David Elzey has articles on "Building Better Books for Boys" that are insightful and worth a look. Mark Fink's The Summer I Got a Life has all of the elements that Mr. Elzey suggests contribute to books that are successful with boys.
Andy's parents are going on a business trip, and instead of leaving Andy and his older brother alone, the two are sent to rural Wisconsin to stay with their slightly nutty aunt and uncle. Andy is not happy at first, but then meets Laura, who is an excellent pianist who happens to be in a wheel chair. The two hit it off, which gives Andy something to do for two weeks other than fight with his brother.
The plot of this one is a bit thin, but it was EXACTLY the sort of book I've been looking for. While neither cover is spectacular, the size is right, and Andy is delightful. The book starts on the last day of school, and Andy's description of the levels of popularity came right out of my son's mouth. It was the writing and the anecdotes that really made this. When Andy's brother runs away, Andy and his uncle enlist the help of a trucker with a load of chickens to pick him up. A pig gets loose in a Victoria's Secret Store. Laura is an absolute delight, and her budding relationship with Andy is perfect. The only real problem I had was with the "hippie" aunt and uncle. The aunt has a 50th birthday party, so she was born in 1960. She's about my age, and no one I grew up with lived in a commune. The uncle served in Vietnam. How much older is he than the aunt? Still, this is a frequent complaint of mine, and I loved this book so much that I am purchasing this author's Stepping Up without reading it. It's about basketball. It will get read.
Jessica Wollman's Second Skin was great! I must get beyond the prejudice that books published only in paperback must be second rate. (Think Linda Gerber's Death By series.) Samantha is obsessed by the popular crowd, especially Kylie Frank, who is beautiful and has the best boyfriends. When Kylie moves next door to Sam, Sam hopes that she can use the proximity to get into the popular crowd. Kylie has no interest in Sam, until Sam happens upon her secret-- Kylie is only popular because of a magic "skin" that was left with her. When Sam steals the skin, she becomes popular, but, of course, at the expense of her old friends. The great part about this book is that addresses an issue that is of great important to middle school girls (like Steele's The Market), but is actually a fantasy! When teachers assign fantasy books to entire classes, this will be wonderful to hand to girls who refuse to read anything having to do with dragons on Harry Potter-esque magic! I'm going to be daring and purchase Wollman's Switched as well!
Thanks to the Cuyahoga Falls Public Library (once again) for my treat of the evening: Kitty Burns Florey's Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. I had recently read this author's Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, which was interesting, but since I had never diagrammed sentences, it didn't mean much to me. Handwriting, however, is something I think is important, and I was surprised that I knew as much as I did, including the 1987 Wendell Berry essay "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer". This is a lovely book, filled with samples of the author's own handwriting as well as historical scripts, brimming with interesting facts, and filled with longing for things that we still have, but are quickly passing. I know that I will be glancing at the fingers of my students today, to see if they still have the bump from holding a writing implement on their middle fingers. While this book is not of interest to my students, there are many librarians who will enjoy it.
Ah, so much better to have an evening of good books than of painful ones. My mood is better. This makes me even more determined to get enjoyable books to my students today!