Youth Book Review: What a Wonder!

Today’s Favorite Friday post is a Youth Book Review written by Abby, who is a 6th grader from our Gracepoint Minneapolis church. She writes newspaper articles under the pen name Mr. Sketch (you’ll have to ask her why).

wonder book coverWonder, by R.J Palacio. This book truly lives up to its name. Wonder is a book that you can never put down. I recently just read it again and it reminded me how well it was written and how it’s so true to real life.

The book is unique in the way that it switches from different people’s points of view. In this book a boy named August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity (known as Treacher Collins Syndrome). Auggie’s condition is like a 1 in 50,000 chance of being born with it. When he finally goes to school with other kids for 5th grade, he faces big problems. Bullies are a HUGE one. Yet, he’s kind to everyone (even bullies who threaten to hurt him) and really tries to shrug off the taunts and teases. He goes through so much and he reminds us to persevere and never give up.

There are many supporting characters in the book. Jack Will is Auggie’s new best friend. He is challenged by going from being in the popular and “cool crowd” to hanging out with Auggie, which is lower than uncool. He’s brave and I admire that about him. He chooses to be with Auggie and even punches a bully because he was teasing Auggie. Summer Dawson is a girl who sat at a table with Auggie on the first day of school and has been every day since. She would fit perfectly into the” cool crowd” and they even ask her to join them. She says no because Auggie needs a friend. She takes a stand for what’s right. Julian Albans, popular kid, in the “cool crowd” bullies August Pullman. Julian is Auggie’s biggest bully. He calls him names and make the whole grade turn against Auggie. But when it starts to get old and nobody likes him anymore, things change.

Auggie’s English teacher, Mr. Browne, has a precept for his class every month. A precept is like a motto. One of his precepts that constantly appear in the book is: “When you have the choice to be right or kind, choose kind.” And to all those kids and people who were kind to Auggie, they truly took that precept seriously.

Wonder is an awesome book. It is currently my favorite book. After reading it the first time, I started writing out the book by hand. I loved it that much! I recommend Wonder to ages 10 and up, so like 5th grade and up.  5th grade is a really good time to read it because you can kind of relate to the characters in the book! I think the lesson I learned was that a person’s face does not mean that they’re different from everybody else inwardly. You will never look at a person with disabilities the same way again. I encourage everyone to read the book.

choose kindEmily here: As a teacher, I can echo Abby Mr. Sketch’s sentiments and attest to the power of Wonder. I loved it personally, but this is exactly the kind of book I’d love. But in the last few years, I have seen every kind of kid and adult, even the “I hate reading” kind, love this book. It’s been a “gateway book” for many. I agree that it is right for about 5th grade and up. And by “up” I do mean all the way up! It is definitely a book for young and old alike. This book speaks to the power of a human story. Kids are drawn to this story without knowing what empathy means, but so many take the “Choose Kind” pledge that has swept across schools and libraries. And it has opened up discussions in classrooms about kindness, and even impacted the way kids treat one another. If you have a 5th or 6th grader, it’s likely your child’s language arts teacher will do a unit based on the book. This is a wonderful novel for conversations about what it means to be a friend, what courage is, what it means to “be yourself,” what taking a stand is, and there are so many precepts sprinkled throughout the book that you can write about or discuss.

This book has become a “franchise” of sorts, with 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts; the Wonder Journal, filled with inspiring quotes to think about and respond to; and Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, a combined book of 3 shorter stories previously only available in e-book format. They tell stories from the perspectives of Julian (the bully), Christopher (Auggie’s oldest friend), and Charlotte (a new friend from school).

Have you read Wonder? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you agree that it is as wonderful as Abby and I think? If not, has this review prompted you to give the book a try? 🙂 

Youth Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

We will have occasional book reviews written by Bibliopolis patrons themselves. Today’s review is written by Elise, who is an 8th grader in our Gracepoint church’s Element Youth Group.


This is the original cover art. See the updated cover at the end of the post.

So far this year, I was able to read 30+ books to enter the Summer Reading Camp (DANSE-PO NBA). Out of these thirty books, the one I enjoyed the most is a book called Between Shades of Gray, written by author Ruta Sepetys. After reading through this book, it became one of my favorites, and today I will tell you why.

First of all, this book was written from the perspective of a young teenage girl who’s struggling through the times of Stalin’s regime. The book starts in 1941 in Lithuania, and follows the characters to the Siberian work camps. I personally enjoy books written for that time, because such a historical time filled with such horrific memories creates tear-jerking and heart-warming stories. Anyways, because of the time period in which the story was set, it was made emotional, and I was, at some times in the book, moved to tears. (Which, I must admit, doesn’t happen to me often).

In addition, the main character, Lina, was an artist, which shaped her character in the story. In that way, I related to her well, and the ways that she pushed through the struggling times in the story through art was so understandable to me. I also really thought her as an inspiring character, because of her bravery, and her strength to survive. Personally, if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t have wanted to even live anymore after just the first of what she went through. Instead, she found ways that she should live, thought things through, and cared so much for the people around her besides herself. Her family meant everything to her, and she did anything to keep them going, whether that meant working harder to get extra food and time to care for them, and even stealing.

Another character I really appreciated in the story is a boy named Andrius. Of course, you would expect Lina and Andrius to have some sort of romantic relationship, but I think it was more subtle than a typical teen boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. It’s more like a good friendship she needed during that difficult time. It must have been so much more strengthening to have someone by your side. Andrius was perfect for that position in Lina’s life. He really lifted her up and made her days less dark. He understood her, and was there for her, even when it seemed like no one was.

The events that filled every page made the whole book exciting. I just couldn’t put it down! The only thing that made the book a little less readable for younger people is for its few questionable parts. I was advised by an older friend to skip a chapter. Though questionable, I understand that some of those kinds of horrible events actually happened during those times, and more often much worse. Because of these certain parts, I would recommend this book to the age group of around 13 years old and older. And if you like tear-jerkers, this book is for you!

The ending of this book… [Emily has redacted portions of this review to avoid spoilers.]  In it is a short letter explaining [redacted to avoid spoilers]…bittersweet. And that is why I love this book.


betweenshadeseyecoverEmily here: To the left is the cover art for the paperback edition. Can we agree that the hardcover art is far superior? It is subtle and symbolic, with the sapling growing out of the snow, and the barbed wire lining the corners. This one with the eye is a bit…too close!

This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels, and about one of my favorite periods in history — the World War II era. I loved this book especially because there are so many books written about the Holocaust, but this one is about the horrors of the Balkan genocide under Stalin’s rule. Like Elise said, I would recommend this book for 8th grade and up. The chapter she was referring to contains some soldier brutality and alludes to abuse of the women (it is not graphic, though horrible).

This was Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel, and her story was influenced by a visit she took to Lithuania to visit her relatives.

Here is a video where Sepetys talks about her book and the story behind the story.

Ruta Sepetys discusses her novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.

Favorite Friday: Most Underrated Fantasy Series

Nothing can hold a candle to what I think of as the Fantasy Trifecta throughout our Gracepoint ministries: can you guess what they are? Of course I’m talking about The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series.

chronicles of narniaLTR Harry-Potter-the-Complete-Series-Paperback-721150e1-d7d0-4582-ad0b-de4cd3d2b5a5_320An aside: whenever I’d post a “wanted” listing for book donations for my classroom library, these are the books I would mostly get. So much so that my students wondered if my friends only read those books. To which I would answer…”Um…by the looks of it, that could very well be the case!” But then I would defend you all (thank you for your donations, by the way) by saying, “What can I say? My friends have good taste in books!”

If you’re a parent, you know that there are a bajillion fantasy series out there. And the little reviews always say, “Like Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets Enders Game!” or something of the sort. I love me a good fantasy series myself (better yet if it’s a dystopian fantasy sci-fi mix), but man, are there some subpar* ones out there. It seems all you have to do is sell the rights for a movie, and ta-da, you’ve got yourself a multi-million dollar franchise!

But enough of my negativity, on this Favorite Friday, I want to share with you my favorite underrated (no pun intended) fantasy series. It’s The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. Yes, that’s right, she of The Hunger Games** fame. In fact, I find this series to be far superior to The Hunger Games in terms of her writing, thematic exploration, and world-building, even though she wrote The Underland Chronicles first.

This series is a middle grade series, targeting 8-12 year olds. It seems to be a hit with middle schoolers, but I’ve also recommended it to 3rd graders who are avid readers, as well as 9th graders who want a fast fantasy series to enjoy. Last year I had a 7th grader who was deemed a “non-reader” (no one is a non-reader!) by his previous teacher, and he worked through the entire series and not-so-secretly liked it. I also know some people in their late 30s who have enjoyed it too. 🙂

underland-chronicles1I thought I was going to hate the series, because it involves an Underland where anthropomorphic rats, cockroaches, and other lovely creatures have been awaiting the one who will fulfill THE PROPHECY. But I was able to get over the anti-vermin feelings pretty quickly and get into the story. In the first book, Gregor is 11 years old. His family has been going through some hard times ever since his father went missing. So it’s just his mom, his 2-year-old sister Boots, and him. He and Boots are doing laundry in the laundry room of their apartment complex when Boots accidentally slips down the grate. Being a good older brother, he naturally follows her into the grate to find her. Gregor falls…and falls…and falls…until he reaches — YES, the Underland. And then the adventures begin.

You’re thinking this is predictable. Trite even. Let me tell you though, Collins develops her characters so well that you get sucked in pretty quickly. You want things to start going well for Gregor, who just misses his dad so much, wants to do right by his hard-working mom, and isn’t too cool to show how fiercely loyal he is to his younger sister. I won’t tell you much more than this, but one funny part is that the cockroaches think Boots is a queen…because of her full diaper. (OK, I thought that was funny anyway!)

These books have great themes for conversations with your kids: courage in the face of fear, sacrifice, trust and betrayal, loyalty, and more.

An added bonus: the audiobooks for this series are GREAT! Perfect for road trips with your family.



*Can we agree that Subpar, while punny, is a rather subpar name name for a mini-golf place? (I get it, subpar is a good thing in golf. But…)

**Many people ask my opinion on The Hunger Games. I’ve got some, but I shall leave them for a future post.