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.

David Klass

Although I didn't care much for Home of the Braves, I loved Dark Angel so much that I'm going to read it to my study hall. It's about a boy whose brother committed murder, got pardoned, and comes to live with the family again, to the great consternation of his brother.

This author also had a hit with You Don't Know Me, which is written is a bizarre but very fitting style. Liked it a lot, and the students who want to read about child abuse have been enjoying it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Yes, No, Maybe

Bruce Coville's The Monsters of Morley Manor(2001) was great fun. How can I not love a book with a line like "I can have a midlife crisis or a midlife monkey,"[my mother] announced on her fortieth birthday. "I've decided to go for the monkey." This book made me snort through my nose with laughter at various times; okay, it's fun that the children reanimate monsters and travel through space with them, but the writing was what hooked me. The 8th graders might turn up their noses at it, but everyone else will love it. I think there may be a series.

Andy McNab's Traitor (2005) is a great spy thriller. There are a few objectionable words, but considering the dearth of spy thrillers and the avidity with which the boys read them, I have got to order it. Orphaned boy's gradfather accused of being a traitor when he was really a "deniable operative" for MI6-- good stuff, down to the jargon and operating procedures of a stake out. There is a sequel to this. Thank goodness!

David Klass' Home of the Brave (2002) just didn't suck me in, and when it is a book about soccer, it's got to start fast. I am liking his Dark Angel (2005).

Cynthia Grant's Uncle Vampire (1993) would no doubt check out, but I was uncomfortable with the premise of the girl thinking her uncle was abused, and that she had a twin, because it was easier to think about that than the fact that he abused her. A good effort, but not for this library.

Cynthia DeFelice's The Missing Manatee (2005) I will have to think about. I need mysteries, and manatees are big here in Columbus, but there was too much quirky, dysfunctional southern family stuff going on, and it distracted me from the mystery.

Also read Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Moccasin Trail (1952). A Newbery Honor book about a boy who was captured by Indians as a child, later returning to his family but refusing to give up his Indian ways, it is a dense read. At first, all I could think was "Wagh!" (quoted frequently by the main character), but the more I read, the more students I could think of who would like it. I have one 6th grader who has already read all of my survival fiction, and the mere mention of panther pemmican would hook him. Also, many students want Indian captive stories, and there are always a few wanting more challenging "classics" and this would be good, too. Not to mention that it is worth 13 Accelerated Read points, and so far this nine weeks I have 181. My goal was 200, so I'd better get to work!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Curses, assorted

Curses, The "F" Bomb-- Thank you, Jeanne Willis, for using the "f" bomb by page three of Walking Naked Without a Hat (2003). It wasn't justifiable, and I won't buy the book. There are some war books, or inner city drug abuse books, that use the word, but this wasn't justifiable.

Curses, Ancient Greek-- Thank you, Paul Shipton, for writing The Pig Scrolls (2004). My favorite joke when I was a Latin teacher was "Pig walks up to a travel agent, and the travel agent says 'So, how was the island of Circe?'" Gryllus has been turned into a pig during his travels with Odysseus, and decides he likes being a pig, albeit a talking one. However, when Chaos is in cahoots with Thanatos (death) in making a plutonium toaster to kill the gods and reduce the earth to, well, chaos, Gryllus has to stop eating pies long enough to help a Junior Assistant Pythia in Training save the world. The fans of Kate McMullan's Myth-oMania series and Riordan's The Lightning Thief (2005) will go wild for this. I hope there is a sequel in progress.

Curses, Bogey Man-- I had to stop reading E.E. Richardson's Devil's Footsteps (2005) when I realized that no one else was awake in my house. It was that creepy! There is something in Bryan's town, something not right, something that is snatching children, including Bryan's brother. Three boys go in search of the mystery behind the Dark Man, and finally have to decide if they can be brave enough to put him to rest once and for all. One nicely gory scene (but it's all an allusion), vicious dream-wolves, and an overwhelming, palpable feeling of dread make this book perfect for horror fans without being something I couldn't stomach. Bravo.

Also read Mary Pope Osborne's Pompeii: Lost and Found (2006), which has beautiful illustations and would be great to read to a class before starting the study of Pompeii, but since it is a picture book, I will probably not buy it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Westerville Public Library ROCKS!

The Westerville Public Library is the greatest library in the world, because several years ago they instituted the Library Link, which delivers their books right to my school. This allows me to read the books before I buy them for my library, which is an enormous help since my budget has been greatly reduced. Students can request books that I don't have in my library, which is also hugely helpful. I'm sure the library have their reasons for doing this (increasing circulation), but this makes my life so much easier that I don't care what they are. They bring me all the books I want, right to school. Wow.

Never mind that I'm in a library all day surrounded by 14,000 books. There are never enough. So many, many thanks to Michael, who delivers all of my books. I really do read those piles of books that you slog through the rain and snow.

History, horror and homies

Gloria Whelan's The Turning (2006) is set in the Soviet Union in 1991, not a time period that falls into our curriculum. This is the reason that I don't have more of Whelan's work-- many seem to be set at odd times. Still, I liked this one very much. Written in the first person, it was more engaging than the Royal Diaries of which my students are so fond, and brought in more history (although give the setting, it seems more like current events!). It illustrated well how the political unrest at the time affected one student. Homeless Bird has been quite popular, so this should be an easy sell.

Also enjoyed April Henry's Shock Point(2006). It started out rather choppily, going between Cassie's arrival at a "school" designed for children who are problems and the events a few days prior to this that caused her to be sent there. There is a mystery involving her stepfather, who was giving teens an experimental drug without their knowledge, a drug which ended the lives of three of them. There is also adventure, with Cassie running away from the school. The scene where she almost gets swept away in a flash flood was riveting. I loved the back cover most of all, which quoted a line form the book, "It was then that Cassie realized the truth. Peaceful Cove wasn't a school. It was a prison. And her stepfather had locked her up and thrown away the key." That's all I'll need to get this into eager hands!

Chill Wind(2002), by Janet McDonald, offered the same bizarre mix of street dialect and preachiness that have caused me not to purchase her other works. The main character is losing her welfare benefits after five years, and tries various unsuccessful ways to have them reinstated, once by pretending to be insane. When, to her surprise, she loses her benefits, she takes a job patrolling the subway, she is "discovered" by a modeling agent whom she had alienated previously. She becomes a successful model with lots of money. I'm not sure what the message is supposed to be here. The tone at the beginning doesn't glorify casual sex, teen motherhood, and lack of education, but ultimately, that is what this book does.

3/5/2007-- Having read Ms. McDonald's comment, I went back and reread several of her titles. I understand her perspective that she doesn't preach, she just observes, but as a school librarian, when characters in books make decisions that are not successful, I hope that the book will point this out in some way. I did make a mistake when saying that the girl becomes a model, and for that I am sorry. I'm sure that this book is widely circulated in public libraries-- this author's work has won many awards. This blog is about whether or not I feel comfortable handing a book to a child and saying "Read this". I am still not comfortable with handing McDonald's books to children. I'm sure this is realism; it's just not a preferable or constructive realism.

Others I looked at: Ron Koertege's The Brimstone Journals (2001), a novel in verse about high school seniors with problems and his Where the Kissing Never Stops (1986, 2005), both of which were too mature for my audience; Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog (2006) and Simon Mason's The Quigley's at Large (2003), both of which were too young; Anne-Laure Bondoux's The Destiny of Linus Hoppe(2001), which was translated from the French and read very oddly; and Nicola Morgan's Fleshmarket (2003), which was graphically gross, and not in the way that students would find appealing.

Now I know I've been reading young adult fiction too much; I can differentiate between appealing and disgusting graphic gore. Excuse me while I go reread some L.M. Montgomery.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Assorted New Books

Hyperion Books for Children sent me a box of uncorrected proofs, and those have been fun. Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You has a girl on the front cover, and the boys are still eager to read it. About a girl enrolled in an elite spy school who uses her skills to follow a local boy that she likes, it is humorous and imaginative. There are enough spy details for the boys, and enough boy details for the girls. Definitely will get one of these in hard cover.

Lisa Papdemetriou's Sixth-Grade, Glommers, Norks and Me is one I'm thinking about. Since comic school stories are my favorite, I have to be careful not to buy them all. The gimick in this one is the vocabulary words the main character introduces, but the main event in the story is the failing friendship between two girls, and the new friends that one of them makes. Valid concerns for this age level, so I will probably go ahead.

I'll pass on Beth Evangelista's Gifted (2005) however; it's got underwear on the cover, and as my daughter pointed out, the title looks like it is written in, um, excrement. The story started out okay, but my interest waned, and I couldn't get my son to pick it up, and he likes humorous books. I have to be very critical of everything I read because I don't have the funding or space to buy everything!

Will get Michael Simmons' Pool Boy (2003) because I think it will appeal to 8th grade boys, who are very difficult (again, need that football playing vampire book!) The idea of a rich kid losing all of his money and cleaning pools for a living because his father is incarcerated for white collar crime is intriguing, and all of the subplots, while predictable, ring true.

Thankfully, Michele Jaffe's Bad Kitty (2006) does not step over the line into inappropriateness. It is a mystery, and there are never enough of those to go around, especially for the 8th grade girls who do not want to be pried away from their pink books. The footnotes annoyed me a little bit, and it was awfully heavy on instant messages and cell phone use, which I am always afraid will date the book later (Twenty years from now when we are all, what? Communicating telepathically?) That the mystery closely involves a cute boy is a good hook, and I didn't see the ending coming, so I was happy.

Liked Lensey Namioka's Mismatch (2005), about a Chinese-American girl whose family doesn't like her Japanese-American boyfriend, but it would be a hard sell, even though it did an excellent job of explaining why there are racial tensions between the two cultures.

Gordon Korman

Forget being J.K.Rowling. I want to be Gordon Korman. He's been writing over 20 years, and gets better and better all the time. I adored Don't Care High (1985) and am keeping our worn copy together with glue and tape, threatening students who check it out not to lose it. I have three copies each of Son of the Mob (2002) and SOTM: Hollywood Hustle(2004), and those are always out.

My new favorite is the six books in the On the Run (2005) series. Chasing the Falconers, The Fugitive Factor, The Stowaway Solution and Now You See Them, Now You Don't were so good (and short, at about 150 pages) that I read them all in one evening, and polished off Public Enemies and Hunting the Hunter in another. I was sad to see them end, but encouraged that there is a trilogy to follow. Meg and Aiden's parents have been incarcerated for treason, and the only way to get them out is for the children to follow scant clues while being chased across the country by the FBI. And what a chase they give! They steal cars, motorcycles, horses and other forms of transport to make their way across the country and back. A new obstacle appears on nearly every page, and they always have a clever solution. They feel bad about their crimes, and talk about paying the library back when they steal fine money in order to eat, and I liked that, too. They also stop short of murdering the man who is trying to kill them.

My only complaint: Scholastic, why are these only in paperback? Shame, shame on you! It's great that more children can buy them, but what about libraries, who need something a little sturdier to circulate. Then there's the question of paper quality-- in 20 years, these gems will be yellowed and flaking to dust, and I will still want to recommend them.

Running and sports

I have one student who is on the cross country team, and would prefer to read about nothing but running. This is a hard bill to fill, especially since Cythia Voigt's The Runner (1985) is not exactly a quick pick for reluctant readers. I did get him to read Carl Deuker's Runner (2005) even though it is more of a mystery than a sports book, but then it was by Deuker, and those never fail to disappoint! The student loved it, and I'm hoping he will pick up one of Deuker's other titles. Rich Wallace's Fast Company(2004) was a little on the easy side, but The Winning Season series by that author has been very popular.

One of the purposes of reading through the collection here is that I uncover oldies but goodies. So it was with Leon McClinton's Cross-Country Runner (1974) . It had sat unread on the shelf since 1980, but a year or so ago I gave it to one of the runners, and he liked it. It was a tremendously fast-paced tale of a high-school football player who gave up great success with that sport to take up running. I felt every blister and sore muscle, and the social issues in the book (bullying by cross country star who felt threatened) really added to the competition and interest. I liked it so much that I wrote an Accelerated Reader test for it so my student could get credit in class for reading the book.

I don't get many calls for books about gymnastics, but I had a good one-- Nancy Meltzoff's A Sense of Balance (1978). I was disappointed that the girl did not end up sticking to her dream of being an Olympic gymnast, but the descriptions of the competition and training were good, and the story more interesting than Frank Bonham's The Rascals from Haskell's Gym (1977).

What we really need is a book about football playing vampires. THAT would never be on the shelves!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dragonflight

As much as I had dreaded Anne McCaffrey, anything short of Dune (Worst. Book. Ever.) would have been a relief. But it was rather good, and I found myself curling up and wondering how they would fight the Threads. It made my brain hurt a little, with all the hurtling back and forth through time, but it seemed plausible. I need to check the order of the books; I wouldn't recommend starting with this one, since there were a few things unexplained. The one thing that did annoy me was the names. R'gul, T'Lar, F'Nor. After a while, I wanted to say E'Nuf!

I don't think I will read these straight through, but it will not be as hard to progress through the M's as I thought!

Ptolemy's Gate

It took me three days to read this book, which is a long time for me. This is the third book in a trilogy, and probably the best of the bunch. I love the tone of the djinn, and the footnotes are hysterical. Absolutely cracked me up, and I normally hate footnotes. The ending was spectacular and heart wrenching. I read the last two pages several times, just waiting for something different to present itself. It's wide open for a sequel, although I don't think there will be one. Always leave them wanting more is not a bad philosophy.

Started Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight. While this was my best friend's favorite author in middle school, it appealed to me not at all, and I was dreading the long shelf of huge tomes. To my surprise, it was pretty good. I would say very good, but there are many times where I read something and would think "What did I just miss here?" This is a series that is listed in several different orders, so maybe I did miss something. At any rate, the next few weeks will not be as painful as I thought. Only dilemma-- my rebound paperback is falling apart. Is it even possible to get a replacement copy of this 1969 book?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Musty and dusty and old! Oh, my!

Read four books last night, all of which were horrible. The dust was thick on the top of the book, and the condition tattered. Out they go. Never easy, but necessary.

As a treat, I started Jonathan Stroud's third Bartimaeus book, Ptolemy's Gate (2006) and am enjoying it greatly. I normally dislike footnotes, but the ones in these books are just hysterical. Without them, the books would be good fantasy, but with them they are great stuff.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mmmmming along

James Vance Marshall's Walkabout (1971) is about two children lost in the Australian wilderness and befriended by an Aboriginal boy. I'm going to have to give this to one of my survival fiction fans to see if this still flies. Didn't do much for me, and it's been languishing on the shelf.

Sharon Bell Mathis' The Hundred Penny Box(1986) didn't appeal to me,(the style irked me) but many of my students will pick it up because it is short. I liked The Sidewalk Story(1971) Better, and will recommend it for students who want a short problem novel. (Family evicted for failure to pay rent.)

Evelyn Wilde Mayerson's The Cat Who Escaped From Steerage (1990) will be good for some of my lower level readers who don't like historical books. There is a lot of action in the story, and I think they will find the characters appealing. It will also be good for the students who like immigration stories.

Ardath Mayhar's Soul-Singer of Tyrnos (1981) has gone out 4 times in 25 years, and didn't appeal to me, either.

Anne Mazer's Moose Street (1992)reminded me of the Newbery winner Criss Cross-- there's not much of a story, just vignettes. My daughter read it and enjoyed it, though.

Harry Mazer's Cave Under the City was about children left to fend for themselves during the depression. I liked it for the adventure and the Boxcar Children- like success that the boys have in finding food and shelter for themselves.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Books I Didn't Read

One book I did read and liked-- Malterre's The Last Wolf in Ireland (1990). A good story of a boy trying to save three wolf cubs. I'll have it in someone's hands by noon.

Occasionally, I have to go through the pile of books I have waiting for me, take a deep breath, and read things that don't appeal to me. I started with two that were 20 years old, but shiny and new because they had never been off the shelf. When I read them, I could see why. Bleah.

I have to weed. This library comfortably fits 14,000 books, which is what we have, but I add about 200 books a year. Books that are wasting space must go. This is so hard. The two odd, unused books were nothing that I could put in someone's hand and say "This is really good". If I am ever in doubt, I will give the books to a student who really likes to read, and if that student thinks the book is bad, then it goes. This is my general list of what I look for when I pull books:
1. Condition (Falling apart.)
2. Appeal ( Is it any good? Do students ask for this sort of book?)
3. Circulation (I've had books that have not gone out in 20 years!)
4. Age (Especially nonfiction-- any book that starts "Someday, when man walks on the moon...")

Usually, a book fits in at least two of these categories. What do I do with books I pull? Generally, I try to sell (for $1 or under, just so the student has some investment and doesn't just destroy the book) or give them to students, or send them to schools in Appalachia. Some nonfiction is so dated that it really has to be pitched. It's hard, but they are of no use to anyone because the information is incorrect.

This is why I am so careful in buying books. Books I looked at last night but won't be buying:
Ingold, Pictures, 1918-- WWI, but didn't grab me.
Davis, Jake, Irrepairably Damaged-- Too graphic and disturbing.
Page, Rewind-- Too many Britishisms.
Soto, Accidental Love-- Good, but can't pin down an audience.
 
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