Friday, October 31, 2008
That said, I was not in the mood for this third one. Something about Madison, the main character, annoyed me, and I was having trouble keeping the characters straight. That's me, though, and the students have not felt that way. Could be I'm in a bad mood because I have to move every fiction book in the library today.
Which might explain why I liked Sheila P. Moses' Joseph. It was unrelentingly depressing, but at least I could say "My life isn't that bad." Every year, students (mainly 7th grade girls in February) want to read about child abuse, drug abuse, etc., and I just don't understand. It makes their lives seem ggod by comparison. Joseph's mother is a crack addict who has lost their home because of her addictions. She has no redeeming qualities, and goes so far as to keep Joseph from moving in with his aunt, who could take proper care of him. His father is serving in Iraq, and his grandfather has recently died, so Joseph feels that there is no one else to take care of his mother if he leaves. Joseph is doing very well for himself despite his circumstances. This will be incredibly popular, and I appreciated the sensitive way in which the story avoided questionable language and situations. My only dislike-- the language is somewhat stilted, in that the characters hardly ever use contractions.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
This is actually a rather moralistic tale that adults will love, but students will like it to. Korman is such a great go-to author for middle school boys-- my three copies of Son of the Mob are in tatters. I appreciate how he can write convincing stories about a wide variety of characters. It is interesting that in the front of The Juvie Three, he only mentions 7 other books, and completely ignores his several fabulous series for reluctant readers. Chasing the Falconers, Dive, Island and Everest are all life savers for struggling boys. While I don't adore everything by Korman (Jake, Reinvented and Swindle come to mind), this was certainly a worthy addition to his oeuvre.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The writing has many laugh out loud moments, which I always appreciate. This was great (page 84): "For the first time, [Sam] wondered exactly how he'd gotten himself into such a mess. A bunch of bad decisions, he decided, one after the other. He shook his head. I deserve to be in trouble. And he was not in just in a little trouble. He was alone in a goblin cell, deep underground, waiting to be thrown in some sort of arena, which was apparently a fate worse than being eaten. But there was nothing he could do at the moment, so he stretched out to try to relax. "
Attention, Newbery Committee: Introspective navel-gazing as it should be done. Sam does develop from a slacker and Learns Important Lessons, but in between we have this (page 69):
"Just then, Whitey sank his sword into [the goblin's ] fleshy underbelly to draw its attention. "Keep going!" he yelled to them. His weapon cut a long gash in the jiggly creature, but the wound closed itself like sliced Jell-O, and Whitey's sword energed from the caustic flesh melted to a stump. He tossed it down, them leapt across the sinkhole to follow them. The creature reared, surged forward, and caught him midair. Whitey stuck to its slime-covered underside like a fly on a fly strip."
This is a must buy for middle schools. It has an excellent balance between moral lessons and spewing goblin mucus. A bildungsroman with multi-colored bug blood. What more could we want?
I'm well aware that the Students Across the Seven Sea series is formulaic, but I do love them, and the latest installment, When Irish Guys are Smiling, from Suzanne Supplee, was particularly good. Delk (Odd name.) wants to study abroad because she is still grieving for her mother, who passed away two years ago, and is tired of dealing with her young, pregnant stepmother who wants to redecorate away all traces of any former life. In Ireland, she makes new friends, travels, and has a sweet romance with local sheep farmer's son. Lots of details about the countries make all of these interesting, but this one stands out because Delk whines less than many of the other main characters.
How could you not read this title by Brian James? Zombie Blondes. Hannah has moved around a lot with her constantly out-of-work father, and is desperate to fit in with the popular crowd at school, even though her friend Lukas claims that all of the cheerleaders are in fact zombies, and want to make her one as well. He might be right-- how else to explain all of the houses for sale and the strange dissappearance of classmates overnight? The brilliant part of this novel was that I wasn't entirely sure the cheerleaders were really zombies, or if Lukas felt that way because he had been friends with one until she became a cheerleader, and he used the term to describe her midless adherence to their social mores. Are they really zombies? You decide. This one will circulate without any prompting from the librarian.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Disclaimer: I stink at being a Media Specialist ("You want a smart board, Young Teacher Whom My Sweater Predates? How about this lovely filmstrip projector?"); I reek less as a Librarian (have managed some instruction this year); do okay as a Readers' Advisor. Hence philosophy:
In an ideal world, I would be able to instruct students how to find books they like by themselves. I am here is to get the right book to the right child at the right time. Can't conference with each of 600 students each week, so need to configure the library so that good choices are staring students right in the face.
New project is to put themed sections scattered throughout the fiction section. By the Matt Christopher books, I will put a "Sports" section with a list of books as well as the books themselves. That way, if students are wandering aimlessly (as they often do), they might see a cover that catches their eye. I'm working on lists of spy books, Ancient History, horror, problem novels, humor, etc. I'll be glad to share these one they are done.
The most important thing is to keep students reading and enjoying books. This will make the library and books themselves do a little of the work!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
There is lots of action and adventure, and it isn't as hard to read as the description would indicate. The London setting is done is great detail, and I loved that part of it. This is not a sure bet for every fantasy fan, but it has been popular enough to warrant it. Having read Sean Ashby's comments on characters in fantasies (Brain vs. Brawn), now I am reevaluating the book's characters.
Read Karen Tayleur's short book, David Mortimer Baxter: Liar, and it irritated me. Reluctant readers probably will like it, and this series is published with them in mind. I was put off by the multiple fonts on each page, as well as the tiny illustrations. I felt like I should decode that information in some way, and that it was integral to the story, like a rebus. It didn't seem to be, so I was confused as to why it was there. These are expensive book ($18 for 71 pages), so I may not get the rest of the series.
Ah, more Rosemary Sutcliffe. Three that are moving on to better homes are Sun Horse, Moon Horse, The Shield Ring, and Song for a Dark Queen, even though I really, really wanted to like that one since its about Boadicea, who showed up in Ironhand. Sun Horse has been in the library since 1977 and has NEVER BEEN OFF THE SHELF. It smells bad. They all do, in fact, and look dusty, aged, and tired. If the writing weren't somewhat stilted and ponderous, I could interest children in them, but the time has passed.
Must go now and chant "We are not an archive" to myself. And weep gently.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
This is why Charles R. Smith's Chameleon will be one that students will like. Shawn is growing up under somewhat difficult circumstances-- his mother is working and in school, his parents are divorced, his neighborhood is not great, and he is "babysat" by a depressed, alcoholic aunt who frequently is embarrassingly drunk. Still, he has friends who try hard to stay out of trouble (they check themselves for gang colors before going to play basketball) and with whom he has some great times. He has parents who encourage him academically and ask questions when he seems to be out of line. Shawn's biggest concerns are whether or not to go live with his dad, leaving his friends but going to a better school; avoiding gang related fights (not always successfully); and surviving puberty. There is some frank discussion of health issues, but since they are handled in an informative way, I think this is appropriate for middle school students. This is a somewhat long book (377 pages), but I think that this one will be popular. The cover is especially attractive and reminscent of some 1960s art.
An example of a book that did not quite work for this topic was Stork's Behind the Eyes. I liked the story of a boy sent to a reform school to protect him from a gang after his brother's death, but it was lacking the feeling of a group helping young people making their way against difficult circumstances. The family is absent, the school is bleak, and the feeling of support was not the main focus of this story.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I did not know there was a library bound copy; the one I had came in the review box for my book fair. I do feel much better about the physical book now, and would also like to say that my 7th grade son, who can be oddly picky, polished off The Maze of Bones in one evening and has spent several mornings in the library investigating the web site.
Ms. Riordan points out that the books are written to be fully enjoyed and understood without all the other bells and whistles, and this is absolutely correct. I am very excited about the rest of the books in the series because all of the authors are ones I enjoy, and the series got off to a great start with Mr. Riordan's book.
Many thanks to Becky, especially since I imagine she is doing more than her share of folding socks, cooking dinner, and wrangling children while Rick is writing.
When Nobody Owens is a toddler, his family is murdered by a mysterious man named Jack, and he escapes the same fate by wandering out of the house. He ends up in a graveyard, where he is adopted by the spirits there. They teach him and care for him, and a man named Silas takes care of his physical needs like clothing and food. Bod grows up to be an inquisitive and compassionate boy who can also fend off ghouls when needed. (But I'm sorry; "the 33rd president of the United States" shows up as a ghoul. Really? Harry Truman? My great uncle Jim was fishing buddies with Truman. What was wrong with the man?) The mystery surrounding his family's murder is resolved quite nicely, and there are lots of creepy supernatural moments. The only question is-- should I buy one or maybe two copies?
Sherri Winston's The Kayla Chronicles was pretty good, but hit a little hard on the "girl power issue". Kayle is a bit geeky, but loves to dance, and her equally geeky best friend challenges her to try out for the prestigious dance team at school so they can prove that the dance team doesn't take on flat chested girls; of course, Kayla gets on the team. I appreciated that it showed a strong, suburban African-American girl, but there were a lot of gratuitous health class issues (Kayla accidentally goes into the boys' locker room and gets an eyeful), so I am still thinking about it.
The winner for the year for gratuitous crude language as well as strangest, most off putting character names has got to be Jeremy Jackson's Life at These Speeds. Ninth grader brought it home because it was the story of an 8th grade track runner who goes home from a meet with his parents, and the van carrying the rest of the team goes off a bridge and kills everyone. He transfers (and the other district waives tuition-- this would not happen) to another school, doesn't want to run track, and does. Interesting premise, poor execution. Really too bad.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
With the economy figuring so largely in the news, and so much talk of "the next great depression", I pulled out a couple of books that I thought children should read. Take a look at these titles and then answer: have any of the pundits really ever heard of The Great Depression? Do they understand how bad it was?
Down Cut Shin Creek, by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer has vivid photographic evidence of how bad things were. People didn't even have intact clothing. Librarians traveled for miles in the rain through the hills of Appalachia to bring people worn out magazines and newspapers. My budget cuts pale in comparison. This is one of my favorite nonfiction titles.
No Promises in the Wind (1970) by Irene Hunt tells the story of three boys who are sent away from home to earn their own living because their parents don't have enough money to feed them.
There are many dangers to living on one's own, even if it may seem exciting at first. In Cynthia DeFelice's Nowhere to Call Home (1999) , Frances' family loses everything. She is offered a chance to live with an aunt but chooses to become a hobo and ride the rails instead. While this is interesting at first, Frances quickly sees how desperate people are who are forced to live this sort of life.
Other notable titles on this topic include Milton Meltzer's Tough Times (2007), Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (1997) and Jeannette Ingold's Hitch (2005).
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This series includees Stake That and Girls That Growl. The first came out in 2006, before Twilight became such a huge hit. I liked this book MUCH better. Sunny doesn't want to become a vampire, so it has a fresh, unwhiny voice and a little spin on many of the facets of vampire lore, while adhering to the main vampire preconceptions. (No crosses or garlic, the vampire who bites you becomes your soul mate or leading force in your un-life.) The only down side to this series, which is mercifully free of bad vocabulary and situations, is that it is available only in paperback. Couldn't even find a prebind. Also, shouldn't it be Boys WHO Bite? This will be a very popular addition to the body of vampire fiction in my library.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Walter Dean Myers' Sunrise Over Fallujah wasn't very interesting to me, but students seem to be liking it. It follows Robin, a soldier who has entered the army instead of going to college because he was so upset about 9/11. Lots of detail about daily life in Iraq, from descriptions of the camps to interactions with the local people. There hasn't been much else written about Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I did buy two copies. Myers has clearly done his research-- his children have both served in the Middle East.
Had to pick up Mark Reibstein's Wabi Sabi. A beautifully collaged picture book, this is the story about a Japanese cat named Wabi Sabi who asked what his name means. Everyone says "That's hard to explain." The book examines different aspects of this and explains them with haiku. This would be good for a multicultural collection.
Finally, a treat for middle school librarians. Don't think that middle school students would enjoy Sloane Tanen's Appetite for Detention, but the teachers here found it hilarious, if very politically incorrect. See if your local public library has a copy you can borrow!
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Leon's Story, by Walter Tillage (1997)was written from an interview with a school's janitor who had told students how difficult his life was in the South. It is a very good description of the type of prejudice and difficulties that African-Americans faced before the Civil Rights movement. For example, Leon's father is run over by a joy-riding teen and killed. The teen's father comes, offers the family $100, saying that "these things happen". Told in a direct, first person narrative style, this should be read to gain insight into those times.
Jane Resh Thomas' Courage at Indian Deep (1984) is about Cass, whose family moves from a city, and now runs a small resort in northern Minnesota. He has trouble fitting in, is bullied , and runs away from home on the night of a storm. While in a cave along the lake shore, he sees a boat founder and is instrumental in helping some of the men survive. All of these titles are still in print.
Marthe Jocelyn's Would You (2008) is a good but incredibly sad book. Natalie gets along fine with her sister Claire, who will be going to college in a few weeks. Then, Claire is hit by a car and gravely injured. This is told in a terse, scattered style that I imagine mimics the way time goes when someone you love is in the hospital. This was just too sad to buy.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
Loved the cover for Ward's Escape the Mask, but it was an odd, dystopian sci fi story that I couldn't get into. Lost me at the first sentence, really: "There was fear coming from the Onesie's cage. " Am I the only one who had a vision of a bunch of terrified infants' underwear?
Margolis' Price of Admission looked okay, but it was another story of celebrity, and included a lot of screen play script. If I can't get into a pink and fluffy book, I'm not buying it.
Ain's Revolution of Sabine also left me cold. It intrigued me at first-- Sabine rebels against her upper class family in Paris in 1776, meets Ben Franklin, and learns to be a free thinker-- but the constant talk of the class struggle and how everyone in her life manifests various aspects of this did not keep me interested.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Hope I followed all the rules to this, which are
1. Add the logo of your award to your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.
Book Envy Because she draws great connections between books, or books and thoughts. Fairly new-- keep it up!
Bluestocking Because of her very short reviews of LOTS of books. That's really all I need. And the name. You'll be a great librarian!
JacketWhys Because of the fabulous covers and super short description. Puts a lot on my radar I might miss.
Mrs. F-B's Book Blog Because her reading interests go both a little older and younger than what I normally get to. Plus, she has fun animation and I am in awe.
Mrs. Hill's Book Blog Because she also has almost a book a day, and her tastes and library needs align with mine.
Mr. K. Reads Because he teaches 4th grade and a lot of his reviewed books work well for my 6th graders. But Mr. K, join us in the pool and allow comments!
Reviewer X Because she posts frequent short book reviews on slightly older YA books, has an amazing amount of readers, and does blogger interviews.
And last, but certainly not least
Sean Ashby: Author and Illustrator I truly believe that one day he will be unbelievably famous, and then he will come and speak at my school for free even though his schedule is packed. But I love his blog because he affords me a daily dose of Pondering. He reads a TON, has a wonderful feel for what children want to read, and waxes philosophically about it, while I am merely Lemon Pledging philosophically. Not only that, but his art work is beautiful.
Thanks to all of these bloggers, who keep me on my toes!
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
If you have a boy who doesn't want to read a science fiction book for a class assignment, ask if he liked Monty Python. Then give him Adams. There's a weird crossover, like boys who like horror books also reading about WWII, and girls who like vampire books also liking problem novels. I just got a copy of the fifth book and am reading it, but none of it is sinking in. Instead of a review, here is a list of the series, as well as the official Adams site. Sadly, this author passed away in 2001.