Thursday, January 29, 2009
Of course, that's a walk in the park compared to the world in Susan Vaught's Exposed. Loved the tag line on the cover-- "Looking for love in all the wrong chat rooms". That's not what Chan does, though. She knows all the parental rules governing computer use. She goes to approved chat rooms, meets a boy whom she thinks is nice, and slowly and convincingly starts to ignore the rules-- with predictable but no less dire consequences. The way that she starts falling behind on homework, fighting with her friend, and generally being out of sorts is nicely portrayed. This is a title for older students; although there is nothing graphic, there is talk about the fact that Chan was in a relationship with a boy in her school, and she ended up with herpes, and the problems that she has with the boy online are certainly mature-- she posts video of herself without a shirt on in order to make money. Still, a good cautionary tale for students who think that they can handle everything that they do online. My question for the parents would be-- why did the girls have computers in their bedrooms? Made me feel better about our really slow dial up connection!
In honor of the Newbery, I read the 1965 winner, Maia Wojciechowski's Shadow of the Bull. There must have been a MUCH larger interest in bull fighting back then than there is now. It's a decent enough coming of age story. Manolo's father was a premier bullfighter who died when Manolo was very young. People in his village think that he can be as good a bull fighter as his father, and he is groomed to follow the same path, even though he doesn't want to hurt animals. This would be a hard sell-- bullfighting is very mean, and I can't think that students are that interested in it. Times change.
Read The Mystery at the Snowflake Inn, a Boxcar Children book, and was surprised to see that the activities were written by Nancy Krulik, who is now writing her own fun books for middle grade students. Also picked up Vivian Vande Velde's Ghost of a Hanged Man, which is a short if somewhat improbably story of a hanged murderer coming back and taking revenge on the people who convicted him. This will be good, though, for students who leave their Accelerated Reading go for too long-- it's 2 points long but on a 5.1 reading level.
While I liked Liz Kessler's Tail of Emily Windsnap, I wasn't as crazy about Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godmother. Another case of too many similar books. This was like the new Rallison one I didn't care for-- dysfunctional fairy godmother who is unhappy having to help a human. And I hate to negatively review Peter David two days in a row, especially since his books are interesting and well-writte, but they just aren't what my students are requesting. Tigerheart was an intriguing Peter Pan-type story, but both the lyrical, archaic quality of the prose and the direction of the narrative make this more of a tale for grownups who liked Peter Pan. Also, there have been other Pan reworkings lately-- from McCaughrean to Barry and Pearson.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
This has some potential to be great fun, and there are some illustrations in the book by a comic book artist. However, children who pick this up because they like comics or think the book will be amusing will be disappointed. Josh has some serious mental health issues going on-- he is often deluded that he IS Mascot and behaves accordingly, which causes the school to contact social services, because Josh's mother, who is recently divorced and struggling, does not treat the problem seriously enough.
This would be fine if this looked like a problem novel from the onset. Students who like to pick up problem novels are going to be put off by the format. I did consider buying this, since it could circulate if explained well, but I had issues with the overweight girl in the book (Really? Large Lass? That's a superhero name?) as well as the deus ex machina ending wherein social services arrives but is made to go away because the writer of Captain Major is going to take Josh under his wing. Maybe a purchase for larger libraries, but ultimately I decided to pass.
In case you missed it, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Award this year. I am very surprised, since I bought two copies of this AND the children like it. See? It is possible to have quality books that children actually read. I loved this comment, as reported by The New York Times: "Rose V. Treviño, chairwoman of the Newbery committee, said the popularity of Mr. Gaiman’s novel had nothing to do with its selection. “We chose the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” she said."
We've had this whole discussion several times. I'm just happy.
Receiving honors were The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (I have on reserve at the public library) , Savvy by Ingrid Law (ditto, although it doesn't sound appealing) The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (poems), and After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (which I bought and has circulated better than other Woodson titles).
Monday, January 26, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jamilah, who is Lebanese-Australian, doesn't want peers at school to know her ethnic background, fearing that they will call her a "wog". So, she goes by Jamie, bleaches her hair, and wears blue contacts. She has a crush on an Anglo-Australian boy and hopes to be able to go with him to the 10th grade formal. Things work against her. Her family has it's share of dysfunction-- her mother passed away years ago, her sister is a social activist, and her brother spoiled and unhelpful. Jamilah's father is strict.
Through her youth group, Jamilah is in a Lebanese music band. She enjoys her culture, her family, and all that her ethnic identification entails-- she just doesn't want to share it with others. She gets involved with a boy in a chat room, and shares these details with him. Of course, he is understanding and encourages her to tell her peers; of course, he turns out to be someone who goes to her school.
Although a little predictable, this was a solid novel. While ethnic identity was certainly central to the story, there were other teen problems involved, making it accessible to all students. My only reservations about it are that it is set in Australia (although those details are not as strong as in the first book, it was weird reading about autumn descending in April!), and the plot is a bit convoluted and long. This objection is slight, and I voice it only because many of my Muslim readers are still struggling with English, and it would be nice if they could see themselves in a book that was easier for them to read. Very worthwhile addition to a middle or high school collection.
Did not care for Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill. It follows the children whom the Pied Piper of Hamelin steals into a horrible and violent world from which they must escape. There are some other books about Hamelin, but this is maninly fantasy, and since it wasn't a pleasant world, I didn't want to spend time there.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Service's My Cousin, the Alien struck me as too young as well, but I will run this by some of my readers today. Zach;s cousin has long said that he is an alien prince, and Zack starts to think this may be true. There are lots of goofy science fiction, and the illustrations on this were a bit odd.
Rallison's My Fair Godmother struck me as more of the same as well-- there are a number of dysfunctional fairy godmother stories out there(Meacham's A mid-semester night's dream, Codell's Diary of a Fairy Godmother, Banks' The Fairy Rebel, Bauer's Thwonk). I love this author, and she is very popular with my readers, but I may pass on this one.
Barkley and Helper's Jars of Glass has a cool cover and sounds like the sort of problem novel my readers would like (mother is hospitalized with mental illness, and family, including adopted Russian boy, must cope), but something about the characters did not draw me in.
That was also the problem with Juby's Getting the Girl, which seemed like a humorous/romance book boys would like. ("Sherman investigates the "Defilers", a secret group at his high school that marks certain female tudents as pariahs, at first because he is trying to protect the girl he has a crush on, but later as a matter of principle.") Sherman's voice was not quite right, he was a bit too quirky, and I didn't buy the premise of the "defilers". More of a high school title, I think.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
However, this author and I just don't get along. I don't have people asking for the kinds of books that she writes. Happens sometimes.
And my apologies for lack of postings-- The following equals no book reading: No school because of cold temps, my uncle's funeral, my mother in the hospital, and painting the living room. I have a stack of books to read tonight!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This is a great nonfiction title to have on hand. It is a topic with which children are familiar, and the prose is easy to read and immediately gripping ("Play-Doh began as a product for cleaning wallpaper. The seesaw was first used as a prop in the bloody spectacle in the arenas of Ancient Rome. Long ago there were kites so large that people could be flown on them. Behind every toy there is a story."(page 3) Wulffson also did the excellent Soldier X, which is completely different but also very good.
One thing that I sometimes forget is that many boys are not fiction readers. I have one student now who has finally started to read because I have a set of books on different vehicles. He's finally passed some AR tests and is reading one short book a day. You can bet that I will have Toys! on hand when he stops by to see me today.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Andy's father, a successful lawyer, cannot control his drinking. From time to time, the family stays in the backwoods of Wisconsin, where the father's drinking is supposed to get better, but it doesn't. It falls to Andy to try to rein in the drinking, drive his father places, and cover up for accidents. This does not help Andy's state of mind, which is already fragile, since he is reluctant to take the medications he uses to control his mental illness. At one point, the pressure at home is too much, and Andy takes off into the woods to get away.
Just read the official reviews of this, which included thoughts that it was plodding, dated, overly descriptive, and lacked character development. I just didn't see this. What I liked was Andy, despite his problems, and his perserverance. Even running away is something that he does because he somehow thinks this will help him cope. The father's actions are rather interestingly drawn, and there were friends, acquaintances, and other characters that I thought helped make the whole picture of Andy's struggles clear. Carter's Between a Rock and a Hard Place is almost worn out, and I just requested his Up Country, which I have somehow missed. Worth looking at, but I'm going to process this one right away.
Friday, January 09, 2009
Received Karen Schwabach's The Hope Chest in my blogger exchange from Semicolonblog.com. I really liked the tale of a young girl in 1920 who travels to New York City in search of her sister, who is working as a Suffragist and has been ostracized by the family. Violet finds letters that her sister Chloe has sent her, but which her parents have hidden. When she gets to New York, she finds that Chloe has moved on, but with the help of Myrtle, an orphaned African-American girl, she finds her sister's coworkers and travels to Nashville where she is part of a Suffragist rally. A little written about period of history, and well done.
Erratum. The Other Book. Inkeheart. Endymion Spring. And now David Michael Slater's The Book of Nonsense. Sigh. I am so tired of evil books with controlling powers that I fear I will not do this one justice. Dex and Daphna's mother was killed shortly after their birth, while looking for unusual books. They are being raised by a family friend and their father, who continues their mother's work. Daphna has found a new antiquarian book store and spends a lot of time there-- before she visits with her father when he tries to sell a book he found and emerges from his encounter with the evil Mr. Rash not quite himself. Daphna must go and read for Mr. Rash, who is blind, and starts to uncover an evil plot that involving The First Tongue, a language which, if know in its entirety, can grant the speaker unlimited power. There's a lot of action and adventure; perfectly fine fantasy and I will look into obtaining the other four in the series. (For EFreak, the ISBNs for the book are
ISBN-13: 978-1-933767-00-0 ISBN-10: 1-933767-00-6)
Still, irked by two things. BAD LATIN ALERT: Page 123- Videre per alterum, which is translated as "to see through others". Per takes the accusative, but alterum is both neuter and singular. Alteros is what is needed. People, people. I know I am the only one who will find this error, but I haven't taught Latin for 15 years! Call up a university department of Latin, please. They will be thrilled to help you!
And really? The publisher is Children's Brains are Yummy, and their motto is "Creating the banned books of tomorrow." Okay. The name is disturbing, and the motto somehow ... just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But it's Friday, and I may just be tired and cranky.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Craig and Tom have been friends for a long time. They both like basketball, dislike school, and have parents who irritate them. Unfortunately, Tom's father is an abusive alchoholic, and his behavior keeps getting worse. After Craig is part of an incident that involves a gun going off and accidentally hitting a nearby home, he decides to distance himself from Tom and to do better in school. This is difficult, because of the length of the relationship, and when Tom goes missing, Craig gets drawn even further into his friend's problems.
This was just what I needed yesterday, because one of the language arts teachers assigned a realistic fiction book. To successfully complete the accompanying assignments, these usually have to be problem novels, and the vast majority of these tend to be weepy girl books. Fouling Out is highly readable, fast-paced, and very matter-of-fact about everything-- no hand-wringing in sight. Since it is a paperback, I didn't have to read it, but I got sucked in by the first few pages and had to keep going! Mr. Walters is an elementary school principal, and his writing shows that he knows how students really act. I hope to see more titles from him.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Also loved the cover for Dear Julia, but that was all. The main character was instantly unlikable, and there were too many technical cooking terms for me to care for very long. Here is the description of Elaine, the main character: "She wore a retainer to school. Her blouses were too loose, her slacks too tight, and her jeans cut too high at the waist. She had a tendency to use big words and complicated syntax..." (p. 6) This would just not go over well with my students. Pinot and Prose liked it as a book for foodies.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Monday, January 05, 2009
As part of my on-going interaction with Boys Read! Boys Rule!, I am pleased to bring you my challenge video-- librarian with a light saber. (Schools blocking Google Video, including my own, will not show this clip.) I refuse to burp the alphabet, mainly because I tried and failed. Yes, that's Darth Vader, saying "The force is strong with this one." The boook with which I subdue him is Royce Buckingham's Goblins! An Underearth Adventure.Far and away the best book I read over break is David Gilman's The Devil's Breath. It was absolutely spellbinding, AND is the first in a series-- The Danger Zone.
Max Gordon is a student at a prestigious and demanding quasi-military school when he suddenly becomes the target of an assassin! Why? His father is an international environmental adventurer and advocate who has angered some very powerful people. He's been kidnapped, and it's up to Max to find him. He travels to Namibia, where he must foil the evil Shaka Chang, who has evil intentions for controlling all of the water rights in the area, at the expense of hundreds of indigenous people.
Wow. The plot is demanding, the characters interesting and likeable, and the book a little longer than some action books for middle grade students, so it's perfect for 8th graders who have "read everything". I can't wait until I can get my hands on Ice Claw and Blood Sun! Like Will Hobbs, Gilman has done his research into all of the exotic locations, so reading The Devil's Breath was a great way to travel over break without leaving home! I may have to break with my policy and buy THREE copies of this for the library!