Friday, October 30, 2009

Unlikely Love Stories

Gillian Shields' Immortal reminds me of things I've read--I've just can't think what. It starts out with a marvelous description of the boarding school to which Evie is sent when her grandmother becomes ill, and the tone is set for a creepy, Gothic tale of eternal infatuation. Evie is not welcome at the exclusive school, but this doesn't completely dampen her sassy spirit (which is a great contrast to all the gloom), especially when a chance meeting with a handsome young man brightens her world. Nothing is what it seems, however, and there is evil brewing at Wyldcliffe Abbey. Told in alternating chapters of Evie's experiences and a young lady's journal from 1882, this won't see a huge readership, but will hit the spot for certain girls who like Eve Bunting's The Presence, and has such a cool cover that I can probably offer it to Twilight fans.

Warning: It sounds like I didn't like Fire, but I DID. It just confused me a bit, and made me sad for the main character, and I want to go back to the Dells and make sure that Fire is going to be okay, but I can't, because I don't know when Bitterblue is coming out.

Had to wait a while for the sequel to Graceling, and it took me three days to get through this! It's set in the same world as the first book, but concerns Fire, a young lady whose father was a human monster and who can control the minds of people around her. She is beautifully attractive to men and to monster-monsters, who are attracted by her blood. Her world is a bleak, bleak place. She is constantly fighting for survival, battling her own feelings about being a monster, and getting involved in other people's battles to save kingdoms.

This was a bit hard to follow. Still not quite sure what went on as far as the plot is concerned. I'm a little foggy about the whole monster thing-- why is her hair so different that she always needs to have it covered? Do we really need to hear so many times that the scent of her blood attracts monsters? Are there any characters in the book who aren't having problems? Perhaps the difference was that I didn't like Fire as much as I liked Katsa, and this book was so overwhelmingly sad. And kind of obsessed with babies, which made a little more sense after I just visited Kristin Cashore's blog.

If you have Graceling, you must buy Fire, but reading this also reminded me that for some reason, I don't have the huge group of fantasy lovers that I had last year. You know, the kind who read a book a day and will ONLY read fantasy. *Sigh* Must go do something happy now, like plan out future library work space with tape and paper.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In the mail!

Disclaimer: Both of these books were sent to me by the editor, Timothy Travaglini of Penguin Putnam, for my perusal. As with all ARCs, I do not keep these, but pass them on to students who are without books.

Being published today is the short story collection, This Family is Driving Me Crazy: Ten Stories About Surviving Your Family, edited by M. Jerry and Helen S. Weiss. Authors included are Joan Bauer, Mel Glenn, Jack Gantos, Gordon Korman, Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Dennis Wyeth, Dian Curtis Regan, John H. Ritter, Nancy Springer, and David Lubar. The three stand out stories were Korman's Wimp of Sparta, about a boy in a family of daredevils who does not want to risk his own health and life, but ends up using his family's adventurous tendencies in a pinch. Really, this was so intriguing that it could be a book. David Lubar's Orway Otnay Otay Ebay (bad pig Latin aside-- I'm fluent in the 'language') was also great-- I loved the story of the boy trying to make money off his father's junk by describing it vividly on Ebay, and how this practice in writing serves him so well. Dian Curtis Regan's Happily (Sorta) Ever After (Maybe) was an affecting tale of a girl trying to fit in with her brother's family while her parents are away, and trying to introduce her niece or nephew to be to books that weren't of the ridiculous baby variety. As with any collection, I tended to like the stories by authors I normally enjoy. All in all, a very good collection. Now if I can just get students to read short stories-- they are not popular in my library.

Tim Byrd's Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom was clearly written with young boys in mind, a refreshing change. Brian and Wren Wilde are used to accompanying their father, the adventurer Doc Wilde, on adventures, but when their grandfather goes missing, they must travel to the jungles of South America and battle evil, mutant frog creatures who are out to take over the world. Not a page goes by without someone falling, running, or something exploding, so this is a major attention grabber. Remember our lesson yesterday on how boys like plot-driven rather than character driven books? This is an excellent example. There is also a lot of goofy frog goop, some over-the-top baddies, and, of course, the Frogs of Doom.

Thought about this one a lot last night (had to go to a Cross Country banquet), and I decided that this might be best for an elementary audience. There is very little character development, and my boys really do want some of this (that's the major complaint about Horowitz's Snakehead ). There is also a sliding Goofy Scale in middle school that is very tricky to navigate. Realistic fiction can be exceedingly goofy, even for 8th grade boys. For action and adventure, however, the goofier it is, the harder it is for the boys to believe it could actually happen. In this, the gremlitoads and gremlipoles, mentioned in larger, contrasting print, pushed this over the line and combined with the slightly cheesy cover, elicited some nose wrinkles from the older boys. Some 6th graders would pick this up, but the biggest fans will be 3rd through 5th grade boys. I'm sure another book is in the works, and those readers will be waiting for it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Norma Fox Mazer

Norma Fox Mazer, a great young adult author, passed away earlier this month.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/arts/25mazer.html

Ms. Mazer not only sent a reply to me when I sent her a filled-up circulation card, but apologized for taking so long, and sent me information about the writing program with which she was affiliated and encouraged me to write. Not only a great writer, but such a nice woman. She will be greatly missed.

Poetry, etc.

Since the poetry books in my library are mainly 30 years old and falling apart, I've been trying to purchase some things that are a bit fresher. Three of them are Kristine O'Connell George's Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems, which was good but had too young a cover, and Gary Soto's Fearless Fernie and Worlds Apart. Both of these were fine, although I liked the second, because the poems are about traveling around the world. All of these are good additions, but I'm such a poetry snob that I can't comment further. The only three living poets I like are Timothy Steele, Helen Frost, and Naomi Shahib Nye. I know it doesn't have to rhyme and have meter, but if it doesn't, it's really not poetry to me.

I Love Gordon Korman's books, but Swindle (which I did buy) was not one of my favorites. Having listened to a presentation by the fabulous Mike Sullivan at OELMA last week, at least I know why-- it's a plot driven book, and girls are more interested in character development. Zoobreak is similar-- Savannah's pet monkey is stolen by an evil floating zoo, and Griffin and his friends band together to concoct a plan to break in and steal the monkey back. Fast-paced and a little goofy, with over-the-top bad guys.

Sara Zarr's Sweethearts is a big favorite among the girls in my library, but Once Was Lost was somehow unremittingly, drably sad. Maybe I'll buy it come February, when everyone demands constantly depressing books. Sam's mother is in a rehab facility for alcoholism, her father is distant and wrapped up in the church where he is pastor, and a friend of Sam's goes missing and the entire small town is involved in the search for her. All of these things lead Sam to question her life and her faith. There was a happy ending, and it was middle school appropriate.

I include the cover of Megan McDonald's Rule of Three (The Sisters Club) because it is another great cupcake cover. The book itself is too young for my group, and I couldn't buy into the premise that one of the sisters was obsessed with the book Little Women. In seven years at the middle school, I have had all of three girls read this book. Certainly, I adored all of the Alcott books (except for Under the Lilacs, which I never did finish), but they seem to have become literary cod-liver oil. No one likes them, but they read them because they are "good for you".

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm not a big picture book fan, but Chris Barton's The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors beckoned to me and I LOVED it. Tony Persiani's retro style artwork was perfect and the gradual use of day-glo colors was very striking. The thing that I liked best was that Barton researched these gentlemen very thoroughly, interviewing family and friends to uncover this interesting story of two brothers with an idea that worked. I would love to see these two team up on stories about, oh, Ohio Art and the Etch-a-Sketch, the Slinky, tv dinners, and other things that are part of our lives and we don't think about! I wish I had a copy of this now, for students who need a biography for 8th grade English.

This same class always does a nonfiction project as well, and what better book for that than Morna Gregory and Sian James' Toilets of the World? This is pictures of toilets all over the world, with bits of text describing where they are and why they are interesting. There are some pictures of men's backs as they are using facilities, and one slightly dicey one of a woman's back as she is using a female urinal, but it passed muster. I think it is good for students to learn that the way we do things in the US is not necessarily the way things are done the world over. In the same shipment as this book was What the World Eats, but a student snapped that one up right away.

Over at SMS Guys Read they need ten comments on their Westerfeld Leviathan post in order for the book group to get a treat at their next meeting. Hop on over and opine on Steampunk.


Erin Downing's Juicy Gossip was a particularly good Candy Apple book about a girl whose parents open a juice bar in the mall and force her to work there, much to her embarassment. She does hear a lot of gossip when she is trying to hide her pineapple hat behind the counter, and uses this to start a column in the school newspaper (which is in danger of folding) to improve readership. Obviously, this causes some problems! Throw in a nice romance with a boy whose parents also have a mall store, and it was good fun. The 6th grade girls adore these titles.

Chloe Rayban's Hollywood Bliss: My Life So Far follows the story of Holly, the daughter of famous rock star Khandi that began with My Life Starring Mum. The two move to the states, where Holly is able to visit her dad more frequently, and worry that he is gaining weight and not getting out of his apartment more. There's also the pesky problem of possible step-brother on whom she has a crush, as well as all of the details of the lives of the rich and famous. For fans of Susanna Sees Stars or the Jen Calonita series. My only complaint is that this cover looks nothing like the first, which irritates me in a series.

Our school has a levy coming up, and I will say only this: at 4:30 a.m., I was standing in the workroom trying to gnaw the top off a gallon jug of glue so I could paste back together a dozen books, one of which was from 1985. Librarians are always the first on the chopping block when cuts are made, but I have to think that I am managing district money wisely. Maybe I'm wrong.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Clearing out the To Be Read Pile

Roland Smith's The Cryptid Hunters is one that my students really like. For some reason, it has never done that much for me, so it's not a surprise that the sequel, tentacles, sat in my pile for a long time. Great cover, lots of action, sea monsters, but...eh. One of the things that bothered me was that there seemed to be 8 characters on every single page, and I got tired trying to keep them straight. Still, I will order this one, and if the first book has been popular at your school, this would be one to have. "After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, Marty and Grace go to live with their scientist uncle and accompany him on, what soon becomes, an increasingly dangerous expedition to New Zealand to track a giant squid."

Pete Hautmann's latest, How to Steal a Car, generated a panel discussion in my house. We decided that a book with a blue cover and cars on the front should not start out with two girls going to the mall and then the pool to ogle cute guys. Boys will pick it up and be disappointed; girls don't necessarily want to read about someone stealing cars. "Kelleigh, a fifteen-year-old suburban high school student with a learner's permit, recounts how she began stealing cars one summer despite being unsure of her reasons for doing so." Family problems lead her to a life of crime. It was a good book; I'm just not sure of the audience.

Wish You Were Dead was a book I ordered without reading it. It's a good mystery-- a high schooler who blogs complains about popular snotty students, and then they start disappearing. The whole community is rocked by this, and Madison starts to fear for her own safety, so tries to uncover the mystery. This is more of a high school book, since the students are shown drinking (although not in a good light, and with disastrous consequences), and I was a bit confused by the unflattering introduction of two lesbian characters. Not much is said about them, but they are referred to as "the lesbians from Mars" and "the lesbos", which I thought was uncalled for.

Also plowed through a number of books that are more suitable for high school and/or just didn't click: Leal's Also Known as Harper, Pausewang's Traitor, Lasky's Hannah, Madison's The Blonde of the Joke, Kemp's Breakfast at Bloomingdale's, Malloy's Twelve Long Months, Brande's Fat Cat, Dowd's Solace of the Road.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Girly Books

The first book is about clothing through history for men and women, so it's not really girly. In From Head to Toe: Bound Feet, Bathing Suits, and other Bizarre and Beautiful Things, Janice Weaver does an excellent job at moving from topic to topic and weaving in all sorts of great facts about what people have worn and how they have presented themselves. At 78 pages, with fun illustrations, it will make a great book for the nonfiction unit, and be good for students to read during study hall for entertainment. Did you know that during the Civil War, soldiers would pin a handkerchief with their name written on it to their uniform? Or that bound feet were supposed to be only three inches long and two inches wide? Along with Kathy Shaskan's How Underwear Got Under There: A Brief History, this is a fun and useful addition to my nonfiction collection.

Heather Hepler flies solo in The Cupcake Queen after doing several other books with Brad Barkley. In this, Penny Lane gets dragged from life in Manhattan to Hog's Hollow, where her mother grew up and has moved after divorcing Penny's father. She sets up a cupcake bakery and tries to get started catering parties. After an unfortunate incident at a birthday party, Penny is bullied by the girls in her class and has a hard time fitting in, but things slowly improve. Oh course, just when they do, her parents give her the opportunity to move back to the city.

Another baking themed book was Maureen Fergus' Recipe for Disaster. Francie's parents are still together, but struggling to make ends meet while running their cafe. Francie has her own side business baking, and wants to grow up to be a professional baker and television personality. Her life is also complicated by a mean girl-- new arrival Darlene, who tries to steal her best friend and potential boyfriend. When Francie gets a chance to meet Lorenzo, a tv host and her major crush, she finds that things are not always as they seem.

These were both fine, but didn't do much for me. Cooking books tend to be something I don't like, and perhaps my opinion is colored by the new Sarah Dessen book, which was phenomenal. Take a look at these if you have a lot of girls who like to cook-- both have very appealing covers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Along for the Ride


Next to Beverly Cleary's Fifteen and Melissa Kantor's Girlfriend Material, Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride is about the sweetest and saddest romance I have read. Not sad, just... that's the way life is. Things are difficult for Auden-- her parents fought for years before divorcing, and her mother is controlling and supercilious. Her social life has never been comfortable. She can't sleep. When her father's new young wife has a baby, she decides to spend summer with them to get away from everything that she was. While this is somewhat successful, she also has to watch her father repeat all of the mistakes he made with her mother. She does make girl friends for the first time, and has a sweet, if rocky, relationship with a troubled boy. I bought this book without reading it, since Dessen's last book, Lock and Key was so fabulous. Dessen improves with every book. I can't wait for the next one.

I tend not to read nonfiction before I buy it, but perhaps I should start. While the following titles to support our 7th grade social studies curriculum were okay, I wasn't completely happy with them. First were Rourke Publishing Warriors Illustrated History: Gladiators and Spartans. These were cheesy, and very light on the text. I also had issue with naming Spartan warriors Plato and Aristotle; even though a footnote says they were common names, it just seemed odd. (And I'm not sure that Lucas and Flavio were ancient Roman names; Flavius, certainly.)

Also a little uneven were Marshall Cavendish's Ancient and Medieval People: The Roman Gladiators and The Spartan Hoplites. More information in these, but they again felt as if they were dashed off in an afternoon after consulting Wikipedia for details. Remember, as a former Latin teacher, I am very exacting. Let's leave all the ancient Greece and Rome writing to Don Nardo, shall we? He is the absolute best when it comes to these topics.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend Reading

Under a War-Torn Sky has been one of my most popular WWII books (one student liked it so much that I helped him buy a copy so I could have the library one back!), so I was excited to see a sequel. Henry, having returned from WII rather traumatized, decides to go back in March of 1945 so he can lay his demons to rest. He manages to get over to Europe by helping with livestock on a transport ship, and once there meets up with several of the people who helped him survive. His mission is to find a small boy whose mother was probably killed because of Henry. This was a very interesting book, because we never learned anything about what happened in France right after the war. This requires some suspension of disbelief, since things seem to come together rather neatly, but it is a welcome addition to the cadre of WWII books.


William Sleator's Blackbriar seems odd-- even in 1972, would an orphan have been living with his school secretary? It is interesting to read this early work, republished in a nice new edition by Marshall Cavendish. Danny is a little apprehensive about moving from London to the outskirts of the country, and the house that he and his guardian move into is more than spooky. With the help of a neighbor, Danny uncovers not only some past secrets of the house, but some contemporary ones as well.

Greg Logsted's Alibi Junior High was a lot of fun, but sad, too. Cody has lived his life on the run with his CIA agent father, but when his father fears for Cody's safety, he is sent to live with an aunt in suburban Connecticut. It's hard for him to get over the fear of being hunted, and to fit in with the students at school. With the help of an injured soldier, he learns to cope and also figures out more about his father's shady past. It feels like a sequel is possible, and that would not be a bad thing.

I always feel somewhat tricked by Blake Nelson. His plots sound so interesting, and I'll be reading along thinking that this would be a good addition to the collection when *WHAM* total inappropriateness. In this case, rather blunt sex. I read Paranoid Park three years ago, so have forgotten that this author purposefully styles himself as edgy. Really too bad. This would be a good book for middle school otherwise. I liked the environmental issues and the depictions of the characters. Sigh.
Kemp's Breakfast at Bloomingdale's may be of more interest to high school students, but got off to a very slow and depressing start, so I'll pass on this story of a girl who goes to New York City to try to make her way in the fashion business. I was also a little conflicted about Spillebeen's Age 14. His Kipling's Choice was very moving, but this seemed a bit confusing. There was a lot going on-- 12 year old Irish boy desperate to escape his life of poverty joins the military in WWI by claiming to be his older brother. Doesn't end well. I'll get a second opinion on this before saying no.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Junior Miss by Sally Benson

It was "oldies but goodies" week in my library, and I book talked a number of very old books. Very few were checked out, but I can't bring myself to deaccession things like Jenny Kimura by Betty Cavanna, Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler, or Junior Miss. This is a collection of short stories by the author of Meet Me in St. Louis that was published in 1941, and recounts the travails of growing up in New York City. It is a fascinating glimpse into a long-gone world where ordinary people had maids who served them dinner and stayed to do the dishes and where young girls dressed in wool coats with squirrel collars would go to the soda fountain. The chapter where Judy gets $5 a week allowance (which equals $70 today!) and has to pay 25 cents a day for lunch was fascinating to me! Surely, this book is dated, but so many things have not changed. *Sigh* It will be here on the shelf, waiting for just the right person to check it out.

Today is a teacher work day, and I will be dealing with televisions, some of which I fear are very dead.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yohalem and Lopez

In Diana Lopez's Confetti Girl, Lina has her problems. Her mother passed away about a year ago, and her English teacher father has retreated behind books. She's been getting support from her best friend's mother, but the woman is increasingly bitter about her divorce, and wrapped up in making cascarones, confetti-filled eggs. To make matters really horrible, Lina is assigned Watership Downs to read in the 6th grade! (My daughter loved this. I did not.) This was a well-paced, realistic novel in which the main character happened to be Hispanic. A lot of cultural details are woven in, but the book is not about her being Hispanic, which I loved.


Escape Under the Forever Sky, by Eve Yohalem, is set in Ethiopia. Lucy's mother is the American ambassador, but Lucy hardly gets out to see the country at all. She is confined to her apartment, school, and her friend Tana's house. This seems silly to Lucy, especially when her mother tracks her down at a market, takes her home, and then grounds her. She sneaks out to a restaurant with Tana, and is kidnapped by people who don't agree with her mother's position on drugs in the country. She has to then escape and survive in the Ethiopian wilderness using the knowledge she has of the area. Fast-paced and readable. Not many books are set in Ethiopia!


Did I miss the memo on socks?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monstrumologist

Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist didn't give me nightmares, although it should have. It did have me scanning the road this morning looking for anthopophagi lying in wait, so I did see a skunk skulking across the road and managed to avoid it, all the while thinking "I can't outrun the monsters, but I need to go for their eyes. On their shoulders."

When a book bleeds into your everyday life, you know it must be effective.

Also very, very violent and scary, but it should be: In 1888, Will Henry, age 12, has been orphaned and is in the care of Pellinore Warthrop, a monstrumologist. When a grisly find is made by a grave robber, the two realize that there is a local infestation of a hideous, human-eating monster. After a local minister and his family are violently (and bloodily) killed, they gather their forces and try to kill off as many of the ravenous creatures as they can.

This is told as the journal of Will Henry, edited by Rick Yancy, so there is a forward. This is slightly too bad, because otherwise the first line would be "These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I have never betrayed." This writing is why I will buy the book. It is clearly horror, but the length (434 pages) and the difficult vocabulary will limit the interest to students mature enough to see beyond the blood and gore to the complexities of the characters. Yancey has clearly been honing his craft since the first Alfred Kropp. Descriptions are excellent, action and philosophical musings are well-spaced, and the characters are wrestling with their own histories and conflicts.

Just be aware that this is very gore-filled. I wouldn't have it in an elementary library, but if you have the Darren Shan Demonata series, this would be a good addition. Just be prepared to be looking over your should all day after you read it. Remember, go for the eyes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Strange Selection

The only book of note that I read was Anthony Horowitz's 1994 Granny, which was a bizarre but intriguing book. Joe lives with his vain and uninvolved parents. Life with them is difficult enough, but when they decide to travel and leave him with his grandmother, things get worse. Not only is granny evil, ugly, and malevolent, she wants to convert Joe into enzymes to keep her young. Over the top in a Roald Dahl sort of way, students will find this amusing. It's only available in paperback. Unfortunately, I read this after the Horowitz biography in which it was stated that Horowitz's real grandmother was a very awful person, so it made me sad.

Heather Vogel Fredericks' Spy Mice: For Your Paws Only was amusing, but is more of a younger book. I thought the mice were clever, but my students want more realism in their spy books. Did like that the threat in this book was that the rats were learning to read! Might be a fun read aloud in elementary school.

John Lekich's King of the Lost and Found had such a cool cover that I had to read it, but it was overly depressing for middle school. By high school, kids want more detail, but middle school students want something to happen. After about 50 pages, I was still waiting to emerge from the descriptions of Raymond's medical and personal foibles. Of note: had this copy sent through interlibrary loan, and it came from the Boardman Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, the same branch I went to growing up. (Well, the actual building is now a dentist's office. They waited until I graduated to build right across from the high school. Drat!)

I include the cover of Jane Wagner's J.T., just in case anyone still has a copy. The original publication date was 1969, and it was first a song, then a television special, then a book with photoillustrations. Came across it in my march through the alphabet, and checked it out to a student who was very confused by it. I was, too. The story of an inner city child who adopts a homeless cat was very sad, but there seem to be a lot of details that didn't make the translation to book form. It felt horribly dated as well, and since the pages in my copy are falling out, this one may go away. Surprised it lasted this long, but it is still in print.
No longer in print is Jan Van Leeuwen's Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life (1989). There's nothing wrong with this book of anecdotes following 6th grader Sam as she maneuvers her way through middle school with the help of her mother, but it felt a bit uninspired. I don't have sixth graders who are that interested in losing their molars, and they certainly don't write letters to the tooth fairy. The potrayal of the mother as a housewife who writes also seems dated. Of course, the Accelerated Reader level is an astonishing 6.0 (Asimov's I, Robot is 6.1) so I may keep it. Sigh.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nonfiction

When I have books sent to me through the fabulous Westerville Public Library Link, it's almost always fiction. When I go to the library and browse, I pick up nonfiction. Hmmm.

When helping my daughter pick out a biography, I came across Abram's biography of Anthony Horowitz and had to read it. This is why I don't buy biographies of people until they have passed away-- I'm sure Horowitz will do many more things in the next twenty years. I did learn some interesting facts about the author, and was impressed that he has said he never thought to sue J.K. Rowling because Harry Potter was similar to his Groosham Grange books. Still, there was a lot of his work quoted and not a lot about his actual life. To be expected, but still disappointing.

Chelsea House's Fashions of a Decade looked interesting, so I picked up Elgin's 1930's book. Nice overview of couture, with plenty of pictures, but I was disappointed at the lack of inclusion of every day fashions. Pictures of people waiting in bread lines, perhaps, some Dorothea Lange photographs, or even pages from the Sears Roebuck catalog would have made this a much more useful resource. Also lacking was any mention of children's clothing beyond Shirley Temple.


Picked up Michael Brooke's The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding because it's hard to find books for the skaters that I have. This was interesting, but included a lot of personal memoirs that middle school students will skim over. I need a 64 page overview, similar to the Mason Crest History of Cheerleading book that I have. For high school, this might be good, since it does cover the different eras of skateboarding.

It was also useful to know about trucks and wheels when I read Varrato's Fakie, which was quite good. From Lobster Press, this very slim volume is just the thing for students who want to read about skateboarding but also need a mystery. Alex witnessed his father's death and is now in a witness protection program with his mother. They have to run a lot, and when Alex finally feels at home in a new school with his skateboarding buddies, he is ready to fight his stalker when he is found. Very good.
So was Paulsen's Notes From the Dog. The basic premise of this-- boy who wants to avoid human contact over the summer gets to know a next-door neighbor who has cancer and who enlists him to put in a garden-- sounded unappealing, but the writing was lightly humorous and engaging. Finn and his friend Matthew broaden their circle of friends and gain interpersonal skills while helping Johanna raise money for cancer and help her train for a triathlon while undergoing chemo. The only part that was a bit strained were the notes from the dog, but the ending made me cry. Paulsen can be really good or really awful, and this is one that I will buy. Would make a good class discussion book.


Also a little leery of David Adler's Don't Talk to Me About the War, since it is yet another book set stateside when the majority of my readers want something set at the front. It did, however, paint an excellent picture of what it must have been like to be a teenager during this time. Tommy would much rather hear about his favorite baseball team or hang out with his friend Beth than hear about what is going on in Europe in 1940. He also has to struggle with his mother's illness, which turns out to be multiple sclerosis. This was my only problem with the book-- I don't think that during that time the diagnosis would be made as quickly as it was. My mother had a friend in the 1950s who was put into a mental institution instead of being told she had MS, and even in the early 1990s, it took much longer for a friend of mine to be diagnosed. Still, it is handled well. The ending, with Tommy and his family listening to the radio and hearing the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, mirrors my own father's experience exactly, so the research on this was well done.

Also looked at but decided that they were of limited interest because they were too old for my library or were Haber's The Pluto Project, Cowan's Earthgirl, Rinaldi's Leigh Ann's Civil War, Carey's Stealing Death, Kwasney's Blue Plate Special, and Heath's The Lab (which had a lot of explosions, but was light on explaining why, which got confusing). My daughter who is in high school is liking Wake and Fade (although issued a warning on vocabulary), Ten Cents a Dance, and Werlin's Impossible, none of which I bought for my library.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Books for Team Jacob

My two favorite werewolf books are R.L. Fevers' Werewolf Rising (which, sadly, is out of print) and Stephen Cole's Wounded series(even though I can't get book 2 for my library anywhere). Have decided that I must be Team Jacob, because werewolves do not seem as evil as vampires. The two books I read last night are excellent examples of werewolf books.

Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver has the best cover ever. Really. Slightly iridescent, and the dot on the "i" is in red. Even the spine is great. Grace was attacked by wolves as a child, but saved by one of them. Every winter, she sees this wolf with the yellow eyes watching her. When a boy is killed by wolves, locals go out shooting to kill them, and a naked boy shows up at Grace's back door. Sam claims to be the wolf-- and she can tell by the eyes that he is. He is a lycanthrope, but only changes into wolf form when the weather is cold. The two are hopelessly in love, and spend as much time together as they can, since Sam fears that he will turn into a wolf permanently very soon. Can the two of them find a way to keep this from happening? I won't spoil it for you, because it is an excellent book. There is one brief and very carefully done sex scene, which younger students won't quiet understand. This is better than Twilight because the love seems so star-crossed and impossible, and no one whines. They try to change things, but seem to know that they will still have that love even if they can't be together. Phenomenal.

Less ethereal and poetic but much more fun (thus more accessible to most middle schoolers) is Heather Davis's Never Cry Werewolf. Shelby's stepmother is strict, and when she catches Shelby kissing a senior on the front porch after being grounded, she sends her off to a "brat camp". On the bus in, Shelby sees Austin Bridges, the son of a rock star. When the bus breaks down, someone steals his backback, and she chases off into the woods to help find it. Turns out that Austin has drugs, which are confiscated. Camp isn't as horrible as it could be, but it turns out that Austin really needs the drugs-- it's a serum that keeps him from turning into a werewolf. Working together, they get into all kinds of scrapes trying to retrieve it. I don't feel like I am doing this one justice, because it was a great read. I liked Shelby and Austin a lot, and must say I'm really looking forward to Davis' next book, The Clearing(April 2010), which has time travel!

Books that weren't quite right for my library: Avi's Murder at Midnight; a renaissance setting, but it had magic in it, so it wasn't quite historical fiction. Interesting enough, but tough sell here. Shaw's One of the Survivors; her Boy From the Basement and Black-eyed Suzie are popular here, but no one ever asks for books about people recovering from the physical and psychological trauma of a fire. Beaudoin's Fade to Blue was more of a high school book, although the cover would certainly appeal to any goth students. Kelly's My Big Feet was a bit too didactic, plus available in softcover.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Messed Up by Janet Nichols Lynch

Lynch's Messed Up kept me on the edge of my seat-- mainly because, given the topic, I thought it might start dropping bad language. R.D is having a hard first day of middle school . Not only is it his second time in eighth grade, he gets caught in a fight between two girls sporting gang colors. While he tries to help so that no one is gravely injured, his previous behavior causes him to be accused of being in the fight, and he is suspended for three days. This is fine with him-- school is a drag. Not that home life is great. His parents are not in the picture (mother in incarcerated for drug dealing, and dad is in Mexico), and his adoptive grandmother has moved out, leaving him with an ailing Earl. When Earl dies, R.D. realizes when the ambulance takes him away that he will be sent into foster care unless he can take care of himself. This takes some doing-- he has to start paying attention to school work, remember to bathe and clean the house, and cook for himself, which he does with varying success. In the end, he is discovered, and the help of an attorney cleans up things too neatly. Still, there was something appealing about this. There were a few slightly inappropriate situations, and a lot of use of "ho" and "biatch", but the depiction of R.D. learning what it takes to care for himself was intriguing. The writing was a little uneven ("sez" and more informal use of language is used at the beginning, but dropped. While this may reflect changes in character, it was distracting), and there were some plot developments not fully addressed (the friend who is cutting), but this will appeal to readers. I'll be interested to see what Lynch comes out with next.

My 6th grader is reading A Long Way From Chicago and complaining about Grandma Dowdel, and unfortunately this colored my enjoyment of Peck's latest in this series, A Season of Gifts. By 1958, Grandma has moved to town but continues her down home ways. She is observed, in this installment, by Bob, the son of the new minister, his younger sister Ruth Ann, and his older sister Phyllis (who is secretly dating the town punk). The situations in this book seemed strained to me, and the message belabored. Peck's a great writer, but perhaps the awards have made him out of touch with students. The Teacher's Funeral hasn't been checked out in two years, but my copies of Ghosts I Have Been and Princess Ashley are in tatters. A lot of copies of this will be bought, but I'm just not sure how many will be read by children.

Two books that just didn't fit what I needed (and I only read about 30 pages of each): Kephart's Nothing But Ghosts, which was beautifully written but didn't, as a child expressed yesterday, "have a ghost that jumps out at people on the first page". Dolby's Secret Society looked interesting, but after the party's vodka sponsors didn't come through and there was passing mention of "she lost her virginity to him", I decided it wasn't for middle school. Also don't understand all the fashion designer name-dropping that's been working its way into books. This will date them horribly, and I have never heard of most of them. Maybe they're made up?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bowen and McCormick

I am at a decided disadvantage when I read sports books, because I know absolutely nothing about anything but cross country (and I can even score that!). That's one reason Fred Bowen's All Star Sports Stories are enjoyable for me. I learn about the history of the game and about different techniques. In Full Court Fever, the 7th grade boys' basketball team is at a dsiadvantage. They are all on the short side, and while they try really hard, they just can't keep the other team from scoring. After a trip to spend a gift certificate at a sports memorabilia shop, they learn about the UCLA Bruins' full court press tactic in old Sports Illustrated magazines that they purchase. The boys try this out on their own to some success, and their coach helps them perfect it. I loved that there was a new boy from Nigeria who was very tall but not a good basketball player, and the boys introduce him to the game. Bowen also brings girl players into his stories in interesting ways--always strong and capable! There are plenty of basketball specifics and plays for the students, but it really is amazing what is packed into 100 pages. Again, the short length and the unattractive covers didn't encourage me to read these after I suggested their purchase for summer intervention, but that's why I'm trying to read everything. I am looking forward to the rest!

Patricia McCormick's Purple Heart was a wrenching depiction of a boy, Matt, (just 18) fighting in Iraq. He ends up in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury, and while he has some memory of how he got there, the details (as well as many other things) are fuzzy. While he is recuperating, more and more memories come to him, and he tries to sort out all of the horrors that he has seen on his tour. He is sent back to combat, but finds that his experiences make it very hard for him to shoot a gun again, and he second guesses his every move. McCormick excels at writing about difficult situations (My Brother's Keeper, Cut, Sold), and this is an incredibly well researched and written book. There are not a lot of books written about the current conflicts, and the students (many of whom have relatives fighting) ask for them.

This is a difficult read. Matt struggles with the morality of what he is doing, and he does experience the graphic loss of several fellow soldiers. A book that portrays the fighting and makes it very clear that fighting never ends well for anyone is always what I look for, but I almost feel that this book should be handed to middle school students with some preparation.

There is also the problem, for me, that the f word is used a lot. Pamela Redmond Satran summed up my feelings on this word best in her book How Not to Act Old "It wasn’t spoken, it wasn’t written, you didn’t hear it on TV or in the lyrics of songs. It wasn’t used as a curse, not even by adults who had been drinking when they didn’t think the kids were listening." (I'd link to her site, but it does, in fact, use the word.)

I will buy this book because it is an important depiction of a defining event, told in a masterful way. But I will always have reservations about handing it to students because of the language. I know that it is used because it adds to the realism of the story, but it will still bother me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Macindaw on the Line

No, no. That's conflating what I read. John Flanagan's The Seige of Macindaw, book 6 of The Ranger's Apprentice series, rather took over my life for about four days. It rarely takes me that long to read anything, but I didn't want to rush it. Will would love to settle into his job protecting a fief as a ranger, but when Keren, a traitorous knight, takes over Castle Macindaw and holds Alyss hostage in a tower, he gathers his forces to take back the area. Grossly undermanned, Will, Horace, and the Malcolm the "sorcerer" put clever battle strategies in place in order to accomplish this. Their tactical finaglings are fascinating, and the romance between Alyss and Will is wonderful-- they never see each other, so it won't gross out the boys! There are some wonderful moments in the book-- Will, Trobar and Shadow the dog; Horace getting the upper hand; John Buttle coming to a well deserved end. There is some violence, but it is justified and never gratuitous. I can't wait for Erak's Ransom.

Read Fred Bowen's Off the Rim, published by Peachtree. Unfortunately, my copy has the orange cover, which really does make the students less likely to pick it up. The new covers are MUCH better. The All Star Sports Stories do not appear to be connected, but there are 12 of them, and are well worth purchasing for elementary or middle school. While short, they each seem to cover some historical aspect of basketball within the context of modern (circa 1998) times. Off the Rim discussed women's half court basketball, and the mother of a talented girl player helps a boy with his defensive game. Just the right length for reluctant readers at 100 pages, this includes historical information and pictures of real players at the back.

In On the Line, Marcus is a good basketball player, but has trouble with free throws. The custodian at his father's school shows him how to throw underhanded (a "granny" throw"), which helps improve his accuracy, but looks stupid. The theme of improving one's game with the help of unlikely adults continues, and I really enjoyed that!

If your Matt Christopher collection is looking worn out, I would definitely invest in these. As I said, the unfortunate covers led even me not to read them, but now that I have I will be recommending them heavily. An interesting biography of Mr. Bowen appears here.
 
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