Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History

Adam Selzer does a great job with fiction-- who knew he would rock nonfiction? The Smark Aleck's Guide to American History is written, quite honestly, exactly how textbooks for 8th graders should be written. It's snarky, fast-paced, covers all the gross and/or funny things that only grad students usually find out (e.g. Stupid Hats of History, which appear throughout the book) and is FUN. I'm not just saying this because my extra credit assignment has already been posted. Our test scores would rocket upwards if our textbook, Call to Freedom were rewritten by the Smart Aleck's team. If you were an 8th grader, would you rather read a chapter entitled " Life in the English Colonies" or "A Nation Declines to Bathe"? I bought personal copies for both of our 8th grade teachers.

Sparks, Nicholas. The Last Song.
Teenage Ronnie and her young brother go to spend the summer with their musician father in a beachfront community far from their mother and New York home. Ronnie has been in trouble for shoplifting, and is so irritated with her father about her parents' divorce that she has stopped playing piano even though she is gifted. While visiting, she meets a variety of other teens, some of whom seem mentally disturbed, except for Will. Even though he's from a wealthy family that disapproves of Ronnie, the two have a sweet romance until tragedy occurs within Ronnie's family. Bring out the tissues; this squeaky clean teen movie/novel will have the girls sighing contentedly. Many thanks to Mira, who donated a copy to our library. All I will say about my own opinion is that going from reading Selzer to reading Sparks' lavender prose made me queasy.

Holmes, Elizabeth. Tracktown Summer.
Jake's parents have separated after his school teacher father gets his PhD and finds a professorship far from their home. He invites Jake to spend the summer with him in a run-down lakeside community, but spends a lot of time preparing for his fall classes, leaving Jake to his own devices. He finds Adrian, a local trouble maker whose family life is even worse than Jake's. The two, accompanied by neighbor Allie, swim, play basketball and go on boat rides. Why won't Adrian invite people over to his house? And why does he get into so much trouble? We eventually find out, and no, it's not a meth lab in the basement, which is what I thought for most of the book. I thought this was somewhat intriguing, but I've had two boys return it unread-- it is a little slow and introspective. Still, boys who like problem novels like Foon's Skud, Rottman's Stetson, or Leavitt's Heck, Superhero will find that the suspense keeps them reading.

Weissman, Melissa Brent. The Trouble with Mark Hopper.
Mark Geoffrey Hopper is a nasty child who likes to argue with teachers. His father is distant and his mother spends a lot of time with his sister Beth. Mark Geoffrey Hopper is a nice kid who moves to town with his mother, grandfather, and sister Beth while waiting for his father to sell their other house. Mark's schedule gets messed up and the start of the school year is rough for him, especially since he has to deal with another boy with his exact name. Confused? I was a bit. The two boys fight at first, but come to terms with each others' existence, eventually working together on a contest. This author also wrote Standing For Socks, which has circulated well. Both books do have an oddly distant tone. The Andrew Clementsesque cover will probably sell this one.


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