Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mass, Wendy. 11 Birthdays (3 1/2 stars out of 4).
It may seem like only a coincidence that on the day they are born, Amanda Ellerby and Leo Fitzpatrick are together in the hospital, but when the mysterious, ancient Angelina D’Angelo appears and insinuates that the children (and families), strangers to each other, will be the best of friends, the fathers become uneasy: “The men were suddenly struck with an uneasy feeling, like they were remembering something out of a storybook someone read to them when they were children” (3). The uneasiness results from the town’s history, in which the two families once feuded so nastily that their struggles over the town’s apple orchards threatened to tear the small town of Willow Falls apart. Then, one day, after they were given a year to change their ways and save the town, they “magically” reconciled their differences, and became best friends, like Amanda and Leo. However, when a misunderstanding and a fight separate the two great-great-grandchildren, strange things start happening to Amanda, and time seems to be repeating itself: “Did I just dream everything that happened yesterday . . . I must be psychic! Maybe I always WAS, and it’s just coming out now that I’m eleven. I must be having premonitions, which was a vocabulary word in English class a few months ago” (63). The truth is far stranger than even Amanda predicts, and both she and Leo must discover the solution together or else risk their futures and be stuck forever in the past.
I sometimes forget that an old plot device to me may be a new literary innovation to my students, so I generally forgive authors for using old dogs as long as they add some new tricks. 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, A Mango Shaped Space) is a clever use of the Ground Hog Day scenario. Amanda and Leo are likable kids, and they are genuinely interested in being true to themselves, doing the right thing when they should and the wrong thing when they think they can. They are pragmatists who want to feel in control of their lives and their decisions, and they respond with appropriate horror when they realize that their lives may not be entirely their own. Ms. Mass cleverly sets up the story so that the title is ironic on several levels, and she weaves enough mystery into the plot to keep it moving forward. This book is excellent for on-level readers in 4th and 5th grade, but also for lower readers one or two grades higher.


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