One that completely took me by surprise was 8 class pets + 1 squirrel divided by 1 dog = chaos by Vivian Vande Velde. It's a pretty skinny little chapter book and has a funny cover but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it (really? Judging a book by it's cover? Shame on you!). Well, wow, was I wrong. This is a very fast paced story about a squirrel who lives near a school and regularly teases a dog that lives close by. One day when the squirrel is in the middle of annoying the dog, the dog gets loose and the chase is on. The dog chases the squirrel into the school and the squirrel looks for help from the class pets (some of whom are more help than others). The first chapter is told from the perspective of the squirrel and the rest are told from the class pets perspectives and the last chapter is told by the dog. It's hilarious and an easy, quick read and would make a great mentor text for point of view as well as voice.
I was also surprised by Jeff Probst's book "Stranded". I'm not a big fan of reality TV so I didn't really know who Jeff Probst was but this one was also VERY fast paced. This one is about 4 kids who are a sailing trip to get to know each other because their parents are getting married. The kids are not wild about each other (the bossy older sister, the genius baby sister, the two boys who are very different-one is athletic and oppositional, the other one plays a lot of video games) but when they are stranded on a desert island without communication, they pull together to help. It was very compelling and I was very surprised by the ending. Here's a book trailer:
The third one I read that I really didn't think I would like was "King of the Mound: My summer with Satchel Paige." by Wes Tooke. This one had the saddest beginning of any of the books this year. The main character is in a hospital recovering from polio. The doctors think he's awesome-he's worked hard and followed directions and he's healing well, although he still walks with a limp and needs a brace. His dad, a professional baseball player comes to pick him up from the hospital and let's just say, he isn't a warm and fuzzy kind of dad. They go home to North Dakota, where his dad is playing on a team and Satchel Paige is the pitcher. The owner of the team and Satchel Paige are very nice and supportive, his dad, not so much. Anyway, once you get connected to this character, it's also really hard to stop reading. There are issues of dealing with a disability, racism, as well as making an effort and trying your best. By the end of the story, I liked the characters a lot and I was sorry to see them go!