30 September 2013

Dragonborn by Toby Forward


In my time as an elementary librarian, I've learned that dragons are awesome*.  Kids LOVE dragons.  Heck, adults love dragons.  At my local library, there are over 277 books about dragons.  And that's just at one branch of the library.  When I search all branches of the library for the entire county, we're talking thousands of books (okay, so just a thousand, but still).  So when I'm shopping for books, any books that are about dragons get put in the cart and read as soon as they come in.

I was pretty excited when Dragonborn finally came in.  It looked perfect for elementary - cool cover, not too thick, but not too thin, etc.  Turns out, looks can be decieving.  I think.  I'm not certain yet.  Lemme 'splain.

First, a summary:  Sam is a wizard apprentice to the great wizard Flaxfield.  At the beginning of the book, Flaxfield dies and Sam must oversee his "finishing".  All the wizards who completed their apprenticeship under Flaxfield begin to return, and they doubt Sam's abilities and they even begin to doubt whether or not he really was an apprentice.  Sam, who has really only ever known life with Flaxfield, fears that these adult wizards plan to send him off to the coal mines to work and decides to run away with his pet dragon Starback. His adventures lead him to a wizard college and to the mines that he is so afraid of.  All the while, an evil...person? being? someone of indeterminate species... named Ash is after Sam...I think.  It seems that Flaxfield trapped her, and her creepy unexplained companion named Bakkmann in a tower somewhere and if they can get Sam, they can get out.  There are also roffles (they seem like dwarfs, but I'm not certain) and memmonts (no idea really - maybe they're cats?) and all kinds of other magical things that inhabit Sam's world that are explained only through excerpts from Sam's apprentice notebook.  Oh yeah, and dragons.  I almost forgot the dragons.

Was that summary odd?  Well, it makes sense because the book is rather odd.  The excerpts from Sam's apprentice notebook are meant to connect things together and to give background information, but often end up confusing the reader.  I went back and re-read the excerpts often, trying to make sense of the story line through the excerpts.  But usually, that didn't help.  The chapters and sections that relate to Ash and Bakkmann are just as confusing, but end up making sense at the end of the novel, even if they don't answer all the questions they raise at the beginning.  The book is clearly written to be part of a series, I'm just not certain its written well enough to encourage readers to read the rest of the series.

However, I'm an adult, and I read books very differently than my students.  There have been books in the past that are similar to Dragonborn that I didn't enjoy and my students LOVE.  Since the book is written for young readers, I think I should reserve my judgement about the book until I can get an expert opinion or two about it.  So I'm going to book talk it this week, hope someone checks it out and then ask their opinion.  I promise I'll report back if I can.

In the meantime, I would recommend this book to any young reader interested in fantasy, mystery and dragons.  The reading level places it at a 4th grade level (at least), and I think students up to 7th grade would enjoy it.

*I couldn't help myself.  That video is so unbelievably random and weird, it's awesome.  Also, I bet that guy is single.

05 September 2013


by Carl Hiaasen
Alfred A. Knopf

I've loved Carl Hiaasen since I read the very first page of Skinny Dip (read it, you'll agree).  I love his sarcastic wit and well-woven plot lines.  When I became a teacher librarian and found out he also writes books for young readers, I was excited and nervous.  Not many writers can write well for multiple ages (case in point: LOVE James Patterson books for young readers, can't stomach his adult novels).  However, Hiaasen nails it.

Chop stars two fantastic young people: Wahoo and and Tuna.  The only two kids on the planet named for fish (granted, Wahoo isn't named for the fish - he's named for a professional wrestler).  Wahoo's dad is a wild animal wrangler.  Tuna's dad is...not so great.  When Wahoo's dad is hired to help out with a survival show Expedition Survival, Tuna decides to tag along, especially since the host of the show - the famous Derek Badger - is her personal hero.  Tuna quickly finds out that Derek Badger (who is referred to not-so-affectionately by Wahoo's dad as "Mr. Beaver") is not the survivalist he claims to be on the show.  And when Badger goes a little crazy and wants to start doing all his own stunts, things get messy quick.  Wahoo and his dad can't back out of the job - they need the money, and Tuna doesn't want to go home, so they're stuck trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

As always, Hiaasen's dry humor and plot twists turn the book from just another book to an absolute page turner.  And I appreciate the fact that the relationship between Wahoo and Tuna never turns romantic - it would have been too cliche.  Wahoo's love for his family and his animals, and his desire to help Tuna are genuine and completely age appropriate.  And Hiaasen's portrayal of adults is also age appropriate: they are flawed but not to the point of being disrespectful.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks Bear Gryls is a bit much.  Ok, seriously, I would recommend this book to any one who likes survival stories (both wilderness survival and tough-life-situation survival), any middle-grade student looking for a fun read, and any parent who wants a great book through which they can connect with their child.