Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Student Interview with Rachel Hawthorne!

As part of career day at Blendon (see Linda Gerber Interview!), our 8th graders were to shadow people in different jobs and ask them questions. One of my 8th graders is a huge Rachel Hawthorne fan, and Ms. Hawthorne very graciously granted this student an e mail interview. Authors are wonderful people. My student (and I!) were thrilled.

Sarah:I have thought of many story ideas. It’s just hard to put them on paper and keep them going. What should I do if I get caught in my story?

Rachel Hawthorne: It’s easy to get distracted by other story ideas so I work on only one story at a time. I do keep a file called “ideas” where I’ll jot down notes for other stories but I only work on the one story. What you might consider doing is setting yourself a deadline for when the story needs to be finished—say three or four months—and try to meet that deadline.


Sarah: What made you want to be an author?

Rachel Hawthorne: I’ve always wanted to be an author. I’ve always written—stories, journals, letters.

Sarah: Is it a hard process to get in manuscripts and see if your books
can be published?


Rachel Hawthorne: Getting published depends on a lot of factors coming together: you need to have the right manuscript on the right editor’s desk at the right time. Sometimes an editor will turn down a story because she just bought one that had the same theme. Or maybe the story sounds too much like another one they just bought or maybe the subject isn’t right for the time. A few years ago, no one was buying vampires. Now everyone is looking for vampire books. Timing is everything.

I advise you to finish your story and then begin researching to find yourself an agent. Once you’ve sold your first manuscript, you can usually sell on proposal, which means that you tell your editor the idea before you write it. If she likes it, she’ll go ahead and give you a contract with a deadline. You then write your story.

Sarah: In all of your books the girls are from Texas. Why is that so?

Rachel Hawthorne: The girls are from Texas because I live in Texas and it’s easier to write about what I know.

Sarah: As an author is there any certain message that you want to get through to your readers?

Rachel Hawthorne: I don’t really strive to tell messages. I just like to write a fun story. And while I’m the author, my characters usually take over and determine what happens in the story. (Makes me sound psycho I know.)

Sarah: Is there any special education you need to become an author?

Rachel Hawthorne: Not really—but that said, education does broaden your horizons which helps in writing, gives you a larger canvas to work with because it can open your mind to possibilities. I do recommend English and grammar classes.

Sarah: Out of all of the books that you have written, which is your favorite? Any favorite characters?

My favorite is the one I’m writing right now—Suite Dreams. It’s almost finished. Favorite character is a toughie. I’ve loved all the heroes in the books. Why write about someone you don’t love?

Sarah: You do so well with characterization, distinctly making each character different in there own way. Any tips on doing so?


Rachel Hawthorne: Thank you. I have a degree in psychology which I think helps with my character development. I also have a vivid imagination so I can very clearly picture the characters in my mind: how they sound, how they act, how they think. I do a lot of people watching. Some authors I know will cut out pictures from magazines so they can see their characters. I also try to give each character a small habit or character trait that’s unique to that character. Dani had her chocolate chip ice cream; Dawn has her Life is Good hat; Ashleigh loved scary things. I try to figure out what my characters love, what they fear. Who are they? If they were sitting in my living room, how would they sit? Basically, just see them as people.

Thank you for the wonderful questions and for enjoying my stories so much!

Delaney's Attack of the Fiend

The best thing I can say about this book is that I don't normally like medieval fantasy novels, yet I kept this one as a special treat for the weekend. I have enjoyed the other books in the series (Revenge of the Witch, Curse of the Bane, Night of the Soul-Stealer), and this one was good as well. So read it. As Jen Robinson said about reviewing The Battle of the Labyrinth, "No? You want a real review? OK."

We know that things are getting worse for Tom Ward and the Spook. The forces of evil are gathering, and they are going to have to stop it. In this book, the forces take the form of witches at Pendle who are trying to put old differences to rest long enough to raise the fiend (aka the devil). One of the first things they do toward this goal is to break into Tom's mother's house and steal her trunks, kidnapping his brother and his family so the keys can be ransomed.

A lot goes on in this book, and the thing I liked best was that the occurrences not only are fast-paced, thrilling, and interesting-- they also add to the character development. We meet a friend of the Spook's who is a priest, we see more of Alice's influence over Tom, and Tom himself learns a lot about his past.

A 14 year old who is trying to find out who he is AND while doing so will manage to save the world from certain doom-- perfect. If you haven't picked this series up, make it your first choice for a rainy, cool summer day. Keep some cheese handy to nibble on!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Disreputable History of Franki Landau-Banks

There's a lot going on in Frankie's world. She has suddenly gone from being a skinny girl with frizzy hair to being the sort of girl who turns boys' heads. She's trying to keep up with her school work and debate club at the prestigious and exclusive Alabaster Academy. Her sister has moved on to college, and her father is busy networking with the "old boys" from his days at Alabaster. Her boyfriend is a senior on whom she has crushed for a long time.

So of course, following him around takes precedence over everything else.

Michael is involved in the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a secret society her father had joined during his youth. Membership is, of course, limited to boys, but she follows the group and overhears some of their plans. She locates their "sacred text", The Disreputable History, and finds that while the group pulled a lot of pranks in the past, it has now devolved into a social/drinking organization. Determined to be a member despite her gender, she embarks on planning a serious of wildly elaborate pranks, e mailing directions to the members while pretending to be the president, Alpha.

The pranks are a success-- but Frankie starts to realize that while the Bassets enjoy the pranks, their main reason for being in the group is to bond with each other, and while she might be able to arrange the pranks, the patriarchal quality of the group will insure that she will never actually be a part of it. Frankie briefly owns some "girl power", but the important thing is that she realizes the disparities and starts to act on them. She has a lot of promise at the end of the book.

While this is written in an odd sort of voice (omniscient but oddly immediate narrator occasionally lapses into present tense), it has the distinction of being the only book I've read to successfully include e mail messages as part of the story. There are also some facets of Frankie's personality that are not adequately explained or developed, but perhaps that is because Frankie hasn't quite figured herself out yet. A slight drag in the middle of the book, before Frankie started the pranks, could be attributed to my extreme fatigue last night. I'll check with my daughter after she reads it.

Ultimately, I loved Frankie. She was intelligent, brash, eloquent, and inventive. She thought about her place in the universe, and when she was unhappy with it, attempted to change it. She makes the whole book smart. Well, that and the use of the word schadenfreude.

I didn't care much for Lockhart's other books, but can't remember why. Tempted to go back and read them again.

For an in-depth discussion of this book, check out:
http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1225

For E. Lockhart's blog, check out:
http://www.theboyfriendlist.com/

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sic Transit Gloria Librorum

Phyllis Whitney's The Golden Unicorn (1976), enjoyed a nice circulation in the 80s, but has been gathering a bit of dust. It's a decent story, reminiscent of a sanitized but somewhat overwrought Nora Roberts. Courtney, a 25-year-old successful news writer whose adoptive parents have both been killed finds a clue that her real parents might be connected to a famous, reclusive painter. She makes arrangements to interview said painter, and spends time at her house along the beach. The extended family is hiding a variety of secrets and grudges, and these come to light in sometimes dangerous ways.

Thinking about fixing this one up-- the mylar cover is coming off, as is the front cover. The clothes and mores are dated (although the main character has a career, there's some noise about women marrying well and not working), and there is a tone to the whole story like something that would have been excerpted in Redbook in 1973. Was leaning heavily toward deaccession, but then checked out the author web site:

http://www.phyllisawhitney.com/main_page.htm

And found out that Ms. Whitney passed away just this February at the age of 104. I think I'll make the minor repairs and trot this one out next year and see what the students think.

At least the book is not gratuitously vulgar, like David Hernandez's Suckerpunch. I understand that it falls into the category of "gritty", considering the main plot is about two boys trying to prevent an abusive father from moving back home, but there were just several sexual references that were disturbing and completely unnecessary. Didn't finish, not buying.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Various Titles, Apparently Cranky Librarian

A.M. Jenkin's Repossessed has appeared on several lists-- quick picks for reluctant readers and the like. Great cover, interesting premise (demon comes and takes over boy's body), and for some odd reason I could notpick it up. Older Daughter read it and had the same reaction, and then she said "But I don't think it's appropriate anyway-- the main thing the demon wants to do with the boy's body is have sex." Sooooo... this goes in the "thanks but no thanks" pile.

The same is unfortunately true with Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait!. Some clever writing (loved the opening paragraph, a description of how a popular song is embraced by various people) and I loved the premise (Girl breaks up with musician boyfriend who is then inspired to write a song about the event. The song becomes a hit, and the girl is catapulted to notoriety.), but the first chapter was liberally sprinkled with the f bomb, and there is some middle school inappropriate discussion (again) of sex. This said, Older Daughter is enjoying the book.

Shanahan's The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year that I Truly, Completely Lost It appealed to me so little that I started to suspect that my dislike of Australian titles is somehow on par with my dislike of talking animals and that I should try to work through it, so I tested it on about ten girls at school, and none of them wanted to pick it up either. The original title is My Big Birkett.

I did read Siobhan Vivian's A Little Friendly Advice, and I liked the feeling of tension that was built up throughout the novel. Ruby turns 16, and her father, who left without a word 6 years earlier, shows up. She deals with this by celebrating a little too hard with her friends (the casual use of alcohol and the lack of consequences didn't thrill me, although Ruby develops a dislike of drinking because of the episode), and is in a funk for most of the book, until she finds out the real reason for her parents' breakup, which her best friend knew. This reason seemed to be a little anticlimactic. I liked Ruby and her friends, but something about the plot didn't do it for me. Not sad enough for the fans of sad literature, but too depressing to be happy.

An Na's The Fold was a very interesting examination of one culture's ideas of beauty, and how that idea impacts one young girl. I'd heard about the was an Asian concern that eyelids without a fold were somehow less appealing, and that some Asian women get plastic surgery to create a fold, so it was helpful to read this and get more insight into the phenomenon. However, I didn't like the main character. Joyce is misguided on many issues, a bit whiny, and although she finally decides against getting the surgery that her aunt has offered as a gift, it doesn't seem that she has really come to accept herself all that much.

My main criterion for buying a book is getting something that students want. Students do ask for a huge variety of things, so when I read a book, I think "Which student would I hand this to?" I'll buy things for a small, specific audience, but if I can't think of a single student who would grab it, I can't buy it. This results in boxes of new books that are usually all checked out within 24 hours. I would like to be able to buy books (like Climbing the Stairs) just because I liked them or I thought they were good, but I just don't have the budget. *Sigh*

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Linda Gerber LIVE!!!

Linda Gerber was here at Blendon for our career fair! She is very fun to hear and passionate about her writing. The students were thrilled (although sad that I don't have her new book Death by Bikini yet), and Linda graciously answered questions about her writing and experiences for this

First Ever Author Interview!!!:

Ms. Yingling: In The Finnish Line, you write passionately about women being allowed to ski jump. When you were in middle school, in what sports did you compete, or want to, and how did Title IX affect your opportunities?

Linda Gerber: Alas, competitive sports and I were not a good mix in middle school. I still remember the day we were doing archery and I shot my arrow right into the tennis courts where the boys were doing their tennis unit. (Yes, where I went to school, boys and girls took P.E. separately. The girls had to wear these totally embarrassing one-piece gym uniforms but boys got to wear t-shirts and blue shorts. How fair is that?)

I watched Title IX in action as more and more girls challenged stereotypes and discrimination and fought their way into sports such as football and wrestling. It gave me the courage to challenge my own boundaries.

When I started writing _The Finnish Line_, I /didn't know/ women ski jumpers weren't allowed to compete in the Olympics. I couldn't believe
it! Mo's story took on a whole new meaning then.

Ms. Yingling: You have two Students Across the Seven Seas titles. What is the most important thing you have learned from studying other cultures? What do you think is the most important thing for students in the United States to learn about different cultures?Linda

Linda Gerber: I've lived abroad twice and my kids attended an international school in Japan with students from 17 different countries and do you know what I noticed? We're all the same! We might look different and have different customs, religion and/or beliefs, but we all want to be happy, safe and loved. Those different things about us make us interesting and unique, not bad or wrong. So many of the world's problems could be solved if everyone learned that one, simple fact.

The same thing goes within the boundaries of a middle school, no matter which neighborhood you live in or where you buy your clothes or what sport you play or the kind of music you like to listen to.

Ms. Yingling: Do you feel that you write your characters, or do they write themselves and assume a life of their own, sometimes surprising you? Who is your favorite book character, either one you have written or one you have readLinda

Linda Gerber: That's a tough one. Some characters come to me fully-formed and ready for action. Others are coy and make me work for every detail and nuance of their personality. They all do take on a life of their own. If they didn't, I'd be worried. My daughter still laughs at the day I was writing the ending to one of my upcoming books and I started to cry because I didn't know one of the characters was going to do what he did and it completely took my by surprise.

Choosing a single favorite book character is too much like choosing a favorite child. It's impossible! From my own work, I really liked Baba and Jiji from Now and Zen because they were patterned after our adopted Grandma and Grandpa in Japan.

Favorite characters from a book I recently read... Cammie Morgan from Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series because she's fun to follow. And I adore Artemis Fowl and about anyone else Iain Colfer creates. And Vlad from Eight Grade Bites. Oh, and Gilda Joyce! See? I can't choose just one.

************
Death by Bikini is being followed soon by Death by Latte and then Death by Denim, which Linda was rushing home to work on when she left here! Keep an eye on this fabulous new young adult author!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Climbing the Stairs

I very much enjoyed Padma Venkatraman's story of a girl struggling against social conventions in India during World War II. Vidya's father, a doctor, does not care about the strictures of the family's Brahmin caste, and is willing to continue her education to include college. However, when he is critically injured in a protest against the British, the family must move in with the rest of the family, who believe that women should only be married. Vidya finds the library at her grandfather's house, and is allowed to read there. This is a great picture not only of how women were treated in another place and time, but also a good depiction of what was going on in India during World War II. I can't think of anything else I've read set then.

However, I probably won't buy this. I have a lot of great Indian fiction, and it's not something that is asked for a lot. (Did eventually get a copy. 7/13)

Two books with chocolate on the cover

Tricia Rayburn's book, The Melting of Maggie Bean, is a good addition to books about eating disorders, which are wildly popular among 7th grade girls especially. Maggie is a very overweight girl who eats vast quantities of chocolate to cope with her father's unemployment and the general unhappiness of her family life. She wants to try out for the Water Wings, the school synchronized swim team, because she is a good swimmer and her mother helped start the team, but is afraid because of her weight. Her parents make her go to a weight loss support group, and she starts the long process of losing weight, exercising, and trying to improve her life. Some of this book stretches credulity a little (Are swim teams really that popular?), but in general is a good addition to weight issue fiction.

Loved the cover of Rebecca Sparrow's The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay, but there really was very little mention of chocolate. There were, however, a distractingly large number of references to 1980s pop culture. Set in 1989, and in Australia to boot, I couldn't get into this story of a girl whose father volunteers to keep a problem student at their house because he was no longer accepted as a boarder at the school because of discipline problems.

Pirates of the Retail Wasteland!!!

Adam Selzer has a warped and very funny sense of humor. Like How to Get Suspended and Influence People, this book walked that very fine line of almost inappropriate, and never tipped far enough over that parents would complain. It also lent itself to reading aloud and guffawing, which is why I don't have it in front of me to quote-- older daughter tried to rip it out of my grasp but I won, so she is reading it now.

Leon and his friends are upset that Sip, their favorite coffee house/hang out might be forced out of business by Wackford's, a chain coffee house whose primary purpose seems to be to house corporate drones working on lap tops. They plan, with the help of the "McHobo" manager, to take over on one Saturday, turn Wackford's into an office, and film the resultant chaos for a school project. This seemed somewhat far fetched, but it really didn't matter because the sub plots were so much fun.

Leon has the best parents in teen literature. They embarass him gleefully and with abandon. The father's attempt to create hair dye that adheres to hair but not skin results in a green mohawk, and later, no hair at all. They are still cooking out of vintage cookbooks and dressing the part as well. They aren't mentioned a lot, but I adore them.

There's some girlfriend issues, some hysterical poetry attempts to get the gym teacher to quit (the reworking of Ginsberg Howl begged to be declaimed out loud), and line after line that made me giggle. My only problem with this book is that I'm afraid that my daughter may try to start collecting tacky vintage album covers to decorate her walls.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Assorted Titles

Some books are fine but don't meet my needs. Looked at (but did not read entirely) four fantasies aimed more at girls last night. Since I have plenty of those, I think I'll pass on:

Coombs-- The Runaway Princess. Maybe for elementary collections, where girls are enthralled with princesses. The princess in this is atypical-- brave and boisterous-- but I prefer The Enchanted Forest Chronicles for that.

Levine-- Ever. Love this author, but not this one. High fantasy with completely made up world, lots of made up words (for stuff like mother and father, which just irritated me), and then people peeing on the grass. Lost me about there.

Selfors-- Saving Juliet. Time travel is almost impossible to sell, and I have at least two other time travel back to the time of Shakespeare books (one is by Susan Cooper). I would like it, but it would gather dust in my library. Great cover, too.

Wilce-- Flora Segunda. Liked the title and the premise, but it was a bit too self-consciously quirky for me.

Terhune--Lad, a Dog. Mine is an anniversary edition; the original is from 1919. Considering how old it is, it reads pretty well, and I'm always short on dog stories. If modern books were bound this well, I wouldn't be gluing 20 books a week back together. I will keep for texture.

Swift-- Gulliver's Travels. Not a big circulator, but I do have the occasional student who wants a challenge, and this is pretty interesting as, again, older things go. I have a weird Whitman-like binding printed in Romania, but again, will keep for texture.

Stevenson-- The Unprotected Witness. Sequel to Bones in the Cliff, which I liked a little more, but this was an easy to follow mystery that will appeal to students who read the first book.

I think that R.L. Stine is the next big frontier in my alphabetical reading, and as all the books come back I will make sure I have read everything before that. There are a couple of sequels that I have missed as they came in, since students were waiting so eagerly for them.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Clare's City of Bones

You think you're having a rough day? Clary goes out with her friends to a club and sees a boy murdered by two Shadowhunters-- only he isn't a boy, but a demon. Later, Clary gets a panicked call from her mother, telling her not to come home. Clary does, of course, only to be set upon by a demon and rescued by the very Shadowhunters who killed the demon in the club. Things only get worse-- she finds out that her mother had a relationship with a Shadowhunter gone bad-- Valentine, who wanted to find the Mortal Cup and use it to turn children into his own private army. Downside of that? Most of them would be killed. Clary finds out that she herself is part of this world of demons and demonhunters, even though her mother tried very hard to keep her from realizing it.

There's plenty of action in this book, some romance (Clary's long time friend Simon versus the hot but smarmy Shadowhunter Jace) and some clever twists on the whole vampire-witch-fairy stories that the teens seem to adore. At first, I thought it would be a self-involved Goth tale (starting out at the club put a bad taste in my mouth), but it improved. Some of the writing is very clever. Hearing the suggestion that Valentine sent the demon after Clary's mother because "maybe he wants to get back together", Jace says "It wouldn't be my move. First the candy and flowers, then the apology letters, then the ravenous demon hordes. In that order."(Page 153)

With the exception of a drawn out battle for Simon after he gets himself turned into a rat, the book improved steadily from the begining, and in the end, I liked the book. Much better than Twilight, but not quite as clever as Blue Bloods. I will look forward to the sequel, The City of Ashes, which is already out, and The City of Glass, which comes out in March of 2009.

http://www.cassandraclare.com/
http://www.mortalinstruments.com/

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Battle of the Labyrinth!!!!

Basic premise: Luke, who when last seen was joining forces with the evil Kronos to take over the world, has found a way to breach Camp Half-Blood-- the Labyrinth, which stretches amorphously under the United States. Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Tyson set off to find Daedalus, who created the Labyrinth, and figure out a way to stop Luke from attacking. Also, Grover is searching for the god Pan. Joined by the human Rachel Dare, who can see through the "mist" that hides monsters, they work their way through the confounding Labyrinth, encounter and subdue many monsters, and occasionally vaporize demonic cheerleaders.

Why this is so fabulous: The writing. It starts off with the oft-quoted first line "The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school," and continues with chapters such as "Nico Buys Happy Meals for the Dead", "We Visit the Demon Dude Ranch" and "We Play the Game Show of Death". (Which, by the way, skewers the No Child Left Behind Act-- this alone makes the book worth picking up!). The plot is action is well-paced, the main characters continue to grow, and a new host of amusing secondary characters are brought to life in Riordan's inimitable style. Percy ends up on the island of Calypso, and I swear I cried when he left.

None of my students have complained about this latest installment, except to say that they want the fifth one right now. As a former Latin teacher, I have to say that along with Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries, this series is one that I wish I had writtten. Bravo, bravo. Riordan deserves all the praise and popularity that this series has brought him.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Young's Storm: The Infinity Code

Young is a science writer, which explains the huge range of gadgets that are used to help the teen members of Science and Technology to Over-Rule Misery (STORM), as well as some of the problems that these bright teens have to solve in the course of the book.

What I'd love to know is how she can write such compelling action. Similar to Pearson's Steel Trapp that I read last week, this is even better. STORM is working on global threats with the help of a teen software developer's millions. Doesn't hurt the suspense that one of the member's fathers is missing, held hostage by evil doers that want to use his skills, and only STORM can save him. How can one not like a book where the teen characters take off on their own on a train to St. Petersburg in December without their passports or warm clothes. Or money. Or food.

That must be the appeal of spy fiction. It's so popular now, and I am enjoying it myself. It's the feeling of empowerment, independence and excitement that make these books appeal to so many students, and this one is certainly going straight to the top of my list. Will, Gaia and Andrew were all likable characters, despite their quirks. The plot is a bit far fetched, but possible. Great cover. Sequels sure to come. (Storm: The Ghost Machine on 18 September!)

My one beef with Penguin Putnam-- the library copy of this book was added on March 26th of this year and is already splitting at the spine. Can't you make a book that holds up for more than two months?

It's Disgusting!

James Solheim's 1998 title It's Disgusting and We Ate It: True Facts From Around the World and Throughout History is still available, and for good reason: it doesn't need a pitch for your average 6th grade boy to pick it up and read it. It's not my sort of book, but the research seems fine, and it does give the students some history. I've seen groups of my most reluctant readers gathered around this at lunch-- we assume right before they dare each other to put their orange push pop in the mash potatoes and eat it.

Unfortunately, this author's only other available title is about Santa's secrets, which is a bit young for my crowd.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lichtman's Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra

While Non-Fiction Food Week, has been fun, if I don't post some other titles, they will back up!

Remember that I am entering the Spring of My Discontent, when I spend a lot of time removing titles from my book orders because I have spent my entire budget for next year.

This book would be interesting if I could buy everything that I liked, but it will have a limited appeal in my library due to the use of math problems within the text, and the fact that there is really not as much of a mystery as I would like.

Tess is a math whiz who has some problems. First, she sees a popular boy photocopy a math test; later, he and his friends all get unprecedented perfect scores. Then, one of her mother's friends is found dead in her garage, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. Did her husband, with whom she had problems, have something to do with this?

Tess and her friends work through these problems, and their relationships are the best part of the book. Tess does have to make some tough decisions about what she should be doing. This is an interesting first attempt, but I am going to have to pass.

Neff's Hound of Rowan

This is the first book in The Tapestry series. I checked the Rowan Academy web site and didn't see the other titles listed yet (but it's a cool site); the author's site, http://www.henryhneff.com/, mentions that the next title is The Second Seige. If Mr. Neff titles the next book something with "third" or "final" in it, I will be eternally grateful.

Must admit that I wasn't in the mood for a 414 page fantasy book, but I was glad of it. There is a subgroup of my students who adore fantasy, and they are voracious. One of them is my son, and this is exactly the sort of book he will love. Firmly based in reality, clever, full of details about the magic involved. I'm thinking this would make a great birthday present. Definitely buying for library.

Max (whose mother is missing, in proper pseudo-orphan tradition), has a mystical experience in a museum, is visited by strange representatives from Rowan Academy, and allowed to enroll their by his busy but loving father. Max has mad skills and turns out to be just the student who can help in the fight against the enemy.

This is where I get vague, because I didn't want to read the book. Astaroth? Isn't this from Bed-knob and Broomstick? What forces are they fighting? Who is stealing the Potentials and why? Somehow, I didn't quite care about Max. There are lots of interesting characters introduced ( I loved Mum, the cook, having to sniff all the students so that she wouldn't eat them!), good lines and interesting magic, but if I had been able to connect to Max more, I would have been more compelled to pay attention. I'll have to reread this when I get a copy for the library.

Hautman and Logue's Bloodwater Mysteries

Both of these authors have some great titles individually-- Logue's Dancing with an Alien flies off the shelf when girls have to read science fiction, and Hautman's Sweetblood is adored by the fans of vampire fiction. I don't know how I missed this series, consisting of Snatched (2006), Skullduggery (2007), and Doppelganger (2008), but I will be adding them to my list to purchase. I always need more mysteries.

Started with the third by mistake, but wasn't overly confused. All center around Roni Delicata, a someone unhappy girl who reports for the school paper and solves mysteries with various friends in her spare time. I read Doppelganger, which seemed like it might be like Face on the Milk Carton at first, but went in a completely different direction. One of Roni's friends thinks that his parents kidnapped him as a toddler, because an age progressed picture of a missing child looks a lot like him. When the two investigate, they find a lot more intrigue, creepy strangers, and lies than they bargained for.

Not terribly long, fast moving reads. Need more like these. Note to publisher, however: First cover BAD. Other covers better. Perhaps since I waited, they'll have redone the first cover to match.

Carolyn Wyman, Amazing Food Writer

These three titles might be hard to obtain, and they are in paperback, so I had to send them to the bindery, but the students have loved them. How can you NOT pick up a book entitled Jell-o: A Biography.

The research in these books is phenomenal. Wyman doesn't just cover dry facts about the history of products; she includes almost every pop cultural reference to the products she can find. There are cartoons, vintage ads, tv clips-- you name it. The pages are sometimes a little crowded for my taste, but the presentation does make these nice for browsing.

My favorite is probably Better Than Homemade:Amazing Foods that Changed the Way We Eat. From Birdseye frozen foods to Jiffy Pop, convenience foods are given great coverage. Why did they appear? How popular were they? What the heck is really in them? Fascinating stuff.

Had a student yesterday who was borrowing this "just for study hall" decide to take it home so he could share it with his parents!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Candy: A Sweet History

The students really enjoy Beth Kimmerle's book from 2003. Packed with tons of vintage ads, wrappers and memorabilia, it covers lots of current favorites as well as bygone candies of the past. I put this one cover out on a shelf, and it is checked out almost immediately. I have wondered if children actually read these books, or if they just drooled over the pictures, but yesterday after posting A Century in Food, I gave it to a student who brought it back after study hall and checked out a book I have all about the Kellogg's company! He wanted to know more.

Exciting news-- I have an author interview to post! Linda Gerber, author of Now and Zen, The Finnish Line, and the new Death by Bikini will be coming to my school for career day and very graciously answered some questions for me! She will also be at the Polaris Barnes and Noble on May 17th, so I hope that some of my students will be able to make it there!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Century in Food

This Beverly Bundy title from 2002 is a must have if you frequently have students doing research on various decades. It is also a fun read. Broken down into decades, the book covers fads, newly introduced foods (with lovely time lines) and general historical events. Lavishly illustrated with period photos, this was so intriguing to me that I bought a copy to have at home. It's a fun book to give to students who are sitting in study hall and don't want to read anything.

Want to know what foods were introduced the year you were born? What exactly was the deal with Pringles? Has it really been over twenty years since the "new" Coke fiasco? Read and find out!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Food Non-fiction Week!

Every year, one of the teachers does a nonfiction project, and by far the most popular topic is food. This would explain why I picked up Marilyn Powell's Ice Cream: The Delicious History.

Very fun book, although a little dry for middle school students. Using a variety of sources, Powell traces the history and impact of ice cream while adding her own personal experiences as well as recipes to the narrative. I enjoyed it, but wished that it had more pictures. There are a few, but they are random, and this could be much more appealing if it included pictures of 1950s ice cream parlors and soda jerks, which are described but would still be hard to visualize for younger students.

Also read Limb's Girl, Almost 15, Flirting for England. I hadn't like the first in the series, although I felt I should have. The new one has a great title, but I felt left out while reading the book-- I didn't quite follow the huge cast of characters, and things seemed like an inside joke. Fantastic cover, and I should have liked it. Of course, I am also in the process of taking titles that I did like OFF my lists to purchase because there won't be enough money for everything next year.

Lastly, a bit of news-- Rick Riordan's Battle of the Labyrinth is an "embargoed" title. This means that even if one got out to the dreaded mall area over the weekend, the book store can't sell you the book because then Hyperion can cease supplying them. Sigh. A bit silly, but there you are.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Korman's Swindle

Gordon Korman is my "go to" author when I have a boy who wants a funny book. Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag, Don't Care High, The 6th Grade Nickname Game, and the more recent Schooled, Born to Rock and Son of the Mob books are all brilliant. Innovative, funny, easy to sell in one sentence. I usually have at least two copies of his titles, and have been known to threaten students lest they lose the out-of-print titles.

That said, Swindle didn't do anything for me. It was fine-- funny and well-paced with decent characters-- but too young for middle school. Also, I haven't had anyone who wants to read about baseball cards at all. This read a little too much like a 1980s title for me, something I had read before.

Mr. Korman's web site mentions two books that are coming out before too long-- The Juvie Three and The 39 Clues series, the first book of which is being written by Rick Riordan (whose fourth book, The Battle for the Labyrinth, comes out on Tuesday, although I know one teacher who already scored a copy!). I'll look forward to those, but will pass on this one.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What my REALLY reluctant 4th grader is reading

There are no good books in the WORLD. Nothing. They are all BORING.

Thank goodness for Dietlof Reiche's I, Freddy series. I have not read these; they seem a little young for my middle school library, and we all know how I dislike talking animals, although 4th Grader assures me that "it's not like they talk to the humans or anything."

Must admit, I am almost tempted to read these, given the description (from Follett) of Freddy in Peril: "A cat, two guinea pigs, and a colony of brave sewer rats band together in order to save Freddy, a golden hamster, from an evil scientist who's discovered that Freddy can read and write, and plans to hamster-nap him in order to dissect his brain."

The cobbler's children have no shoes, isn't that the saying? I'm just glad that my daughter loves these. We're donating a set to her elementary school library, I am so grateful. Since this author is German, here's a challenge:
http://www.dietlof-reiche.de/
 
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