Friday, January 29, 2010

Capstone Press Bonanza!

After I had a question about the Bloodiest Battles series put out by Capstone, a lovely publicist there offered to send me a few books to look at. I've bought from Capstone in the past and know that they have some wonderful resources, especially for struggling readers. Since the books are for the library, rather than trade, market, they tend to be pricier, so I was grateful to be able to take a look! The interest level on most of these is grades 5-9, but the reading level is about 2-3.

Did like the Bloodiest Battles Series and will definitely buy all of them. Looked at D-Day, Iwo Jima and Gettysburg. What was helpful about these titles was the discussion of the precursors to the battle: overview of the onset, key players and world situations leading up to the battle. Students will pick these up because of the covers but receive more information than they expect. Web resources, further reading and additional info at the back is great as well.

The Stone Arch fiction books on sports are well-received in my library because they are easy to read but don't look like "baby books" In Jake Maddox's On Guard, two cousins who play basketball for different schools end up playing against each other, in much the same way their fathers did in college. The rivalry puts them both off their game until they realize that they won't remember the outcome, and it's not worth it to fight. Discussion questions and writing prompts at the back.

Point Blank Paintball is a graphic novel. Twins Peter and Noah like to play paintball and work together, but get a chance to try out for one spot on an elite paint ball team. Their father is very competitive (no doubt a result of looking like an evil overlord, see top left hand cover!) and wants to see which boy comes out on top, but the two decide that being on the team is not worth crushing each other. Don't have much interest in paint ball here, but this was fun and the format is worth looking into for other titles.

The World's Greatest Football Players offers two page spreads on a variety of players. Apparently, statistics about players is something that the students really like. I had no idea. This was the book that kept getting away from me as I was trying to process it. No, dear, you can't have it until we put the card, pocket, and labels on it. Yes, I'll put it on reserve for you.

This motorcycle book was very complete, even though it was short. Most of these books were visually confusing for me, because I am used to black words on white pages. Often, different paragraphs will be in different colors of different places on the page. I imagine a lot of research has gone into how students process text. This title will be popular.

As much as it pains me to have Hip-Hop books, there is a demand, and there is an entire series of these covering clothing, etc. Again, these are amazingly complete (Debbie Harry and Rapture are discussed!) given the short length and easy reading level. This is definitely a series I will consider purchasing.


Also had a lot of interest in Basketball: How It Works. This also has the busy visual format that students like, lots of information packed in a short space, and well-done pictures. I did find myself wishing there were a similar book that was a little longer-- my strong readers will be done with this by the end of study hall!



My favorite book was Float and Sting: one round with Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller. The graphic novel format and the presence of Ali will entice boys to pick this up, but the story is an inspirational tale of Miller's own struggles with his small size and his triumph in finding motivation by training and eventually sparring with The Greatest. Again, a lot is packed into a small book, and I'm looking forward to handing this to students.

I had no idea there was something called Mixed Martial Arts, but there is a series concerning different facets of this. I may pass it on to the elementary school, just because it's a topic students haven't mentioned to me. Again, quite well done. The Incredible Rockhead was goofy fun, but stepped over that fine goofy line that made it better for elementary school students. There is a series of these, and I can see second graders being thrilled to have this.

Hard to go wrong with Capstone titles, especially their graphic titles or their high-low ones. If you haven't take a look at what they carry, definitely check out their web site. I find their print catalogs useful as well-- I'll hand them to students and have the students mark which titles seem appealing to them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's not you, it's me.

I'm very specific about what I buy for my library. It has to be something the students want AND it has to appeal to me on some level, even if it is knowing that students will like it. A lot of books just don't work for my collection, but I mention them because someone might read this and see exactly what another library needs. Here's why these didn't work for me.

Too Young:
Lyons, Jayne. 100%Wolf. Love the tag line "He's small, He's Pink. He's groomed. But he's... 100% Wolf" and the howling poodle on the cover. Freddy is excited about his first transmutation into a werewolf, but when he turns into a poodle instead of something fierce, he must deal with his family's disappointment and show them he can still be successful. This came down too heavily on the goofy side; 4th graders might love it.

Gordon, Amy. The Gorillas of Gill Park. (2003) The cover and illustrations are going to make this a hard sell, and the story of a boy who spends the summer with a quirky aunt and meets quirky neighborhood people doesn't help. Maybe elementary.

Eland, Lindsay. Scones and Sensibility. Polly adores Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery so much that she dresses in gingham dresses and sees the world through the rose colored spectacles of these books. I'm the biggest Montgomery fan, but I wanted to slap Polly because of her annoying vocal style. "It was upon turning the last delicate page of my leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice that my transformation into a delicate lady of quality was complete." Slap her, I say! That said, I have a girl who checked out Anne of Green Gables at the suggestion of someone she really admires. She previously only read Darren Shan. An enthusiastic recommendation can go a long way, but I couldn't give this book one.

Too Old:
Runyon, Brent. Surface Tension. Boy and his family travel every summer to a lake house over a period of four years. I loved this-- lyrical language, great sense of place, evocative of a life I never had but always wanted. Gave it to my son, and he said "Nothing happened." Yeah, there's that. High schoolers are better with this level of introspection.

Johnson, Peter. Loserville. Boy and his family go on reality show, ends in teen angst. The cover on this seemed too suggestive, so I gave it to my son, who reported "I got 40 pages into it and realized that I had no idea what's going on."

Earley, Tony. The Blue Star. In the mountains of North Carolina during WWII, Jim has a crush on his friend Bucky's girlfriend, who is from a lower social class. Bucky is away fighting, and the war has a tremendous impact on Jim's senior class. This was recommended as a romance novel for boys, but it's so sad and filled with larger problems than middle schoolers need to face in a romance novel. Beautifully written, but somehow not right.

Eulberg, Elizabeth. The Lonely Hearts Club. Since this dealt with a girl giving up on romance AND had many Beatles' references, I thought it would be great for my Beatles obsessed 6th grader, but the whole first chapter revolved around girl who has decided to have sex with long time boyfriend until she catches him with another girl. While delicately done, I just couldn't hand it to her.

Skovron, Jon. Struts and Frets. Sammy hangs out with friends, plays with a band, and starts to have feelings for his longtime friend, Jen5. He also drinks beer casually and drops the f bomb. This is set in Columbus, but no.

Too... something:
Viguie, Debbie. The Summer of Cotton Candy. This first book in the Zondervaan "Sweet Seasons" novel looked so cute, and the Melody Carlson books have been popular, but for a fluffy, pink book, this was too dense and I couldn't get into it. 16-year-old also gave up on it.

Griffin, Adele. Where I Want to Be. Jane, who has suffered from mental illness, is killed in a car accident but can't let her sister Lily go. The chapters about Jane "living" with dead grandparents were confusing, and there was sexual suggestion. For high schoolers who wanted a ghost story with serious issues, this would be okay. Middle school ghost stories need more horror to them.

Cooney, Caroline B. If the Witness Lied. Jack Fountain's family has been torn apart by the death of his mother from cancer and the death of his father at the hands of his toddler brother who accidentally ran over the father with the car. Now being raised in separate homes by a step-aunt and godparents, the children come together on their father's birthday to stop the step-aunt from putting the toddler on a reality show by investigating what really happened during the accident. I saw the ending coming, so there was no mystery, just a lot of dysfunctional, confused unhappiness. As I usually love this author, I was very surprised.

The good news is that because our district has saved a lot of money on textbooks, the libraries are all getting some more money to buy books! Now I can finally replace some crumbling favorites and get the new books I thought would have to wait until August!

Report on Super Secret Evil Plan-- Only one boy turned down a pink book and none of the books were returned unread! One boy, who was being ribbed by his football friends, said "Hey, the book is just like a boy one, so I don't see the big deal with the pink cover!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Graphic Novel Bonanza!

New Perma-Bound order came in, with titles I had not been able to read before purchasing. Luckily, they were all great, especially the Papercutz Hardy Boys books by Scott Lobdell. I only bought two but would love to have the entire series. While the illustrations make me think of Speed Racer (which is just my old lady reaction to ALL manga, Mr. Rendon!), the stories in both The Ocean of Osyria and The Identity Theft were beefy enough that students could use these for the 8th grade mystery unit. Fast paced and visually appealing, of course, but also sly humor and quite well-written. Adventure, plot, family drama-- really, they had it all! I will also definitely have to buy some of the Nancy Drew ones, since they are written by the amazingly awesome Stefan Petrucha!

A little disappointed in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, but only because the librarian's were evil, and I really wanted them to be the evil fighting force of good. Sly humor-- loved how one of them says "I prefer media specialist" and they were at least being evil by trying to intercept a shipment of video games. I will definitely buy this series-- how could I not? Lunch Lady has a lot of cool gadgets and student sidekicks who save the day.

Fiona MacDonald's Graphic Classic version of The Odyssey was very well researched and will be great for handing to kids who like the story but don't want to slog through something long. The historical notes at the back are great. This series is published by Barron's, so there is a lot crammed on each page, although each adventure is contained in a two page spread. If there are more of these on books the students study, I would definitely get more of them.


I had classes in working on letters to authors for a class yesterday, and one student needed help finding contact info for Max Brooks. He showed his book-- The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead-- and graciously allowed me to borrow it. I had asked "Is this middle school appropriate?" and his eyes lit up and said "Oh, yeah!" Then I said "Let me rephrase that-- how many irate parents would I have calling me if I had this in the library?" "Oh. Overprotective and overreactive ones? A lot." Admittedly, I skimmed this one ( I'd Dewey it as 001 and not 818), but it was an absolute hoot. Not really for the reluctant reader, it is dense with detailed information about fighting zombies. I especially like the "recorded attacks" section, and am so glad to know that a good mode of transport in case of attack is a bicycle, and a chain saw doesn't have that much of an advantage over easier-to-use weapons. As long as I don't let the kevlar make me foolhardy, I'll be good. A definite buy for a public library, but the amount of information on weapons makes it iffy for school. Besides, like Judy Blume's Forever, it's not something that is fun if a librarian hands it to you!

I did remember to bring in the stretchy book covers for the boys with pink books, but if they start wearing the covers on their heads, I will have to take them away.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SUPER SECRET EVIL PLAN!!!!


BWA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!

I have successfully checked out TWENTY girl books to boys today, even without brown covers (although I'm going home to look for stretchy covers to bring in)! No boy I asked turned me down! The 8th grade football players got aggressively pink books like Geek Magnet and Love at First Click, fantasy lovers got Graceling and Alanna: The First Adventure, a baseball fan got Butler's Sliding Into Home, and a boy who wanted a war book got Klass' Soldier's Secret. All of the boys were very open to suggestions and willing to read other things.

I told one boy early in the day that the book (Love at First Click, one of the First Kisses series) would give him insight into what girls wanted. He looked at the circulation card and saw that one girl he had dated read it, so he took it! He mentioned on his way out of the building that he was enjoying it.

Ah, every day should have an evil plan. I would have checked out more of these, but I also had five SSR classes and five research classes, so the day was busy. I would make this a challenge if I had any energy left.

Maggie Bean in Love

One of my student's loved Tricia Rayburn's Maggie Bean series so much that when she found out I wasn't getting the last book until August, she bought it and donated it to the library! This sequel to The Melting of Maggie Bean and Maggie Bean Stays Afloat was every bit as amusing as the first two. Maggie and Arnie are now " a couple" after being friends for a long time. They also work together in "Patrol This" the weight loss group for young kids. Maggie, always a perfectionist with her school work, is struggling to balance everything in her life, and when she finds out that the swim team might be cut (in favor of the evil Water Wings group!) because of the school budget, she is even more stressed out. She and Arnie go on several dates, none of which go well because both are trying so hard. Will Maggie be able to figure out how to balance all of her commitments and figure out a place for Arnie in her life?

As always, some parts of this were cringe inducing to read, but I really like Maggie and how she has developed. The romance in this was really very different from anything I have read, but was very satisfying and realistic. Why these are in paperback I have no idea. It is a true disservice to a wonderful series. Excellent for middle school girls who want something a little sad but ultimately happy.

Trudi Trueit's Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed was great fun, and I would highly recommend it for an elementary library, although it was a bit young for middle school. Scab is desperate to get a dog, and tries to earn money by selling his most successful invention-- a stink spray made in his mother's blender out of all manner of disgusting things, including dog poop! However, he runs afoul of his twin sister, his best friends, and gets in trouble in school, making him wonder if it's all worth it. There are a lot of laugh out loud lines in this, and my son would have adored this in first grade. There is a sequel out, Mom, There's A Dinosaur in Benson's Lake, and a Julep O'Toole series that I will definitely have to find. This author sounded familiar, because I have some of her nonfiction works. It's good to see her make the switch to fiction, because she certainly has a way with words.

I couldn't get into 4 Kids in 5E and 1 Crazy Year. It was from the point of view of quite a number of culturally diverse students in a crowded New York City School, and the tone became rather didactic as we follow this group of lower achieving students as they become inspired by their new teacher to read and write. Combined with an oddly 90s cover, this made for a book I'll have to pass.



The biggest disappointment was Kate Brian's Ex-mas. I normally LURVE all of her books (Fake Boyfriend, Lucky T, The Princess and the Pauper, Sweet 16, and, as Kieran Scott, Jingle Boy, Geek Magnet, and the Nonblonde Cheerleader series) but this book, which I had sent from the Cuyahoga County Public Library, was too filled with fashion designer name dropping and didn't intrigue me at all. Really, I am shocked. I had saved this as a treat!

Geek Magnet actually came up last night at dinner, when my children and I had a spirited discussion on romance books for boys and decided that I should start a stealth project to get boys to read humor books aimed at girls (like Geek Magnet). My son asked my older daughter what most "girl" romance books are about, and she said "Well, usually an average girl has a huge crush on a really hot guy, pursues him, goes on one date with him, and finds out that he is really boring and decides she really likes her best guy friend." My son replied that that was pretty much the plot of "boy" books, too. I may need to go put some of the books in brown covers, but it's worth a shot!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Books for Boys

This is a late afternoon philosophical rant, so feel free to ignore it.

I need more books for boys in my library. There's been a lot of comment out there on how authors write for children not girls or boys, and as someone who bought only yellow and green unisex baby clothing and gave my son a doll and my girls trucks and tools, I would love to agree. My best friend pointed out that it's somehow disturbing to her as a feminist that we expect girls to read books about boys, but allow boys not to read books with girls as main characters. This was addressed by Diantha McBride in School Library Journal, where she went as far as suggesting that some authors make the main characters boys instead of girls, and people were not very nice about it.

By middle school, there is a huge difference in what boys and girls want to read. Sure, there are a handful of books that both will read. The Lightning Thief. Lemony Snicket. Anthony Horowitz. But I've been desperately searching for funny books for boys. Secretly, ROMANCE books for boys.

That's the difference. Boys don't want to read a book where the main character is a girl who likes a boy. It doesn't help them. Doesn't give them any pointers. And, I believe, girls and boys are looking for different things in a middle school romance. Girls just want to hold someone's hand. I didn't find out until I was middle aged what the boys wanted, which would explain my lack of dates when I was in school. And also maybe the lack of books, since we try not to encourage, um, fascination with individual body parts.

It is hard to get boys to read, and part of it has to be that most of the teachers, librarians, bloggers and even writers are girls. There are so few role models. There are lots of girl books, and most girls will read anything.

Philosophical question of the day: Should we differentiate? Does it serve our patrons better? Does it make the sexes more unequal? How bad should I feel abou tthis? What is the most important thing, bottom line?

And how many books can we expect Gordon Korman and Anthony Horowitz to write before they get tired?

*Sigh*

Funny Books for Boys

My 8th grade son rarely reads anymore. This week, he read five books because I was on a hunt for funny books for boys and kept flinging things at him. Food for thought: When students get books that interest them, they read MORE!!

8th grade boys are over goofy. A little is okay, but what they secretly want are romance books. Hence the success of titles such as Son of the Mob, 24 Girls in 7 Days, and The Girlfriend Project. There's a fine line to walk in these-- no sex, but innuendo is something they adore; no drinking unless there are bad consequences; scatological language is an 8th grade boys' whole world, but I draw the line at the f-bomb. This is why I was leery of Andy Behrens' book, since his his book Sex Drive (originally published as All the Way) stepped over several lines.

Duncan Boone can't shake his infatuation with Carly. He has written 19 songs to her, which he tries to get his friends Jessie and Stew to play in their rock band, Fat Barbie. Carly barely acknowledges his existence, being too busy with her social projects, most notably protesting the use of lab animals. When Duncan gets bruised-- by a shelf in his garage falling on him-- Carly turns protective and solicitous. But can Duncan keep her interest? He does, by hiring bully Freddie to harass him in exchange for letting Freddie's sister Syd into the band. Duncan gets closer to Carly by helping with her lab animal group and offering to play at a rally, but is Carly the girl he really wants?

This was delightful. My son sat and laughed through most of this. I enjoyed it because the obsessions, machinations, and emotions all rang true for me. The writing is clever in the way of Sonnenblick and Selzer, and thankfully, while we dance along the line of inappropriateness, we don't really go over. Perfect for my 8th grade boys. Thank you, Mr. Behrens!

My son also enjoyed The Schwa Was Here. He's a HUGE Shusterman fan, but told me that the first three chapters were hard to get into, but the book was a page turner after that. Antsy makes friends with a boy named Calvin Schwa, who has a tendency to go unnoticed by everyone. The two take a bet that the Schwa can sneak into Old Man Crawley's house and steal a dog bowl, but the two get caught and Crawley makes them walk his dog. Late, Crawley enlists Antsy to befriend his blind granddaughter, Lexie. Both boys have crushes on the girl and fight over who walks the dog and who talks to Lexie. Meanwhile, the Schwa starts to feel even more invisible, and a mystery arises concerning the disappearance of his mother.

The yellow cover is an improvement on the earlier one (see above- cartoons= too goofy), and this book balances introspection with action nicely. It's a little quirky, and I probably wouldn't have read the whole book if my son hadn't insisted, but he was right-- after the boys get involved with Crawley, it is a captivating if quirky read. Would have gotten my vote for the Newbery in 2004 over The Tale of Desperaux.

Two titles that didn't fly-- Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo was a little too goofy, as well as confusing, and McKissack's Shooting Star, which would have been a great addition to my football and steriods collection, had far too many f bombs. I was willing to let the one uttered by the distraught coach go, but they continued. Sigh.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Books for boys

I've been searching in vain for funny books for boys. No matter how many I buy, it seems like they are all checked out.

One book that has been showing up on all the lists is Neal Shusterman's The Schwa Was Here (2004). I love Shusterman's Red Rider's Hood, Full Tilt, and other titles, but the first time I saw this book, it was a Scholastic paperback with the tiniest printing, and I couldn't bring myself to order it. Upon revisiting, I can see some of the charm of the story of Antsy, a Brooklyn boy who befriends the Schwa, a boy who somehow manages to be unnoticeable no matter what he does. The boys embark on a service project, try to woo a girl, and complications and hilarity ensue. I'm handing this to actual teenage boy for a second opinion, because nothing really spoke to me in this one, and I can't tell if it's the book or the fact that I'm not a teen boy.

Had such hopes for Greg Taylor's Killer Pizza, especially after seeing the end papers, which look like the inside of a grease stained pizza box. Tobey gets a job at a new pizza parlor, but soon finds that the store is a cover for an organization that hunts the fearsome guttata monsters, who bite their victims and turn them into shape-shifting agents of evil. This is a clever idea, and filled with a decent amount of action and gore, but was a somewhat unsatisfying read. At 346 pages, it will be a hard sell for reluctant readers, who are the audience for most of my horror books, especially since there is never a lot of actual horror. The writing was very pedestrian, which is something that usually doesn't bother me. I will have to buy a copy because of the clever premise, but won't buy two.

Has anyone seen an actual copy of any of the Capstone Press Bloodiest Battles series? While weeding my 940.53 section, which is filled with beat up Time-Life books about war, I realized I need to update the collection. These high-low titles look appealing, but at $18 each, I want to be sure that they are something students will want to read. I've had a lot of luck with some of the Graphic Battles series. Any other suggestions would be welcome.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Erich Segal

It is with profound and yet inexplicable sadness that I report the passing of author and Classicist Erich Segal. When I heard this, I went to my bookshelf, where after nine moves and countless rounds of weeding, I still had his book, The Class, which I bought new, in hardcover, in 1985.

I sat for a long time with the book, and could not open it. Reading this story of students at Harvard in 1958 again would have reminded me that I never attended Harvard, never became a Latin professor, and haven't taught Latin for 17 years. No matter how long I am a librarian, I will always, in my heart, be a Latin teacher.

After reading this, I wrote Mr. Segal about how much I, as a Classicist, enjoyed it. He wrote back. Despite his literary success with popular fiction, Mr. Segal remained an academician, and was a fellow at Oxford University's Wolfson College.

I am a librarian now. When I fling books at middle school students, I have to remember that sometimes, the right book at the right time can become integral parts of our personalities, keepsakes of what we were, and tokens of dreams both realized and lost.

Requiescat in pace, Magister Segal.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rick Yancey

Since Rick Yancey just won a Printz Honor Award for his excellent The Monstrumologist, I thought I would opine on his Alfred Kropp series, which so far includesThe Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (2005), The Seal of Solomon, and The Thirteenth Skull(2008).

I didn't like the first book, but The Seal of Solomon was awesome. I reread the first book, could not believe it was the same author.

In the first book, which I thought was weakly written (not that this bothers students), Alfred ends up with the sword Excalibur, which has survived in the keeping of the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. People chase him; many heads roll. In the next book, we find out that Alfred is descended from Lancelot, and it is up to him to save the world from demons released by another ancient artifact. In the third, Alfred himself is prized by several organizations bent on world domination, since his blood can heal people. Evil doers abound to thwart his every move, and it's tough for Alfred to know whom to trust. Chased by the son of the man he killed in the first book (who is determined that he must kill Alfred to obtain his skull!) and jailed and almost lobotomized by scientists he thought would help him, Alfred has a series of escapes that include sledding down a mountain on a garbage can lid, high jacking helicopters, and THE BEST CAR CHASE EVER!!! While I personally had trouble focusing on the direction of the plot, (it was PTO night) the action, adventure, and sly humor of Alfred kept me delightedly turning pages and quoting hunks to my family. Purple prose, Horn Book? Absolutely! If you buy The Monstrumologist, make sure that you get this series, too, because students will be asking for it.

We are heading into February, and students are demanding depressing books. Child abuse, drug abuse, mental disorders-- you name it. Susan Vaught's books fill this need beautifully. Exposed and Big Fat Manifesto (both 2008) have been very popular, especially with students in 8th grade who are more mature readers. Since I didn't have Trigger (2006), I thought it was worth a look.

Jersey has sustained significant brain damage which makes it difficult for him to walk, talk, and keep from blurting out inappropriate phrases (frog farts!). He doesn't remember how he was injured; he doesn't know why his former best friend is so angry with him. His parents are on edge, and everything is difficult. He tries, with the help of Leza and her grandmother, to figure out what happened. He begins to discover that he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself, but it takes him a long time to find out why. This is a great book for getting inside someone else's head, much like Klass' You Don't Know Me, Going's St. Iggy, or Baskin's Anything But Typical. It's a difficult read, but fine for middle school, and a much more helpful book when dealing with teen suicide than many I have read. Will definitely be buying a copy. Luckily, it's still in print.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Day of the Pelican

Admittedly, I'm worse than the students. The Day of the Pelican is by Katherine Paterson, who was just made the Children's Laureate, AND this book was recommended to me by a language arts teacher (the long-suffering Mr. Buxton), so I wanted to hate it.

I didn't, because it is a very good book about the plight of one young girl in Kosovo in the early 90s. Meli has a nice life in Kosovo, where she goes to school with friends and her father runs a small store. When the Serbians start to oust the Albanian Muslims, Meli and her family go to live with an uncle in the country, only to be kicked out of that house as well and forced to flee to a refugee camp. When things settle down in the country, Meli and her family decide to go to the US, where they make a new life for themselves, only to experience more discrimination after 9/11. This is the sort of book that students need to read so that they realize how well off we are in the US, and the historical setting is best explained in a classroom setting. Even Picky Reader should like this one, so I don't feel bad about the class set that we have now. Go, Mr. Buxton!

A very nice student loaned me Julie Anne Peters By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead. She and her sister both liked it, but I found it overly depressing. Daelyn is overweight and has been bullied her whole life. Now, she can't speak because of a failed suicide attempt, her family has moved, and her parents watch her every moment of the day. She decides that suicide is still the answer, and signs on to http://www.through-the-light.com/, a web site that helps people commit suicide. (This link is actually a link for this book.) She meets an odd boy at school, Santana, who pursues her friendship, and eventually decides that suicide is not the answer. Both of my daughters read the book, but agreed with me that they did not like the main character and that the book was written for more of a high school audience. I felt that there was too much discussion of ways to commit suicide, even though there are lots of helpful notes in the back about organization to help prevent suicide, and the whole book is a polemic against bullying.

Is it any wonder that, given the overly gray and rainy January weather, that I had to have a Rosamund du Jardin fix? Read Practically Seventeen (1943) and Class Ring (1951), and was slightly cheered until I realized that Tobey Heydon would be 85 if she were a real person.

What I find particularly amusing is that these books were in print and in libraries for so long. There is something timeless about the teenage travails that keeps me picking up these books. If you are a fan of teen literature from the 1950s and 60s, the Image Cascade web site is worth a visit. They have reprinted several of the most popular authors of the time period, so if you have a collection and need certain titles, they will have them.

Fine. Award Winners.

If you are having trouble finding a concise list of all of the award winners, (Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, etc.), try the American Library Association web site. The below information (minus the publishers) is from that site.

Sigh.

I saw When You Reach Me coming, was unimpressed by Calpurnia Tate, hated Homer Figg, and read the Grace Lin title but didn't even comment on it as it seemed too young.

As for the Printz Awards, everyone in the office laughed when I read the description of Going Bovine, but no one wanted to read it. The only one they nailed was Monstrumologist. Great, great book, and Rick Yancey deserves this. Students will actually read this book.

Again, sigh. Remember, NOWHERE in the criteria does it say that actual children have to actually like the books. Keep this in mind, librarians, before you buy the books.

From ALA:

John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature
“When You Reach Me,” written by Rebecca Stead, is the 2010 Newbery Medal winner.

Four Newbery Honor Books also were named: “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose ; “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” by Jacqueline Kelly ; “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” by Grace Lin; and “The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg” by Rodman Philbrick.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults
“Going Bovine,” written by Libba Bray, is the 2010 Printz Award winner.

Four Printz Honor Books also were named: “Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith” by Deborah Heiligman; “The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey; “Punkzilla” by Adam Rapp; and “Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973” by John Barnes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flashback Books

I have resolved to give up challenges (as well as interviews, contests and anything NOT a book review!), but I was intrigued by the Decades 2010 Challenge and have come up with a list of books that I have already read that most ably portray the life of a young girl in the decade of publication. This is a very personal and quirky list!

1860s- Louisa May Alcott. Little Women.
1870s- Susan Coolidge. What Katie Did.
1880s-Johanna Sypri. Heidi.
1900s- L.M. Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables.
1910s Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Understood Betsy.
1920s- Rachel Field. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years
1930s-Carolyn Keene. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew #1)
1940s- Lenora Matingly Weber. Meet the Malones.
1950s- Beverly Cleary. Fifteen.
1960s-Jeanette Eyerly. The Girl Inside.
1970s- Ellen Conford. Seven Days to a Brand New Me.
1980s- Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The Agony of Alice.
1990s- Joan Bauer. Rules of the Road.
2000s-Sarah Dessen. Along for the Ride.

Too early for this decade yet! The following nonfiction books are also great to take a look at :
Karen Blumenthal. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX.
Leslie Sills. From Rags to Riches: A History of Girls' Clothing in America.

Gorgeous and other titles

I remembered being very lukewarm about Rachel Vail's Lucky , but I did buy it. However, I was confused by Gorgeous. In Lucky, the three sisters was having a hard time because their parents were struggling financially and their friends were still being spoiled rich kids. In Gorgeous, Allison sells her cell phone to the devil in exchange for the illusion of beauty. This switch from realisim to fantasy had me kerflummoxed, and I did not like Allison at all. This would probably be fine for girls who liked Maureen Johnson's Devilish, but I may pass. This is too bad, because Vail's If We Kiss and You, Maybe are falling to bits from heavy use.

Robb White's 1973 Deathwatch has been in my TBR pile for a long time, but was quite a good survival book. Ben takes a job showing Madec where to shoot bighorn sheep, but when Madec accidentally shoots and kills a prospector and Ben refuses to cover up the murder, Madec strips Ben of his clothes and supplies, turns him loose in the desert, sabotages any attempt Ben makes to survive AND shoots at him. Can Ben survive the 45 mile trek back to civilization with his feet torn to shreds, the skin peeling off his tongue, and a crazy man on his trail? And what will happen to him when he does? This is still in print, and still a fine tale of survival. I'll have it in someone's hands by the end of the day.

In Betty Ren Wright's The Ghosts of Mercy Manor, Gwen moves to an old house in a remote but close knit community to live in a foster home to stay in the school she is used to because of her reversal of fortunes due to the death of her parents and aunt. While there, Gwen has dreams about the ghost of a golden haired girl, although no one takes her too seriously because of other struggles with her foster brother who wants to write instead of playing basketball, and the depression of her foster mother. When she realizes that the ghosts are staying on because of two men who killed a young girl when the mother lived in the house as a child, she is able to ease the ghost's spirit and stop the haunting. (Okay, as rude as this template is, it has enabled me to give a one minute book talk on every single Wright book to various students yesterday. I think I only have one left on the shelf!)

This title is also out of print.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Kate Messner has written a multi-layered, intriguing middle grade novel, and the best part is that I think Picky Reader, my 6th grader, will like it!

Gianna gets distracted easily. She would much rather be working on her art than collecting leaves for a science project, and there are other distractions as well. She's running cross country, and if she doesn't get the leaf project done, purple glitter-clad Bianca will have to go to sectionals instead of her! Gianna has a lot of support from her parents and grandmother at home, and from her best friend Zig, but things are tough. Her grandmother is getting to be very forgetful, and several dramatic incidents interfere with the project. There's also the evil Bianca, who destroys a lot of a first attempt at a leaf scrapbook. Will Gianna be able to pull everything together so she can compete?

I was predisposed to like this because I ADORED doing my 9th grade leaf project, and two of my children run cross country, but I was pleasantly surprised by the warm and caring portrayal of the grandmother, and the painfully realistic treatment of her struggles with incipient Alzheimer's. While Bianca is overly evil, I did like that the other girls in Gianna's class banded together and didn't take her treatment to heart. The cross country aspect of this was a bit weak for me, but there is plenty going on in this book to make it interesting. This is a definite buy, and I'll be looking forward to Sugar on Snow (great title) with interest!

I now understand why some of my struggling readers adore Betty Ren Wright. There's a definite pattern to how the books proceed. I really don't mean to be rude, but I fell asleep thinking of how I could write a review of most Wright books in a formula as well:

Ghosts Beneath Our Feet (1984-- out of print):
Katie
along with her single mother and stepbrother , move to an old, decrepit house in a remote but close knit community to live with the mother's uncle to help him out because of their reversal of fortunes due to the stepfather's death. While there, Katie has dreams about the ghost of a young girl with long blonde hair, although no one takes her too seriously because of other struggles with the stepbrother running with a tough and destructive local crowd. When she realizes that the ghosts are staying on because of a long ago mining accident, she is able to ease the ghost's spirit and stop the haunting.

Using this formula, The Ghost in the Window could also be reviewed:

Meg along with her single father , move to an old, decrepit house in a remote but close knit community to live in a boarding house to live while the father is writing because of their reversal of fortunes due to the father's unsuccessful career. While there, Meg has dreams about the ghost of a man, although no one takes her too seriously because of other struggles with death of the husband of the woman who runs the boarding house. When she realizes that the ghosts are staying on because of criminal past of the dead husband, she is able to ease the ghost's spirit and stop the haunting.

There is definitely a need for books like these, and I highly recommend Wright's books to students who love ghost stories.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spinx's Princess

May I be forgiven for accidentally thinking this was Esther Friesner's third book about Helen of Troy (Nobody's Princess, Nobody's Prize)? The title similarity tripped me up, but had I paid attention, I would have noticed the Egyptian dress. This is similar to the other two in that it is a fictionalized account of an ancient princess.

Nefertiti's mother died when she was just a baby, but she is raised by her father (brother to the Pharaoh's wife) and a very loving nanny, who becomes her stepmother and provides Nefertiti with a much beloved sister. Nefertiti is happy: beautiful, tutored to read and write, and able to escape an arranged marriage with a priest's son. Then, the family is summoned to the royal court by Queen Tiye, who feels that her son, Thutmose, is in danger of losing his position as heir to the throne to the sons of younger and more favored wives. To secure his ascendency, she attempts to marry Nefertiti to him quickly so that they will produce an heir. This doesn't sit well with Nefertiti, who prefers Thutmose's brother Amenophis as well as her own independence.

I was a little leery of this at first, because I have trouble selling the marvelous Dorothy Carter title, Her Majesty, Queen Hatshepsut (1987) even though the 6th grade social studies curriculum covers Egypt. The book is not short (364 pages), but it did pull me in, and had wonderful details of every day life. Nefertiti doesn't reflect the attitudes for women at the time, but this is part of what makes these books fun. Sure, Nefertiti was beautiful, but what if she was also feisty? This book won't be a blockbuster, but will circulate steadily for years. I've seen reviews of this recommending it for grades 8-12, but this will be fine for my 6th graders.

After reading The Book Whisperer, I did put a concerted effort into making it a point to ask all of my classes if they were happy with their books, and there were about four students in every class who came up to me and said that they weren't. Was it worth scrapping my book talks for the week to tell them again that their job is to read, and my job is to make them happy with what they are reading? To those 30ish students who came forward-- absolutely. Most of the students didn't know what to read next, some were bogged down in a book they didn't like, and a very few just didn't want to read anything.

The lesson for today is that letting readers know that we do care about what they are reading and how it makes them feel is really important. It's hard to do, but even telling this to groups of students can be effective.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Immortal Fire/ Book Whispering versus Book Flinging

The Immortal Fire is the third and final installment of Anne Ursu's Chronus Chronicles (after The Shadow Thieves and The Siren Song). Charlotte and Zee have survived the epic sea battle where Poseidon was turned into a sea cucumber by Philonecron, who now has Poseidon's trident and is bent on destroying humanity and taking over Olympus for himself. Mr. Metos returns to help the cousins fight against a variety of threats, including one that destroys their school. It's difficult, since no one else knows that only these two can thwart Philonecron. However, the gods are starting to make themselves and their acts visible to the world, so the cousins join the Prometheans (through Mr. Metos) and try to use The Immortal Flame to their advantage. Adding to the confusion is Steve, the son of Zeus, who has to decide whether to overthrow his father as the prophecy has foretold, or save the mortal world. Packed full of action and mythological references, fans of mythology will be pleased with the conclusion to this story.

While still funny and snide, there were some changes in voice and tone that made this one harder for me to get through than the last. Perhaps this was rushed a little? All of these books are very large (this was 500 pages), and perhaps could have been more completely edited. Still, I'll buy it.

Ah, Ms. Miller. The Book Whisperer is a wonderful resource for "Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child" and is packed full of wonderful ideas, but it made me feel totally inadequate. I love the idea that Ms. Miller's students are allow to pick their own books and are expected to read 40 every year. It's so true that the more students read, the better they like to do it. But after last week, I feel like The Book Flinger. We checked out 1275 books in four days, and there are still 400 overdue books. The library is a mess and I feel like I an just not connecting because my eyes are crossed with busy-ness. So, thanks to this book, I am going to take a deep breath and reboot. These are the things I can do today:
1. Know my books.
2. Know my students.
3. Show enthusiasm for books and reading.
4. Make the library a clean, happy and inviting place.
5. Expect that every student can enjoy reading with the right book.

This is my focus today. I'll take care of that pesky purchase order mistake before the students get here, refill my recommendations shelves, tidy things up, and make a concerted effort to get The Right Book to The Right Student at The Right Time.

Go!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Whispering to Witches

You'd think I'd know when I reread things, but at least Anna Dale's Whispering to Witches (2004) sounded vaguely familiar. Joe takes a train to Canterbury to visit his mother, and runs into a coven of witches and tries to help them retrieve a page from a witches' manual. From May 31, 2006--This hit me as a delightful cross between Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy (that whole 'being sent from school on a train in England' thing) and the Ruth Chew books. Pretty cover, easy to understand, good character development. Moved along well, fantasy element plausible. And it just made me happy.

Kaiulani: The People's Princess by Ellen Emerson White is one of the Scholastic Royal Diaries, which tend to irritate me, since the princesses tend to go on and on about how they have to keep their diaries secret, and cover all manner of petty concerns. While realistic, this is irritating. Kaiulani didn't have as much of that, and I learned a lot about the royal family in Hawaii and how the United States did such damage to their native government (which was very sophisticated, although cursed with bad luck when it came to heirs to the throne) that we officially apologized in 1993-- 100 years too late for Kaiulani to become queen.

When I go to the library, I tend toward nonfiction, so I enjoyed Really useful : The Origins of Everyday Things by Joel Levy even though it is, unfortunately, out of print. It covers objects from kitchen implements to bathroom fixtures to everything in between. Thiswouldn't be a bad book for middle school, but it was lengthy and did have a page on condoms. This is the sort of book that is good to have to give to students who don't want to read nonfiction. Crammed with fun facts that I felt compelled to read aloud.

Friday, January 08, 2010

How to Have Poise, Beauty, and SUPER POWERS

Many thanks to the ever lovely and astute Jen Robinson for alerting me that Jon Scieszka commented about my comment on her Book Lights post, where I opined yet again that Mr. Scieska should write a book for my patrons: "And you and Ms. Yingling are psychic - I'm just now working on a humorous middle grade novel series . . . that also messes around with media literacy. It's called Spaceheadz. The first book is coming out this summer." I can't wait! We will miss Mr. Scieszka as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, but welcome Katherine Paterson to the post.

My superpowers were on the wane last night because I thought that we would not have school due to snow today, so I read frivolously. Started with Jordan Christy's How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World, which is more a lifestyle commentary than an etiquette manual. Great cover and title, and fairly helpful information for people in their 20s who, as my mother would say, were raised in a barn. The author is 24, so her advice on how to dress and act, while helpful if one has taken all one's tips from Paris Hilton thus far, seems very mild to someone who refuses to leave the house in a dress or skirt without appropriate underpinnings. Which, of course, are indelicate to mention by name; let's just say that Ms. Christy and I are on opposing sides of the Pantyhose Divide. The advice about imbibing alcohol (in moderation) and sex make this inappropriate for middle school libraries, but I will have my sophomore daughter take a look at it. Good fun, but since I have sweaters older than Ms. Christy, of limited use to me! We are passing this around the office at school.


To follow this, I had a 1960 copy of John Robert Powers' How To Have Model Beauty, Poise and Personality which a friend graciously loaned to me. This, my friends, is how it should be. Stand straight, modulate your voice, brush your hair 100 strokes a night, and never, never leave the house without enough undergarments to clothe 10 Hollywood starlets. Really, the decline of civilization began when men stopped wearing hats, but when casual Fridays came around, we all hopped right into the handbasket.

I did not know that Mr. Powers started the first modeling agency in the 1920s. A biography of him would be very interesting.

Oh, and Westerville City Schools just closed. Great. Time to lock up the building and walk home!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Adriana Trigiani for YA!

General warning: I have no more money to spend on books, which makes me very, very picky!

Over break, I read a lot of Adriana Trigiani's adult novels, so I was thrilled to pick up Viola in Reel Life. Viola is sent from New York City to the boarding school in the Midwest that her mother attended while her parents are filming a documentary overseas. She misses Brooklyn and her best friend and hides behind her video camera a bit until she starts to warm to her roommates. She meets another film aficionado from the local boys' prep school, and starts to film a documentary about a 1920s film star whose plane crashed near the school. She starts to understand more about life on the other side of the lens and makes her peace with her surroundings.

Like Trigiani's adult novels, I enjoyed the relationships between the characters, the vivid sense of place, and the quality of the writing. This was not quite as good as the adult novels (there was some unquantifiable lack of depth somehow), and I wonder if the change was a bit difficult. I hope to see more from this author and know that she will improve.

Matthew Cody's Powerless showed a lot of research on comics of the Golden Age. Daniel moves to Noble's Green and soon finds that the children who have befriended him all have super powers. They hide these from their parents (shades of Mull's Candy Shop War) and use the powers for good, but there are problems. When they turn 13, the powers go away, and there is a threat looming to their community. Daniel seeks the help of the author of the Johnny Noble comics which seem instrumental somehow, Herman Plunkett, to try to figure out what's going on. Mr. Plunkett gives him clues on how to fight The Shadow, but then things get complicated. It is only by banding together that the friends are able to save themselves and their town.

Parts of this were really quite clever, and I enjoyed reading it. It might skew a tiny bit young, and I don't have a whole lot of call for super hero books. If you have fans of Boniface's Ordinary Boy series and Carrol's Quantum Prophecy series, this would be a good addition.

Iain Lawrence's The Giant-Slayer was brought to my attention by Mr. Buxton of Buxtolicious Blog O'Books. Laurie's father raises money for the March of Dimes, to fight polio in 1955. He is very careful to keep her from being exposed, but her friend Dickie manages to come down with it and is hospitalized in an iron lung. When she visits him and his three ward mates, she starts to tell them a story about Collosus the giant, and Jimmy, the giant-slayer. In the tradition of Bridge to Terebithia, the fantasy world becomes a coping mechanism for the children, who live out adventure through the story because they are confined in real life.

I concur with Mr. Buxton that this will be a hard sell to students because of the mix of genres. My own children were all very dismissive of this. Students who like problem novels will not pick this up because of the cover and the strong fantasy element, and students who think it will be fantasy will stop after the first chapters about polio. Lawrence's historical and adventure books are very good, but this book was odd. Also, the discretion in naming a character in a YA novel Dickie... there was some thought that did not go into this. Or perhaps some underlying reason that Lawrence chose these topics that is not immediately apparent to me.
 
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