Friday, June 29, 2007

Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance, etc.

Definitely buying this one. Great cover ( shimmery copper skull with corpses for eyeballs!) and a great tag line:" Is a contest worth dying for.

This is basically short stories, but strung together in a Monster House sort of way. Five students are invited by author Ian Tremblin to stay the night in a haunted house and tell stories to freak each other out. Some fun ghost stories in a variety of formats. The cover alone would encourage check out, so it's nice that it also has some literary merit. Rare that there is horror that I like. Note: blood and gore somewhat limited.

Garfinkle's Stuck in the 70's also had a fun cover, and having been a teen in the 70's I had to read it, but all middle school librarians need to know is this: Brief but very graphic sex. Okay. So, no. Also, very vague and disturbing ending and message. Were the 70's supposedly better than now? And if so, why? Just because mothers made homemade meals and people wore more clothing?

Rabin's Black Powder has a promising premise-- boy whose best friend is killed in a gang related shooting travels back in time to stop Roger Bacon from discovering gun powder. Might have worked if there weren't so many subplots. The students who might be drawn into the historical/sci fi aspect because of the gang violence would probably give up on this one. Think I'll pass.

Hautman's All-in had its moments, but I need to get up to speed on the previous adventures of Denn Doyle in No Limit. Intriguing story about gambling and Las Vegas, but I have concerns about his relationship with Cattie. Hautman's Sweet Blood and Mr. Was are very good, but I haven't been as thrilled about Rash, Invisible or Godless. He writes mainly for high schoolers, I think.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Demon Keeper, Buckingham; assorted

Demon Keeper was quite a fun read. Not as horrific as some of my students would like, although I wouldn't personally want to be hunted down by any of the monsters, but not funny in a way that my horror fans will find obnoxious. In fact, I think this would be an excellent book to get die-hard horror fans to transition to some good humor books for boys. Definitely buying.

Mull's sequel to Fablehaven, The Rise of the Evening Star, was a worthy successor to the first book. Great realistic based fantasy with adventure, fun characters. The brother needs to grow up in the next book and stop doing stupid things, though!

Davis' Smart Boys and Fast Girls was rather fluffy, but my daughter, who runs cross country, loved this light romance about a girl who is good at sports but not so good at math. She gets tutored by a boy who doesn't like jocks, and it's no surprise that a romance develops. Still, strong girl and some life lessons. Since same daughter is begging to read Beany Malone, we need a lot of discussion!

Papademetriou's Wizard, a witch, and two girls from Jersey looked promising, and certainly understands the fantasy genre really well (some of the names made me laugh-- they are so typical of high fantasy that takes itself too seriously), and aforementioned daughter liked it as well, but we both agreed that it would not draw in girls who had to read fantasy but didn't want to, but also wouldn't be picked up by girls who liked fantasy. Will have to pass, but it was quirky fun.

I do not for the life of me know how Carney's The Adventures of Michael MacInnes got published for the YA market. Boys' boarding school in 1920's, some mention of dysfunctional, um, Noel Coward type male relationships...just can't see anyone asking for it. Just somehow disturbing.

Charlie Price's Dead Connection looked promising, but was a bit too disjointed. For students very interested in paranormal phenomenon.

The Wereling: Wounded, Stephen Cole

Think the series is The Wereling. Book one is Wounded. I think that readers of Twilight would like this one, although it lacks the romance, and readers of Cirque du Freak might like it, even though it comes close to romance and isn't as fantastic. It was certainly a worthy addition to the werewolf genre.

Bad news: Tom falls into a river and is almost killed. Good news: He is rescued by a family who helps him recover. Bad news: They turn him into a werewolf. Good news: He's a wereling, who can keep hold of his humanity and not snack on everyone he meets. Bad news: The werewolves are following him.

Plenty of action, an interesting story line, and a sympathetic teenage werewolf, Kate, who dislikes her mother and helps Tom run away. Bad feeling that it's only in paperback, but I'm getting the series anyway.

Note on the series: There is a second and even a third book, but they could be difficult to find. The Westerville Library has them, but I still don't have the second one at Blendon because it has not been available in a prebind edition. Guess I should buy a used paperback for the students who like this one!

Absolutely could not get into either Moloney's The Book of Lies or Scott's The Alchemyst: the secrest of the immortal Nicholas Flamel. There are so many fantasies out there, and these are fine-- they just didn't have that extra spark that I need in order to buy something for my small collection.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress


Tina Ferraro's first young adult book was great fun. Unabashedly pink on the cover but more serious on the inside, this will be a hugely popular book.
Had to put the cover here because it is so great-- must be same illustrator as the S.A.S.S. books, Jeanine Henderson. (Who very nicely emailed me back and said she did the interior illustrations, and that the covers are done by someone named Zuko.) This illustrator must have read a lot of 1950s teen fiction illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush. The Krushes are my favorite illustrators. Couldn't find much info to share.
Nicolette is dumped right before prom, and left with the perfect dress. She needs something perfect in her world-- her father has left, remarried, and has a two-year-old daughter; her mother is struggling with her job; her best friend is not happy with the budding relationship between her brother and Nicolette. There is still schoolwork and volleyball team to contend with, so keeping all the balls in the air keeps Nicolette busy.
The tone was great-- Nicolette doesn't quite understand why the boy who dumped her and the brother are interested in her. The fact that they are interested in her makes this escapist-- the fact that things don't follow the typical teen romance formula makes the book stronger and more edifying. I cannot wait to see How to Hook a Hottie, which comes out in 2008.

Janet McDonald

Sadly, I just found out that this young author passed away in April.
http://www.projectgirl.com/

Read Harlem Hustle last night. First off, great cover. Kids will pick this up since the colors are vibrant and the picture new-looking and appealing. Second, there was no bad language. Considering the amount of it I've had to read, this is a huge help to me. There's artistic expression, but then there's remembering your audience. The schools are trying to teach children to use more creative words. It would be nice to have help from YA authors.

Harlem has had a less than optimal childhood, but has support from the family of a friend. He is trying to turn his life around after being arrested for shop lifting, but violating probation still has some appeal to him. Some of his friends are trying to get away from life in the projects, and while aspects of this are appealing, there are still things about his life he likes. As a compromise, he writes rap lyrics. I did like that when the grandmother of a girl he likes finds the lyrics offensive, he changes them. This woman also gets him interested in some poetry. There is character development, and a positive message about education.

The book was a little hard to read, going choppily from street lingo to somewhat didactic passages. Also, given the topic of changing one's life, I was looking for a more powerful story, more along the lines of Sharon Draper's work. Still, there is a need for fiction about African American students, and in general, McDonald's work provides mainly positive messages. I will be adding this title, Brother Hood, Chill Wind, Twists and Turns, Spell Bound, and the upcoming Off-Color to my collection this fall.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lots of books, little computer time

The books I will buy:
Jan Page's Rewind was a great time travel story about a boy in a rock band who goes back in time, after an accident in concert, and meets his own parents when they were in a rock band. Some teen angst, some family mysteries and a fairly believable excuse for time travel makes this a fun book. Two of my three children picked this one up, too.

Anthony Horowitz, author of Stormbreaker and Raven's Gate, has two collection of mystery stories out -- Horowitz Horror and More Horowitz Horror. How did I miss these? Quite good, and psychological thrillers than blood and gore, although there is just enough of that as well.

Not buying (remember, I have a small budget!)
Castelucci- Beige. I liked this one, but it was a bit mature for most of my audience. Had it scrubbed the bad language, I might buy it. A little more Sarah Dessen-like than other books.

Joyce- TWOC (Take without owner's consent)-- Looked promising-- a car on the cover, and about boys who steal cars for joyriding. More about the one boy's mental illness. Almost too British. Just didn't do it. Too mature. Got a random sample of British books this library trip.

Hughes. Open Ice. Okay. I'm trying to get more boy books, but came to the conclusion that more books for boys include 1) foul language and 2) groping girls. **Sigh** In the end, this didn't have enough sports-- it was more about the boy's brain injury.

Shields, Gillian. The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James. In diary format, sort of like the Louise Rennison, about a British girl whose school is chosen for a reality tv show. Got better as the book progressed, and if I am in desperate need of pink books and have money left, I'll buy it, but it's certainly an optional purchase. Would be wildly popular, just not good for people.

Roter. Camp Rules. Loved Girl in Development by this author-- didn't like Camp Rules because none of the characters were likeable and the whole camp experience didn't even sound like fun. I want to go to camp, but this was not a fun vicarious vacation for me.

McNeal. Decoding of Lana Morris. Quirky Dysfunctional. Again, just didn't quite do it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Question of the Day-- Time Travel

What would you wear if you were time traveling? This is very important, you know. Several people at my school and I have discussed this at length, but I'm curious as to what other people would choose.

One pink, one science fiction

Michael Daley's Shanghaied to the Moon fills a niche perfectly. Reluctant readers who want science fiction to be a littel more serious than Mackel's rmsCan of Worms or Luzzato's Interplanetary Avenger but can't quite handle Heinlein will appreciate this tale of a disgruntled youth who manages to get himself taken into space-- with interesting results.

Stewart wants to be a space hero like his mother, but since her death in space, his father is reluctant to let him go. When his father takes off on a business trip, Stewart meets a somewhat creepy "spacer" who has repaired an old ship and takes him on an adventure. Sure, there are issues with Stewart's grieving, deep family secrets, and conselours trying to get Stewart to forget him mother and move on, but there are also 3-Vid adventure games, trouble in space, and lots of adventure. Told in an easy-to-read style with plenty of action, this will be perfect for handing to students who have read all of my Star Wars books as well as students who HAVE to read science fiction.

One book I may buy for the cover more than anything else is Heather Vogel Frederick's The Mother-Daughter Book Club. A fairly standard book about the difficulties faced by four average middle school girls and their families, (suddent wealth and alienation from friends, parental expectations at odds with reality, separation from parents) it does at least mention Little Women so many times that girls who pick this up because of the great cover may go on to try that book. The writer grew up in Concord, so there is a lot of loca flavor as well.

Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart

This is a lengthy (450 pages) fantasy book and will be great for my avid readers who have finished ALLof Orson Scott Card's Enders books by the end of 6th grade.

George has some issues, but these are quickly forgotten when, in a moment of rage, he knocks the head off a dragon statue and life quickly becomes strange. Accompanied by Edie, who can see the spirits of stautes, and an assortment of the statues ("spits", the spirits of the human statues) himself, George is regularly attacked by the "taints" (the spirits of the monster statues) of London, and has himself quite the unwilling, but quite exciting, adventure.

To best read this, have a copy of London A to Z by your side. A lot of the action occurs around the neighborhood of St. Pauls' Cathedral and The Monument, and with the directions in the book, it's easy to follow exactly where the character are going. In a way, it's too bad that pictures of the actual statues are not involved.

This is not an easy read. It's quite complex, with a lot of good versus evil that is not clear cut. (Now I really want to see a picture of the Black Friar.) Still, for fantasy readers, this is good stuff. There has got to be another book on the way, although I don't have the title right now.

After this book and Ursu's The Shadow Thieves, it was a mistake to read Buckley-Archer's Gideon the Cutpurse. The time travel aspect always appeals to me, but a whole lot of time is spent in 1753 London and environs, and is more historical than fantastic. I will recommend that my students get this from the public library, but it's part of a trilogy, and I don't think I'm going to buy it. It was good, but will be hard to get into a wide variety of students' hands. HUGE pet peeve with this one-- the binding will not hold up very well since it is a paper over boards "library binding" but also has a cut out in the front cover which will immediately fall apart.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Anne Ursu's The Shadow Thieves

Loved the voice on this one. Quoted half the first chapter to my daughter, because it was just funny and fresh. Here is an example (from pg 326) of what was so enjoyable: "
Charlotte had never been a particularly fast runner; she always finished in the middle of the pack in school fitness exams. But never during the exams had they used vampires to motivate Charlotte, and if they had, she would have been tops in the whole nation. It's amazing the things you can do when you're really motivated."

Now, this is a BIG book. Four hundred some pages. And it took a while for the whole good-vs-evil fight versus fight with Charlotte and her cousin Zee to get going. Oddly enough, I was having so much fun reading that I didn't mind. It occurred to me about halfway through that fans of Twilight might like this one. I'm not sure why.

Not quite like The Lightning Thief, but a good mythology based reads for girls who want philosophy more than action. There's action-- it just comes later.

It was the voice. Delicious. I loved Charlotte, and the way that Ms. Ursu wrote. I am definitely purchasing this and can't wait for the sequel! (Which I think comes out fairly soon.)

Reluctant Readers

My nine-year-old has decided that all books are boring. This was a shocker. I knew she was starting but not finishing things, but she is a strong reader who polished off Zevin's Elsewhere in an evening.

We made a trip to the library to sign up for the summer reading program and stock up on books. She likes action adventure, spies, and magic (Anthony Horowitz, Lemony Snicket, and J.K. Rowling are her favorites.) She also needed to read biographies for her school. Those, of course, were too boring, at least until we found a biography of Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket.

In general, the best thing for reluctant readers is books that are:
  • SHORT
  • Fast-paced
  • Of interest and
  • SHORT

When I needed to read something last night, I looked at my pile and could not bear to pick up any of the very promising two inch thick books. There is a huge sense of accomplishment in finishing a book. Many nonfiction picture books are written on a 5th grade reading level, so those can be very successful for some students.

If you have a reluctant reader, work with the child. Make a trip to the library an event (we had ice cream, too). Listen to what they want to read, not what you think they should. I love Dan Gutman, but his My Weird School series seemed a bit low for my reader.

She finished two of them last night.

Also, ask for professional help! We talked to the librarians, because sometimes other people might have great suggestions, and I wanted my daughter to know that. We took home A Cricket in Times Square, Trumpet of the Swan, and The Trouble With Tuck. We'll see how those go.

In Which I Read An Award Winning Book

Yang's American Born Chinese was on the just returned shelf, so I took it home. Won Printz and American Book honors, I think. Not bad. Graphic novel, included a lot of Chinese mythology as well as modern issues of cultural discrimination. I enjoyed it.

Don't think I"ll buy it. The three intertwined story lines were a bit hard to follow. My 8th grader, who read the whole thing, said she didn't get how the stories came together, so the force of it was lost on her. She's a strong reader, and sometimes the students attracted to graphic novels are not, so I think that there would be a lot of confusion. This would be a good book for a high school class discussion.

Kaslik's Skinny would also be better for high school. The story of one girls' struggle with anorexia includes some questionable material that detracts from the main issue. Also, this is a very well-written and lyrical story, with vivid descriptions and philosophical musings. Just not the thing to fill the need for eating disorders for my middle school girls. Again, confusion would be high.

Theodore Taylor's The Trouble With Tuck was recommended by the Ms. Patti at the public library (hi, everyone!) and is a good selection for students who like books about dogs. A bit introspective, but the larger story about the dog who loses his sight eventually getting a guide dog was touching. THere are always a few 6th graders who want nothing but books about dogs, and I didn't realize that that's what this one was about. Sad note: Taylor died in October of 2006.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Titan's Curse


If I had read this last installment in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series and put post-it notes at all the good parts (which would have been helpful for this review), I would have cracked the spine. What was so good?


First of all, the action. No introspective navel gazing here, unless it occurs while flying over a desert with a huntress who feels compelled to shoot at all the Target signs. There is character development. They do discuss their place in the larger cosmos. But blessedly briefly, and these necessary bouts are punctuated by attacking monsters and dramatic getaways. Never boring.


Humor would be next. So much, and deliciously off-the-cuff. No trying too hard. It might be the turn of phrase (The boar saying REEEEEET was somehow perfect), or the situation (fighting monsters in the air and space museum), or just pure silliness (when they are at the dam, they want to go to the "dam snack bar" and buy a "dam t-shirt", which is spot-on adolescent humor), but the whole book breezes along with fun.


The mythology is the basis for all of this. The characters receive a prophecy and see it played out, there is a huge problem percolating with the ancient gods, and the teachers, monsters and other mythological characters Percy meets all ring true. Our 7th grade is thinking about purchasing class sets of The Lightning Thief for core novels to augment the mythology unit. There's certainly twists and reinterpretations, but the book would be great as a springboard to discussion. Plus, the children will enjoy reading it. There's a novel thought in assigned reading!


What will happen next? Will Grover find Pan? Will Percy save the universe? Of course. And I can't wait to be there when he does.


Note to Mr. Riordan: If you don't know what to write next, how about a mystery series with a male protagonist that has this same sensibility. There's enough written for adults. Come over to the Young Adult side. We'll take good care of you!
Also read de Guzman's Finding Stinko, which was interesting, but I would have a hard time getting the students to read a book about a selectively mute child who runs away from foster care, finds a ventriloquist's dummy in a trash bin and finds that he can talk when using the dummy. Newboy takes off for Miami, but the plot was vague and depressing while somehow trying to be funny. Similar in some ways to Melonhead. The girls who want depressing books will think this is too humorous, and the boys who want humor and adventure will find it too depressing. Also, having had several foster children in our school this year, I would like something a little more positive about foster care, even though this ultimately is. For another school, this might be great, but I don't see it here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Other Blogs, other stuff

Vast downside of being a librarian who is forced to also be a media specialist-- all the overhead projectors, televisions, and other AV equipment come home today to be cleaned and repaired. Sigh. Did learn, though, that if you have a DVD player that keeps loading and refuses to play, it might be fixed if you open up the DVD slot and blow into it. Got the dust off the laser or something. To keep myself sane, I always line up the overheads so it looks like they are worshipping their Overhead God.
Thanks to the School Library Journal February 2007 edition, I checked out several other b logs and put the ones that followed the same interests as this one in the "links" section. I must say that I am distressed that I missed the 48 Hour Challenge issued by Mother Reader-- I can't do it next weekend because I am taking a Children's Literature Update so I can renew my teaching certificate. Still, I think it will be fun to do.


It's important to read lots of reviews as well as lots of books, and balance what is presented. I read a review in SLJ of E.E. Richardson's The Devil's Footsteps (my review, March 15, 2006). That reviewer didn't think it was so great. Huh. I have three copies here, and they have not hit the shelves all year long. If students like a book that much, there has to be something to recommend it.

I hope to be better at keeping up this blog this summer-- when I am at home, children look over my should whenever I am on the computer, and it gets wearing. Still, I have a lot of good books to read, so we'll see how well I can keep up.




Romance

The cover of Dream Factory by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler should have told me that this would not be a good companion to The Kingdom Keepers (Pearson, 2005). The glass slipper on the cover should have let me know that this is a romance and not an adventure story.

The characters at Disney are on strike, and teenagers have been brought in to help out. Since they are all bunking at the park, lots of interesting relationships are formed and reformed. The characters develop well, although I'm a little shaky on the plot, but in general I was not expecting a romance and got distracted. Despite the behind-the-scenes information on Disney, which was interesting, this was just not what I expected. I'm just not sure that my romance/pink book fans will pick this up because of the Disney angle, so I will put off purchase unless I am really needing romance books. Quite good for that, but I'm just not sure of an audience.

Don't know where I even heard of The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman (1995) by Louise Plummer, but I requested it from the public library. I knew when I saw the cover that it was not something I could buy because it looked so dated. In fact, the only available copy is in a prebind. This had its moments, but with romance, it's better to go for the new titles. I do worry about some of the good books now, like 13 Little Blue Envelopes, which has the torso of a girl in low rider jeans on the cover. When these go out of fashion, will it prohibit this book from circulating? It's hard to get girls to check out anything with a girl in mall hair, big glasses, and narrow leg jeans on the cover!

I am very sorry that one of the commenters found this review "lame". I try to be polite in my reviews. Perhaps I should have "no one will read this", but I can't prove that, and it is cruel. I think I do "have a clue" as to what I am talking about, and I do my best to convey helpful information about books. At the very least, I try not to cast aspersions on people's character because of what they write, and I always put my name on things and don't post anonymously.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Gauthier's Happy Kid

Okay-- too proud of myself that I got the picture up. Since smiley faces are the theme of my library, I had to read this book! It will be prominently displayed!

The minute I go listing what I hate, I find exceptions. Basically, Happy Kid is introspective navel-gazing. The whole thing. And hysterically funny. In fact, I don't have it here to quote from because I left it on the kitchen counter to pack up and my son ran off with it. (This is an ongoing problem in my house.)

What middle school student doesn't believe that their school is "the gateway to hell"? What mother isn't always annoyingly suggesting something like having a positive attitude? Friends are constantly moving on and getting involved in other activities and leaving someone behind. And the thing that resonated with me most personally-- is it possible to get through middle school and just not be noticed?

Kyle doesn't have a great attitude (after being accused of carrying a weapon while transporting a screwdriver home from shop class-- sorry to ruin the suspense-- who would?), but he's trying to make a go of it. His mother gives him a self help book, and he negotiates to earn a dollar a chapter for reading it. It has an odd (but not unbelievable or overdone) power to open to just the chapter he needs to deal with the problems he is facing on any given day.

Kyle doesn't think he changes his attitude that much, but the readers can tell that he is making strides in becoming more successful in middle school. Standardized testing takes a ribbing, and while the situation about test ethics isn't fully resolved, I don't quite expect it to be. There's also the problem of a "bad kid" who wants to befriend him-- this could have been more fully explored, but there was too much other stuff going on.

I would not mind at all if there was a sequel. I can see the cover now...

Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes' Mysteries

The thing that struck me most about The Case of the Left-Handed Lady and it's predecessor, The Case of the Missing Marquess, was how exquisitely well-written it was. This is not a surprise-- the first couple of pages of this author's Rowan Hood are among the few lines that I will read to students to get them hooked. The details of Enola Holmes' life are well-described and so interesting that I had to think this morning "Wait, there was a very good plot, too!"

Enola, age 14, separated from her forward thinking (for 1889) mother and loath to return to the care of her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes for fear that they will make her become a cosseted and over-protected "lady", has established a life for herself in London. She has a detective agency, and is soon embroiled in a case to find a girl not much older than herself, while trying to avoid her brother Sherlock, who is never far away. This is a good picture of the social differences in English society at the time, and as I said, vividly done. You could feel the sooty smog settling on your shoulders.

Good book. I am currently trying to locate a copy of this author's Blood Trail to read.

The only trouble Enola will have circulating is the somewhat odd historical period. Still, mysteries are always needed, strong female characters are wanted by girls, and any fan of Rowan Hood will be glad to pick these up. The book is attractively packaged, as well, and a fun small size. The girls who turn up their noses at the pink and glitter heft of Jaffe's Bad Kitty (another mystery, good but quite different) will love this.

My one complaint: it's "needs must". (Pg. 7, "a scientist must needs be a man"). Oh, okay, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says they can be used interchangeably, but anyone who has spent a lot of time reading Latin translations done in the 1880s knows that it's "needs must". What? Middle school students won't notice?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Well Done Dialect-- Rick Riordan Rules

After my rant yesterday, I finally got a copy of Rick Riordan's The Titan's Curse in my hand (every time I tried to take it home, a student wanted it). I was greatly enjoying it, when I came across this section (Thanks to the Penguin Australia web site for having this!http://www.penguin.com.au/lookinside/spotlight.cfm?SBN=9780141382906&Page=Extract)

"'Ha!' the man snapped, which made me jump. 'Visitors are not allowed at the dance! You shall be eee jected!'
He had an accent – French, maybe. He pronounced his J like in Jacques. He was tall, with a hawkish face. His nostrils flared when he spoke, which made it really hard not to stare up his nose, and his eyes were two different colours – one brown, one blue – like an alley cat's. "

The rest of this man's dialogue was slightly stilted, but just that small description and the one word made me imagine that everything he said sounded like Pepe Le Pew. In fact, my children and I cracked up and spent a long time speaking in terrible French accents ("If you do not return zee overdue librarEE boooks, I vill zing on ze morning announzements and you vill pray for death!"); unfortunately, while I was doing that, one of my children snuck off with the book and refuses to relinguish it. Drat. Riordan also hints at Zoe Nightshade's accent, saying that she talks like someone out of an old book, and using "thy" just a few times. Perfect. Now, in my mind, I know what she sounds like.

Sports and History

Our 8th graders just finished up a historical fiction project, and I've helped so many of them with it that it took a bit out of Ann Rinaldi's The Color of Fire. THere are always lots of facts in Rinaldi's books, but they kept distracting me. "Oh, the War of Jenkins' Ear. True or false?" (The students had to find information in the books and then check out the veracity of it.) An odd historical setting (slavery in New York in 1741) didn't help, nor did the fact that I thought the Quilt Trilogy, Wolf by the Ears, Or Give Me Death, and Sarah's Ground were utterly brilliant. This was good, but I was expecting more.

If Jeff Rud wrote 70 more books like In the Paint, I would buy them ALL.This was perfect for the boys who like sports. Lots of play-by-play sports, a simple but important personal message, and clear, direct writing made this very enjoyable. Having made the basketball team, Matt is thrilled, even though two of his good friends don't. One night, hanging out with a team mate, he participates in an unfortunate activity. Struggling with what to do when he doesn't get caught, Matt consults his brother and friend, and makes a good choice. Still, this has some negative effects on the team and his personal safety. Almost preachy but never quite going too far, this is just an all around excellent book. The small size is nice-- it is deceptively long. My only problem was that Orca books must publish paperbacks only, and the hard binding on this has made the margins really small. Still, I just placed High and Inside and First and Ten (both in the South Side Sports series) on my list to purchase in the fall.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Things I Hate

Ronni wanted to know what "introspective navel-gazing" was. I thought I had given my list of things in books that I really, really dislike (by way of explaining why I may damn some books with faint praise), but must not have. So, here it is. I will never be wild about any books that include:

  1. Talking animals. Sorry, Bryan Jacques. I have trouble with this.
  2. Dialects. It's hard to do this well. Again, apologies about Redwall.
  3. Quirky, dysfunctional people. Children never ask for this, and these are the books that always win Newbery awards. One exception: So B. It by Sarah Weeks.
  4. Southern Books. Too often they combine 2 and 3. If they don't, they're okay.
  5. Introspective navel-gazing. Again, this wins awards. Any time the main character spends way too much time contemplating their place in the universe, it makes for boring reading. Even if I like it (big fan of Jane Eyre), it's hard to get students to read it.
  6. Obscenity. Don't care if it's realistic. We don't let the children swear at school. They don't need to read words they would get suspended for saying.
  7. Blood and Gore. Students love this, so this is entirely personal. I'd prefer a good psychological thriller. Rarely done well.

Needless to say, if anyone ever writes a novel in verse about cursing, psychopathic serial killer bunnies who live in Alabama and spend a lot of time discussing their tortured childhoods, I won't buy it.


Books for boys

Number one professional failing-- I don't read Booklist or School Library Journal as I should. Maybe just as well. When I was plowing through I stack that I checked out of the library, I came across a letter to the editor that said that since school librarians have girl-centered collections and don't know what boys want, it'sno wonder boys don't like to read.

I've felt bad for days, even though I really do try to get literature that appeals to boys. This spring, I had an entire order that was sports and war books. I do ask all of my students what they are looking for, and try my best to fill it. However, there are not as many boy books published. And yes, as much as I hate to admit it, there is a difference.

There are many more girls who will check out a book a day. There is much more demand for "pink" books. Girls also seem to care more about whether or not something is new. Other than that, girls will read a wide variety of things, including books with boys on the covers.

Not so with boys. They tend to be particular about what they want even if they have trouble verbalizing it. They more often comment "I just don't like to read." In fact, it is often the case that they don't know what to read.

What they don't like: Any book that looks "girly". Tried to check out Tell it to Naomi to a boy who would not read it-- pink and yellow cover. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons had a following of boys this year on the strength of "Well, Johnny read it and liked it." Introspective navel-gazing doesn't go over too well. Problem novels are not wanted until 8th grade.

What they do like:
Sports, especially basketball and football. Could check out a ton of skateboarding books if they weren't "stupid". Rebound, Airball, anything Rich Wallace, Will Weaver, Matt Christopher, Carl Deuker(can NOT wait for Gym Candy), Thomas Dygard, Dan Gutman, Alfred Slote.
Spy novels. Stormbreaker, Spy High, Jimmy Coates and even Higson's Young James Bond series are never on the shelf.
Comedy. There have been a lot of new more mature titles lately. Sure, they love Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho-- in 6th grade. What they want later is books like How to Get Suspended and Influence People, Drawing a Blank, Girls, Drums and Dangerous Pie. Some older titles, such as The Great Brain and Henry Reed are okay, too. And the funniest book in the library: Michael Lawrence's Jiggy McCue and the Killer Underpants. We want the rest of the series available in the US!
Romance. Oddly enough. Soooo few titles. 24 Girls in 7 Days, Son of the Mob, The Girlfriend Project, Notes from the Midnight Driver.
War. WWII and Vietnam, primarily.
Horror. Vampires, werewolves, general mayhem. Cirque du Freak, Werewolf Rising, The Black Tattoo, William Sleator and Neal Shusterman's works.
Fantasy. Die-hard fans will read just about anything. New favorites: Everlost, Fablehaven, Endymion Spring, the John Flanagan Gorlan series, Revenge of the Witch, The Time Warp Trio , Mel Odom's fabulous The Rover and Rick Riordan's superb Percy Jackson series.
History. This has to be recommended. While they won't ask for historical books, ones that combine some of the elements from above will be avidly read. Pankration, Odysseus and the Serpent Maze, Into the Firestorm, The Smugglers, Prince Across the Water. Joshua's Song, Jason's Gold, Ship of Fire and other great Cadnum titles.

Now, you must check out guysread.com. Be patient with the time it takes to load. Dav Pilkey also has a marvelous web site.

Okay. I feel a little better. Of course, what did I read last night? Dessen's That Summer, which struck me as rather classic in its delivery and very smoothly written. It was like an adult read, without anything objectionable. A little navel-gazing, but in an interesting, coming-of-age way. Don't know how I missed it. Also Rallison's Love, Life and the Pursuit of Free Throws, which was a very intriguing book about two girls who play basketball, and how they wind their way through the jungle that is high school. Enjoyed both, but they are for girls. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Maybe for other schools

Spencer's Saving Grace was a good examination of one girl's attempts to deal with her brother's death in an accident. She doesn't deal well at first-- alienating her friends, hanging with a fast crowd, drinking (effective in some ways to dull the pain-- the second book in two days I've read to treat drinking this way), and failing in school. When her mother helps to organize a concert as a memorial to the brother, she first wigs out and then seems to do better. The part that failed for me was that there was a girl who seemed to know when Grace was coming unglued and was there for her. Was she an angel? There was too much emphasis on God for my library; this would be better for a religious school.

Laura Ruby's Good Girls would be better for a high school. There was far too much implied sex in this book, and the 6th graders would be the one to pick it up for the cool cover (picture on front changes from picture of girl to title). For high schools, it would be a good story about how small actions can have big consequences. And the drinking again. Must make sure to smell my daughter's breath every time she comes home from high school!

Did finish Trickster's Queen. It's obvious that Pierce has spent 20 years with these characters and that they are fully formed in her mind. I wish I had more time to spend on these.

Aimee Ferris' Girl Overboard was another fun read in the Students Across the Seven Seas series. And I must say, as much as I like S.A.S.S. for the vicarious travel experience, many of them are a bit whiny. Girl Overboard truly was my favorite, because she had a real reason for traveling and missing her boyfriend was the only whiny part. I need to see if this author has done anything else. Very promising. More travel!!!!Smart thing from the public library that I should have figured out on my own-- shelve them all under "F Sas" instead of the separate authors. Sorry, separate authors-- they are far easier to find when altogether, not that they usually make it to the shelves. The girls love them.

Secret Agent by Robyn Freedman Spizman & Mark Johnston didn't quite do it for me. There was something about the staccato delivery of it that was distracting to me. I tested it on some students who just didn't get into it, either. There is not much agenting going on, and I'm afraid I would have a lot of disappointed boys.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Drinking and girls

Catherine Ryan Hyde's The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance is going to be very popular with my 7th grade girls who want problem novels. Cynee's mother is an alcoholic, and finds it hard to take care of Cynee's brother Bill, who has Down's Syndrome. Finally unable to cope (and because a boyfriend indicates that the children make her less desirable), the mother sends Bill off to live with a grandmother, leaving Cynee lonely and hurting. To cope, she uses the only mechanism she has seen modeled-- drinking. Eventually, this causes problems for her (although not as many as you would think) at school, and when she choses to drive under the influence, bigger problems that put her on probation and into AA. Her recovery is difficult but believably drawn.

Robin Friedman's The Girlfriend Project was a nice respite from the gloom of the first book (which does head towards redemption in the end. Reed has spent his high school years as a spectacled geek, but matures over the summer and starts his senior year as a "hottie". Confused about the attention he recieves from girls who previously scorned him, he attempts dating with mixed success. I loved the descriptions of his attempts to talk to girls; this will make 8th grader boys who are just starting to notice girls feel much better about their own discomfort. The blue cover is not girly, and the high school setting does not descend into foul language, excessive substance abuse (there is some beer drinking, but it's painted in an unflattering light), or rampant sexuality (there's some kissing). Reed begins to realize that looks aren't everything, which was a nice message, but also that sometimes what you think you want for really good reasons just doesn't work out. Along with Bradley's 24 Girls in 7 Days, this is a great read for reluctant boys who secretly want to read romance books and just don't want to admit it!
 
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