Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson: Part 3

We really liked the format of our Mock Newbery book club this year. Each student committed to reading five books from our list of ten books, but we read them at our own pace. We did this because we only had two copies of each book, but I loved the side effects. Kids took their reading suggestions from each other, listening to what others raved about. Some got "buzz" and others fell flat. Our students came back raving about Serafina's Promise, but none really responded to Doll Bones. I would have never predicted that.
Serafina's Promise
by Ann E. Burg
Scholastic, 2013
*best new book*
ages 9-13
your public library
Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.

Teachers and librarians might find these two resources interesting:

Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Several connected it to Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a Newbery Honor book from 2012 -- partly because of the use of free verse poetry, but also because of the way both drew readers into a character's situation.
Ben expressed surprise that Burg "got us hooked on the situation so quickly through poetry." 
Our group agreed that the setting was also a definite strength of Serafina's Promise. Not only could they could imagine being in Haiti, several talked about what an integral part of the story the setting was.
"With some books, it could happen anywhere. With this, you knew it was definitely happening in Haiti." 
I particularly liked the way Burg used Creole phrases throughout, and I know that the first person voice helped kids connect to Serafina's character.
Doll Bones
by Holly Black
with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler
Margaret K. McElderry / Simon & Schuster, p2013
ages 9-12
your public library
Best friends Zach, Poppy and Alice struggle to balance their childhood games with new interests in middle school. Holly Black captures the inner emotional journeys of these friends as they come together to solve the mystery of the Queen, an antique doll that Poppy swears is made from the bones of a murdered girl.

I was surprised that this fantasy didn't grab our readers more. It's not that they didn't like it; rather, it just didn't affect them much. I'm guessing that even though the cover is creepy, the story wasn't as scary as something like Coraline. And the emotional aspects didn't resonate with our ten year olds. Perhaps it will connect to a middle school audience more--twelve and thirteen year olds who can relate to the tension between childhood games and adolescent social pressures.

Many thanks to Scholastic and Simon and Schuster for sharing review copies with us. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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