Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comment Challenge/Happy Thanksgiving!

Please visit Mother Reader to see how the comment challenge wraps up. This was a really great idea, and I learned much about the variety of blogs out there and had nice things said about me by Teacher Ninjas, which I needed. When I get back to an internet connection not powered by hamsters on wheels, the blog roll will be updated.

Will not post again until Monday, December 1 because of said hamster wheel problem AND the fact that I become immediately fascinating to whining teenagers whenever I am near the computer.

Also, I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.

Really.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gertrude Chandler Warner

Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children (1942) was one of my favorites when I was very young, so I was not surprised to find out that Ms. Warner taught first grade for a very long time. The book is very easy to read, but is not as short as emergent reader books tend to be today, which is probably one of the reason I liked it!

That, and what child wouldn't like the story of four children surviving on their own? They live in a boxcar, find dishes and furnishings at the dump, and the older brother mows yards for people to get them money for lots of bread and milk. When this was first published, there were complaints that the children were enjoying themselves too much without adult supervision.

Surprise Island and The Yellow House Mystery are the second and third books in the series. Ms. Warner wrote 19, and then The Albert Whitman Company continued the series for a very long time. While the mysteries are okay, they lose a lot of their charm for me because the grandfather, who adopts the children, makes everything immediately possible, even though there is still a lot of time that the children are on their own. (Really? Sending a 16,14, 12 and 7 year olds to an island with just a caretaker to watch them?) They are also still really , really interested in dishes, and still eat a lot of bread and milk.

These are books that just are not the same to read when one is not about eight years old. Sigh.

Some Wallaces

Barbara Brooks Wallace does such fun books. Peppermints in the Parlor is one that I love to recommend for mystery lovers. Read Cousins in the Castle last night, and enjoyed that. Amelia is sent on a ship from London to New York after her father's death with an uncaring cousin, becomes separated from the woman and involved in intrigues. She is kidnapped, her clothes are taken, and she is left to survive on the street. Luckily, with the help of a boy she met on the ship who is involved in the theater, she finds her family. This had a very The Little Princess feel to it, thanks to the Victorian setting. I am looking forward to more titles.

Bill Wallace does a lot of animal books, and the students love them, but Snot Stew came perilously close to "talking animals" for my taste. (They don't talk, but the book is from the perspective of two kittens who are taken into a house and have some trouble adjusting. Sigh.) I am looking forward to reading the more historical fiction from this author.

Rich Wallace is usually my go-to guy for sports books, but Shots on Goal didn't do much for me. Maybe it was the kids drinking. Very attractive when the girl threw up and then the boy kissed her. Eh. I'll stick to his other titles.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trip to the public library

The nice thing about getting out is that I choose books by their covers. That can also be a bad thing! I did pick up a lot of titles that didn't meet my library's needs.

The best thing I read was Peg Kehret's Stolen Children, even though it was vaguely reminiscent of a Beany Malone plot line. This author's Abduction! is very popular, so this story of a girl who is babysitting a young child who gets kidnapped will go over well. Not as much mystery as suspense and survival tale, this has all of the things that make Kehret popular--smooth and understandable writing, well-developed plot, and amusing characters.

The rest of the titles I read weren't quite what I needed. Konigsberg Out of the Pocket was a good football book, but centered mainly on the high school main character coming out as gay. Well done, but perhaps more of a high school title.

Wanted to like Dent's Diary of a Chav, but the cover gave it away as rather vulgar. Sue Limb's Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl was another rare English title that didn't catch my fancy.

Tharp's Spectacular Now had a great title and cover, but it was about a boy who spent most of his time either drunk or high. Nope. (Excellent review of this title at Oops...Wrong Cookie.)McNamee's Bonechiller didn't live up to the expectations I had after Acceleration, which is about the best mystery ever. Jones' Stolen Car just didn't grab me, and while Ferraiolo's The Big Splash amused me, I already have The Half Moon Investigators and the Chet Gecko Mysteries written in a film noir style. Just not big among the students.

Biggest disappointment was Phyllis Reynold Naylor's Cricket Man. From Follett: Kenny secretly calls himself "Cricket Man" after a summer of rescuing creatures from his family's pool, which gives him more self-confidence and an urge to be a hero, especially for his depressed sixteen-year-old neighbor, Jodie. An odd offering from an author I usually like.

From the school library stacks: Ruth White's Belle Prater's Boy, one of those award winners that hasn't been checked out since 2003. A decent enough story, about a boy who goes to live with quirky Southern relatives after his mother runs off. Life lessons are learned, secrets are revealed, and he comes to grips with his abandonment.

Bill Wallace's A Dog Called Kitty was a nice story about a boy who was afraid of dogs raising an abandoned puppy and coming to care for him, until the dog is killed rather randomly. Ferrets in the Bedroom, Lizards in the Fridge was much less sad-- girl has some trouble at school because her father keeps so many animals at home, but when he takes the animals to the lab, she realizes that she likes having them around, and they aren't really the cause of her problems. Many funny moments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Accelerated Reader Smackdown Continues

The benefit to this is that I have neglected my reading deathmarch through the stacks, so I am finishing this off and plan to read (*gasp*) The Silmarillion over Thanksgiving. Apologies for the lack of new titles.

Taylor, Mildred. The Trees. In the 1930's south, an African American family's woods are threatened by white men who think they can take advantage of them. These shorter titles from Taylor are good for reluctant readers who need historical fiction. (Solid Gold Cadillac, The Friendship, The Well, etc.)

Tripp, Valerie. Samantha Saves the Day, Changes for Samantha. These American Girl titles actually have a lot of good historical information and are easy to get through. I would think that the interest level is more emergent readers, but again, if reluctant readers need historical fiction, these are great. I like Molly best.

Uchida, Yoshiko. Jar of Dreams. Rinko's aunt Waka visits from Japan for the summer, and the family is glad of her help during the difficult financial times of 1930s Berkeley. When Rinko's mother decides to start a home laundry, she enrages the bigoted owner of another nearby laundry, and the family must pull together to fight him.

Van Draanen, Wendelin. Shredderman: Attack of the Tagger, Meet the Gecko. Nelson has a Shredderman web site which he uses to expose evil doing in his school and town. These are fun, since this gives him a lot of power. He does start out as geeky, but he is just an ordinary kid who takes control of situations with a lot of thought. Mainly for reluctant middle schoolers or 3rd graders, but I enjoyed them.

Wallace, Rich. Double Fake. Calvin and Zero join a summer soccer league and learn to play the game, but struggle with being bested by two girls whom they find attractive. Complete listing of these titles on this blog on January 29, 2008. A must for any middle school library.

Bergen, Lara. Confessions of a Bitter Secret Santa. A Scholastic Candy Apple Book. Reviewed The Accidental Cheerleader on May 31, 2007. This one was okay, but not quite as good. These are my younger daughter's favorites and wildly popular with the 6th grade girls. I finally broke down and am shelving them all under Candy Apple.

After my upcoming winter break hiatus (slow internet connection at home), I promise more NEW titles.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

If you have a lot of computer savvy students who also like to read, this would be an excellent book for your collection. Marcus, who has always found a way around most school and parent controls through technology, uses his skills to regain som eprivacy and freedom after Homeland Security makes life difficult in the wake of a terrorist attack. Rich in all manner of computer lingo and hacking descriptions, this also has action, adventure, and a stick-it-to-the-man sort of vibe. That said, I couldn't finish this book and don't think I'll buy it for my library. It's very long and very technical, and my fantasy/sci fi fans usually run more to dragons. It would be fine for a middle school (the language and situations were okay as far as I read), but I fear the Summerland Effect-- it would get checked out only once a year.

Also read Wood's When Pigs Fly from 1995 which was okay. Girl's family falls on hard times and moves to farm. Sister has Down's Syndrome, best friend has uncaring parents and starts drinking, and neighbor boy's father has burned down house and fled, leaving the boy to live in a cave and earn his living selling at a flea market. How is this in print while Jason and the Gorgon's Blood is not?



One might ask the same qustion of Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World by Mildred Pitts Walter. This actually won the Coretta Scott King award in about 1986. An okay tale of a boy bonding with his grandfather, but a good half of the book is about the boy learning to cook and clean his room. No joke. I can't think that this would be interesting to any preteen boy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jason and the Gorgon's Blood

Have been shamelessly promoting this book on the basis of having read two other titles by Yomen and Harris (Atalnta and the Arcadian Beast and Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons) and was not disappointed when I read this one. It follows Jason, son of Aeson and the real heir to the throne of Ioclus who has been raised by the centaur Chiron. When other centaurs beat up Chiron and steal two jars of gorgon's blood, Jason and his companions (include his evil cousins, the princes) must go across the mountains to retrieve them. There's a fair amount about leading and following, being good people, etc., but mainly it is fighting and roaming about the Greek countryside trying to cross chasms, with narrow escapes. Next, I need to read Odysseus and the Serpent Maze. If your library does not have these, buy all of them!

Theodore Taylor's Billy the Kid was also full of chases and gun battles, but made Billy a nicer character than the real one. For fan's of Gary Paulsen's Mr. Tucket series and anyone who likes Westerns. Doesn't seem to be a popular theme anymore.


Also read Rich Wallace's Fast Company, Betty Ren Wright's The Dollhouse Murders, and Valerie Tripp's Happy Birthday, Samantha. Could not get into Gray's Evernight because it was more vampires, although my 9thgrader liked it and I will probably buy it. Klein's Two Girls of Gettysburg was a bit long for the students who need historical fiction, so I may pass.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soldier X by Don Wulffson

I'm not a big fan of war books, but there are some boys who want to read nothing else. This 2001 title combines many good elements that make this a great read for your WWII obsessed boys.

Erik is only 16 when he is conscripted into the German army. He's not thrilled, because his grandparents are Russian. He gets sent to the front, and there is some rather graphic fighting. The sad conditions of war are all described-- the filth, the cold and damp, the battles that cause young boys to lose their lives. During one of these battles, Erik is badly injured and trapped under a tank with a dead Russian soldier-- he changes uniforms with him and emerges, pretending to be Russian but have amnesia. He ends up working in the hospital where he is treated, and escaping with one of the nurses when the fighting stops.

This was really fabulous for the idea that people are people, regardless of their country. At one point, Erik kills a German soldier who has opened fire on him in order to save his Russian companions. Things are not black and white during a war. The fighting in this book is not glorified.

I had a very dear friend who fought in the Wehrmacht. He didn't want to, but he had to. This gives some insight as to what he must have felt. This book is based on true stories of two people.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I am officially the last person to read this! It is certainly a title worth buying, but I wasn't as thrilled about it as most people have been. Too many dystopian titles lately, perhaps!

Katniss has been taking care of her family since her father's death, hunting and gathering food in the forest, although this is forbidden. At the yearly reaping, however, she is chosed to be a tribute for her community and fight in the annual Hunger Games, a combination of reality tv program and government population control. The other tribute from her community is Peeta, a boy she doesn't know well, but has had positive dealings with. They must both fight to survive, and only one of them can win.

While I didn't quite understand why this futuristic society had crumbled so far-- there is a little discussion, but not enough. Why the Hunger Games? How can Kat's family afford a tv if there is no food? There were a lot of unanswered questions, but they will probably be addressed in book two. I would have prefered a stand-alone title, but students do like series.

On the positive side, the action/adventure/survival was quite riveting, once the games began. I liked Kat and Peeta, and felt that they both matured and learned something. A lot of good discussion about human nature. This will be a popular title, and it has already been suggested for a school book club.

Feel compelled to list other reviews, since mine is rather luke-warm and not specific!

Becky's Books
Fuse #8
YA New York
Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs
Winfield Public Library

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What I read during book fair.

The morning was a little slow (conferences were going on) and I was able to read these all before lunch and also take AR tests. I won't describe these; there are too many. This is the only day of work ever where I have been able to read! I now have about 175 points. It's become a Reading Smack Down!

  1. Fritz, Jean. Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  2. "" .George Washington's Breakfast
  3. Slote, My Robot Buddy
  4. Turner. Nettie's Trip South
  5. Tripp. Changes for Molly
  6. "". Happy Birthday for Molly
  7. "". Molly Saves the Day
  8. "". Molly Learns a Lesson
  9. Willner-Pardo. Spider Storch's Musics Mess,
  10. "". Spider Storch's Fumbled Field Trip
  11. "". Spider Storch's, Teacher Torture
  12. "". Spider Storch's Carpool Catastrophe
  13. van Leeuwen. Amanda Pig on Her Own,
  14. "". Oliver Pig at School
  15. Warner. Sweet and Sour Lily
  16. Wetterer. Kate Shelly and the Midnight Express
  17. Behind the Scenes at a Movie
  18. Sneakers
  19. Sneakers: From Start to Finish
  20. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Growing Up
  21. Tut's Mummy Lost and Found
  22. Pompeii: Buried Alive

(Overall, I have a 94% average, so I do miss some questions! On the last book, I got 8 out of ten, which is sad, because I taught Pompeii, and the level on the book was 2.9! Just shows that you have to pay attention!)

Yoshiko Uchida

I am sorry to report that this author died in 1992. Uchida has a large body of work, some of it biographical. Her family spent time in the Topaz internment camp during World War II, and Journey Home (1978) is somewhat autobiographical, since it follows some of the same paths that Uchida's family's own experiences did. Yuki's family has been released from Topaz, but instead of returning to California, they must live in Salt Lake City, because anyone of Japanese descent is forbidden to live on the west coast. Eventually, they are able to move back to their own home town and work, along with other Japanese Americans, to rebuild their lives. This was especially interesting, since there are some books about the internment camps, but I have read nothing about the aftermath.

Below follows the books that I have in my library on this topic, which is a very good one to add to the study of World War II. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a much better list at
http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/diversity/asian_am/japanese_am/nihon_WWII.html

Denenberg, Barry. The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559 Mirror Lake Internment Camp (1999)
Garrigue, Sheila The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito (1999?)

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manazar (1974)

Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower (2006)

Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine (2002)

More resources are available at:

http://www.children-of-the-camps.org/resources/books.html

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Man That Corrputed Hadleyburg, etc.

Given the title of this Mark Twain work, I feel a little better that it's not Boys WHO Bite. This short story is in book form, with a healthy 3 AR points. The reading level is 7.9, so I am going to use it frequently for my students who don't want to read anything on a level 5.0. This was a little difficult for me to get through, and it will be interesting to see what students think. Hadleyburg has a reputation of a town of high morals and values, but after being treated badly by a resident, a man sends a sack of gold to the town, and instructions on how it is to be awarded. He then sends letters to the top 19 citizens to tell them how to get the award; deceit and devastation result. Fine for students who want some Literature.

Elizabeth Van Steenwyk's Three Dog Winter (1987) was a good sled dog book that gave in to the 80's trend toward problems and involves step-brothers learning to get along while racing. Decent length, decent cover, and has circulated steadily. Have a couple of students in mind for it.

Ann Warren Turner's Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson (2003) was rather enjoyable and had a lot of good details about life in the colonies. Prudence's family supports the king, which doesn't make them popular. Along with the every day occurences such as chores, sickness and schooling, politics and history of the time are covered in an instructive but enjoyable way.

Stolarz's Project 17 looked good (students spend the night making a film in a deserted insane asylum before it is torn down). It was told from different points of view, like Teri Fields' Hold Up, which I liked, but I didn't like any of the characters. That, and the first few chapters involved students making tuna salad and talking to a guidance conselour, which I'm afraid fall into the "this didn't capture my attention" category. May have to take a look at this again; it's book fair week and I am a little weary.

Small Rant on Newbery Awards

I've taken up Mother Reader on the blog comment challenge, and have found some very interesting blogs! Here is an article close to my heart, entitled Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? by Anita Silvey. She points out all of the faults of the latest Newbery winners exactly as I have seen them. The big trouble with awards is that people do use them to foist books on children that children do not enjoy.

The most important thing about getting books to young readers is to provide them with materials they like so that they keep reading. So many times, students HAVE to read so many things that they don't enjoy that they start to feel that they don't enjoy reading itself. The top single reason that students don't enjoy books are that they are boring. Nothing happens. A book can be well-written and contain an explosion in the first chapter; children will like this. It can be well-written and contain introspective navel-gazing; children will not like this. Is Rick Riordan's prose perfect? No. Is it well-crafted, funny, fast-pacing and engaging? Yes! The same is true of Anthony Horowitz. If the next Alex Rider book were to deal more with Alex's conflicted feelings for his father, discussed at length while staring at the sea in Cornwall rather than a spy mission to Africa, it would win awards.

There are lots of books that are both beautifully writtten, literary AND appeal to children. They may be hard to find, but that is the sort of thing that needs to be an award winner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Taking on the "T" authors

Marc Talbert's Pillow of Clouds (1991) is very beautifully written (the main character has some poetry in the book, so clearly this is an interest of the author) and a heart wrenching story of a boy torn between staying with his father in New Mexico and going back to his unhappy mother in Iowa. It's not dated, but definitely of the late 89s school of problem novels. The trend now seems to be more toward action and adventure. Still, come February whe all of my students want to be depressed, this will circulate.

Theodore Taylor's The Bomb (1995) was really interesting historical fiction. Set in the Bikini Atoll, it follows one boy there from the Japanese occupation, liberation, and the setting up of an atomic bomb test site by the Americans. I have about ten boys who love all things concerning WWII who will find this facet of the war something that they have not seen. Taylor was stationed on one of the ships mentioned in the book, and the experience stayed with him for fifty years before he wrote this.

Taylor's Sniper (1989) is a good mystery for boys who also like action, adventure, and big, dangerous animals. Ben's parents are away from their large cat sanctuary when someone starts shooting at the cats, eventually setting fire near the enclosure. Ben, whose parents think he is mediocre, tries to deal with the situation himself, eventually figuring out who is responsible and helping the authorities catch the person. Very good.

Stephanie Tolan's Who's There (1994) is a great evil ghost story. I just wish I'd read it before the big mystery units were assigned! Drew and Evan go to live with an unknown aunt and grandfather after the death of their parents, and find a ghost. It turns out to be the aunt's step mother AND brother, and a lot of family secrets are unveiled. Spooky cold, overwhelming rose smells-- lots of good ghostly details.

I am trying very hard to complete Mother Reader's challenge of posting on five blogs a day. I tend only to comment on blogs listed in my own blog roll, so I am trying to post on five new blogs a day. As long as this can be 15 blogs one day and none on the weekends, I am good. It's helpful to discover new (to me) readers of YA books!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Accelerated Reader Gives Me Nightmares

The contest continues, and I am woefully behind, since I have to read new books before I buy them. Still, I had been dragging my ffeet on reading my way through the collection, so I picked up some AR books and soldiered on.

The Shining Company(1990), by Rosemary Sutcliffe, was actually pretty good. Prosper and his servant Conn are chosen as shield bearers and go on the war trail. Less description and more fighting than most Sutcliffe, and I liked the main characters.

I, Juan de Pareja (1965) by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, about a slave in Spain in the 1600s who worked for an artist. It was very rich with details of the time, but it would take a huge fan of historical fiction to get through this. I like historical fiction, so enjoyed it.

Colin Thiele's Jodie's Journey (1990) was a little bit of adventure and a lot of problems. It is a very good description of a girl's struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, something from which Thiele himself suffers. This will circulate.

Theodore Taylor's Timothy of the Cay (1993) is something I had not read. By "A prequel -Sequel", he means that he tells the story of Timothy up until the time is gets stuck on the island, and the story of Phillip after he is rescued. I understand why the students who enjoy reading The Cay (1969) enjoy this.

Trumpet of the Swan (1970), by E.B. White was something that I read in the 3rd grade. Since it's been a few years (um, 34?) I thought rereading it would be good. I think I like this one even better than Charlotte's Web.

Stefanie Tolan's Plague Year (1990) and Save Halloween!(1993) were both good, but indicative of the time they were written-- the late 80s and early 90s seemed to love a new problem. Plague Year is about a boy who transfers to a new school and has a hard time , first because of his long hair and earring, and then because of a dark secret from his past. Save Halloween! is about a girl who is enjoying her school's research/pageant into the orgins and new meanings of Halloween when her evangelistic uncle comes to town and tries to stop all celebrations of "Satan's Holiday". Good, but more depressing the most students seem to want.

Whew. Now I have to go take the AR tests.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I'm officially the last YA librarian in the world to read this book, and I must say I was underwhelmed. My predominate opinion is that this is an adult book, not one for middle school students. Yes, there is an overuse of the f-word, but that's not my main objection. It's kind of boring. Yes, adults may find the voice of the mildly autistic main character interesting, but he makes so many random comments that I got annoyed. Also, the main plot is that a neighbor's dog is killed, he investigates even though his father tells him not to, and in the process finds that his mother has not died, as his father told him, but has had an affair with a neighbor and run off with him. Well-written, intriguing in a number of ways, but of limited interest to the vast majority of middle school students.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sydney Taylor

I read The All-of-a-Kind Family as a child, and enjoyed it. It was worth rereading-- there is a class reading historical fiction, and this was just cuch fun. How could I not like it-- the whole first chapter is about how Sarah takes responsibility for her lost library book. Each chapter covers a different facet of family life in a New York tenement in 1912. The family is depicted as struggling a bit, but each of the five sisters gets a penny a day in allowance, which seems well-to-do to me. I was fascinated with the description of Jewish holidays and practices as a child, and there is a Sydney Taylor Book Award given for Jewish children's literature now. I wish I had the rest of the series, but they seem hard to find. I would just like to read them myself!

Found this while looking for information on Sydney Taylor; this was an interesting virtual tour of a tenement apartment at the time:
http://www.tenement.org/

Kate Thompson's Switchers

This is why I am reading all the fiction books in my library. Never having read Kate Thompson's trilogy (Switchers, 1998; Midnight's Choice, 1999; and Wild Blood, 2000), I was recommending it to students who liked vampire fiction. No idea even why. Thus, it was a surprise when Switchers opened with a girl changing into a squirrel and frolicking with the other squirrels, gathering nuts. She then meets Kevin, a boy who can shape-change, and the two of them travel to arctic climes to defeat the krools-- large, amorphous creatures who are threatening to turn the whole world to ice.

In Midnight's Choice, there is a boy who has shape-changed into a vampire, and lots of talking rats. It was a long day, so between the rat dialect and the blood drinking, I didn't pay very close attention, although I did like the battle between the phoenix and the vampire. Students will like this one, and can probably read it without having read the first one.

Wild Blood had about as much rat dialogue, but I liked it a little better. Tess goes to visit her cousins in a remote part of Ireland, and when they go missing, Kevin tries to help her find them. There were some shades of Thompson's latest series, The New Policeman, in that Tír na n'Óg and fairies play a large part in this one. In all, this was not quite what I was expecting, but I know just the students to hand these books to this morning! The sad news is that if you don't have these in your library, they seem to be out of print.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Storm: The Ghost Machine and assorted AR books

E.L. Young is to be commended for integrating science and technology into great action/adventure books. The group from STORM is back, as technologically savvy and slightly geeky as ever, but the really cool thing about them is that even though they are young, they can go to Venice at a moment's notice to help an Italian girl whose family heirloom has been stolen... by a ghost. With the help of a semi-robotic rat, lots of money, and fearless spirit, they uncover a criminal mastermind and save the day. Like Storm: The Infinity Code, the plot is tight and fast-paced, the characters are likable (and other than their freakishly good technological capabilities, don't seem geeky to me) and the writing is exciting, but the best part is really the gadgets. A student asked me if this was science fiction, and I had to reply that is was fiction with science, but not really futuristic, because Young uses technology that is either around or almost around. Great fun, and Alex Rider fans are liking these.

One of our teachers is challenging students to an Accelerated Reader points contest, which is a great idea, and it's such a fabulous thing that the students see adults reading, but it makes me want to sob gently into my sleeve. I do take AR tests, but they aren't my favorite thing, because the new books I read don't have tests. Back to the "S" and "T" authors in my own library.

Thomas, Jane Resh. The Comeback Dog (1981) (level 6, 1 point)--Daniel is still grieving his dog Captain when Lady shows up hurt in a ditch. He nurses her back to life, but she has been so abused that she doesn't trust him and runs away. When she runs into trouble, however, she comes back. This is a very, very short book. Fans of animal fiction will like it.

Taylor, Mildred. Mississippi Bridge (1987)(Level 4.8, 1 point)-- It's a rainy day, and people are catching the bus at the general store. Racial tensions run high-- Josiah claims to have a job, and the white men at the store don't think that black people should earn more money than they do, especially since the Depression is on. The bus driver makes the black people get off the bus in the rain to let more white people on, and then the bus plunges into the river, killing several of the passengers. Again, very short, but a good historical portrait of a time that has passed.

Thesman, Jean. When the Road Ends. (1992) (Level 6.9, 7 points) Horrible cover, but a good problem novel about foster children who are sent to a cabin for the summer with a woman who is recovering from a car accident. The woman hired to help them runs off, and they try to survive on their own so that the children are not sent to new foster homes. Now that I know about this one, I think it will circulate more.

Webster, Jean. Daddy-Long-Legs (1912)Level 7, 6 points). An orphan girl is sent to college by a college trustee and is instructed to write to him, although he doesn't write back. She joins the social whirl of college, makes friends, and becomes an accomplished writer. She also becomes acquainted with a wealthy young man, whom I suspected early on was in fact the trustee. The movie with Fred Astaire (age 56) and Leslie Caron(age 21) is creepy, but in the book the age difference seems to be less than ten years, and is just a good story about college 100 years ago.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett's family lives in a vintage hotel in New York City, but they aren't rich-- they have run the hotel for generations, and it has fallen on hard times. Scarlett's older sister is trying to help out by working in a department store, and is dating a wealthy boy. Her brother is trying to make it as an actor. Her younger sister is annoying-- but has battled cancer, so is spoiled. Combine these characters with an odd but appealing hotel guest, let them decide to "put on a show!", and you have a satisfying urban tale worthy of Johnson. The parents, whom one would think might do something to help the hotel fare better, are oddly transparent and the ending a bit predictable, but this was quite fun. Better than Girl at Sea, but not up to the incomparable 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Definitely buy if you have a fan base.

Mitchell's The Roman Conspiracy was clearly written by a graduate student. It tried a little too hard to tie historical events into the book, and was dry. Another disappointing classically themed book was Halam's Snakehead. It follows Perseus and Danae when they are working in a taverna, but was somehow confusing and seemed to start in media res. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that there are now so many books set in Ancient Greece and Rome that I can be picky?

Balliet's The Calder Game followed the same lines as the previous books, Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3. Very complex, with puzzles and clues and a lot of thought. I am debating, as students run either hot or cold on these titles.

Murdock's Princess Ben just didn't grab me. There must be something about this author's style that doesn't appeal to me, because I didn't like Dairy Queen either, and this seems to be universally revered. The same holds true of Jenkins, whose Night Road started off with not one, but two scenes of vampires vomiting blood. Ew. Even my daughter, the big Twilight fan, didn't get into this one, and we both had trouble with Repossessed as well.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Lot of Books

Made it to the library by myself, and checked out a lot of good books, many of which really don't meet my needs. One that I will buy is Maya Snow's The Sisters of the Sword. It is a book that would be good for my many Alanna fans, and help them transistion to a little historical fiction. Kimi and Hana are the daughters of a wealthy lord, nut they are allowed to run and train with their brothers. This is a good thing when their father is killed by their uncle, and the girls run away and end up at the dojo where their cousin is training. Disguising themselves as boys, they work as servants and quickly show their worth to train to be samurai. Admittedly, this took some suspension of disbelief, but I did enjoy it tremendously, and there aren't a lot of samurai books around.

May buy LeZotte's T4, a slim novel in verse about a deaf girl during the Holocaust. The 8th grade does a unit on thie every year, and I never have enough books.
Jones' Out of Reach is set in New Zealand and has rock climbing in it, but too much of the novel was about the boy's family problems, and I don't see much call for it.
Nielsen's Word Nerd was fun, but none of my students are going to ask for a book about a geeky boy with a peanut allergy who plays Scrabble with an ex-con. Too bad.
Schumacher's Black Box was the most depressing account of mental illness I have read. If I need a really depressing book, I'll keep it in mind.
Two authors I usually like had books that I don't see circulating well-- Spinner's Damosel, about the Lady of the Lake, and Napoli's The Smile, although I especially enjoyed The Smile.
 
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