Friday, February 27, 2009

Runewarriors

Runewarriors, by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker, is not going to win any awards, by I am glad that someone gave me a copy. It was quite fun and has already led one of my students to ask for more Viking books. After my bout with Sutcliffe, that was the last thing I wanted to read about, and couldn't think of any more titles, so send those along if you have them!

The book is set in "an ancient and mystical time", which excuses the anachronistic language and thoughts. Dane, whose chieftain father is killed, must save both his village and the girl he loves from the evil actions of Thidrek. In doing so, he and his belching, odiferous companions must defeat off a variety of men and monsters who wish them ill.

The characters were goofy, the plot a bit predictable, but I found myself laughing aloud at lines like "Dane the Insane? Are you realy that backwards, boy? You may as well call yourself "Dane the Idiot Son of an Embarrassed Village Elder!" The other reason that I liked this was that it had a very clear romance, and there are so few of those for boys. The cover has sold it to all of my 8th grade fantasy readers. I feel like I am damning this one with faint praise, but it will be a steady circulator.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

English Titles and a Side Serving of Guilt

A shipment arrived from Baker and Taylor, and there were several books we'd been waiting for. It's irksome when the beginning of a UK series is published in the US, students get hooked, and then they cut us off!

Whytock's Angel: Loving, loathing and Luscious Lunches is the 4th book in the series, and apparently the last one that even Baker and Taylor will send me. Angel, feeling fab from her recent trip to Italy, starts feeling less fab when a girl in her school, Scarlett, keeps undermining her at every chance she gets. She calls her fat, tries to steal her friends, and doesn't help when it turns out that her brother Rhett fancies Angel. Combine this with Angel's chance to meet Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef, and you have a fun book about embracing body image, dealing with difficult people, and delicious food. (Recipes included.)

Cathy Cassidy's Lucky Star is a sequel to Dizzy in the way that Small Steps is the sequel to Holes. Mouse, on his way home from seeing his parole officer, runs into Cat when she accidentally hits a small dog with her bicycle. The two take the dog to the vet and become friends. Mouse lives in a difficult world-- his mother, who formerly abused drugs and had trouble raising him, now helps others get off drugs at Phoenix house, which is burned down by a dealer who lives in the housing estate where Mouse lives. Lucky, the dog, turns out to be owned by this same man, so there are lots of tense moments. Dizzy does turn up, but it is the depiction of Mouse's rough life that will sell students on this book. Cassidy's books, which depict struggling children, are very popular.


While I'm not a huge science fiction fan, I can understand the appeal of James Patterson's books for young adults. In The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, the chapters are all about two pages long, and this does make a big difference! Daniel's parents, who are alien hunters, are killed by a giant
alien/monster/mantis called The Prayer. It falls to him, then, to follow The List, hunt down the most wanted aliens, and save the world. There were some parts that were confusing, especially when Daniel imagines his family is real, but that's not what the book is about. It's about a wonderfull snarky tone, action and adventure, and a fifteen year old wandering about the country fighting aliens.


Now the guilt. I spend a lot of time looking at book reviews, book lists, blogs, author sites and book descriptions during my work day. My job gets done-- I am here for ten hours, spend another three or so at home reading, and never tell a student I'm too busy to help. The books get checked inand shelved, I call parents about overdues, help teachers with projects, have three minute lessons for 20 SSR classes every week, and the library is neat and clean, but I spend a lot of time looking for books.

Somehow, looking for books doesn't feel like I am working! Do other librarians spend a lot of time looking for books, and do you feel guilty about it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Eternal and other titles

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Eternal is about Miranda and her guardian angel, Zachary. When Zachary does not save her from a vampire, he becomes fallen but still tries to save her soul. Miranda becomes the princess of the head vampire and is treated to a life of luxury -- clothes, an endless supply of people to drain of blood in violent ways, and a personal assistant. Zachary gets the job, returns Miranda to a more humane way of living, and in the end, both saves and loses her.

I wanted to like this one, since Tantalize was a good read (albeit one that has rather tefloned out of my brain)and Smith works so hard for the cause of young adult literature. Perhaps this is for older students, but I found the violence unnecessary and disturbingly dispassionate. A lot of heads roll, a lot of bodies are drained, and people are trussed and hung to wait to be killed. My 9th grade daughter's friend was over while I was reading this. They are both huge fans of Twilight, so I read them portions of this until my daughter said "Stop. No, really. I don't want to hear any more. It's just gross." We came to the conclusion that while vampires are intriguing because of the possibility for eternal love, we all like the vampires to be conflicted about taking human life. These weren't. If this were a book for boys, the gratuitous violence would be okay-- they like that (see Darren Shan's Demonata!) We are, however, in the minority on this opinion.
Beam's Can You Spell Revolution just made me angry. When new student Cloud comes to Laverton Middle School, he incites the students to uprise against "tyrannical teachers and their boring busy work." Great: I just spent two days worrying that I was an evil librarian. The students don't have good solutions to problems or understand that the rules are there for their benefit. If this had been tremendously funny or clever, I might be willing to overlook being painted as inherently evil, but I wasn't in the mood.

Rita Garcia-William's Jumped tells the story of three different girls in an inner city school. Leticia is more concerned about her nails than studying, which is why she is assigned to remedial math. Trina loves her art and bounces around school spreading joy (she thinks). Dominique is an angry basketball player whose poor grades are keeping her from the sport she loves. When Trina accidentally invades Dominique's space, Dominique vows to jump her. Leticia hears this but does not warm Trina, with disastrous results. I loved the depiction of the three very different girls, and how they all interacted with their environment. Then I got to page 109 and read about one way that Dominique dealt with disappointment on the basketball team "I was mad and had to do something and mad sex is some good sh**, yo. It's some good, mad sh**." That's really the only objectionable page in the whole book, but it gets worse. If this won't bother you, your students, or their parents, go for it.

Rich Wallace writes such wonderful sports books, so it was fun to have him turn his hand to chess with Perpetual Check. In this slim volume, brothers Randy and Zeke are at a chess tournament and know they will be competing against each other. Their father is very competitive and gives them both a hard time. There is some beer drinking in this one, and lots of mild bad language. My 7th grade son read it quickly and didn't have much of an opinion of it. I loved this author's One Good Punch, but it's been a tough sell, so I will think about this one. It did seem to be geared more toward older students interested in athletics, which is not the profile for my students who would be apt to pick up a book about chess.

Notice how beautifully color coordinated my reading was? I've had a lot of students not have any idea what they want to read this week, so I"ll pick out a good books that match their outfits. You would be surprised how many times this is sucessful!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beyond the Deep Woods


Since I enjoyed Barnaby Grimes so much, I picked up Stewart and Riddell's Beyond the Deep Woods. It has a horrible, Lemony Snicket type binding, and appears to be difficult to get in the hard cover. That's okay. It was nicely written, with good use of language and lots of inventive monsters, places and evil plants that could kill you, but I found Twig's story a little lacking. He finds that the wood troll family who raised him is not his own, so he must leave and go off to find something to do with his life. He runs into many obstacles, which were depicted in interesting ways, but after a while I began to wonder if he would ever get where he was going. He does, and his parentage falls in line a little too neatly. The illustrations were wonderful, and this would no doubt be popular. If I liked it more, I would try to get the series.

Someone gave me a nice hardback copy of B. E. Maxwell's The Faerie Door, and again, the writing was quite fine. Elliot lives in the US in 1964; Victoria lives in England in the 1890s. They each find a faerie ring that allows them to travel through time via magic portals. They get into some scrapes (Victoria ends up working as a maid, which is good for her, because she has her snotty moments), but help the faerie queen defeat the evil Shadow Knight who is trying to close the portals. This was decent fantasy, but may be a hard sell. Maxwell is a fan of Victorian children's fantasy fiction; my students are not. It reminded me of Ruth Arthur's The Saracen Lamp, which I loved but which languished on the shelves. Perhaps the newness of the book will sell it. I have a couple of students in mind, but I'm not entirely sure I would have bought this one.

Looked at Dowell's Shooting the Moon again (reviewed here March 04, 2008), since it got so many rave reviews, and while I enjoyed it, came to the same conclusion-- no one will ask for this one. Thanks to Jennifer at The Jean Little Library who made me feel a little better about my approach to collection development. Now I need to see what The Petal Fairies is about!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Grip of the Shadow Plague and Sucks to Be Me

Brandon Mull's third installment in the Fablehaven series is as much fun as the other titles. Seth and Kendra are still at their grandparents magical preserve, and there is still trouble afoot. Seth, who continues to make bad choices, helps two Satyrs steal gold from the nipsies, and in doing so realizes that the nipsies have turned dark. This is just a sign of things to come-- fairies turn dark, and all is not well at Fablehaven. In the meantime, Kendra travels to a Knights of Dawn meeting, and goes from there to Lost Mesa to retrieve a crucial artifact.

There is lots of adventure, and the characters are all likable despite their flaws. They are the best part-- I love seeing Kendra struggling to use her powers to do what is right, and what needs to be done, even though she would really rather be doing anything else! I must admit to being slightly confused about the plot, since it's been a while since I read the other books, but my 7th grade son kept me in line. Book 4, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary is coming out on March 24th and I will definitely buy that! If you haven't read these, put the first one on your Must Read pile!
Pauley's Sucks to be Me is an excellent vampire novel. Mina's parents are vampires, but she is not, and when the vampire council finds out about her existence, she must attend classes and decide whether or not she wants to become a vampire. Like the wonderful Vampire High, this is handled in a clever but mundane way. The vampire life style is not romanticized-- Mina's father is an accountant, and her mother teaches middle school. I especially loved that one Goth girl in the class is not allowed to become a vampire because she is so negative, and one boy decides not to because the reality does not align with his preconceptions. The fact that Mina's language arts class is studying Dracula also makes for some interesting myth busting. There are other things going on in Mina's life-- a great best friend, boys, prom, and a strange uncle who is responsible for the whole mess which give depth and texture to the story. Given the ending of the book, which I won't spoil, there is bound to be a sequel. I've already bought two copies.
But I am a little irked that I did, for one small and one large reason. First, the small:
(Best friend studying Latin, pg. 40)
"Facio, facere, feci..."
"Fee-cee? Did you just say what I think you said?
"Shhj! Conjugating!"
First, it's FAKE-eee. Secondly, she's listing the principal parts, not conjugating. What have I said? Authors, before you attempt Latin, check it with me! It's been 15 years since I taught it, but I know people. We can get you the help you need. Yes, I know I'm the only one who is bothered by this, but please do not use Latin unless you get it right! In Ecclesiastical Latin, this would be Fay--chee. At the very least, Google it.
I know that my Latin concerns are silly, but the large reason hurt my feelings very much. Page 238 describes Mina's trip to the library and introduces us to "Ms. Reed, the librarian and Study Hall Nazi", who seems very helpful but is described with "If there's one thing she likes better than catching someone doing something they aren't supposed to (italics mine), it's figuring out what book you want." Then, when Mina picks up Teen Pregnancy: Your choices, Dreams and Decisions ("Why the heck do we even have that book in our library? I can only think of one girl who got knocked up this year, and she wasn't exactly much of a reader, if you know what I mean."), Ms. Reed comments on the title aloud and "looks scandalized".
Yes, there are mean librarians out there, and yes, I do have a study hall which I monitor, and I do make them sit quietly. This makes me a Nazi? And even in middle school we have books on drug abuse and teen pregnancy, and I assume that students investigating these subjects come to me because they have a need to know about these matters, not that they are necessarily using drugs or pregnant. Maybe they have a project.
Authors, if you don't get the Latin right, I will make fun of you but quickly forget it. But don't forget the people who buy your books and get them into the hands of students. School librarians. Please treat us kindly, and make it a point to meet enough of us that you don't fall prey to stereotypes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Science Fair

I would love to know what Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's schools did that has them so enamoured of science fairs. Pearson did his turn, taking "Steel" Trapp to the National Science Challenge (see review April 28, 2008), and now the two of them have turned their talents to Hubble Middle School, where Toby discovers that the rich kids are not only cheating on their projects by buying plans and having someone else create the project, but they are also putting the whole US in jeopardy by unwittingly aiding spies from a foreign (and vaguely communistic) country!

Not that Toby really has time to worry about this, since he sold his father's autographed Star Wars laser to a collector who is now blackmailing him for the rest of the collection, following him around town, and generally complicating matters.

Krpshtskan is angry at the US (I won't spoil it) and has decided to use the children at Hubble to bring the US to its knees by harnessing the power of the science fair projects. This is a complicated and delicate process, so of course the two operatives sent to the US become addicted to The Shopping Channel at their hotel.

This is a nutty but dense book. Good readers will enjoy all 390 pages of silliness, which is blissfully free of potty humor. I must admit to being slightly annoyed by it, however: the teachers are all portrayed as being evil and letting the rich children get away with anything, there are far too many nicknames, and children today do not have the same visceral fear of Russian sounding names that children in the 60s and 70s did. And I saw the roller skating Barbie plot device coming, having been a fan of Barry's column.

Will the students care? No. But if you see anyone bringing a 50 gallon vat of Coke to science fair after reading this book, make sure you confiscate the giant Mentos or at least break out your wet suit!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Need and Palace of Mirrors

An absolute must for Twilight fans is Carrie Jones' Need. The cover is very cool; I had to hide it while I made dinner because 9th grader kept trying to take it! I was reluctant to read it because it is about evil pixies and weres (as in werewolves), but it was utterly clever and enthralling.

Zara is devastated by the death of her stepfather, especially since she feels she should have saved him. Traveling to Maine to be with her grandmother, she starts to believe she is being stalked. And she is, by the king of the pixies who must either claim her with a kiss or start killing young boys as "tributes". The story starts out realistically, and Zara must fit into a new school, come to terms with her grief, and settle in with her grandmother, but then she gets involved in this great battle with the pixies, who can be defeated by weres. I won't tell you who they are, but I thought Zara's were was much more appealing than Bella's Jacob. And we only have to hear how hot he is one time! A must buy! I really want to get my hands on Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape!
Can't for the life of me remember anything about Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix even though it's a core novel in 7th grade, but Palace of Mirrors stands on its own, and Ella Brown has a small roll. Cecilia has been raised to believe that she is the true princess, her parents having been killed by evil forces. A pretender, Desmia, is on the throne to keep Cecilia safe. When soldiers hunt Cecilia down, she and her friend Hunter take off for the palace to seek safety. Instead, they are thrown in a tower room and find out that there are 13 girls, all of whom believe they are the true princess! This was a nice medieval princess romp which is also a must have if you have fans of Just Ella. (The two copies I have of this are nearly worn out!)

What life is like when your mother is a librarian-- my poor children spent most of the evening reading the first chapters of books to see if they concurred with my opinions of the following books, because I feared I was just being difficult:

Yee, Lisa. Absolutely Maybe. "When living with her mother, an alcoholic ex-beauty queen, becomes unbearable, almost seventeen-year-old Maybelline "Maybe" Chestnut runs away to California, where she finds work on a taco truck and tries to track down her birth father. " Too quirky, although I generally enjoy this author.

Wollman. Tell Me Who. "Two sixth-grade girls obsessed with fortune telling discover a machine that tells them who they--and anyone else--will marry." Didn't grab me, and 5th grader in particular took a dislike to this one.

Goodman. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. "Sixteen-year-old Eon hopes to become an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune and learn to be its main interpreter, but to do so will require much, including keeping secret that she is a girl." Handed this great cover to an 8th grader who has read every dragon book I have, and he handed it back with utter disgust. Now I know why. Don't start a book with a dragon on the cover with multiple mentions of menstrual cramps. Please.

Bloor. Taken. "In 2036 kidnapping rich children has become an industry, but when thirteen-year-old Charity Meyers is taken and held for ransom, she soon discovers that this particular kidnapping is not what it seems. " I find it hard to like Bloor's writing style, and 7th grader gave up halfway through, which is really rare.

Blackwood. Second Sight. "In Washington, D.C., during the last days of the Civil War, a teenage boy who performs in a mind reading act befriends a clairvoyant girl whose frightening visions foreshadow an assassination plot." Loved Year of the Hangman and wanted to like this, but it was too mystical for a historical novel. I'll try it on some children today, but don't think it's what I need. Generally like Blackwood, too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Books I loved but didn't want to

Sometimes when I read good reviews of the same book over and over, I don't want to read it. I had Kristin Cashore's Graceling on my list, but wasn't looking forward to it. Then my 9th grader brought it home and said "Read it tonight. I want a copy for my birthday." So I had to. And I adored it, just like everyone else!

Katsa, an orphan princess, is living with her uncle the king. Because she has a "grace" (a special power) for killing, she does her uncle's bidding and dispatches his enemies, so that she can stay in the palace. She finally rebels, meets Prince Po, and gets involved in adventures and errands of epic proportion with him.

It's not the plot that makes this so appealing. Yeah, yeah, they save the princess from her evil father. It's the characters. I loved Katsa. She doesn't like her grace. It scares her and those around her. She has decided never to marry, since all men are fearful of her. Po appeals to her because he can ALMOST beat her in a fight. I loved that she, in essence, saved the prince! It's a little alarming at first, how much they like fighting with each other, but they have such a wonderful, honest, flawed relationship that even I, the world's least romantic person, was sucked into it. Is it because Po will be the one folding socks while Katsa rides off to save the kingdom? Could be. (There is one "intimate" scene, but it is done in such a way that younger girls won't quite get what is going on.)

Parallels between this and Pierce's Alanna are inevitable. I was sad when this ended and can't wait to see what Cashore does next. (apparently a prequel, Fire, and then Bitterblue, about the young queen Katsa saves.)

Why didn't I want to read Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell? The fact that The Edge Chronicles are constantly recommended to me while I'm in the middle of disemboweling a VCR by the sort of talkative child who needs to bask in my presence four times a day. Don't they have classes? This series has a horribly bound Lemony Snicket air to it. But after picking up The Return of the Emerald Skull, I may have to read them, too.

In this sequel to Curse of the Night Wolf, Barnaby Grimes, who works as a "tick-tock boy" or messenger, delivers a stuffed parrot to the head of Grassington Hall, then goes about his business. Later, he finds that the boys in the school have revolted and are doing horrible things to the staff, because the bird, an ancient relic containing "the emerald messenger of darkness" has them under its evil spell. Barnaby, with the help of a professor and another messenger, figures this out and saves them.

Again, the plot is okay, but finishes up a bit abruptly (I reread parts, thinking I missed something). It's Barnaby I liked, as well as some top notch turns of phrase. This is worth buying if only for this sentence (pg. 11) "Of course, the most famous school rebellion took place a few years earlier, at Enderby Court College for Young Ladies. The Enderby Amazons defeated Dame Cecily Mandrake and her fifty-strong staff of ex-convicts using croquets mallets and feral cats..."

Good stuff. I'm adding both in the Barnaby Grimes series to my purchase, and will look into the other ones.

Intangibles

It's not just the writing or plot of books that makes them appealing or anathema to middle school students. Sometimes it's covers, although I can sell past those. Tiny print can be a killer. Overly precious turns of phrase. Lack of humor. Huge length can cause the vast majority of students to put it down. Even the best middle school students can be a bit unfocused and impulsive, and even the most avid readers aren't willing to flog through a book that takes five chapters to get going. (Although one of my most reluctant readers loved DuBois Twenty-one Ballooons.)

I can't claim to know all 600 of my students and what they like, but I do try. When I put together lists to purchase, I go through a final time and put a student's name with each book. Yesterday, wanting to order Thirsty but not quite sure about the audience, I tried to do that, and did come up with names. Michael needed it yesterday. Hunter will like it in two years.

There are wonderful books that would see to so few students that I can't use my scant resources to buy them. Sure, if someone wants to send me Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, I'll put it in the collection. I was really enjoying it until I realized "Hmm. This is really beautiful, descriptive writing, but not much is going on. It's too philosophical." Admittedly, I didn't finish. The same is true of Collins' The Traitor Game. Aside from the small print and lack of white space on the page, it starts with boys hanging out, smoking, and casting homophobic aspersions on another boy's character. No. I cried at Willie Morris's My Dog Skip, but it recalls too specific a time and place for any but the most ardent dog lovers to be pulled into. Myers' Amiri and Odette is a picture book, and middle school students don't like to be seen with those, unless it's The Cat in the Hat and they are being silly.

I buy books for the students in my school. The money is limited, so I have to stick to books that either will appeal to a huge number of children or, quite honestly, are so appealing to ME that I will recommend them enthusiastically. My reviews are slanted accordingly.

There are some books about which everyone raves, but I dislike them. Then I feel a bit bad. One of these was Ingrid Law's Savvy. It hit several of my instant dislike buttons: quirky and vaguely Southern. The language was beautiful but odd (pg. 17 "She smelled like Lysol and butterscotch and had her own matching set of rights and wrongs..."), and I finally stopped and thought to myself "Who will read this?" Couldn't come up with anyone. This book will stay in my mind all day, and if I come up with a couple of readers, I may purchase it. But probably not. Here are some people with NICE things to say about the book.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Maw Books Blog
Kinnelon Teen Library Blog
Random Wonder

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vampires Everywhere!

First, M.T. Anderson's Thirsty, from 1997. Look at the difference updated cover art can make. What were they thinking in the 90's? (Cover on right.) I am conflicted about this book. Chris finds out that he is becoming a vampire, and he knows that his society dispatches known vampires quickly and in public with a stake through the heart. He doesn't want to drink blood, so when he is approached to help defeat the vampire lord and save the world, he agrees, but things don't go smoothly. This is a good vampire tale, but a bit old. The language is mild, but there is a lot of it, and there is also a fair amount of drinking and partying. What do other middle school librarians think? Is this a title that you have and your students like?

Later: Of course, going through the day, I did have several students who would have adored Thirsty and been okay with anything marginally objectionable. I did add it to my list.

Otherworldlies, by Jennifer Anne Kogler, was good but confusing. First, the cover art makes it look older and more romantic, and this is certainly something that 6th graders who really don't need to be reading Twilight could pick up. Fern has a lot more problems than her twin brother Sam-- her allergy to the sun, extreme shyness and general social dysfunction make her the target of school bullies. Then, she disappears one day in class and starts to draw the attention of creepy neighbors, a concerned classmate, and all sorts of others. The vampire stuff in this book emerges slowly and is quite different-- there are Greek mythology connections that were a little odd. I liked Fern, I liked the setting. My biggest concern is that readers will expect something different.

Also picked up the story collection Does This Book Make Me Look Fat? It was an interesting read, but again, more of a high school book. Various young adult authors have stories or memoirs about their problems with body image, whether it be too heavy or too light. The interest in eating disorder books seems to have waned in my library. There is a nice bibilography of books concerning body image topics in the back. A worthy buy if you think there is an interest.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Boxcar Children, Traingle Shirtwaist Factory, Etc.


Got distracted from reading Otherworldlies, which I am liking even though the cover is not indicative of the contents. When trying to find a nice anniversary edition of The Boxcar Children, I came across Mary Ellen Ellsworth's Gertrude Chandler Warner and The Boxcar Children, which was nicely done, and written at a level that fans could read. If you are a fan, definitely read this. It really does show a different world-- Chandler taught first grade for 32 years, even though she never graduated from high school. Even after her retirement, children from the school visited her house to hear stories. Chandler died in 1979, having lived all of her life in Putnam, Connecticut, where there is now a museum in her honor.

Elder daughter has a project on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, so the book by Donna Getzinger was helpful for that. It is brief and concise, but full of interesting information about this horrific occurence. The only problem is that this book, from Morgan Reynolds Publishing, costs over $32! For a book that would circulate maybe twice a year, this is an awful lot.

And finally, Anita Silvey's 100 Best Books for Children was very
good. While it covers books for younger students, the lists for middle grades and higher were good ones, and there was interesting background information. This would be particularly good if you hadn't read the books, because the overview would be helpful. Silvey estimates that she has read 125,000 children's books. I imagine that this includes picture books. I have documented almost 3,000 books that I have read just in the last 7 years, so I think it's safe to say that I have read about 7,000 children's books, not counting picture books. My children would make me read about 20 a day when they were small.
Amd, just because it made me happy, this from http://heartsatwirl.com/:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Diamond of Darkhold; lists of books for children

Finally worked my way to the 4th in the City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau. Things are wrapped up neatly, so this must be the end.

Having gotten a mere eight pages of a book entitled "For the People of Em", Doon and Lina want to return to Ember, so take off without telling anyone. When they make their way back, Doon is waylaid by a strange family squatting in Ember, and Lina must find a way to save him. During all of these adventures, they find a blue diamond, which eventually gets broken. SPOILER ALERT: They find more diamonds, and they turn out to be a power source that runs on solar energy. After an initial difficult winter, the people in the new settlement get used to life outside of Ember, and begin to prosper.

This was a fine book, but there were some things that bothered me. The prose seems somehow... inelegant. I don't usually notice these things, but it bothered me with the other books as well. Then there are things that make me cringe: the strange family has adopted names of ancient cities: Scawgow, Washton, Minny-Apple. Then there was the fact that the people couldn't seem to do without resources from Ember, and do sofas really last hundreds of years? I don't think students will notice these things, and the story line certainly is interesting, but it just wasn't my favorite.

Okay. Anita Silvey is all right, even though she is a professor. 500 Great Books for Teens is definitely more of a high school suggestion list; I need to finish off the book on recommendations for children tonight. Still, I did pick up some suggestions, although I have at least looked at most of the books she's mentioned. This is worth a perusal for middle school librarians, because Silvey is good about discussing if there is language, sex, etc. in the books. The one thing that would have helped, however, was to indicate whether the book was fiction or nonfiction.
Another book of suggestions that is worth looking at is Deanna McDaniel's Gentle Reads. Deanna works at another middle school in my district and personally read all of these books. Going from the assumption that good books don't need to be depressing, she assembled these titles that are uplifting. Our tastes differ a bit, ( readers of my blog will know my lowbrow tastes and general dislike of books that are "good for me") but this is a great collection development tool worth delving into.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Too young, too old


It's been a long time since I read the Ron Roy A to Z Mysteries (I think he was only up to 'N'), but my children enjoyed them when they were in the second grade or so. I looked into the Capitol Mysteries because I thought there might be some information on D.C. that might appeal to older students who are struggling with reading. There was a bit, but I think I'll pass, mainly because of the covers. They would be a hard sell in middle school. I imagine every elementary library in the world has these titles, though. My children loved anything in a series and would read one a day. Tracking down all 54 Animorphs books was a challenge!


Had to read a Melvin Beederman book (by Greg Trine) after seeing te title of the newest one: The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants. No denying the appeal of underwear to goofy middle school boys. I read Teror in Tights, and while amusing, it's much too young. It had the same heavy lined drawing style as the Franny K. Stein books and will appeal to the same audience. There would be a few boys who picked this up, but they will have to be placated with Dav Pilkey for now. Terror in Tights did have one disturbing part-- a girl's dog died, and she was sad for chapters, but the end has a "funny" song about the dog being run over. As I adore my own dog, I couldn't take that!

Lisa Papdemetriou writes such a wide variety of books. She came to my attention with an ARC of Sixth-grade glommers, norks, and me, which I lied well enough to buy in hard back. While I didn't buy The wizard, the witch, & two girls from Jersey, it was fun, and my daughter and her friend loved it. Her Candy Apple books circulate well, and she aslo writes a number of novelizations. Drop is definitely a stab at Literature, but I won't be buying it because of the explosion of foul language after page 111. It's too bad, because after the first chapter I was really drawn in by the quirky characters, and I usually hate quirky.
Sanjay, Kat, and Jerrica all have problems. Sanjay is tired of working in his family's grocery store in Las Vegas, and tries to make some money by 'borrowing' from the till and gambling. Kat's mother, a compulsive gambler, is in jail because she ran down a man when she was drunk. Kat is dating a drug dealer. Jerrica is pretty happy with her stepmother but has a lot of anxiety issues in addition to her impressive math skills. When the three try to use Jerrica's probability abilities to rig card games, things spiral out of control. A slim volume, this would be fine in a high school library and would probably do well with reluctant readers. I will keep looking at the offerings from this author.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'll Pass For Your Comrade by Anita Silvey

Part of me wants to hate Anita Silvey, because she has books like 500 Great Books for Teens (which make me bristle for undetermined reasons) and is a self-proclaimed "Children's and Young Adult Book Expert". Then again, part of me adores her because of her article in the fall Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? Today, having read her book about the women who fought in the Civil War, I'll stick with adoring her. It was informative AND fun. The woman knows her stuff. I've put two of her books on reserve at the public library.


I'll Pass For Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War was perfect nonfiction for middle school. Just 100 pages, nicely illustrated, with interesting facts on nearly every page. I quoted half of it to my children while I was reading it. The research had to have been difficult, because of the very nature of women serving in the army-- they had to hide their gender. The lengths to which some of the women went to serve was amazing. The details are quite rich, and even boys who are interested in the Civil War can be persuaded to check this one out because of the descriptions of daily life. Since this is part of our 8th grade curriculum, this is on the very top of my purchase list!

I'm going to pass on Mechling's Dream Girl even though I really enjoyed it. Claire Voyante (Really? What's with all the strange names recently?), whose father is French and whose mother is fairly flaky, has to deal with not only a new school but strange dreams that are made worse when her grandmother gives her a cameo. Perhaps this would be better for high school-- nothing objectionable, it just had a slow, deliberate pace that tends to frustrate middle school students. That, and there's something that disturbs me about the cover.

Got through my final Rosemary Sutcliffe, The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I thought that it would be one to keep, given the subject matter, but it was incredibly dense. I can understand why no one has checked it out in twenty years. It's off to a better place.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Print Resources for Librarians

Imagine the dark days, when dinosaurs walked the earth and there were no computers at all! I can't imagine keeping track of all circulation exclusively with cards, but it was done. The other thing that would be hard was deciding what books to buy using only print catalogs. No peer reviews! No collection development searches through Follett!

That said, I spent some quality time with two PRINT resources over the weekend, and found a ton of titles I have somehow missed. One was the Bound To Stay Bound Book catalog, which was arranged by author but had very nice three or four line synopses of books. You can probably request a copy at www.btsb.com.

The other was from Follett, which has by far the easiest web site to use. They have recently gotten away from huge, all-encompassing catalogs listing everything they have, and publish First Choice about twice a year. While this doesn't have as many titles as Bound To Stay Bound, it has newer titles, as well as the covers of the books. Request a copy at www.titlewave.com, and while you're there, create a user account for yourself. Not only does it have the collection development search, but you can share order lists with other teachers and librarians.

I have a list of about 80 books I've missed and want to read now. Sigh.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A great resource

Finally! A lot of children's and YA blogs all in one place! The complete membership page was very helpful when I need to spend some time looking up new reviews and blogs. (And I'm not just saying that because they put me on the list.) If you have a moment, hop over and take a look.

Let It Snow


No, I don't really want it to snow-- I'm looking forward to the 50 degree weather coming next week. This is a new collaborative title from three popular young adult authors. I bought this unread on the recommendation of Mrs. Hill, who reviewed it, and because I love Maureen Johnson's work. I was not disappointed.

There's a big snow storm, and it causes the intersection of a number of characters. In Johnson's section, Jubilee's parents get arrested in a collectible village riot, so she is sent to her grandparents in Florida. The train gets stuck, she talks at length to Jeb, and the two of them decide to get off and go to the Waffle House nearby. There, she meets Stuart, a boy her age, who suggests that she go to his house to ride out the storm, since his mother would want him to rescue her from the onslaught of cheerleaders who have also descended upon the restaurant. While there, she realizes that her boyfriend, Noah, is ready to break up with her. Luckily, she takes great solace in being around Stuart, and their romance blossoms.

In Green's section, three friends, JP, Tobin, and the Duke (who is a girl), get a call from Keun, who is running Waffle House when the cheerleaders arrive. He tells them to get to the restaurant as soon as they can, and bring Twister. Since there is a lot of snow, this turns into a big and funny production. My favorite line was "A squirrel has more impressive musculature!" During all of this, the Duke chafes at how the boys are treating her, especially since there is some attraction between her and Tobin. The eventually get to the Waffle House where...

In Myracle's section, Jeb is pining for his former girlfriend, Addie, whom he has traveled to see. She, however, is involved in an attempt to obtain a teacup pig for her friend Tegan, with te help of Dorrie. Most of the characters come together at the Waffle House, fun is had by all, damage because of the snow is miminal, and the parents don't seem overly concerned about the whereabouts of the teenagers.

All in all, good fun.
Speaking of fun, I whiled away a Saturday afternoon with Tim Walsh's Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them, which I picked up for $7 at Half Price Books. It might be a little too much information for middle school students (it's 320 pages and almost 5 pounds!), but told a lot of interesting back story. It focused on toys that were invented by individuals instead of corporations, with the exception of the Big Wheel, just because Mr. Walsh enjoyed his so much he had to include it. There is a lot of very apparent love for toys in this, and the developers are given the respect they deserve. This covers Monopoly, Radio Flyer, Legos, Slinky, Barbie, Twister, and a huge number of other toys. I will look forward to the sequel, and when I looked this book up on Amazon, I found a lot of other good books about the history of toys. My own children kept stealing this book from me every time I put it down.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Spooky Books

I've been feeling picky lately. There have been too many books with characters set in Hollywood and/or NY fashion industry, too many evil, interactive books, and too many books set in private schools with nasty girls. (Sorry, The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies. I was almost buying it until the gratuitous f-bombs.) Then, there are the historical novels set in strange, noncurricular time periods (Sorry, Anila's Journey.)

This is why I was so pleased to read two scary/ghost books. I invariably have a display of these up, and many children ask for them. The Graveyard Book has been popular. Starting with a murder never hurts! These two didn't immediately appeal to me, but were so good that I will add them to my list to buy.
Bracegirdle's The Joy of Spooking: Book One-- Fiendish Deeds has rather awful cover art, but a god plot. Joy lives in the decrepit and run down town of Spooking, but goes to school in the more prosperous Darlington. She likes her large, old house, the local bog with quirky inhabitants and strange creatures, and the connection that the location has to E.A. Peugeot, a writer of horror stories. One of these stories, The Bawl of the Bog Monster, seems to be set right in Spooking. However, the bog in which it is set may become the site of the Misty Mermaid Water Park, which citizens of Darlington think will add interest and jobs to the area, and also hasten the demise of Spooking.
Of course, a mystery is involved, and secrets of the past are revealed. I liked Joy, as well as her distracted parents. The villains were fun. What I particularly liked about this one was some of the writing. The first chapter is particularly beautiful, and has one of the greatest descriptions of place that I've read since Bonham's Durango Street. ("Spooking-- the terrible town on the hideous hill.") The other chapters aren't quite as exquisite, which is understandable, but getting a book off to a good start is never a bad thing. I will look forward to book two this summer, and book three in 2010.
Chris Grabenstein's The Crossroads had a lot going on, and while I usually don't have the patience to follow a lot of stories, these were presented in a way that made me think "Ooh. How is that connected to what I just read?" This required some thought, but all of the threads came together in a very intriguing ghost story.
Zack's father has just remarried, but it's okay-- his mother was not a pleasant woman, and died of cancer after an unpleasant battle with it. His new stepmother is a children's author and quite fun and caring. The family moves to North Chester, into a new house on a piece of land with old secrets. It's haunted by an evil spirit who takes over the body of a plumber, and it's up to Zack and his new friend Davy (who may or may not be a ghost!) to rid the area of its evil influences.
There was something especially charming about the fifty year old mystery-- the James Dean type character who ran a bus off the road because of a love triangle, overly the grieving Gerda, who has kept up a memorial to him, and the ghosts of the various people killed in the crash who manifest in a variety of ways. The story comes together slowly, and builds to a suspenseful conclusion. The characters are well developed, and although Zack's father is absent, his step mother is great. There is a sequel in the works, The Hanging Hill, coming out in August.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cynthia Voigt's Bad Girls series

Read all five books during a snow day last week, and rather liked them. Warning: The first book is out of print, and people keep losing my copy of Bad Girls, so I buy one whenever I see it!

Bad Girls: Mikey and Margolo both have their own problems and personality quirks; they aren't bad, just normal 5th graders who get involved in normal, silly problems and scrapes. The first book is fun because almost all the action takes place in the classroom. I felt sorry for the teacher! I didn't feel quite as sorry for Mikey, the "badder" of the two girls; she verged slightly on the obnoxious. Of note: my reluctant 5th grader LOVED this one.

Bad, Badder, Baddest: This takes place mainly at Mikey's house, dealing with her parents, who are divorcing. Margalo's house is chaotic as well, with siblings, half-siblings and stepsiblings, but they don't seem to go there as much.

It's Not Easy Being Bad takes the girls into 7th grade and deals with all of the challenges of fitting into middle school.

Bad Girls in Love is 8th grade and deals with the somewhat more complex social issues faced when boys and girls no longer hate each other.

Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatcha Gonna Do focuses more on the variety of activities that students get involved with in high school, as well as all of the social interation.

Bad descriptions, I know, but I did enjoy the series and how it followed the difference developmental levels of children as they go through school. Well worth a look if you have it on your shelves.

Van Etten's Likely Story

The team of David Levithan, David Ozanich and Chris Van Etten has a winner with this story of a girl whose mother is a long time actress on a soap opera. Since Mallory is tired of the trite lines and ridiculous storylines (Abducted by aliens! Long lost twins!), she writes her own version of a soap opera with more true-to-life characters, blogs about it, and manages to sell the idea to her mother's network. Obviously, there is a lot of fantasy involved in this, but the relationships make the somewhat fluffy story line worth it. Mallory's best friend wants to star in the production, but she's not a great actress. Mallory's boyfriend has a primary girlfriend, and "can't" drop her. Mallory's mother is over the top, and they don't get along well. I noticed that the spine of this has a "1" on it-- I wasn't necessarily expecting a sequel, but am looking forward to Likely Story: Red Carpet Riot and All That Glitters, since this was a "pink" book with a few more serious issues. (Not appealing to everyone (see comment)-- I often find that "pink" books are very much affected by the way I'm feeling on a certain day-- I must have been in the mood for a soap opera book!)

Bill Wallace's Buffalo Gal was a good historical novel set in the early 1900s. Amanda's mother is very interested in saving the buffalo, and travels to the west to do so. They meet up with a half-Native American boy who takes an instant dislike to Amanda but respects her when she almost beats him in a horse race. Lots of adventure, and a little romance, which is good since we have a class where they have to read a romance book, and the boys are complaining!

Another historical novel, this time set during the Depression, was Pieter Van Raven's A Time of Troubles. Roy's father gets out of jail (he was in for setting fire to his workplace), but his mother leaves, because she does not want to deal with the father's alcoholism. Roy and his father are "encouraged" to leave town by the neighbors and take off for California, where they eventually end up in the middle of a labor dispute with other migrant farm workers. This would be great for fans of problem novels who have to read history. It's cursed with bad 1990's cover art, but I am going to hand this to one of my really avid 8th grade readers because it did a nice job of covering one boy's struggle through a difficult period of history.
 
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