Tuesday, December 31, 2013

REVIEW: The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett (might make you cheer for Jabba)

Angleberger, T.  (2013).  The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett.  New York:  Abrams.

208 pages.

Appetizer:  *The author of this blog insists you hum or listen to the opening credits of one of the Star Wars movies as you read the following*

It's the start of the spring semester, and Dwight has returned to McQuarrie, but it is still a dark time for the middle school.  The evil empire of school administrators have implemented a new program called "FunTime" to ensure students learn the fundamentals of the core subject areas for standardized tests that are months away.  The actual video-based lessons prove to be anything but fun.  All electives, like music and art, have been abolished.  It falls to a rag-tag band of seventh graders to try to maintain the culture of creativity and Star Wars fandom that they have worked so hard to create.  They must search for other brave students to start a rebellion.
I love this series so much!  It's not just because of all of the Star Wars puppets.  I love the way Angleberger addresses major issues in education (like the ridiculous over-emphasis on standardized testing!) in an accessible way.  Such an important critique.

It does seem that addressing the issues of testing, overuse of worksheets, and test prep programs are taking over this series.  My biggest critique of this particular book is that it seemed to struggle to find a balance between taking on the fight against standardized testing and dealing with the usual issues of the middle school social scene.  A few "does she like me?  Does she like him now?" scenes were forced in.  There should have either been more attention to those concerns near the end (which is the route I would have preferred), or the initial scenes probably should have been cut.

While there is a small resolution at the end of the book in regards to the Origami rebels fight, the characters are left gearing up for a larger battle and I'm very curious to see how Angleberger will take it on in the next book:  Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue.

One of the reasons I love showing this series to my education students is because all of the books are framed as being an inquiry.  In The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett, one of the main characters, Harvey, who is often the nay-sayer of the group, attempts to do an experiment to track the learning of himself and his cousin.  At one point, Harvey's dad pipes in with a critique of the experimental design.  The plot also features several of the characters doing a variety of calculations to determine how many students have to get certain scores for their testing rebellion to have an impact.  So many across-the-curriculum connections!

As always, the end of the book provides the how-to steps to create finger puppets.  This time both an illustrated guide for Jabba AND an Ewok are included.  Here's a picture of the Jabba I made from the cover page of a draft of my tenure-track portfolio for work.  I'm thinking of handing it in with the final portfolio:

Dinner Conversation:

"Me and Kellen knew we would be starting a new case file when Dwight got back.
We just didn't know what it would be about.
I mean, you never, never know what to expect from Dwight." (p. 2)

"Today was January 6, the first day of the spring semester.
We found out that there are going to be a lot of weird changes at school.
Judging by how excited Principal Rabbski was about them, they could not possibly be good.  And judging by the posters that were going up around school--"Get Ready for a Fun Time with FunTime!!!!"--they're probably really, really bad." (p. 3)

"Instead of going to your elective classes each day, you'll be assigned to a new classroom, where you'll use the FunTime system to prepare for your upcoming state Standards of Learning tests." (p. 13)

"The first thing on the worksheet was the exact same problem that the Professor had done on the video.  Then there were nine more very similar problems.  It took about twenty seconds to do the whole thing.  Like I said, we all learned how to do these a long time ago.
When we were all done, Mr. Howell hit the play button and Gizmo went over the answers....very, very slowly...and showed us how to do each one...very, very slowly.
And then he sang!" (p. 20)

"By the time we all met in the cafeteria for lunch, we were all thinking the same thing:  How is Origami Yoda going to get us out of this?" (p. 22)

"'It is time for faithfulness...solidarity...courage...all the qualities of a Jedi.'
"But for what?" Kellen and I asked at the same time.
Origami Yoda looked at each of us...even at Dwight.  For a second I thought about how crazy it was, all of us sitting there staring at a finger puppet and then the finger puppet staring back at us watching while the finger looked at the guy who owns the finger.
But something else told me it wasn't crazy.  When Origami Yoda looked at me with his crinkly eyes, I knew what he was going to say.  And I knew I was going to agree.
"Come the time has...." Origami Yoda said slowly, "for rebellion."
Snort," snorted Harvey." (pp. 25-26)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I'm Alive I Swear! And REVIEW: Diary of a Wimpy Kid Hard Luck

*Brushes the dust off the blog.*

Oh, hello there!

Please excuse the lack of posting.  It proved to be a crazy semester.

Whenever I wasn't reading for my classes, I was reading for the Cybils YA fiction award.  I've been sharing all of my thoughts on the books with my fellow panelists.  Let me tell you, we have some wonderful contenders for the book award this year!

As the book judging winds down, I hope to focus in a little more on reading for the blog.

On to my first review in the post-crazy-semester haze:

Kinney, J.  (2013).  Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Hard luck.  New York:  Amulet Books.

Appetizer:  In the eighth book of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg spends March and April dealing with the fact that his best friend, Rowley, is in a relationship (the boy-girl kind!), and no longer has a lot of time for Greg.  Left alone, Greg struggles to shape another friend into the best friend that Rowley had been to him.

He also must deal with an impending visit of relatives from his mom's side of the family (including one aunt who hates children, another whose children are monsters, and yet another who relies heavily on a psychic).  During the Easter visit, most of the relatives engage in a desperate hunt for a missing heirloom that has pitted sister against sister.

Frustrated with all of the difficulty little and big decisions he faces, Gregg turns to an old Magic Eight Ball for answers.  What could possibly go wrong?

As with other installments of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, I'm impressed by Kinney's ability to access issues that are currently huge in elementary and middle schools.  (In this case the positive reinforcement movement in anti-bullying campaigns and the "Find a Friend" station on the school playground come to mind.)

At this point, you should know what you're getting if you pick up a Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Hard Luck maintains the selfish protagonist, humor, fun perspectives, and amusing drawings that readers have come to expect for the series.  Hard Luck isn't my favorite in the series, but it's still an enjoyable read.  It definitely made me chuckle out loud a few times in the cafe where I was reading.

This page was the main chuckle culprit:

You'll have to read the book to find out how Greg's Dad got in this situation.

Dinner Conversation:

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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