Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pierce and Pfeffer

Read The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce and it was not as bad as I thought. The girls who are liking Meyers' Twilight and can handle higher fantasy will enjoy this. A slave girl whose mistress is stolen by an almost-vampire is also kidnapped and forced to serve his wives and gargoyles. Inexplicably, she falls in love with him and attempts to save him after saving his wives. The author was 23 when she wrote this, which explained, for me, the slight oddity of the prose. Not my cup of tea, but fairly well done, and the students will like it. Working on the sequel-- A Gathering of Gargoyles.

Also read Kid Power, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which I enjoyed. Light, realistic fiction about a girl who wants to earn money to by a bicycle and sets up an odd jobs business to do so. Even though this was written in 1977, I think it translates well. I'm dusting it off and pushing it!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rick Riordan is a Demi-god!

Finally, a copy of The Sea of Monsters was returned and there were no students who had it on reserve. I had it in my briefcase to take home and read, but I happened to talk to a student at lunch who had not known there was a sequel. He was right in the middle of McNab's Traitor, but he was practically jumping up and down with excitement, right there in the cafeteria, to find out there was a book after The Lightning Thief. (And remember, this is an 8th grade boy!)Made me promise to bring in SoM today, so I finished it at 5:00 a.m.

I didn't mind. THAT'S how good it is.

How can you not lot a book with chapter headings like "We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment"? From a pedagogical perspective, I love that Riordan weaves in so much Greek mythology; from a librarian's perspective, I'm glad that he makes the books fun so they check out quickly; from my own personal perspective as a former Latin teacher, I just enjoyed the books. I'm making my husband, Mr. PhD in Ancient History, read them, but we'll have to get copies from the public library, since my library's copies are always out.

Sooooo excited to hear there is a third, The Titan's Curse, coming out in May. (Check it out at http://www.rickriordan.com/children.htm)

And no, I haven't read anything else. We have a Japanese teacher staying with us for three weeks, so it's been a bit hectic and I'm a bit behind.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More Paulsen

The Cookcamp was an easy read-- a lot of people eating pie. A whole lot. Not a lot of a plot, but it has a whopping 6 AR points, so I'm sure boys will read it.

Call Me Francis Tucket was great! I haven't read the first in the series, but this could stand alone. Lots of adventure, eating raw meat-- I've recommended these even though I hadn't read them, and I think they are quite serviceable.

Nancy Werlin's Black Mirror I picked up again because her other titles are so popular, but it still didn't do anything for me. This is why I don't buy things just because I like the author. Another case in point-- Meg Cabot's Ready or Not.

Jean Ferris' Of Sound Mind was a good problem novel that handled the problems of deaf culture very deftly. Not something the children will ask for, but it was so good, and they do get assigned problem novels.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monster-Blood Tattoo

Wow. Cornish needs to get out more. There are over 100 pages of accompanying maps, glossaries and diagrams with this book. It seemed good in theory-- monster killing being always popular-- but the boys looking for a quick read are not going to find it in this. I am checking with my hard core fans to see what they think, but I couldn't slog through it. Had to use the glossary too much.

Looking for gangs and abuse...

Well, not me personally, but for books involving these, but books that are still appropriate. Susan Shaw's Black-eyed Susan was very good and I will be ordering two copies. A young girl falls into mental illness to escape her mother's cruelty, snapping out of it only when her sister becomes the target in her absence. The author also did The Boy from the Basement, which is popular.

Martinez's The Parrot in the Oven did not have enough gang action, which is why I was reading it. Will pass.

Liked Joseph Bruchac's Jim Thorpe: Original All-American. A biography done in the first person was a little odd, but very effective. I already have one student waiting for it!

Fitch's Kicks seemed dated and while it dealt with drug abuse, just had too many inappropriate things in it, like Plum-Ucci's The Night My Sister Disappeared, which used the f-word five times. Really. A good mystery, but that and the pregnancy perhaps caused by incest were just too much.

Woodson's Lena just seemed insubstantial. It is also a sequel to a title I don't have.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Scary and Funny

Two titles: Dean Vincent Carter's Hand of the Devil and Laurie Gwen Shapiro's Brand X: The Boyfriend Account.

The first was about a giant killer mosquito and its psychopathic handler who lures a reporter to a remote island. There's some blood and gore (the mosquito is toxic and dissolves is victims), lots of creeping about and stalking of prey, but it was also fairly clever. Wove in a Vietnamese folktale to excuse the mosquito's (aka the Devil's Hand) killer ways. Creepy. I think I'll buy it. The cover and title alone will insure circulation.

Also liked the second, a more intellectual pink book. Girl gets internship with ad agency, has some academic and business success (although not to an unrealistic degree), but is also concerned with her crush on a boy. Her cohorts at the ad agency help her "brand" herself to catch the guy. A little predictable (he turns out to be a jerk), but realistic. Fun.

See? I don't hate everything.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Scholastic Book Fair

Zipped my way through several titles in the book fair:
McCaughrean, Geraldine. Peter Pan in Scarlet. Quite good. A worthy sequel to the original-- stays true in tone and language, and is fun in its own right. A winner. I'm looking forward to her Odysseus, Theseus, etc.

Friend, Natasha. Lush. Loved Perfect, hated this one. Just didn't go anywhere. The girls love books about substance abuse, but somehow this one just didn't do it.

Levine, Gail Carson. Fairest. Again, loved Ella Enchanted, adored The Two Princesses of Bamarre. This story, however, started weakly and continued this way, AND had these odd, annoying, made up words and names that were like a phonograph record needle scratching across the record, and the book was not good enough to overcome even this slight flaw.

DuPrau's Car Trouble was great fun and exactly what I wanted for one of my students-- a "pink" fluffy book for boys. Why there isn't more humorous fiction for boys, I don't know.

Must have read other things, but I'm a little tired and don't remember!

Gary Paulsen

Okay, Hatchet was good. The rest of the Brian books I could handle. Mr. Tucket circulates frequently in my library. But The Island? The Monument? Dancing Carl? What in the world was he thinking? No one ever comes up and says to me "May I have a book about social outcasts in small towns who find others who are even more outcast than they are? If it included philosophical musing, all the better!" I may have to move on to another author for a while. I flinch now while just passing the Paulsen shelf.

I think that some of the other titles will be better. They can't be worse.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Assorted books

Not liking anything by Lauren Myracle. Must be the writing, because the books always sound intriguing. The latest, Rhymes with Witches uses the word that does FAR too much, and the first two pages are devoted to graphically described uncomfortable underwear. Combine that with e mails, name dropping, and general shallowness-- no. I like pink, but not this.

Stork's Behind the Eyes was okay, just not what I was looking for. Boy is sent to private school to escape gang violence. Might have bought it until the roomate revealed the stash of porn. Sigh.

Sloan's Tale of Two Summers also wasn't what I wanted-- I wanted a pink book for boys. Something light, fun, breezy, but masculine. Unfortunately, this wasn't it.

And another disappointment-- Vande Velde's The Book of Mordred. A hefty tome, it just couldn't keep my interest, and I'm afraid it would gather dust on the shelves.

The good news is that I did like the two Katharine Paterson books-- Of Nightingales that Weep and The Master Puppeteer. Great for the multicultural unit that is coming up.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Endymion Spring

A big fantasy book. Am actually running out of those for some of my really avid readers, so I was relieved to find out that, unlike the cursed Leven Thumps, it was very, very good. I enjoyed both the plots in the modern and historical world, thought the jumping off point for the fantasy was valid, and am looking forward to the next one. Because when you have a big, thick fantasy, there is ALWAYS a next book.

I liked this one much more than this sounds like! Had Johann Gutenberg as a character, and you have to love that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nancy Werlin

Read Rules of Survival last night, and was so impressed. I recently had to create a list of books that cover various aspects of domestic abuse, because so many students ask for them. This book was perfect. It discussed the abuse, although it wasn't anything graphically sexual or overly disturbing, and it covered how the abuse affected the boy. It showed caring adults who were eventually successful in getting the children help. I will order at least two copies.

This author's other books; Double Helix, Killer's Cousin, and Locked Inside are all very popular. For some reason, I didn't get a copy of Black Mirror, but I was so impressed by this latest effort that I am going to read it again.

As for Leven Thumps and whatever happened in Foo, I perservered until I got to the single most unflattering portrayal of a teacher I have ever read. It was too painful to continue.

Katharine Paterson's The Master Puppeteer is good, though, and some of my historical fiction buffs will enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Blake Nelson

Wanted to like Paranoid Park. Really, really did, because there are so few good skateboarding books out. I ignored the talk at the beginning about the main character's friend wanting to get laid, but when the main character and his girlfriend have a little fling, I thought "Was this gratuitous, or did it really advance the plot?" Came down on the side of gratuitous. More could have been said instead about the other trauma in the boy's life. An interesting moral tale, but ultimately, one that failed me. Sigh.

Looked on this author's web site blakenelsonbooks.com, and no longer feel too bad. I actually do feel somewhat bad when a book is good but I just can't bring myself to buy it. I no longer feel too bad. This is what Nelson says about another of his books, User, which would no doubt be popular with the students because of the title alone:
User
Another adult book. This is my sex and drugs book. Lots of sex. Lots of drugs. I wanted it that way. Not much plot. No sentimental scenes. Just these two hipster guys who are sort of idiots, getting wasted and trying to get some girl action. Lots of people like this one for it's porn value.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stanley/VanDraanen

Diane Stanley's Bella at Midnight was an interesting medievalish romp, a little Cinderella-like, but just fun. I didn't even mind the chapters from alternating viewpoints,and that usually drives me batty. Fans of the Robin Mckinley and Donna Jo Napoli fairy tale retellings will like this one.

Van Dranaan's Runaway was bleak and depressing, but the girls who are interested in books about child abuse will find it of note. Paints an unappetizing picture of life on the streets, but not necessarily an urban one; she ends up on a beach. Will add both of these to the collection.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Some good, some bad.

Natasha Friend's Perfect was a well-balanced and accessible story about a girl seeking treatment for bulimia. Nothing fabulous, but very useful. It will check out a lot. Nothing objectionable.

Cathy Cassidy's Indigo Blue reminded me a little of Wilson's The Illustrated Mum-- two your sisters dealing with a dysfunctional mother who has been abused. Again, a topic the girls like to read, and one that is hard to find without inappropriate language or situations.

Pamela Lowell's Returnable Girl was okay, but didn't engage me as much as I thought. A girl finally finds a suitable foster home and works to undermine her own chances of success. Think I'll pass.

Edward Bloor's London Calling sounded promising, but failed to engage me. Traveling through time back to London during WWII sounds intriguing, but it takes too long to get into the story, and a lot of students have no patience with that.

Absolutely horrible was Lois Lowry's Gossamer. Annoying from page one, I didn't care what the creatures were or what they were doing. The language was stilted and odd, and I can see fans of Number the Stars or The Giver bringing this back the same day they checked it out and saying "Huh?" Not a hit from this generally good author.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Shelf Life

Robert Corbet's Shelf Life, which a student had seen someone reading, was a disappointment. An Australian writer, I thought it might be a good addition to our British collection, but it was unfocused. THere was also some material for older readers, and it wasn't good enough to justify.

Disappointed in Plum-Ucci's What Happened To Lani Garver. I really liked her The Body of Christopher Creed, but this one had too much discussion of homosexuality, and that's just a topic I avoid in the middle school.

See? I am still reading. In the middle of Vande Velde's Book of Mordred, which is turning out to be quite good. I have some readers this year who are hard to keep in books, and they are only 6th graders. I haven't purchased much fantasy lately, but I may have to.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Book Three--Dhami and Dent

Read two interesting British series-- Dhami's Bindi Babes, Bollywood Babes, and finally Bhangra Babes, and Grace Dent's LBD series, which ends in Friends Forever. The first is not only an intirguing look at Indian families in Britain, but covers a lot of school and sibling issues as well. LBD is a bit lighter, with the girls in the last installment taking jobs at a beach resort. I liked both of these very much. They are popular with the girls who like "pink" books, and I am grateful that they are available in the US.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fun with food/Carolyn Wyman

Not exactly YA stuff, although I do have a copy of both Wyman's Jell-o: A Biography and Spam: A Biography, both of which circulate rather well when the 8th graders do nonfiction projects. Last night I read Better that Homemade: Amazing Foods that Changed the Way We Eat. Fun, fun stuff, and actually really good for middle school students to read. Covers manufactured food from tv dinners to marshmallow fluff and everything in between. Clever and witty as well as informative, the only down side is the silly soft cover, even though the price is $15.00. I suppose it could be sent to the bindery. May yet get it for my school.

There are a couple of Taschen books on advertising in the different decades that I saw (okay, bought) at Barnes and Nobles. I love this sort of book, and my daughter has started picking them up, too. Cultural history, right?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Katherine Paterson/Tamora Pierce

I've been working my way through the authors starting with "P", having finished the Mary Pope Osborne Magic Tree House books.

Bridge to Terabithia never did much for me, but there are children who want sad books, and it doesn't get much sadder than this. Jacob I have Loved was hard to get into, and one of those books that no one will ask for. I liked it, but think that few students will really be into it. It's historical, but it's not. Hmmm. I'm liking The Master Puppeteer, though.

Finishing up the Alana series by Tamora Pierce-- good stuff. The copies that I have are falling to pieces. Love the strong female character struggling with her power and her femininity. Really need to work my way through the other series, too.

Also read Grace Dent's LBD: Friends Forever. What a fun guilty pleasure!

Friday, October 06, 2006

I'm back again

Really, I've been reading; just not getting near the computer. Just need to get back in the habit.

Big thumbs up to Delany's Curse of the Witch and Curse of the Bane. Not only great stories on dark topics, intriguing and new, but great cover and hefty bulk to satisfy the fantasy fans who have "read everything".

Partial thumbs up to Eleanor Updale's Montmorency series. Loved the first one (Liar, Gentleman, Thief), but am not going to buy the second or third. A student confirmed this opinion, and I'm sticking with it.

In the middle of Terence Blacker's Parent Swap and liking it a lot.

More later, hopefully!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I'm back.

It's not that I haven't been reading. I have. It's getting near a computer without people "helping" me. So here's what I looked at last night:

Klise and Klise, Regarding the Bathrooms. I was so excited my the abstract, which read something like "A middle school principal's bathroom renovations uncover stolen Roman antiquities". However, the book was far, far too cutesy, with every name being something like Mack Rell and Hugh Dunnit. I wanted to gag. It also abused fonts-- it was graphically confusing and was hard to follow the plot. Sigh.

Craig, Joe. Jimmy Choates: Assassin?. So good. A boy is the target of kidnappers because he is a genetically engineered person being raised by spies. In the English tradition of Stormbreaker, a chase a minute. Loved it. Ordering two copies.

Revkin, Andrew C. The North Pole Was Here. One of those nonfiction books that make my wonder "Why?" Why would we market something to middle school students that is largely excerpts of articles from the New York Times? Interesting in some degree, but not well done.

Frank, E.R. Wrecked. Gripping tale of a girl who may or may not have caused the accident that killed her brother's girlfriend. All the post traumatics. Don't think I'll buy it-- people don't ask for car wreck books, and if they do I already have a bunch. But good.

Potter, Ellen. Pish Posh. Great fun, and I need some new mysteries. The girls will love this light hearted look at celebrity.

Didn't read all of the following, since they didn't do much for me:

Freeman, Martha. Who Stole Halloween? Too young for middle shool

Miller, Sarah. Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn. Conusing, and thank you for using the f-word on page 5 so I could stop reading.

Banks, Steven. King od the Creeps. Too whiny, and I don't think the boys would think it funny enough to pick up.

Fisher, Catherine. The Oracle Betrayed. Fantasy, but the kind that after the first chapter I will go and scrub toilets because otherwise I will claw my eyes out rather than put up with the world that's being created.

Whew. Enough for now!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Vrettos' Skin/Censorship

There has been a lot of discussion in the local papers about censorship. A local high school had The Lovely Bones and The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night on the recommended reading list. A parent complained; they were taken off. More parents complained. Since I am rather sensitive to bad language in books, this has caused me to think even more.

I have decided that one of the big motivating factors for me is MONEY. I can only afford to buy so many books. I can't buy everything. So if there is a book with a lot of bad language, chances are good that there is another equally good book out there that doesn't have it. I will choose that one. Such is the case with Vrettos' Skin. A very compelling story of a boy whose sister struggles with(and loses to)anorexia. Would this book circulate well in my library. Yes. Any title about anorexia does (notable exception The Bigger Book of Lydia, which is just weird.). Since Skin uses the f-word more times than I can count, I really don't need it. I have no problem with the public library having it-- they can afford to buy more than I can.

Now, that said, there are books that are so compelling that I excuse the language. Volponi's Black and White is the prime example here. But in the case of Skin, the language was gratuitous. There was really no point. I think that using obscenities repeatedly is the sign of someone who is lazy in his writing.

There is also the school of thought that says that the books students read in school should reflect our expectations for their writing. We wouldn't allow language like this anywhere in the school. Why should it be in the books?

Finally, the other reason that I steer away from language like this is that I don't have time to fight with parents about it. If someone challenges a book at my school, I would pull it. I would probably, however, suggest that the parent pay the $20 I spent on the book so that I could buy another one. I don't make purchases lightly. If there is bad language, it's somehow justified, and rest assured I have read the entire book and thought it through very carefully.

*Sigh* Why couldn't Skin have been written without the bad language? It would only have made the story better.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Grooves/Hit the Road/Love Curse of the Rumbaughs/King of Mulberry Street

Brockmeier's Grooves was a fast paced, funny mystery that must be very popular at my local library-- they have about 8 copies, and it was hard to track one down. Much of the plot defied belief (how would someone encode messages in the twill on jeans and the ridges on potato chips, and why would they think anyone would ever discover this?) and the premise for the evil was pretty lame (stealing the light from people's eyes makes the villain more likeable when his rhinestone jacket didn't work? Huh?), but I found myself liking the characters, the pace, and the book in general. So, there is another good mystery to have on hand.

Caroline B. Cooney's Hit the Road was quirky and may be a hard sell, but it was so personally satisfying that I'm going to have to buy a copy. 15 year old girl gets roped into taking her grandmother to a college reunion, and they end up getting into all sorts of scrapes that make the book rather thrilling and fun. I didn't quite believe that the one lady's son was as evil as he ended up being, at it was too bad that we all didn't get to go to the reunion in the end, which I really, really wanted to see by that point, but it was a FUN book. Since this author is really popular, I think the book will circulate.

Not so with Gantos' Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. I went to middle school with a Rumbaugh (hi, John!), and Gantos has done such a good job appealing to middle school boys with his Joey Pigza and also Jack Black series, but this one was, ah, odd. It lost me right after the discussion about selling feminine protection items at the drug store and the discovery of the drug store owners mummified mother. The ick factor without the interest. Didn't read it all; maybe it becomes fabulous later, but I no longer cared to stick around that long.

Donna Jo Napoli's King of Mulberry Street was FABULOUS!!!! I had to get it from a library in Toledo; no idea why my loval library didn't have it. Based on her grandfather's immigration to this country, it is an intriguing story of a 9 year old boy sent to America by his mother... by himself. Using his wiles and keen observational skills, he manages not only to survive, but to prosper. I've begun to think that Napoli can write anything beautifully. Her Stones in Water is another boy-pleaser, and her back story of fairy tales (Spinners, Sirena, The Magic Circle, Bound, Breath, etc.) are very popular as well. This is one author who makes me feel definitely like a reader rather than a writer!

Naylor and Nixon

When it's rainy, the house is cleaned, and the children are occupied, it IS possible to read a whole lot of books! From Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, I read One of the Third Grade Thonkers (not as young as the title would indicate; actually a pretty good story); The Keeper (about mental illness-- an early effort); Walker's Crossing (about white supremacy in the western states. Good, but I don't know what the audience would be.)

From Joan Lowery Nixon, I read Land of Hope, Land of Dreams and Land of Promise, all of which I liked. A somewhat connected immigration series. Good for fans of pink books who have to read history. Also Candidate for Murder and The Kindnapping of Christina Lattimore, which were both good mysteries and, oddly enough, struck me as the sort of thing that girls who like romance books would like. Who knew? Reading a lot of books by the same author can sometimes become wearying, but both of these authors are so consistently good that I haven't minded.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Assorted titles, good and bad.

As much as we need comedies for boys, I have added a new item to my "Won't Buy if it Has..." list. Won't buy books wherein the boy names his, uh, distinctly male parts. *Sigh* Shades of Judy Blume's Forever. So, I won't be adding Garfinkle's Storky. Also will skip Stephenson's Dancing With Elvis, since it is very long, only vaguely interesting, and too much of a historical novel for a time period we don't cover. Waltman's Learning the Game had way too many instances of the f-word; why do baseball players not swear while basketball players do?
Thinking about Sedgewick's Witch Hill-- I wasn't sure, but my ten year old son liked it. Also got mixed reviews on Gates' Dusk, about a genetically modified girl who has hawk DNA and eats rats whole; there's a lot of adventure and running and fights, but something about it left me cold. Did really enjoy Nield's Plastic Angel, about a girl who forms a rock band with her best friend. The students love reading about bands, but so often the life style and language choices ruin the books for me. This one was intriguing and just fun-- my "pink" book readers will love it, but it will enjoy a wider circulation. Whew. Caught up for now!

One More Garth Nix

Shade's Children seemed awful when I read the cover flap-- mutant monsters, children in "Meat Factories". Yuck. But it was intriguing for science fiction, and I liked the adventures that the children had while trying to stop all of the devastation. It was not an easy read, and there were several instances of the f-word, which I don't see a reason for at all. Still, it's circulated well (the fact that it's 11 Accelerated Reader points and a 6.4 rading level helps there, I'm sure), and reads quickly. It will be good for fans of Card's Enders's Game and Colfer's The Supernaturalist. Sci Fi with an evil, adventurous twist. Could do much worse.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Garth Nix

I thought I would not make it through Sabriel, but I did, and Lirael was pretty good. By the time I got to Abhorsen, I was hooked and really wanted to see how the story would end up. It almost seemed like there would be another, but I don't think there is. Now I have to see how I feel about tackling Shade's Children and maybe the Seventh Tower series. Sabirel is a good, solid fantasy series about a battle between good and evil, with lots of clever subplots. It was not esay reading, but I can now heartily recommend it to my fantasy fans. And yes, I have been reading; I just haven't been near a computer to post my musings.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Catching up...new/old/assorted

It's not that I don't read. It's that I'm not always good about keeping records.

Liked and will buy:
Mackel's Can of Worms because it is a funny science fiction that boys will like. Sending out an interplanetary SOS does have its consequences! Beware the sentient poodles!

Pinder's But I don't want to be a movie star because it amused me greatly. English girl stays with former movie star grandmother who is waiting to make a come back. On eve of that, grandmother breaks leg on granddaughter's skateboard and gets granddaughter to impersonate her. Utterly silly, but I am always looking for more "Pink" books for my insatiable girl readers!

Durrant's My Last Skirt, based of the true story of Albert Cashier/Jennie Hodgers, an Irish girl who came to America and fought in the Civil War. She was the only woman who kept her pension after her true identity was discovered. The 8th grade does a historical ficition unit, and this is especially great since someone lost my copy of Clapps' Deborah Sampson last year, and it's out of print.

Meacham's A Mid-Semester Night's Dream, because the girls who like pink books generally hate fantasy, and this one about a fairy godmother's help in a romantic situation is perfect, if just a tad simplistic. The print seemed abnormally large, but I did enjoy it. Again, someone lost my last copy of Bank's The Fairy Rebel and I've yet to see about replacing it.

Still not sure about Giblin's The Boy Who Saved Cleveland. Better for the elementary schools, because it is a very slight story, even though it is pertinent to Ohio history.(1798 malaria epidemic.)

Will buy Willo Davis Robert's Kidnappers because it is thrilling enough, but not Blood on his Hands, because it is more of a problem novel.

Also am slogging through the M's. Joan Lowry Nixon's Maggie series, which was okay but a bit dated, O'Neal's In a Summer Light which just didn't capture me particularly, Naylor's Bessledorf series, which will be good during mystery units for children who like comedies (did like these, but they are slightly young). John Neufeld's Almost a Hero was a good story about homeless children and community service, but everything he has written pales in comparison to Lisa Bright and Dark. Park's Playing Beatie Bow was time travel, but set in Australia and therefore slightly odd. Neville's It's Like This, Cat was interesting, but I don't know how many children are going to care about every day life in NYC in 1963, even if it won a Newbery. Paterson's Come and Sing, Jimmy Jo was pretty good once I got into it. Country music stardom for reluctant 11 year old.

Won't be buying Klause's Freaks: Alive on the Inside. Good, but not as good as her other stuff, and a harder sell. Her vampire and werewolf books are popular, but circus freaks? No.

Also no to Wittlinger's The Long Night of Leo and Bree. Boy's sister is killed. Boy's family loses it. Boy goes out and kidnaps girl in short skirt to kill because she's "asking for it". Boy and girl bond. Just, no.

Whew. See, I'm reading, just not near a computer every day.

Catching up...new/old/assorted

It's not that I don't read. It's that I'm not always good about keeping records.

Liked and will buy:
Mackel's Can of Worms because it is a funny science fiction that boys will like. Sending out an interplanetary SOS does have its consequences! Beware the sentient poodles!

Pinder's But I don't want to be a movie star because it amused me greatly. English girl stays with former movie star grandmother who is waiting to make a come back. On eve of that, grandmother breaks leg on granddaughter's skateboard and gets granddaughter to impersonate her. Utterly silly, but I am always looking for more "Pink" books for my insatiable girl readers!

Durrant's My Last Skirt, based of the true story of Albert Cashier/Jennie Hodgers, an Irish girl who came to America and fought in the Civil War. She was the only woman who kept her pension after her true identity was discovered. The 8th grade does a historical ficition unit, and this is especially great since someone lost my copy of Clapps' Deborah Sampson last year, and it's out of print.

Meacham's A Mid-Semester Night's Dream, because the girls who like pink books generally hate fantasy, and this one about a fairy godmother's help in a romantic situation is perfect, if just a tad simplistic. The print seemed abnormally large, but I did enjoy it. Again, someone lost my last copy of Bank's The Fairy Rebel and I've yet to see about replacing it.

Still not sure about Giblin's The Boy Who Saved Cleveland. Better for the elementary schools, because it is a very slight story, even though it is pertinent to Ohio history.(1798 malaria epidemic.)

Will buy Willo Davis Robert's Kidnappers because it is thrilling enough, but not Blood on his Hands, because it is more of a problem novel.

Also am slogging through the M's. Joan Lowry Nixon's Maggie series, which was okay but a bit dated, O'Neal's In a Summer Light which just didn't capture me particularly, Naylor's Bessledorf series, which will be good during mystery units for children who like comedies (did like these, but they are slightly young). John Neufeld's Almost a Hero was a good story about homeless children and community service, but everything he has written pales in comparison to Lisa Bright and Dark. Park's Playing Beatie Bow was time travel, but set in Australia and therefore slightly odd. Neville's It's Like This, Cat was interesting, but I don't know how many children are going to care about every day life in NYC in 1963, even if it won a Newbery. Paterson's Come and Sing, Jimmy Jo was pretty good once I got into it. Country music stardom for reluctant 11 year old.

Won't be buying Klause's Freaks: Alive on the Inside. Good, but not as good as her other stuff, and a harder sell. Her vampire and werewolf books are popular, but circus freaks? No.

Also no to Wittlinger's The Long Night of Leo and Bree. Boy's sister is killed. Boy's family loses it. Boy goes out and kidnaps girl in short skirt to kill because she's "asking for it". Boy and girl bond. Just, no.

Whew. See, I'm reading, just not near a computer every day.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

15 minutes of fame

Don't know how long this link will be up, but the Columbus Dispatch had a nice article on little ol' me at:
http://www.dispatch.com/news-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/06/12/20060612-B1-03.html

The nice thing is that on some computers you can listen to The Overdue Blues. The paper didn't thank John Morgan, my former neighbor and world's nicest guitarist, for his work in getting the guitar accompaniment and recording done. They really should have credited him with this.

Little did you all know how famous I am. And yes, Hortense was VERY annoyed!

Shiloh

Okay. I admit it. When I read in the paper that Angelina Jolie named her daughter Shiloh, I thought "She named her after a DOG?" Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's series was the first thing I thought of, and since I am working on the N's anyway, I had to read it.

I was surprised. I liked all three books (Shiloh, Shiloh Season and Saving Shiloh), although they weren't at all what I expected. I thought they would be about the dog, in the tradition of Where the Red Fern Grows or Sounder. But they really weren't. They were more about the abusive, drunken former owner and the boy's attempt to help him. They gave an excellent picture of a hard life in rural West Virginia; the third one especially covered the late fall and winter holidays and was quite enjoyable. I will recommend these to students who like problem novels but HAVE to read one about animals-- they will be pleased.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Rebecca

Had a teacher want this for a student last year. She was shocked I didn't have it in my library. Hmmm. Found a copy at the thrift store and read it last night. I think that most middle school girls are not going to want to pick up a gothic romance set in 1930's England, but then, I could be wrong. I'll give it to the particular student, see how she likes it, and if she thinks it is fantastic, I'll add it.

Read Phyllis Naylor's Bodies in the Besseldorf Hotel (1985). Pretty good. Fast paced and funny, so students who HAVE to read a mystery will like it. There is a series, which students also tend to like.

Nothing has been jumping out at me as really fantastic lately. I admit to reading a lot more adult fiction lately. There's so much Naylor and Nixon, not to mention Garth Nix to get through, that I'm lacking motivation. I'll take my list to purchase in the fall and see if the public library has the books in yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stephen King

Not something I would pick up myself, but when I asked the librarian for a recommendation, that's what she suggested. Picked up Carrie (1974) and Thinner (1985).

Students frequently ask if I have any King. Maybe they are thinking about his movies, because the books weren't all that scary. A bit gory, yes, and extremely vulgar (note: "shocking" does not equal "good"), but not nearly as thrilling as my favorite, Anthony Horowitz. I may read a few more, but from the frequency of use of the f-word, and the descriptions of certain bodily functions, I am thinking this has no place in my collection. Just not enough to recommend it.

The librarian also recommended Welsh's Trainspotting, which was also vulgar and dealt with drugs, but the dialect was so bad that I really couldn't discern a plot.

In the way of YA fiction, I read a holocaust novel which I can't remember. Write about that later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Naylor's Alice

Well, it is summer, and I am not glued to the computer the way I am at school, so I won't be posting as frequently.

Also, it took a while to read through 20 of the Alice books. I do like them, realistic fiction being my favorite genre. They are rather like Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone of Katie Rose books in that the main characters have an assortment of problems. Whereas Beany was concerned about necking, Alice has bigger worries. I know that these books have been challenged a lot, and I can see why. They talk about a lot of "8th grade health class issues", but the tone is so educational, dry and clinical that I can't see why people would complain. I will be a little more careful before recommending them to all and sundry, however.

Also read Garth Nix's Sabriel. Didn't much care for it. Fantasy, the undead, an Abhorsen who wants to make them stay dead while figuring out why her father is missing. I think it will be good for the students who like fantasy with a touch of evil. My son is a big fan of Nix's Seventh Tower series, so I may have to pick those up.

Zibby O'Neal's A Long Way To Go, about the women's suffrage movement circa 1917, was a good, quick historical fiction. There is a whole series of these; Once Upon America, I think.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Having finished the M's, I'm working my way through the N's. Read Starting with Alice, Alice in Blunderland, and Lovingly Alice. Eh. They were okay, although I was surprised in the third book, when Alice is in 5th grade, when there is a blow-by-blow account of how babies are made. Good thing I was reading ahead; my 3rd grade daughter is liking the first one, and I at least want to be prepared. They are not a run-of-the-mill series for girls. Lots of "issues" addressed. I am liking the real first book The Agony of Alice a little better, but poor Alice. Lots of embarassment.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Carolyn Meyer/Veronica Bennett/Kristen Kladstrup

Meyer's Maria, Dancing (2006) was wonderful-- set in France in the late 1800;s with Dega painting a wretchedly poor ballerina with a drunken mother and a troubled older sister. Doesn't fit a curricular need, however, and will have to pass on buying.

Same with Bennett's AngelMonster(2006). The story of headstrong, young Mary Shelley is stranger than fiction- she buried four children before the age of 22 AND wrote Frankenstein at 20. The title refers to her idiot of a lover/husband, the poet Shelley. The 8th grade girls would love it, and it is delicately done, but I'm reluctant to buy it. Did read it all, however-- I love fictionalized biographies.

Kladstrup's The Book of Story Beginnings (2006) has an interesting premise-- a notebook that makes the stories one writes in it come to life-- but I found that I wasn't at all interested in the stories that the children wrote about, so when they started living them, the book looked VERY long at 360 pages, and I gave up.

Next on my agenda-- reading all of the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Alice books in order. I'll spend most of the summer on Naylor and Joan Lowry Nixon, when not reading new things for purchase in the fall.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Anna Dale/Stephanie Hemphill

Going to the library to obtain books cuts into reading time, but since summer reading programs start next week, I thought I had better get the children stocked up. Award Winning books are the theme this summer; the youngest wants fluffy pink books for third graders, the next child wants fantasy books based in reality, and the oldest is going back and forth between Laura Ingalls Wilder and time travel adventures. Keeps me hopping.

Middle child will like Anna Dale's Whispering to Witches (2004). This hit me as a delightful cross between Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy (that whole 'being sent from school on a train in England' thing) and the Ruth Chew books. My library has a ton of fantasy books, so I am very careful when I buy new ones, but this one appealed to me. Pretty cover, easy to understand, good character development. Moved along well, fantasy element plausible. And it just made me happy. Read quickly for almost 300 pages.

Novels in verse are usually not my thing, so when I realized Things Left Unsaid was one, I was disappointed, since the description sounded so good. (Nice girl decides to walk on wild side with undesirable friend. Disastrous consequences ensue.) The verse, while not formal, was pretty good (I'm very picky), and there was a coherent plot that went somewhere, something lacking in many novels in verse. The thing I liked best was that the main character decides that the way she was headed was not a good place to go, and her trip back is depicted as well. So many times it is not. May have to buy this one. It has believable angst. And it's a bildungsroman!

Go look it up. It's good for you.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

M.T. Anderson/Rose Wilkins/Garbage

Lovd Anderson's Burger Wuss (1999) and haven't liked anything else of his, including Whales on Stilts (2005). It was a bit, well, stilted. Adults too cluelss, situations overly exaggerated-- wait a minute, my Lemony Snicket fans should love it. No. I need more funny books for boys, but this one just didn't do it.

Rose Wilkins' So Super Starry (2004) fits the category of "Pink" books of which I can never have enough, and in theory I love it-- daughter of celebrities lives in London and goes to posh school but doesn't feel she fits in. Starts dating brother of popular girl only to find out he isn't as nice as she had thought. Serviceable enough, but MUCH drinking of alcohol occurs. Even in the UK, isn't the drinking age higher than 15? I'm still debating this one.

Then, for some light reading, picked up Heather Rogers Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage (2005). I'm fairly conscious of recyling, I take my own cloth bags to the grocery store, etc., but this book made me feel like I'm not doing enough. Since our community offers recycling for plastics other than #1, I've been lax and bought shampoo in #2 plastic-- apparently the recycling facilities throw out a lot of plastic because there is no market for it. So, this is something for me to do over the summer-- look at ways to reduce waste further in my household. It is hard. In Germany, the government has made the manufacturers responsible for recycling packaging, which I think is brilliant.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

E.L. Konigsburg

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (2004) is in the book fair, so I picked it up. It was okay, but I don't think I will buy it. I can't think of any students who want to read about a girl staying with her quirky uncles and trying to save the folk art towers in their back yard from destruction. I must also say that it's been long enough since I've read Silent to the Bone (2000) that I didn't get why this is a companion book. They both took place in Boston? Oh, well.

That being said, I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967). Who wouldn't want to run away and live in a museum? Didn't hurt to have Lauren Bacall in the movie version, either.

That said, I'm not a big Konigsberg fan. A View From Saturday (1996) didn't resonate with me, although it was better than some of the early stuff like Father's Arcane Daughter or The B'nai Bagels, or even The Dragon in the Ghetto Caper.

I guess if I could write even one good book, that would be an accomplishment. But I didn't have a lot of fun reading through the shelf of her work.

Walter Dean Myers/Morpurgo

Finished the M's! Wheee! Now I can finally read all of the Naylor Alice books in order. (While I was shelf reading yesterday, I added numbers to the spines of some series, which will help a lot.)

Myers' The Glory Field (1994) was good but a bit confusing. Well, not so much confusing as not satisfying. It was interesting to follow the members of one family through five generations, but I would just get into the story and it ended. I was particularly interested in one woman in 1930's Chicago who set up her own cosmetics business, but even when we meet her again in the '90's, all we here is that since mainstream manufacturers were embracing the African American market, her business is down and she's had to go into real estate. At 86? Still, for students interested in the African American experience, this is a good read.

Fallen Angels (1988) is a good Vietnam Conflict (although I think it's been upgraded to a war in the last 10 years.) book, but has a lot of the f-word in it. Sigh. I don't care if they actually use language like that in the army. They shouldn't. You use language like that, and you can drop and give me ten. Anyway, it has enough of the battle scenes and living conditions, and of course shows the horror of war. This is why I never understand the little War Mongering Boys who want to read about the war. None of the books I've come across make war sound like a good idea. So why does war still appeal to them?

With that in mind, Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful (2003) is not going to do it for this crowd. There is some battle coverage, but a good half of the book is flashbacks of his life, and this will lose the boys by page five. Drat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Scholastic Titles

Working my way through some new things that are in the book fair. The hard part about this is that many are available only in paperback, although the way my budget looks, I am going to be buying a lot of prebinds next year. *Sigh* That's a whole conversation right there.

Sharon Draper's The Battle of Jericho (2003) was a lot better than I expected. Her other titles (Tears of a Tiger, Darkness Before Dawn, Romiette and Julio) are all sad, but that children love them. I think that this one, with its secret society initiation, social consciousness and personal responsibility themes will be good for students, and they will enjoy it. I was tickled that she included Cincinnati references (haven't thought about LaRosa's Pizza for years) and wrote the book discussion notes at the back, since she taught English for 25 years.

Sallie Lowenstein's Sender Unknown (2003) had a promising cover and premise, but the first thing I thought was "Wow. The print is really small." Unfortunately, that's the very comment my son made as well. If the main character had been 14 instead of 24, it would have worked better for me. I liked the idea of strange catalogs appearing on his doorstep, but it didn't play out the way I had hoped.

Dietlof Reiche's Ghost Ship (2005) was better than the premise, exceptionally pleasing to read for a translation from the German, but I lost interest in the plot early on. This doesn't fill any needs in my collection, so I'll have to pass.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Klause, Morey, Myers, Zusak

Actually liked three books last night!

I'd read Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss (1990) a while ago and decided not to buy it. Then, I was at the public library, asked for any vampire book (yuck!), and the librarian enthused about this one so much that I read it again. Less gory than R.L. Stine, much less gory than Shan's Lord Loss, and really very well-written. Lyrical, almost. Good moral tale of a vampire who really doesn't want to be one, and whose main purpose is to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of his brother. Nicely played against the main character's mother dying of cancer. Is there a hardcover in print? Of course not. Oh, well. Prebind are cheaper.

Walter Dean Myers' Somewhere in the Darkness (1992) is quite a departure from The Young Landlords. Depressing through and through, but effective. Boy's father is in prison, gets out, comes to take boy ostensibly to Chicago, though instead takes him on a road trip to important places in the father's life-- because the father is dying. Boys don't read problem novels as much as girls, but this one is good. Will recommend.

An easier pick is Walt Morey's Deep Trouble(1971). Nonstop adventure in the ocean off Alaska, an 18 year old main character who is not engaging in scandalous behavior but instead trying to support his family after his father's death in a diving accident-- by diving. This was written in a clear, engaging, straight-forward style. It's a manly book. Been gathering some dust, but my adventure fiction fans will love it. This is why I need to read every book.

Did not care for Steve Alton's The Malifex(2003). Wonderfully evil cover hides a slow story. It would check out, only to come back with complaints. Will pass.

Didn't have to get far into Markus Zusak's Getting the Girl(2001) to realize it wasn't appropriate for middle school students. Wait, yes, the first sentence reads "It was Rube's girl's idea to make the beer ice blocks, not mine." Lovely. And it went downhill from there.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday morning

Off to a roaring start-- had my book fair delivered before 6:00 a.m. and am too early for the new posting of the Columbus Dispatch. Now to the big ol' pile o' books on my desk:

The only one I have that I want to buy: Gail Giles Dead Girls Don't Write Letters(2003). Fast-paced mystery, intriguingly written, surprise ending-- wow. This will go out frequently.

Walter Dean Myers' The Young Landlords (1979) was okay. Struck me as a little dated; halfway through I thought "Where's J.J.?" because it reminded me of the t.v. show Good Times. Inner city African Americans at a time where the inner city was run down but not too run down. Young teens are given possession of an apartment building when they complain to the slumlord, then realize how much work it is to keep it up. Some contrived zaniness. The students who like this author's other work will pick it up.

Books I am not going to buy (there seems to be more of these than books I will buy): Adoff's Freek (2004) struck me as almost a novel in verse. Certainly disenfranchised youth are always a big seller, but this one lost me early on. Lori Aurelia Willam's Broken China(2005) also started out well-- young teenaged mother is trying her best to get her life together and suceed, but after the death of her daughter, she goes heavily into debt to get her an expensive coffin. To pay for this, she takes a job at a strip club. There would be a lot of good lessons there, but we start spending way too much time at the strip club, and again, it lost me. Sonya Sones' One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies(2004) is something I seem to pick up every six months, only to get to lines like:

"I tiptoe down
to the kitchen
to try to sublimate my sexual frustration
with a Haagen-Dazs bar--"

and I'm down. This said, I love Helen Frost's novels in verse, Spinning Through the Universe (2004) and Keesha's House(2003). Even Mel Glenn's book and Wolff's Make Lemonade (1993) I enjoyed, so it's not ALL novels in verse I hate.

With all the hoo-ha about the plagiarism of Megan McCafferty's novels, I picked up Second Helpings (2003), and was grateful when she dropped the gratuitous f-bomb on page 4. More of an adult novel, this one; certainly not middle school.

At 552 pages and with Death as the narrator, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (2006) could not reel me in even though the premise of a girl who survives the Holocaust by stealing books is intriguing. It would sit on the shelf with Chabon's mammoth Summerland (2002) and get checked out once every other year.

And after disliking so much, I had to read a Chick Lit novel to cleanse my palette. Now I may be able to finish off the M's, although with the book fair sitting there, there are probably some of those titles I need to read.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Books to read this summer--Classics

Okay, maybe they aren't all classics, but they are books that strike me as the sort of thing that I can hand to just about anyone, and the books will be enjoyed. I like all of these, myself.

Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
Atwater, Richard. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Bellairs, John. The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Booth, Martin. Doctor Illuminatus
Byng, Georgia. Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism
Cleary, Beverly. Pick any of her books!
Clements, Andrew. Frindle
Colfer, Eoin. The Legend of Spud Murphy
Corbett, Sue. 12 Again
Dahl, Roald. Boy (His autobiography)
DeFelice, Cynthia. Nowhere to Call Home
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Desperaux
DuBois, William Pene. Twenty-One Balloons
Duncan, Lois. Anything by this author
DuPrau, Jeanne. City of Ember
Eager, Edward. Half-Magic
Ellis, Deborah. The Breadwinner
Farley, Walter. The Black Stallion
Gates, Doris. Blue Willow
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain
Henry, Marguerite. Misty of Chincoteague
Holm, Jennifer. Boston Jane
Howe, James. Bunnicula
Hunt, Molly. No Promises in the Wind
Ingold, Jeannette. Hitch
Jones, Diana Wynne. The Dark Lord of Derkholm
Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth
Kjelgaard, Jim. Stormy.Konigsberg, E.L. From the Mixed-Up Files of…
Lawrence, Caroline. Thieves of Ostia
Lawson, Robert. Mr. Revere and I
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time
Levine, Gail Carson. The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking.
MacDonald, Betty. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
McCloskey, Robert. Homer Price
Mikaelsen, Ben. Touching Spirit Bear
Morley, Walter. Gentle Ben.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Stones in Water
Nimmo, Jenny. Charlie Bone
O’Conley Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Orlev, Uri. The Man From the Other Side
Park, Linda Sue. The Kite-Fighters.
Peck, Richard. Ghosts I Have BeenPierce
Tamora. Alanna, The First Adventure.
Pilkey, Dav. The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Pracht, Terry. Only You Can Save Mankind
Raskin, Ellen. Figgs and Phantoms
Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows
Rees, Douglas. Vampire High
Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Rodgers, Mary. Freaky Friday
Selden, George. A Cricket in Times Square
Yolen, Jane. Odysseus and the Serpent Maze

And yes, obviously I ran out of steam around "R". I might try to correct this, but this is plenty of books for most people!

Ellen Schreiber's Comedy Girl

Like Teenage Mermaid(2003), and have two copies of Vampire Kisses(2003) and have the sequels on order, but Comedy Girl didn't do anything for me. There wasn't anything that I hated about it, but also nothing that I really loved. Perhaps if the main character had been a socially inept boy who pursued stand-up comedy, I would have had readers for it, but it struck me as not pink enough for my pink, fluffy book fans, but too pink for the boys. Enjoyed it, but won't buy it. There's a limited amount of money I can spend on books, so if I don't love something, I don't get a copy.

Han Nolan's Summer of Kings (2005) looked interesting, but I don't need another civil rights movement book from the point of an adolescent white girl, even if she has decided to fall in love with a young black man. Nothing rang true or hit any cords with me at all. I was also not keen on this author's 1997 Dancing on the Edge, ("A young girl from a dysfunctional family creates for herself an alternative world which nearly restults in her death but which ultimately leads her to reality.") although one of my student's liked it well enough to but the Accelerated Reader test for it. I will have to look for a civil rights book from a different point of view.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Top Five Favorites

Jennifer Smith Richards, of The Columbus Dispatch, interviewed me yesterday, and asked what my five most favorite books are. That is such a hard question. My five personal favorites? The ones I like most to recommend? New books? Old books? Fun? Artistic? I thought a lot about this, and came to the conclusion that I should have told her the five books that I have read repeatedly and will no doubt read again.

Here's the list I gave her:
The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster
Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L.M. Montgomery
The Luckiest Girl (1958) by Beverly Cleary
The Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) by Diana Wynne Jones
Candy(2005) by Kevin Brooks

The first three stand, although if I were really honest with myself, I would list Lenora Mattingly Weber's A New and Different Summer instead of the Cleary. The same type of book, though.

Upon reflection, I would have to replace the last two, which I liked but won't read again (and don't own copies of), with Julie Edwards' Mandy (1971) and Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes (2005). At number six, I'd have to put Mary Norton's The Borrowers (1953).

The most influential book in my life has been Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). I always feel so trite when I say that, but it's true. I read it in freshman English in 1979 and to this day cannot leave the television on for noise. I frequently ask students not what their favorite book it, but what book they would commit to memory if all books were banned. I would be The Phantom Tollbooth, which is why I always state that it is my favorite.

Plastic Fantastic/Be More Chill

I really wanted to like Simon Cheshire's Plastic Fantastic (2006), if only for the cover. British teenage boy stuck in an elevator with his favorite pop star. Students love books about rock and roll (or whatever they're calling it these days), and an exploration of the downside of being a pop star sounded great. Most books on the topic contain too much profanity and inappropriate (Guitar Girl), and this one didn't, but it also failed to portray enough of the lifestyle and was more concerned with the social malfunctions of the teen boy, told in flashbacks. Just didn't quite hit it. Will stick with Triana's Back Stage Pass.

Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill (2006) also looked promising but ultimately failed. This is more a function of my advanced age-- the quick-paced narrative makes it very clear that the author is 23-- and my prudishness when it comes to pointless vulgarisms. This story of a geeky teen boy who longs for a popular girl to such an extent that he swallows a squip ( a supercomputer that communicates with his brain and instructs him on how to be cool) would be very popular at a public library, but the casual references to sex and the drug taking make it something I don't want to hand to someone.

When did pointless vulgarism become artistic?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bloor's Story Time/Kidd's Monkey Town

I was really prepared to like this book, and it started out well. Gifted child qualifies for magnet school with TBC (test based curriculum). Considering all of the emphasis on standardized testing, I was delighted with how this book depicted test mania taken to the extreme, especially since test scores just came back here. (Blendon did great. Does this mean the teachers were working harder this year? I don't think so. I know that I always work as hard as I can to get students to read; some years, the scores are higher. Anyway.) However, the book veered off from this midway, into a series of weird paranormal events involving a demon possessed Mother Goose book and several rather gory deaths. It seemed like two separate books, which, at 424 pages, it could have been. The students love Bloor's Tangerine, but I don't think that I will be buying this.

Liked Elizabeth Lenhard's Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing)(2006) which was a good story centered around unlikely friends who come together over knitting, but it just didn't seem like something my students would care to read. Once I got to the graphic scene of the kittens being born, I lost interest myself.

The only one I really have liked lately, and intend to buy, is Ronald Kidd's Monkey Town (2006). I had expected not to like it, considering that Kidd's Sizzle and Splat (1983) sat neglected on my shelves for a long time, but this was really good. I learned more about the Scopes monkey trial than I ever knew, and Kidd used a real person for the main character and involved her in a quasi romance with Scopes, which was fun, even though he stretched the truth a bit. This is a great book when students "have" to read historical fiction, and my historical fiction fans will be pleased with this book as well.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Good books I'm not buying, etc.

William Lavender's Aftershocks (2006) was great-- girl in 1906 San Francisco wants to become a doctor but is not allowed, Japanese family maid becomes pregnant by the girl's father and she tries to save her half-sister after the big earthquake. Enjoyed it. However, it is long and I don't think it would be of tremendous interest to my students. Better at the high school level.

Olsen's The Girl with a Baby (2003) was a bit too graphic, even though this is one of the problems that girls like to read about.

Still pondering Alegria's Estrella's Quinceanera (2006). Again, enjoyed the story of a Latino girl who goes to a private school and is trying to balance her school and family life, as well as dissuade her mother from bankrupting the family with a huge quinceanera, complete with orange poufy dress. A bit longer, and the f-bomb is dropped, rather gratuitously, one time. I have a few other novels with a Hispanic focus, and they don't go out often. Osa's Cuba 15 (2003) is good, but it's hard to push. So I'm thinking.

May take the plunge on Claudia Mill's Makeovers by Marcia (2006) as well as a hard back version of Alex Ryan, Stop That (2003). The West Creek Middle School books would be good for the girls who finish all of the Naylor Alice books and the Lowry Anastasia books.

Liked Gloria Miklowitz's The War Between the Classes(1985), and think it has aged well, although Jim Murphy's Death Run (1982) has got to go-- it's been gathering dust, students, when asked, thought the cover was stupid, and the first sentence contains the word "buttocks". There should be rules about writing young adult fiction, and one of the top ones would be "Don't use the word 'buttocks' in your first sentence." Especially if the story goes down hill from there.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Picture--Maybe

Just trying to add this to my profile. Haven't worked with HTML in too long.

Good, Better, Best(Warrior Heir!!)

BEST:
Cinda Williams Chima's Warrior Heir (2006) was fantastic! It came in the box of advance copies that HarperCollins sent me, and I must admit, it sat next to my chair for a long time. I kept picking it up thinking "Oh, great. Mythic swords. Boys who don't know they're wizards. Yawn." I'm not a great fantasy fan most of the time, so I didn't pick it up until I was out of things to read.

But it was set in Ohio. And there were really, really good suspenseful scenes, great fights, and the whole plot seemed plausible, which is a big plus for me in fantasies. I liked the plot twists, loved the traveling to England, thought the character development was good for the main characters; the mother was a bit marginalized, but she needed to be. (Remember the tenets of a great YA book-- character must be a boy, character must save world, character must be orphan or practically so. All check.) Resolution of conflict a bit quick, but I liked that things were wrapped up in the end. There is no law that says that all fantasy books must be part of 45 book series.

Handed this immediately to one of my fantasy fans the next day; saw her later walking to her class while glued to the book. Always a good sign. May order two copies for next year. Looking forward to finding Wizard Heir.

BETTER:
Claudia Mills Dinah in Love (1995) is poorly titled, but a good read, reminding me slightly of A Girl Called Al (1969). While Dinah has her issues with her boyfriend, the main concern of the plot is the fact that she's upset on the first day of school by her science teacher, who informs the class that the sun will run out of energy in 5 million years. What is the point of anything after that? Dinah doesn't get in the school play, isn't elected class president, and everything is getting her down. This is a nice change from school stories that are either really upbeat and funny, or dealing with serious problems. Most of middle school is dealing with random problems like Dinah's, and I think the students will like this whole series. (Dynamite Dinah, Dinah for President, Dinah Forever.)

GOOD:
Mills' Lizzie at Last (2000) didn't hit quite the right note with me. I shop at thrift stores, and I think Lizzie would have a lot of trouble finding white dresses like Emily Dickinson's these days. There were a lot of anachronisms-- Lizzie's parents are hippies? They had her at 50? Still, a lot of students like to read about girls who reinvent themselves. (Conford's Seven Days to a Brand-New Me (1981) has had a big readership lately.)

It was good to have some time to read again. The end of the school year is tough. I also had to treat myself to Rosamund Du Jardin's Double Trouble (1953) last night. Philosophical question of the day: when did it become uncool for ordinary, middle class people to aspire to the country club? Was it ever, or have I read too much John Cheever?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Assorted reading

Two students insisted that I read Stefenie Meyer's Twilight (2006), and it wasn't bad. A little slow moving at the beginning, but the whole "in love with a vampire" plot will get many of the girls interested. I do not understand the fascination with vampires at this age, but it is certainly there. I think there is to be a sequel to this one. Main plot-- girl moves to rainy Washington state town, girl tries to make friends, girl falls in love with vampire, girl becomes target of another vampire, all must run and hide. It was pleasant enough, nothing objectionable.

And it was alphabetically close to where I am now-- Anna Meyers Graveyard Girl(1995) was a good historical novel about the yellow fever plague. Students often read Anderson's Fever 1783, so this would be a good follow up book. Fast paced, intriguing.

Walt Morey's Deathwalk (1991) with be good for the boys who like adventure and survival fiction. This one had a little more suspense than others, although with the requisite growing up and getting a grip.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Libby on Wednesday (1990) isn't for every student, but for the academically inclined students who don't get along with everyone, it would be serviceable. I liked the book, but somehow I didn't like Libby. Sure, she was homeschooled for a long time, but it seemed like she never got out with other children, at least from the way she acted toward them. Not a book in favor of homeschooling, even though Libby is portrayed as academically advanced.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Myth-o-Mania

Kate McMullan's series (Have a hot time, Hades; Keep a lid on it, Pandora; Say Cheese Medusa; etc. is a good example of why it's hard to be an adult and read young adult literature: these annoyed me ever so slightly. I love that they are funny takes on mythology, but reading them was somewhat painful. The students love them, I realize that, but I had a hard time reading Poseidon refered to as "Po" over and over, all numbers expressed in Roman numerals, and Greek words sprinkled hither and you ("Don't work up a drosis (sweat)!")

This, however, just means that I don't like to read them, not that they aren't great books for students, who usually read one and then beg me for more. They aren't great literature, but they fill a big need, so for that, I love them.

Plodded my way through McCaffrey's Dragonquest, which I liked less than the others because of all the bickering and fighting. Fighting, especially when dragons are involved, gets the books off the shelves, but this was more like bickering. Bleah.

Namioka's Village of the Vampire Cat was serviceable. Also read a biography of Tolkien, which was good. Gave a lot of insight.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Royal Diaries

The girls can't get enough of them, and they are published on a variety of extremely esoteric time periods. So why do I dislike them so much? In general, I have found that they are not noteworthy, and are more filled with whining about daily life than with history. Read Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba last night (Patricia McKissack) and was pleasantly surprised. Still some of the whining (My younger brother will be king when I won't be able to rule!), but more details and history, most of which I didn't know, considering that West Africa in 1595 is a pretty rare topic. The back of these books always gives lots of details and pictures of the time, so they are something I purchase, just not something I usually enjoy. So this was a pleasant surprise.

Weather is too nice to read too much, and the dog's been keeping me busy.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Myer's It Ain't All For Nothing

Hmmm. This title, from 1978, didn't do much for me because it was depressing. It ended with a note of hope, but when Tippy's grandmother is ill and he must go live with his father, who is a layabout and thief, he takes up drinking some weird version of 70's alchopop and generally not doing well. It was not dated, well-written, and lots of my students who like depressing books will probably check this out.

That's always the important thing-- is it something that students will check out, even if I don't personally like it? Can I recommend it even if I don't like it? Obviously, some things are so utterly dreadful that the students don't want to read it, and if I am ever in doubt, I will have one of my avid readers try the book. If they feel the same way I do, I often pull the book. My goal is to have only decent books on the shelves, and I think I am succeeding. I've had many children look at my discard pile lately, and walk away without choosing anything to take home and keep. Usually, children would take home carpet lint if I were giving it away, so I'm pretty sure the books I am getting rid of are bad.

I need something fun this weekend to help was down two more Anne McCaffrey books.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Parnassus on Wheels-- A Pleasant Surprise

Well, here I thought I was going to be able to pull this Christopher Morley title and create more space on the shelves. Written in 1917, last checked out in 1975, it turned out to be a charming and delightful story that I must keep. Granted, it is closer to my heart, but there are still students who will enjoy it. The story of a woman living with her brother, a writer, who is approached by a bookseller to buy his business-- books, horse, dog and all. She has her egg money saved, buys it, and starts her adventuring. She likes selling books, but likes the bookseller a little bit more. *Sigh* Wonderful book. I almost am tempted to track down a copy of The Haunted Bookshop by the same author.

I don't run an archive, but books like this give interest and texture to the collection. I never get rid of a well-written book; there are enough books about ladies with cats and the skin on rice pudding (see previous entries) that can be tossed with relief to leave space for hidden gems like this one.

Also read Walter Dean Myers Crystal(1987). About a girl who starts a modeling career, there will be girls who want to read this.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Pushcart War

This is one of those titles (Jean Merrill, 1964) that I probably read in the third or fourth grade, but had no real memory of, so I had to read it again. It was really funny! I don't know how many students will really appreciate all of the references to how history books are written, but the account of a fictional war between trucks and pushcarts is still funny. It will go down best with some explanation, though-- one fake preface is dated 1996. Need to explain why this is no longer in the future.

Also read Lensey Namioka's The Valley of the Broken Cherry Trees (1980). A good samurai mystery-- for the big fans of Hoobler's Ghost in the Tokaido Inn series this will be a good read, but since most of the series is out of print, it's not quite worth picking up more than the sequel, which I have here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cathy Hopkins, etc.

I love the Cathy Hopkins Mates, Dates and series. Funny, light, set in London: what more could I want? After receiving a circulation card from me, she sent me 8 paperbacks. What a nice person! Read Mates, Dates and Chocolate Cheats and Mates, Dates and Diamond Destiny. Liked both, although the chocolate one was a bit like Wilson's Girls Under Pressure (although with less eating disorder).

Also read McKenzie's Stargone John (1990), which was a short book, but hard to sell to students. It's about a boy who doesn't do well in school because he won't talk, although it's never made clear what his problem in. Nicolasa Mohr's Felita (1979) was more engaging, and students will identify more with a character whose family has moved. It also deals with racism against Hispanics, which is timely.

Michael Morpurgo's The War of Jenkins Ear, however, is about as untimely as it gets. Published in 1995, it has been checked out ONE time. It's set in 1950s England, it starts with a Latin sentence and has a six page debate whether or not one should eat rice pudding skin. Just not going to do well, this poor book. Did I mention that one of the main characters thinks he's Jesus?

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Francesca Lia Block

Well, being curious after reading Necklace of Kisses, I got Witch Baby, Baby Be-Bop, Missing Angel Juan, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys and Guarding the Moon from the Public Library.

This helped me to realize why, although I think Block has a fresh and original voice, the writing irritates me.

Guarding the Moon is about her experience with motherhood, and it didn't read much differently than the others, which is to say that there is too much baby talk in all of the books. Funny nicknames, diminutives, overly long descriptions of things not essential to the plot. I have been able to get Weetzie Bat checked out, but I am not going to go to great lengths to get the rest of the series. Maybe it's an Ohio hang up. These books shriek CALIFORNIA!

Piles o' stuff

Rather depressing pile this weekend. Bleah. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (1927). I'm sorry, Newbery or no, it's going to be almost impossible to get anyone to read this. Not only is there the title, which middle schoolers will ridicule mercilessly, it's just boring. And the pigeon talks to them, in the language of all animals. Tastes change. I have two copies. Hmmm.

Diane McKinney-Whetstone's Tempest Rising (1998) is probably a very fine book for adults, but I don't know why it's in this collection. If a book uses the f-word to describe being hit by bird poop, then I have to really rethink it. It's lucky that it's only been checked out twice in a dozen years.

And with four check outs in 18 years, we have Georgess McHargue's See You Later Crocodile(1988). Girl befriends old woman with cats. Old woman speaks in heavy northeaster accent. A lot. Don't know why children would be turned off-- I thought the description of a house of many animals, run by an infirm woman, was just lovely. Bleargh.

Now, I did say I rather liked three Anne McCaffrey books, but Dragonsdawn(1988) was not one of them. The whole prehistory, spaceships AND dragons thing got to me. Did have a nice conversation with a friend who loves the books, and she said that the series took on a life of it's own, and some books are better than others. I am not just being difficult.

Gloria Miklowitz's Standing Tall, Looking Good (1994) is a serviceable account of three teens who enter the army. This one I can get into students hands today.

Wanted to like Graham Gardner's Inventing Elliot(2003), about a boy who was bullied who turns to bullying himself, but it was just too disturbing, and no good came of it in the end. Plus, even though it was disturbing, it lost me at the end. I just put the book down and didn't want to pick it back up.

Did like Candace Fleming's Our Eleanor (2005) about Eleanor Roosevelt. It's a fun book, done scrapbook style, but I have enough trouble getting students to check out the biographies I have. Will have to pass on purchasing, although it was fun to read.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kate Brian

Liked Princess and the Pauper(2003) , loved Lucky T(2005), and really, really enjoyed Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys (2006). Light, fluffy romance/school book-- comfort reading at its finest, and since it was a long day, it definitely improved my mood.

Megan's parents are transferred to Korea, so she goes to live with family friends who have seven boys. Misunderstandings and mayhem abound. There is a wonderful substory about a soccer rivalry between Megan and another girl (Hailey, also one of the brother's girlfriends) that I liked, as well as a brother with Asperger's Syndrome whom Megan tries to draw out by understanding his quirks.

The problem is that it's not a middle school book. When Hailey is jealous of Megan, she retaliates against the brother she is dating, Evan, by, um, having relations with his brother at a drunken party. There's some language, too much drinking and out past curfew behavior.

Too bad. I wasn't even annoyed by the e mail messages between chapters, which usually irks me beyond belief. Just can't justify it as a purchase, even though it made my day. Maybe for high school.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gentle Ben and Countdown, etc.

Morey's Gentle Ben (1965) was a very serviceable and engaging story which will be great for my animal adventure and Jim Kjelgaard fans. A little schmaltzy, but then the animal stories where the animal does die are so depressing. This story is a little vacation to the wilds of Alaska, and wonderfully undated.

Ben Mikaelsen's Countdown(1996) will be a little harder sell, but has such an interesting premise. A young American boy is chosen to go up in space; in a parallel story, a young Maasi boy is yearning for an education. I really couldn't see how the two were going to meet up, but they end up talking on a Ham radio when the shuttle passes over Kenya. A tiny bit forced, with their discussions of their different ways of life, but an interesting idea that people really can be very much alike even though their lives are very different. Will get both of these into someone's hands today.

I normally really like Gloria Miklowitz, but The Emerson High Vigilantes (1988)was disturbing, and not in a good way. Sure, it's nice that the students want to improve their school and save it from drug pushers and whatnot, and it's great that the author ends the book with questioning whether they should have tried to accomplish this is the way they did, but ultimately this failed for me because the vigilantes were no better than the people they were trying to punish, and they didn't suffer enough for their own acts. The students will probably love it, although it's been sitting neglected on the shelf a while. Dated cover art.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Murphy and Mooser

Two slow moving titles (circulation-wise, that is)-- Claire Rudolph Murphy's Gold Star Sister (1994) and Steven Mooser's The Hitchhiking Vampire (1989). The first is about a girl whose grandmother moves in with her family because she is dying of cancer. The grandmother has a box of letters among her things, letters from her brother who was killed in WWII. With these letters is a letter to another man, and the girl tries to track down his family before her grandmother dies. An intriguing story, good for girls who like problem novels, because it will introduce a little history to them.

The vampire book is more problematic. It's more of a comedy of errors, which is not what students who want vampire books would like. And the boys who want comedy--- I don't know. I will try it on some of my more voracious readers and see what they think. It's only gone out about four times the whole time it has been here at Blendon. It is further handicapped by a less-than-appealing cover.

It's amazing to me that some books will not go out no matter how hard I sell them. I have a rounder of books that is depleted daily, but there are some books that will not circulate even when they are sitting on the very top. Sometimes it is condition-- I have an Ellen Conford book that I love staring at me now, but it's worn and faded. I've had some success recovering books, so maybe I will try that as an experiment. The McKiernan The Dark Tide (Fantasy, Fantasy, 4/18) did go out yesterday, and the student really liked it, which just goes to prove that whether I like a book or not can be irrelevant if I see other merits in the book.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Assorted Spring Break Reading

Really liked Sue Corbett's Free Baseball (2006). The boys will love the idea of running away from home and working for a baseball team, and I liked the more serious issue of political asylum from Cuba and missing his father. Good stuff.

Manning's Guitar Girl was great fun, but too much sex and drugs for my library. Notice, however, that I read the whole thing.

Meyer's Last Domino was interesting, about bullying and the psychological torture that is high school, but the main character ends up killing his parents rather brutally, and it was a very hard book to take.

Block's Necklace of Kisses

Ah, Weetzie Bat. How little we know ye. Francesca Lia Block's Necklace of Kisses (2006) was screaming to be read. Weetzie has a midlife crisis at 40, leaves her husband and business, and checks into a magical hotel where she failed, at her senior prom, to kiss the boy she thinks might have been her soul mate. Okay. The fashion asides are interesting, although if Weetzie has a similar figure to Block's, I don't really see why the crisis!

I enjoyed this book, but am really confused as to the audience. Weetzie Bat(1989) doesn't get a lot of readers these days, and I don't have the rest of the series, although I feel compelled to read them now. No middle schooler wants to read about a 40 year old, and how many 40 year olds would have read the original? I was married by the time it was published, and not reading about high school students.

The ending also didn't quite do it for me. She went back to the husband after meeting with former boyfriend. That just wasn't resolved to my liking. Something about the whole book left me feeling more conflicted about the character than ever. But, as I said, I feel a need to pick up the rest of the books, so there is something oddly compelling about the writing.

Fantasy, fantasy!

Finished McCaffrey's Dragondrums, and feel that I can now finish off the series (what I have of it) without taking the entire summer. It is confusing to figure out the order that the books go in, and they are challenging reads.

I wish that I liked Dennis McKeirnan's Iron Tower Trilogy better, since he visited Blendon years ago and lives locally (I think), but when I opened up the book and saw the map of the imaginary kingdom, my heart sank. When I read the Foreward, I knew I was sunk; he wanted more books like LeGuin and Tolkein, and he succeeded admirably in creating a series (Dark Tide, Shadows of Doom, The Darkest Day) that showed an intriguing world, a good fight against evil, etc.

Now might be a good time to mention that it took me until I was 32 to finish all the Tolkein books, and then only because I was pregnant and ill and didn't have the energy to do anything else. I don't like fantasy as a general rule, so this was hard going. It will be fabulous to hand to my 8th graders who claim to have read everything, however.

Also read through Sam McBratney's The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane (1988), and decided that it's just too young for the students. It was good, but at this age the students want ghosts who cause major mayhem and shed a bit of blood. Think I'll send it to the elementary school, where it should get more use.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Assorted "M" authors

Gloria Miklowitz's Good-bye Tomorrow (1987) is interesting, but I wonder if the students today won't quite get it. It is about a boy who gets HIV from a blood transfusion. Treatment, both medical and social, has changed so much in the last twenty years that the book might be irrelevant. I'll run it by some of my problem novel fans.

Liked Ben Mikaelsen's Touching Spirit Bear(2001), and a lot of the boys who really liked The Outsiders might like it, as well as the boys who have read all of the survival fiction I have. I thought the way that Cole's anger was portrayed was especially effective, and it's still believable that he learns to deal with it by living alone in the wilderness.

Adem's Cross (1996), by Alice Mead, depicts the Yugoslav war in the early 1990's, but the descriptions of violence, frustration, and survival during war time ring true and could describe many different wars. A good one to have read; I think a lot of students will be encouraged to read it.

Marisa Montes (who is apparently the cousin of one of my students) did a good job with Something Wicked's in Those Woods(2000). So many things are covered-- Javi's parents die and he must move from his native Puerto Rico to live with his aunt in California. His little brother has an imaginary playmate, who might not be so imaginary. There are good explanations for some of the paranormal phenomena. The only thing that annoyed me was one character who kept uttering exclamations like "Crackers!" and "Crickets" and perhaps once "Cricket Crackers". But that's just me being easily annoyed.

Anne McCaffrey

Didn't get as much reading done over break as I would have liked, but did get most of the way through the Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums trilogy. Liked it more than I thought I would and will definitely recommend it to some of my hard core fantasy fans who have "read everything in the library".

My daughter started reading, and thought the books were a little confusing. There were a lot of odd names, and many characters to keep track of. At least these three seem to be fairly coherent together, unlike some of the others, which make me feel like I've missed a book somewhere along the way.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Horror, realistic and supernatural

I think I've picked up Eve Bunting's The Presence (2003) before and didn't like it, but this time I enjoyed it very much. It is about a girl who goes to visit her grandmother in California. The girl is feeling guilty about a car crash which she survived but which took the life of a friend, and an evili spirit who lives in a church and preys upon young, guilt-ridden girls targets her. Pleasantly creepy with a good side romance. It will be well read.

Kristen D. Randle's Breaking Rank(1999) was great, and I hope I will be able to find a copy. A boy who is a member of a threatening but morally upright gang gets chosen to be in honor classes despite a history of these gang members not even speaking in school. He is given a tutor, a young girl who thinks he deserves a chance. It is a very complex novel, filled with teen angst, but bears the important message that education is always a good thing and worth the struggle. The fans of The Outsiders will love this one. The ending confused me a bit by being abrupt, but I was also dealing with the aftermath of finding out the dog we were going to adopt was not going to be coming to live with us.

Carrie Rosten's Chloe Leiberman (Sometimes Wong) (2006) irritated me. It went on for pages and pages about what everyone was wearing, until I got bored. Sure, girls are interested in fashion, but there needs to be some other character development as well.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Barbara Brooks Wallace

Having received the nicest letter from this author, I looked up some of her nonmystery books at the public library. I loved Hawkins (1977), about a boy who wins a "gentleman's gentleman" for a month. My son liked it, too, because he likes funny books.

Of course, this author's Peppermints in the Parlor is the best of the "orphan with evil relatives" books. She said her work is often called "Dickensian", but I actually think it is better.

Read Better than Running at Night; well, half of it. It is about a girl who is starting college and had too many inappropriate things for middle school. It started out well, but completely lost me half way through.

I'm slowing down, I know. Spring break is coming up, so I will have to redouble my efforts when not trying to train my family's new dog!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Kevin Brooks

This author had a real hit with Candy (2005), although I was less thrilled with Kissing the Rain (2004) and Martin Pyg (2002). Over the weekend, I read Road of the Dead (2006), which wasn't quite as good as Candy, but was better than the others. A murder mystery, which we always need, about two half-gypsy brothers whose sister is killed. When they go to investigate on their own, they uncover conspiracy and intrigue. The older brother is rather unstable and commits many acts of violence, so I thought long and hard about this, but I think I will get it. The students will flock to read anything by this author, and this one is good.

Will pass, however, on Blake Nelson's Prom Anonymous. It didn't pull me in, and this author is prone to gratuitous sex and language. Same is true of Jenny Pollack's Klepto, which had a very pretty cover but too many cultural references from 1981.

And yes, I tacitly ban certain books from my collection. I am too busy to fight with parents about the contents of my collection. Also, there are certain words which I don't really want to read myself. Didn't our parents teach us that people use profanity when they are not clever enough to think up other words? When did using profanity become creative? I am still, literally, not buying it.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Geography of Girlhood

Kirsten Smith, while not using traditional verse, did a nice job with this new title. There are two poems (Fourteen and Population 9,761) that may force me to buy the book, although as a rule I dislike novels in verse, and I didn't like the direction that the plot of this one took. (Girl decides to skip town with boyfriend of sister, who decides to rob a convenience store.)

My idea of the most truly hideous book in the world is a novel in verse about soccer playing talking animals with quirky, dysfunctional families who live in the deep south. We all have our prejudices.

Novels in verse that I liked because the poems were so good are Helen Frost's Spinning through the Universe and Keesha's House. Wow. I also like that she explains the verse forms in the back.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Princess Academy

This new title, by Shannon Hale, was good but problematic. I don't know who the audience will be about this semi-fantasy story of a mountain village whose daughters are all trained so that one may marry the prince. I enjoyed it, but my fantasy fans don't want to read about princesses (unless they fight dragons; the only conflict here is a band of thieves who want to hold the girls for ransom) and my princess fans don't really want fantasy. I may get it anyway-- it would be good for my fantasy fans who have read everything else, and I did enjoy it. My only question is: why do so many fantasy stories have that medeival Europe ring to them?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tired of reading

I know, I know; it happens to the best of us. Maybe it was the McCullers that pushed me over the edge, but the only thing I read over the weekend was The Beany Malone Cookbook.

Like Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family by Steven Schirripa, which the publisher sent to me. The author is apparently an actor on The Sopranos; I liked the book for the snapshot of Italian-American life in Brooklyn. Fairly standard comedy of errors, but a pleasant read, and I think the students will enjoy it.

Cupid Computer (1981) by Marg Milcsik may need to go. I don't think the children would appreciate the novelty that the computer afforded when the book was written. I will give it to a few students to see what they think.

Also am reading a fluffy, pink adult novel set in England. Sometimes that needs to be done, just to cleanse my palate for more young adult literature.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

McCullers/Things I dislike in fiction

Read Carson McCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940). While it was good to read some adult fiction for a change, it was an utterly depressing book. None of the characters were happy. A lot of it was their own fault. It depressed me greatly, because there didn't seem to be salvation for any of them. I don't know that this is a book that many middle school students would appreciate.

Read McDaniels' No Time To Cry. Must admit that I would have read all of her stuff in middle school, not for the depressing topic (cancer) but because they are basically school stories.

Things that I Dislike in Fiction:
1. Talking animals.
2. Dialect, especially multiple ones.
3. Quirky, dysfunctional people, especially Southern.

If Brian Jacques lived in Alabama, I would never have made it through Redwall.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

McKay and McDaniel

Read my first Lurlene McDaniel book. (Don't Die My Love) Went quickly, had just enough teen angst as well as serious issue. My only problem is that when I describe these books, from what is written on the cover, I tend to say "Everyone dies in them". Not entirely true, or there would not be a quartet about a girl with cancer, but the mortality rate is a bit higher than real life. Still, they are popular with children, and should make them think. Have a few more to read.

Hilary McKay's Dog Friday and The Amber Cat were rather amusing. A boy living in a bed and breakfast with his widowed mother, and the accident prone family of four children that live next door. English, so some British phrases to get through, but generally fun.

Also liked The Toothpaste Millionaire (1970) by Jean Merrill, even though it is dated. ("You may not believe it, but up to the time we moved to Cleveland, I had never met a black person." Made me think--"Moved from where? Mars?") The amounts of money involved in making the toothpaste and selling it are also anachronistic, but the story is good. Will recommend to my humor fans.

Really disappointing batch of new books that I glanced through: Turner's Hard Hit, which is a novel in verse, and I can't get anyone to read those, not even the good Helen Frost ones; Frederick's Crunch Time, about the SATs, which would be okay for high school; Morgan's Mondays are Red, about synethesia, which was just too confusing; and Russel Hoban's Riddley Walker (1980), which sounded so good but was written in such a profound dialect that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. Also was disappointed in Kathleen Odean's Great Books for Boys, because I thought she was wrong so much of the time. I guess that just goes to prove that each population is different.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Maximum Ride

A student recommended I read James Paterson's Maximum Ride (2005). I liked it, and it will be perfect for my fantasy AND adventure/spy fans, but reading it left me with the mental equivalent of eating a pound of candy corn. Somehow, I felt a little queasy and I knew it wasn't good for me, but it tasted really good! I will also buy the sequels. I don't buy much fantasy, since I have a good collection, but this was a longer book and would be good for the students who have read "everything". (Even I haven't read everything yet!)

Also read Eloise McGraw's The Moorchild (1996) which has not checked out in 5 years, but will also be good for hard core fantasy readers. The story of a changeling child who doesn't fit in anywhere, it's better than this author's Mocassin Trail that I read last week. Took my Accelerated Reader test on it, got 100%, so now have 223 points for this nine weeks. About 550 for the year. Hey, if we make the students take them, I should take them, too, so I know what they are up against!

Did not care for Harper's Flashcards of My Life (2006). I don't think it would age well. Too many scrapbook type pages, cartoons, and the sort of thing that detracts from plot. Well, it would if there were much in the way of a plot.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mostly Misses

Did like Peg Kehret's The Ghost's Grave (2006). Kehret's mysteries are a bit hit in my library, and this one starts out with a great line, too: The night I moved in with Aunt Ethel, she shot a bat in the kitchen." Well, okay. Tell me more! A definite purchase!

Liked Catherine Forde's Fat Boy Swim (2003), but have no audience for it.

Ehrlich's Joyride (1988) was originally published under the title Where it stops, nobody knows, which we already have. No wonder it seemed very familiar.

Did not care for: Taylor's Air Raid: Pearl Harbor (1971) because it was just too slow, and the boys who want WWII books want something faster paced; Castellucci's The Queen of Cool (2006) because she used the f-word pointlessly on page 3; Zeises' Contents Under Pressure(2004) because it just didn't go anywhere; Clement's What Erika Wants (2005)because it took so long to figure out what was going on that I lost interest; And Booth's Falling From Fire (2002) because it just didn't interest me.

If I find the books dull, chances are good that the students will, too. I'll read anything.