. It alternates viewpoints from each of the 4 kids and their sponsor, Mrs. Olinsky. As each member gets his/her turn to talk, they narrate some important event in their life.
Pros: I liked listening to this one on CD. It had several different actors with different voices who played each of the characters, and I enjoyed hearing all their different accents. That helped me visualize each character a little better. I also liked the structure of the book. As it flips around from person to person, it first seems disjointed. But what is cool is how each story is inextricably connected in the end, and how each student's unique experiences makes them, them...and even helps them answer certain questions in their quiz team "meets."
Cons: There is just not much character development, which is a key element for me when determing my opinion of a book. I like to see characters change over time and think about how events and experiences alter this book, however, these people are already who they are. To me that is a little boring. There is also more than a little, well, strangeness to this piece of literature. There are too many oddities about the characters (for example, Julian is a 6th grader who wears knee socks and corduroy shorts to school) that are simply never explained. I like to read books and put together pieces of the puzzle and ponder how they come together. Unless I skipped a disc or something, some things just never came together in this book.
Is this a good book? Kinda sorta
Is this a book I would ever recommend to anyone? Nope.
Am I glad I read it? Sure, why not!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)

I listened to this one on CD. When I first picked it out, the cover art and title gave me the impression that this might be some flavor of a Salem witch trial story. In actuality, TWoBP was full of surprises.
Set somewhere in the late 1700's, 16 year old Kit Tyler was raised as royalty by her grandfather on the island of Barbados. After his death, she takes a ship to Connecticut to meet her only living family. Kit is in for quite a shock when she and all 7 of her fru fru-filled trunks get to the rigid Puritan settlement, and quickly realizes that life in Connecticut won't be much like life in Barbados.
Though her independent spirit and outspoken nature are appreciated and loved in Barbados, in Connecticut her "strange" ways quickly land her a witch accusation, and her friendship with a Quaker woman in the town (also an outcast) doesn't help much either.
One of this book's many surprises was that intertwined with the ridiculous witch hunt, Kit's adventurous voyage from Barbados, and a plague of fever that struck the colony, was a triple sided love story involving 3 guys, Kit, and her 2 cousins.
There are too many fun little details that would ruin the book if I were to share them, but overall this is a very interesting and "feel-good" kind of book, as everything turns out A-OK in the end.

Sing Down the Moon (Scott O'Dell)

Sing Down the Moon is an incredible portrayal of a (yet another) nasty snapshot of United States history involving the treatment of various Indian tribes in the west. O'Dell follows a young Navajo girl throughout her daily chores of herding sheep, when she is captured by Spanish slave traders, being reunited with her tribe, and their subsequent "relocation" (along with hundreds of thousands of other Native Americans). I tell you, the way the Indians were treated by the US Government in the 1800's was despicable. There are prominent and eery similarities between the Holocaust and the Trail of Tears or The Long Walk.
I definitely anticipate using this with students. The way Sing Down the Moon is written presents students with a rare inside look into this aspect of American history.

Kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Katie Takeshima is the middle child in a Japanese American family of 5. She suffers from "middle child" syndrome in that she constantly alternates between mimicking her older sister in everything, yet serving as a second mother to her youngest brother. Katie struggles with feeling like there is nothing special about her, when it is actually she who holds her family together during their darkest days.
Written from Katie's point of view, the book alternates between funny little memoirs of family camping trips or her uncle's mishaps and the very serious story of her older sister's battle with cancer and her parents' financial struggles.
The title of the book is the Japanese word for glittering. In her younger days, it is Katie's favorite descriptive word for things like the ocean and the sky. By the end of the book, it serves as a reminder that-despite the terrible things that have happened to her family-she can still choose to live a happy life.

Dicey's Song, by Cynthia Voight

Dicey Tillerman is wise beyond her years, and sadly so. Apparently, she took the lead in traveling across several states with her 3 younger siblings in tow in order to get them to the one person who can take care of them: their grandmother. I say "apparently" because this book is #2 in the Tillerman series, and I have yet to read #1. (Not gonna lie...I just picked it because it is a Newbery.)

At the beginning of the book the Tillerman kiddos are all settling into life with their grandmother, and it bothered me that Dicey has so many different worries...well beyond anything that is age appropriate. Their mother is in an asylum with no promise of recovery, one of the brothers is fighting, another brother is a genius but feels left out, and her sister has a learning problem that not even the teachers can figure out. They also have to deal with rumors of their grandmother being crazy, and the fact that money is always short.

What I took from this book is that you just never know what kids are going through. Dicey is just a little girl, but seems to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. I think many of our students are the same way. Having said that, it's a real downer!