24 November 2012

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak

This short novel for tweens is based on a true historical occurrence: during World War II, a bear joined the ranks of the Polish Army. 

One day, soldiers of the Polish 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Company, Peter, Stanislav, Pavel, Janusz, and Lolek, were sent to transport a truckload of equipment, and on the way the boys decided to take a break from the heat of the truck to sit outside in the shade and share a snack. It was during this break that they saw a young Iranian boy holding a blanket, and wrapped inside was a tiny bear cub. They paid the young boy with food in exchange for the bear, and from that moment on vowed to care for and raise the bear - named Voytek - as their comrade and their mascot. With some convincing, Voytek was even officially named a Private in the Polish Army.

This is the story of Peter, Voytek, and their friends during their years in service against the Nazis during World War II. It's a fascinating and almost unbelievable story that is told in an approachable way for all young middle grade readers to enjoy.
Wojtek with artillery ammo – sign painted on 22nd Artillery Supply Company vehicles. (image from Wikipedia)

For more information, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojtek_%28soldier_bear%29

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

19 November 2012

Better than Weird by Anna Kerz

It isn't always being different, especially when you go to school with people who don't understand "different." Especially when your dad left home after your mom died, years ago, and you are worried he'll never come back. Especially when you can't seem to figure out when things are funny or not, when people are angry, or when you are supposed to keep still. Especially when you would do anything to hold onto just one friend (besides your grandmother).

Aaron has a lot on his plate. His excitement for his dad to come home (with a surprise!) is overwhelming, and he's been making lists of all the things they can do together. Plus, he's working with the chorus to be part of the upcoming play, even though it doesn't seem like anyone thinks he's a very good singer. And he's trying to avoid Tufar who even Aaron can tell looks angry every time they cross paths. His mind is in one hundred different directions, and he's having a very difficult time just getting through each day without getting into trouble or getting hurt.

This is the story of Aaron, a pretty normal kid who everyone else thinks behaves badly or inappropriately. Parents and brothers and sisters of kids with special needs, learning difficulties, or behavior disorders will recognize their own lives, and Aaron's perspective on life is endearing, eye-opening, and humbling for all of us. Great reading for all readers in middle school, particularly.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

05 November 2012

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

"Stupid Fast : The summer I went from a joke to a jock" definitely illustrates Felton Reinstein's life one high school summer. But it doesn't even begin to encompass all that he goes through in those short - um, long - months.

Felton has grown. All of a sudden, he has hair everywhere, his body is catching up to his ginormous hands, and he is stupid fast. A few weeks in the locker room with weights and he is stupid strong, too. Everybody notices, but Felton still pictures himself as a small, weak kid, with nothing much to offer anybody. The football team latches onto him, Aleah - the daughter of a professor staying in town for the summer semester - definitely notices him, the crazy lady at the nursing home screams every time she seems him, and he seems to be driving his mother further and further into Crazy Town. Felton doesn't even begin to know how to start to figure life out. So he runs.

This is an original novel with an original voice. Felton experiences every single sort of growing pain possible, making him both a frustrating and sympathetic character. This one is perfect for young teenage boys, despite the f-bombs, and should let them know that life moves on, people aren't always what they seem, and maybe their lives aren't all that bad.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.