Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pirates of the Retail Wasteland Contest

Book I Most Want to Get My Hands On:
Adam Selzer's
Pirates of the Retail Wasteland
.

Is it ironically fitting that I would have to go to a Barnes and Noble to HOPE they have it, and I try never to go near strip malls because they make me break out in hives?

But I do have a gift card. Hmmm. I'm heading there to buy this one. I'm calling ahead and demanding that they stock it. Yaaarrr! (They had to order it. I did mention that they should stock it. I'm not entirely sure the clerk rolled her eyes at me... apparently, orders are done at a higher level. Have to go back this weekend.)

This author's other title How to Get Suspended and Influence People was reviewed here on March 22, 2007. I loved it. I will attempt to put the banner here, but I've having weird editing problems here. So check out the web site:

http://www.adamselzer.com/contest.html

Thesman's Nothing Grows Here

This is a charming novel that I didn't know I had until I looked more closely at the "T" authors. From 1994, this is the story of a Seattle girl whose father passes away, leaving her and her mother lacking funds. They move into a rundown but friendly apartment complex where the mother cleans. It's a hard adjustment to a new way of life, but friends and neighbors make it easier for Maryann, who misses her father, her house, and her old life. I rather hoped that the mother, who buys a partnership in a local coffee house, caught the Seattle coffee wave and ended up with a Starbucks like hit on her hands, because she and her daughter worked very hard to make the best of their situation.

I didn't like Jamie Michael's Kiss My Book. Couldn't get past the fact that there was a young writer who was accused of plagiarism in much the same way as the main character in this book was, and it seemed mean-spirited to then write a novel about it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring is in the air

Well, it was snowing here in Ohio, but in the literature I read, it was prom time.

Dorian Cirrone's Prom Kings and Drama Kings was a worthy and noble Pink read. Sure, it has the pink cover, but espouses a better message. As Emily's mother said "Do something that will make people cheer for you," and while Emily hasn't figured out yet what this is, she is trying.

Emily is crushing on her next door neighbor, basketball player Brian. Following him one night, she sees boys from her school trying to cut down a tree at a rival school, and she and her fellow reporter, Daniel, are the ones who get nabbed by the police. They have to perform community service together, and end up helping out at a nursing home. In the meantime, Emily helps facilitate a romance for Brian's grandmother (a very fun lady) and Brian invites her to the prom. Complications ensue when Emily and Daniel plan an article about how wasteful the prom is, a prom for the nursing home, and a lower cost prom in Emily's back yard. Emily comes closer to finding out what she can do that will make people cheer for her, and to no one's surprise, no one cheers louder than Daniel.

Beany-esque. This is my highest compliment. I started reading this at 4:30 and finished it at school, which I rarely do. It made me sigh big, contented sighs. Oddly enough, I remember not liking this author's other book, Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You. I may be wrong, but there may have been some inappropriate language early on. I may have to take another look.

A more serious book, but with a similar plot element (and I'm jealous. Even the very overweight Jamie has two boys interested in her, which is two more than I had in high school) is Susan Vaught's Big Fat Manifesto. This was a very powerful book about personal identity. Jamie has embraced being "Fat Girl" as hers, but comes to question this in the course of the book, especially when her boyfriend has bariatric surgery and loses a lot of weight. The details of this surgery are quite graphic, but informative.

There's a lot of discussion about weight, obviously, and interestingly enough, Jamie never really thinks about going on a diet. She's in good health, but her doctors are obviously concerned. She herself is not happy that she can't find "cute" clothes and isn't cast in the leading roles in the plays. She writes a "Fat Girl" column for the school newspaper and hopes that this can help her get a college scholarship, only to have her entry thrown out because it is not "in the public good". This is a conflicted novel, but very interesting. I loved Jamie's in-your-face attitude at the beginning (the turns of phrase were almost worthy of Sonnenblick), but I understood when this tone became more serious as she struggled to strike a balance between who she wanted to be, and who she was afraid she might become.

More of a high school book, although the profanity is limited to lots of "sh**", I still think I will get this for my problem novel readers. This would be a great book club book for a mother-daughter discussion group.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Steel Trapp by Ridley Pearson

Bravo, Mr. Pearson! I've waited for this author (The Kingdom Keepers, Peter and the Starcatchers) to turn his talents to young adult spy novels, and he has with Steel Trapp: The Challenge.

Steven "Steel" Trapp has science skills, a dog named Cairo, and a photographic memory. On his way to the National Science Challenge in D.C., he sees a woman leave a briefcase on the train. When he tries to return it, she denies it is hers, and Steel heads into an adventure filled with clues, adventure, and danger.

While Steel and the other characters were engaging enough, and the plot woven quite skillfully (it fell into place almost too nicely, but was so clever I didn't mind-- even worked one of the science projects into the crime!), it was the writing that I loved about this book. The book is 78 chapters long, but some chapters are less than a page. Almost every chapter ends with some action or question that made me think "Okay, dinner can wait-- what happens now?" This gave the book a real edge-of-the-seat excitement that students really like. Number one student complaint about books? Nothing happens. Well, not in this book. This is no doubt the start of a series, and this book will never make it back to the shelves. I think it's more appealing than Pearson's other two YA efforts, even if there are a few cliches.

By the way, Beany and I had a very nice visit. Her father was gone for the summer, so I helped her with the boarders that she took in so she could earn money to fix up the basement into a rumpus room. Her brother Johnny is so cute, but he was pretty busy with his research. (Read The More The Merrier.)

*Sigh*

Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Characters; or, Beany, my BLF

Oh, the power that authors have. They bring characters to life. If I don't like the characters, I usually don't like the books (Artemis Fowl-- are there any likable characters?). Betsy Ray, Anne Shirley, Alanna, Beany Malone-- they are all my friends. If I were much, much younger, I would want Alex Rider and Encyclopedia Brown to be my boyfriends. Certainly, there are many books that are driven by other factors. I liked Unwind because of the action and philosophy. I didn't like Raquel (yesterday), but it was interesting to read what others thought of her. The language is Fahrenheit 451 is beautiful, and Montag intrigues me. But when I read a book more that once, it is usually so that I can visit a friend.

Read Tarshis' Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree last night, and took an immediate, visceral dislike to her. She's quirky and priggish and if I met her in person I would probably want to slap her. It ruined the book for me. I didn't feel that she could really facilitate any meaningful change in her middle school. This book has gotten great reviews, the lovely woman who brings my book fix from the public library loved it, and I could not continue reading because of Emma-Jean. I even feel bad in that horrible way you feel when you can't like a coworker or neighbor even though that person might be very nice.

And you know, I've been missing Beany and wanting to read one of the books again, and I really do miss her in the way you miss a friend whom you don't see often. She must be my BLF-- my best literary friend. Guess what I'll be reading tonight?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vande Velde's Remembering Raquel

This is not the sort of book I expected from this author, who usually does magic/fantasy/scary stories, but it is an interesting story indeed. Raquel is dead, killed by a car when she walks into the road without looking. Was it an accident, or suicide? This sounds like it might be the start of a mystery, but it isn't. Since any death of a young person sends a community into turmoil, this question arises because not many people liked Raquel, but now everyone is claiming some connection with her.

Told from different points of view, this was sort of a disturbing book. Raquel never came across as a particularly likable character to me, although I did feel sorry for her best friend and her father. The reviews of this all indicate that connections are made, and although the ending is ambiguous, people learn things about themselves-- how they treat others, the importance of respecting people who are different, etc. Again, I was left with this sad feeling that Raquel's was a very unfortunate accident (the DNR form that caused the EMT to "let her slip away" probably belonged to her mother, who had died recently), and that in a year's time, all the schoolmates who were upset wouldn't even remember her.

This was a very well-written and insightful book which would be popular with students wanting sad books or problem novels. Has a great cover. I guess I don't want to buy it because it makes me so sad, but perhaps that is the very reason that I should.

http://www.vivianvandevelde.com/

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

This reminded me of so many things I couldn't name, "Classic" literature written around the time this novel is set (1899). Chopin's The Awakening? Something by Henry Miller? Classics that ended up being somewhat dry and boring, whereas this one certainly is not. After I finished, I felt rather as if I had gotten away with reading a book that looked like it should have been Important, but instead was Fun. I gave it immediately to my daughter (14), who adored it.

Liked Bookshelves of Doom review on this: http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/2008/04/the-luxe----ann.html

In short, this book starts with the death/disappearance of one Elizabeth Holland, socialite, beautiful person, kind soul. Or so it seems. It was painfully obvious from the beginning that more was going on here. Elizabeth's family is in straightened circumstances, due to the death of her father. The only way the family can make it is if she marries well, but of course the man her mother has chosen is a cad who prefers her headstrong sister. Elizabeth is no saint, but keeps her secrets well from her family... but not one of the servants who uses this information against her. The plot is a little contrived, but still compelling, and there are quite a number of characters, so it is not a surprise that they are not as developed as they should be.

This is more of a high school novel. There are some assignations depicted, but it is the heft of the book and the historical setting that would make it hard for me to find an audience in my school. Will I read the sequel? Absolutely. And it's not a bad way to get girls into some historical fiction.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Under London

I never need an excuse to read a book set in any version of London. Ran across two great ones this weekend. Both are great mystery/fantasy/horror, but I'll put Tom Becker's Darkside first because he worked in vampires, werewolves AND Jack the Ripper.

Jonathan's father is mentally ill, and while he is in the hospital and a friend is watching out for Jonathan, he's stalked (at the British Library!), attacked, and chased to Darkside, a creepy, semi-Victorian side of London peopled by descendants of criminals. Aided, although almost eaten, by the werewolf Carnegie, Jonathan manages to escape being put into a carnival. He's still wanted by denizens of this dark community, however, because his mother was a Darksider, although years of dealing with this side of London has caused his father's mental problems. A wonderful cover, fast-paced story, and plenty of gory details (stalker ends up in pool of barracudas!) make this a book that fans of Shan's Cirque du Freak will love. The sequel comes out September 1.

Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams' Tunnels also occurs underneath London and bears some similarities-- Will's father is an archaeologist, his mother is out of touch with reality, and he finds a semi-Victorian underground world inhabited by the descendants of religious types who thought the world above was evil. After seeing suspicious men traveling about London, Will's father disappears, and Will finds an entrance to the underground world. His friend is taken captive, Will finds out some secrets about his own past, and spends a lot of time being chased by people who do not mean well!

This book apparently is being made into a movie, has a sequel (Dirt?) coming out, and has been hailed in the UK as "the new Harry Potter".

Both of these will be loved by fans of Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart, which also may have a sequel coming soon!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Racy Books, Traumatized Librarians

I'm not going to mention the title, because people might go pick it up. But really, does YA fiction have to be SO graphic about sex? The reviews don't hide this-- I think I just loved the cover so much that I had to read it. This is exactly why I try to read everything before I buy it. Sigh.

Had a student yesterday ask why I didn't have Meg Cabot's Ready or Not, since it is the sequel to All-American Girl. I told her it was inappropriate, and she wanted to know why.

"8th grade health class issues," I replied.

"Huh?" quoth she.

"With her boyfriend." Blank stare. "The book is about whether she is ready or not to... have relations with her boyfriend."

She still didn't get it. I said she would have to ask her mother. Then she got it. I cannot imagine having a conversation with my middle school librarian like this without dying a thousand deaths, but the student sneered in a way that indicated I should have just yelled "sex!" across the library. See? See what these books are doing to the youth of America? And people have complained about Naylor's Alice books?

For librarians-- you might pick up Bennett's The Uncommon Reader. It has its missteps as well, but how can you not love a book about Queen Elizabeth becoming addicted to reading?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Terri Fields' Holdup

This is a quick read with a striking cover. Told from the point of view of different people who all end up in Burger Heaven on the night of a burglary, it paints a cohesive picture of what such an event might be like from a variety of perspectives. Each voice is distinctive, from Valley Girl Sara to Dylan, the calculating and frighteningly intelligent mastermind behind the whole affair.Even though it is in different voices, the story is easy to follow. Since most of the characters are high school students concerned with school, social standing, and money, and the plot moves quickly and has a nice tension to it, I think that reluctant readers will find this very enjoyable. I was not familiar with this writer, but will have to look for more from her. http://www.terrifields.com/


Must admit ambivalence about this Caroline Hennesy title. Great cover, wonderful ancient Greek mythological setting that my students crave, sequels coming (Pandora Gets Vain next), and a 5.6 Accelerated Reader level (it's been a long week!) are all on the plus side. However, it reads a little like the Disney's Young Hercules television show-- modern slang interspersed with odd turns of phrase (Pandora goes to a dental physician instead of an orthodontist.), Helen as a cheerleader, and the insistence on calling Pandora "Pandy" all were slightly grating. I don't think students will notice as much.

They will be drawn to the plot, which involves Pandora stealing the fabled box of evils from her father to take to school for a project. Egged on by the "popular" girls, the box opens accidentally, evils are released, and Pandora must go on a quest to reclaim them. In the end, this will be a big hit, much like the (*sob* out of print!) Kate McMullan Myth-o-Mania series, which I should have gotten in prebind while I had the chance.

Not as sure about the success of Walter's Mariah Keeps Cool (1990). It is more of an elementary level book, and has a somewhat dated cover, and I've not been able to push it. I liked it-- it had a supportive, middle class African American family, a stong, easy-to-follow plot, a nice conflict with a step sister moving in, and a swim competition that added some suspense to the story. Now that I've read it, I'll see if I can get it checked out!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sonneblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It

Every middle schoolers most important subject? Personal identity. Who am I? Who will I be tomorrow? San Lee, having been moved around the country by his scam artist father, has had ample opportunity to reinvent himself, but now that his father is in prison and San is starting school in a new town, he decides to deviate from his past personae and become "something completely different. I didn't actually hear the beat of a different drummer, but maybe I could pretend to be unique."

When his social studies teacher starts the class on a unit on Buddhism, which he had at his last school, San decides that he could use his previous knowledge, along with the fact that he's Asian, to become the school Zen master. This ploy works well, especially since it attracts Woody, a folk singing soup kitchen volunteer, to his cause. The two get to spend time together on a project, at the kitchen, and working with the basketball 'B' team, teaching them Zen principles to improve their game.

This works well for a while, ultimately blows up, and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. The introduction of Buddhist philosophy is fascinating and accessible. What makes this a must-read is Sonnenblick's voice and attention to detail. Quotable turns of phrase abound in all of this man's works, and this is no exception. My favorite (pg. 104) : "This might have been the first recorded instance of a nun and a librarian trying to set a fake Buddhist up with a dentist's folksinger daughter for a hot soup kitchen dishwashing rendezvous." Wow. Sonnenblick takes quirky and makes it normal; he takes gut-wrenchingly sad moments of adolescence and makes them something that can, and should, be chuckled over.

Buy two for the library and one to keep at home. I didn't even tell my children I had this in my possession until I was done reading it, to avoid the inevitable fights over the book!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Priestly's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror

The spooky cover of this, reminiscent of Eward Gorey, will sell the book, which is a series of tales relating to objects in Uncle Montague's spooky old house. These are mildly scary (and mostly not gory), but the real punch comes at the end. I expected Edgar to be a bit more frightened by the general atmosphere! This reminds me vaguely of something, and I can't pin point just what. My students are always wanting scary stories, so I'll add this one.

Also read Strasser's Friends til the End, which was okay but somewhat dated. Usually, stories about cancer are from a girl's point of view, so this one is interesting (new, somewhat different student makes friends with soccer player, who stays by him through his stuggles with leukemia). It is rather dated, however. The description of the boy wearing plaid pants tells us right away that this is not a new book. Let this be a lesson to writer's-- don't describe clothing in too much detail!


Rinaldi's The Redheaded Princess

Rinaldi usually does US history, but this goes along with her Nine Days a Queen, which was the story of Jane Grey. As with all Rinaldi, it is well-researched and has good details of life during the historical period, but the most compelling thing about this book is what Rinaldi mentions in the afterword-- she wanted to make it fun to read.

Like the Carolyn Meyer's books about princesses, this is fun because of all of the intrigue that occurred. It was scary to be in line for the throne, but somehow thrilling as well. This is conveyed in the books. I remember being enthralled by Elizabeth Kyle's Princess of Orange when I was in middle school, so there must be something about royalty that appeals to this age group. A good buy for any middle school.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Books that didn't fit my needs

Had quite a pile last night that I was glad I looked at:
The Gollywhopper Games: Good premise, interesting cover, too young.
A Tale of Gold: I already have Gold Rush books I can't move.
Sparrow: I liked, but not what my students are asking for.
Someone Like Summer: Just didn't do it.
Season of Ice: Oddly reminiscent of Qualey's Thin Ice.
Drama High: All the characters were so MEAN.

Will buy Yellow Star, although it's a novel in "verse". Good premise and research on the Holocaust. So why chop up the prose and pretend it's poetry? One of my pet peeves, but most of my Holocaust books are old and falling apart.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hawthorne's Snowed In

A student who shares my taste in reading let me borrow this, and I'm glad she did because it was the perfect antidote to the sadness of Sweethearts.

Light and fluffy through and through, this story of a girl whose mother moves her from Texas to the frozen north to run a bed and breakfast will never make it back to the shelves. Hawthorne is right up there with Rallison as my top pick for "pink" books. Ashleigh is not entirely sure about the move-- she misses her best friend, and the B &B is on a very small island, which means a small population of boys. She doesn't want a boyfriend, but everyone else has one, which makes dating difficult. To make matters worse, the boy she does like is the boyfriend of her new best friend!

The Harper Teen romances in a prebind are a great investment. It usually doesn't take my avid readers more than a day to read this, and for $10 each I can put in a good supply of new, eye-catching books that are decently written. I got in an order of 30 recently, and there is not a one to be had, although girls are still asking for them.

Zarr's Sweethearts

Despite the somehow cheerful cover, this was a deliciously sad book. The kind of book that gives you a dull, thudding pain in your chest because it is so sad. Jenna used to be a social outcast; overweight, shy, dressed in thrift store clothes. Her mother was too busy to spend much time with her. Her only friend was Cameron, who also had problems, but the two of them helped each other get through the tough times. At least, they did until Cameron suddenly disappeared. Fearing that he was dead because of his abusive father, Jenna improves her life. Her mother gets a better job, marries, and moves her to a new school where Jenna reinvents herself, loses weight, and becomes popular.

Then Cameron comes back, and Jenna must deal with the awful truths of the past, as well as with how Cameron changes, and somehow threatens, her current existence.

The one truth about adolescence is that nearly everyone loses at least one friend who means a lot. It's not always this wrenching, but I think that all teens can understand how hard this is for Jenna. There is some depiction of abuse and quasisexual experience, but it is carefully done and not objectionable. The only thing I wish would have been addressed more in this book was Jenna's disordered eating. She calms herself with stolen food, but this stops part way through the book, and she never seems to suffer any weight gain. Since food issues are also a big adolescent concern, this could have been an interesting addition. Maybe for the next book.

After reading it, the cover even seems sad. The partially eaten cookie. The crumbs.

A definite buy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Todd Strasser Overview

Okay, I'm cheating and not reading R.L. Stine. That will be easier this summer when I can get the books in order and not miss any.

Todd Strasser has an impressive number of books, dating back to 1981 with Friends 'Til the End, which I need to read tonight. Oddly, his web site
(http://www.toddstrasser.com/) doesn't even mention this, or Angel Dust Blues, which is figured prominently on his early book jackets.

Beyond the Reef (1989) is one that I enjoyed, and my 8th grade boys have been liking it as well. Chris's parents move from New York to Florida so that his father can hunt for sunken treasure off the coast. While Chris enjoys the adventure and the general pace of their new life, it is difficult for his mother. A little humor, a few problems, and an older character make this appealing. The descriptions of diving and treasure don't hurt either. It's the only book I can think of where the authors picture looks oddly like the cover illustration.

The Accident is a good mystery, if a little predictable. (And in the 80s there were a TON of drunk driving accident books for some reason.) Matt is too busy throwing up to get into the car with his friends, and three of them are killed. His next door neighbor, who is a problem child, was driving, and the community makes life difficult for the boy's mother. But what really happened that night? Matt works through his grief by investigating.

Can't Get There From Here is one of the most popular titles in my library. Told from the point of view of different street children who have a variety of problems, the 7th graders who crave drug abuse/child abuse love this one.

How I Changed My Life and Girl Gives Birth to Own Prom Date are read frequently by students who want humorous books. Funny school stories.

Give a Boy a Gun is an interesting collection of facts, stories about school shootings, and accounts of a fictional shooting from different points of view.

Thief of Dreams is a nice, short mystery. Martin's parents ignore him, so he likes the attention his uncle gives him, until he finds out that his uncle has some secrets.

Help! I'm Trapped in the First Day of School is a fun book about a boy who keeps reliving one day. This is my favorite in the Help! series, but my children liked all of them.

Reviewed Mob Princess on September 07, 2007 and Boot Camp on October 02, 2007 .

For a more complete list of books, visit:
http://www.authors4teens.com/introduction.jsp?authorid=tstrasser

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Michael Ford's The Fire of Ares

This is a wonderful, action-packed adventure tale about Lysander, a young Helot (the Spartan underclass) in Sparta who finds out his father is a Spartan. He then trains in the rigorous battle school, despite abuse heaped on him by the Spartan boys who despise Helots. Lysander has also had his prized pendant, the Fire of Ares stolen, and knows that one of his fellow students probably has it. (This book cover is great, but the pendant is red. Huh?) This pendant becomes crucial when a Helot uprising begins, and Lysander finds himself stuck firmly in the middle of the situation.

Boys will love this. It starts with a battle scene, and has a lot of fighting and dangerous situations. It also is a detailed depiction of life in Spartan times. This is an area not often covered, so is a welcome addition. I can't keep enough Greek and Roman books around.

This is Mr. Ford's first book. The second, Birth of a Warrior is being released in the UK this June, but I can't find the US release, which means it will be a while.

While researching this author, I also came across Michael Curtis Ford, who does Classical books for adults. I'll have to see what my husband thinks of these. Adult Classical books tend to be terribly long and include some of the Ancients, um, racier foibles.
http://www.michaelcurtisford.com/

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

Comparisons between this and Lemony Snicket will be omnipresent. This is unfair. Aside from orphans and evil adults, these really have little in common.

Snicket fans will enjoy this, though, as will any child with a good background in the Orphan Oeuvre of children's literature. The Willoughby children, however, want to be orphans because their parents are so nasty and uncaring. Luckily, before their parents leave on a world tour, they hire a nanny who turns out to be very nice, as well as a good cook. Their house is sold, they move in with a lonely neighbor who has adopted a foundling, and inevitable coincidences occur.

This does threaten to be a book that is hard to describe. Lowry has her tongue firmly planted in cheek throughout, but in a fun way. That Lowry enjoyed writing this, and thought a lot about the literature that was part of her youth is very evident. There is a nice glossary at the end, and brief descriptions of books about orphans, which may well entice children to look for them, although finding a copy of Toby Tyler may be difficult. The cover art appeals to me, but looks a lot like the 70s-recalling-the-Victorian-era art work that I am currently pulling for lack of circulation.

Since this author has such a following for high quality, diverse body of work, this is a book that just about every elementary and middle school library should buy.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Game by Walter Dean Myers

Just go buy two copies for your library now.

This story of a Harlem boy who wants to do well enough at basketball to go to college and maybe even play professionally will never make it back to the shelves. It is fast paced, has lots of descriptions of games and how people play basketball, and is interspersed at good intervals with other situations facing the characters, including a brother who is facing jail time for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Myers is good, he is very, very good, and he is certainly on the top of his game with this one.

This is an example of a great, appealing cover that should age well. For fascinating insights on other young adult covers, check out:
http://jacketwhys.wordpress.com/

Also read Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which was fine and reads a bit like Marguerite Henry (even has Wesley Dennis illustrations), except for that scene where the boy beats a buzzard to death with his bare hands. Apparently, this was Steinbeck's idea of literature for the younger set.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Taneesha Never Disparaging

Looking for a multicultural book or one about bullying? M. Lavora Perry's newest has much to recommend it for elementary library collections. Taneesha, whose family is Buddhist, is a 5th grader who is conflicted about her friends, her faith, and her role in her society. Her best friend nominates her for class president, and she is not sure that she wants to run. At the same time, a girl starts bullying the two friends after school. Taneesha's parents (who are too involved for this book to resonate strongly with most middle school students) try to solve many problems by chanting, which isn't working for Taneesha, who is also beset by self-doubt, in the form of Evella, her "evil twin", which sounded rather awful in the description of the book but is merely Taneesha's own negative thoughts that occasionally surface.

The characters are well-developed and engaging, the plot sensibly constructed (if ever so slightly pat at the end; this is again better for elementary students), and the writing very facile. Perry is particularly good at similes and metaphors--so good that several phrases made me stop and write down the page. "The crease in his pants could have sliced a chunk of cold cheddar cheese", "...paper and books sprawled across the softness of the big plum rug... like sugar glaze over a Pop-Tart", and my favorite, "I scurried around like a hamster on Mountain Dew". This writing adds tremendously to the humor of the book.

My reservations about this book are minimal. The cover art looks slightly out of date (students do not seem to be as drawn to realistic drawings these days), although the artist clearly read the book. There is also a lot of detail about Buddhist religious practice. If this much detail were included in a book with a Christian character, I would hesitate, but since there are so few books with Buddhist characters (I can't name any except Kathe Koja's Buddha Boy) I think it gives valuable insight into a culture with which most students are not familiar.

I would love to see more books from this author, because I've been looking for more books about suburbanish, middle class African-Americans. For more on this author:
http://www.mlavoraperry.com/

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I've tried, Rosemary

I've been weeding the Rosemary Sutcliff on a book-by-book basis, but so far, none have survived but Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus. Her work, while extremely well researched, tends to be overly descriptive for my students. I've had a lot of interest in medieval times, and the Gerald Morris fans have been gamely trying things like Dawn Wind (which had not been off the shelf since 1980!) and The Capricorn Bracelet, but they are not happy. My daughter loves horses and will read everything, but even she did not get very far.

I wish I were an archive. *Sigh*

Trueman's Hurricane

This slim volume will appeal to students looking for adventure or survival novels, and is a wonderful book because it describes life in a small Honduran village so well. Based on 1998's Hurricane Mitch, this book tells the story from the point of view of Jose, who is very happy with his life until the storm kills over half of the inhabitants of his town and leaves only three houses in the area standing. Trueman's (whose Stuck in Neutral is so popular I haven't read it, because it's always either out or lost!) experience living in Honduras is very evident, and his clear, brief prose will go over well with students.

Was disappointed in Hickey's Cassie Was Here because of the cover. The bike on the cover looks like one I had in 1974, and yet does not figure in the story at all. This would be better for younger students. Giff's Eleven might be as well (since she normally does such a good job writing for the 8-10 year old set), but I found it oddly repetitive and predictable. Hobbs' Go Big or Go Home also left be very conflicted-- the cover is great, the premise (two boys interested in extreme sports go off on bikes and find that a space rock fragment has maybe/sort of given one of the boys extra powers) sounds good, but nothing exciting happens until at least page 50. The readers who would pick this up like clear plot lines. I will test this on a couple of students but have my doubts. Usually love Hobbs.
 
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