Monday, January 10, 2011

REVIEW: My Life as a Book

Tashjian, J.  (2010)  My Life as a Book.  New York:  Christy Ottaviano Books.

211 pages.

Appetizer:  Derek's mom, dad and teacher are always trying to force him to read and to make vocabulary lists (although, he prefers to create images using stick-figures to represent the words.  These decorate the margins of My Life as a Book.)  He is less than excited about this.  He's okay with reading, he just likes to read comic books and collections of Calvin and Hobbes (Sidenote--the book is dedicated to Calvin and Hobbes author Bill Watterson, how nice of a touch is that?).  Why won't adults just understand that?

When Derek discovers an old newspaper article about the death of a teenage girl on Martha's Vineyard in the attic, he can't help but be curious as to why his parents have kept it.  Especially after his mom refuses to talk about it.  All Derek wants to do is have an adventure over the summer, but his best friend, Matt, is set to go to Martha's Vineyard to solve the mystery without him.  His mom won't stop bugging Derek about reading his assigned books and she even enrolls him for an educational day camp.  How can he have an adventure now?

There's a lot of heart to this story, especially as Derek struggles with the way that he is connected to the dead teenage girl.  Plus, when he's stuck at an educational day camp with his class know-it-all, Carly, he is forced to get to know her better and discovers that they just might have interests in common and that his parents just might have some good reasons for wanting Derek to excel at school.

My Life as a Book is the kind of middle grade novel that teachers absolutely love.  It speaks to the experience of being a reluctant reader and uses a lot of humor.  As Derek learns to appreciate literature, he's guided by various people through the process of visualizing stories, engaging with the characters emotionally and predicting what will happen.  *Does a dance*  Yay for a book helping to teach kids how to engage with a story!!!!!!!

I'm so excited about the literacy dimensions of this book that, even though I talked about visualization with my undergraduates last week, I created a new class discussion so I could bring up the book with them later today.

The doodles in the margins, (done by the author's own teenage son, I believe), will appeal to kids who love to draw and kids who had previously taken a chance on reading for enjoyment and gotten hooked on The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

I'd previously read Tashjian's young adult novel, The Gospel According to Larry and actually found myself enjoying this book a bit more.  I think it was my teacher perspective that made the difference.

The one aspect of the story that had me going, "hmm," was the fact that Derek is twelve-years-old.  He feels much younger, like nine years old, perhaps.  Making Greg behave that young actually makes a lot of sense though.  Since many reluctant readers will probably refuse to read about characters who are younger than them, by aging Derek to be twelve it means a wider range of kids can try to pick up the book.  Plus, even with the pictures of vocabulary words, there is some advanced vocabulary, even with some of the words that aren't defined with pictures.

There's also a nice touch about companion animals who help people with physical disabilities, and training and fostering them.  Derek's mom is a vet, so he gets to meet a companion monkey.  And in his words,  "I now have a new and exciting mission:  talking my mother into letting us raise a monkey" (p. 138).

Dinner Conversation:

Page 1, My Life as a Book

"The teacher places the reading list squarely in front of me.  "I'm afraid you'll have to try and fit in three of these books during all that fun."
I like Ms. Williams, but I wouldn't complain if she was kidnapped by crazed bank robbers in need of a getaway car.
The reading list--unfortunately--isn't going away either.  I stare at it and wonder what I've gotten myself into.  One of the books is about a kid and his dog over summer vacation and all the exciting things they do together and the lessons the boy learns.
I have a dog and--trust me--that stuff only happens in books."  (pp. 8-9)

"I still would rather be home, but I suppose there are worse things than doing sports all summer.  I tell her I'll look through some camp Web sites and find a good one tonight.
She shakes her head.
"Skateboard camp?" I ask.
"Not this time."
"Rock climbing camp?"
"Karate camp?"
"No again."
I suddenly fear for my life.
"You have too much time on your hands," she says.  "You're going to Learning Camp." (p. 63)

Page 83, My Life as a Book

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

1 comment:

  1. My Life as a Book reminds me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid...and as appealing as well. Thanks for your post!



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