Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Teri Hall's The Line

Hall, Teri. The Line.
Rachel lives far from the city, away from most of the problems but very near the Line, an electric fence that separates the Unified States from Away, a region that was bombed and has untold problems. While she is intrigued by this Line, she is also glad that she and her mother are employed by Ms. Moore on the Property, and therefore safe from the drudgery of the Employment Pool. She enjoys helping Ms. Moore grow orchids, but details about her mother's past and the cruelty of the government come to a head when she comes in contact with a boy from the other side of the Line who needs her help. Nothing is safe anymore, and Rachel, her mother, and Ms. Moore have to make a scary decision in order to protect everything that they know and love.

Don't want to give too much away, because there has GOT to be a sequel to this, and it was a fantastic futuristic dystopian novel. It took some getting used to all of the terms, history, and strange names but it worked. Rachel was an intriguing character, and I became very invested in what was happening to her. Gave this one to Picky Reader, and I can see it being popular with fans of Collins' The Hunger Games, Haddix's Among the Hidden and Malley's The Declaration.

I need to put together a Futuristic Dystopia list, but what I really want to read is a Futuristic Eutopia. Or at least, a picture of the future that is not quite so dire!

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.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In My Mailbox Monday

I rarely get books in the mail, preferring (so as to be unbiased) to get them from the library. Still, when Timothy Travaglini of Penguin Young Readers Group sent me a copy of Janette Rallison's My Double Life, I was tickled, because Rallison is one of my favorite authors and it was a thrill to see the book before it comes out on May 13th.

Alexia Garcia, a bright student whose single mother is struggling to raise her, has often been told she looks like singing sensation Kari Kingsley, but when a photo of her goes viral on the internet, Kari's manager approached Alexia with a job offer. If Alexia will impersonate Kari at minor appearances so that Kari can work on her new album, she'll be paid handsomely. Alexia agrees to do this despite her ethical reservations, because she has come to the realization that the reason she looks so much like the star is that they are half sisters; Alexia's mother was a fan of Alex Kingsley's band. Alex doesn't know about his second daughter, ans is estranged from his first, which makes matters more difficult. So does that fact that Alexia falls for hot singer Grant Delray and dates him on the sly, even though Kari has another celebrity boyfriend.

I always think that I will dislike books about celebrity life, but this was so charming. I loved Alexia, and her quest for identity was interesting. This will be very popular with fans of Rallison, as well as fans of Jen Calonita, Lola Douglas, and Meg Cabot. Very fun.

Another book about the quest for personal identity was Carolyn Marsden's Take Me With You. Set in Italy after World War II, it concerns Pina, a blonde orphan whom no one is allowed to adopt, and Susanna, who is the daughter of an Italian woman and an African American soldier. Susanna holds no hope of being adopted, but Pina hopes she will be until she finds out that her mother may be alive. When Susanna's father shows up, the two girls must struggle with their desire for families, because being taken away from the orphanage would mean separating.

This was an interesting book about a little known facet of war: the children born to women who have affairs with soldiers. The book does not delve deeply into how very difficult it was to have such a child or be such a child, which makes it easier for children today (who may not have married parents) to read, but misses some of the historical authenticity. Still, a very interesting book with a cover that captures both of the main characters as they are described in the text!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Conspiracy 365

Lord, Gabrielle. Conspiracy 365: January. (Usbourne Books)
Cal is having a difficult start to the new year. His father has recently passed away, and after being accosted by a crazy guy on the street who says he should hide for entire year, he and his uncle get caught in a horrible storm while out sailing on New Year's Eve. (The book is set in Australia.) Cal survives but is badly injured. Then his house is ransacked! His uncle steals a letter from him that his father left before his death! He's kidnapped! His family is attacked and he's blamed! He's on the run! And most of all, there is a mystery involving his family that needs to be solved, but which will apparently take 12 books to unravel.

I'm debating this series. It will probably be popular, and I do like the fact that it will be easy to tell which book is next. However, I'm not sure I love it $132 worth. Combine that with the fact that it isn't available (that I can tell) from any of my three vendors (Follett, Baker and Taylor or Perma-Bound), and I may pass.

Books about war.

Most readers would like a weekly feature on books for boys. Sorry, though--no snacks on this blog, nor am I willing to title the feature Dinosaur Monday! Lists of books for boys got a lot of votes. While unwieldy to post, I'll do it anyway; if you would like a version in Microsoft Word, e mail me.

I also got this very good response; the author can certainly send me a name or link!:
"Displays aimed at boys are a good thing. I found a site that had a display of the Guys Read booklist "At Least One Explosion." So I made a display, and besides our awards display, it is our most popular display so far.

Also, I think we shouldn't be condescending to boys and their interests. If they ask for hunting books, don’t get them something that is trying to dissuade them from hunting (there isn’t a lot out there, but The Trap by John Smelcer is very popular with boys.)

I think it is always best to listen to what they want to, and spend the time to search based on their interests. If I have to put in 2 hours' work to find one book for one boy, and that boy really enjoys that book, then that isn't time wasted. We are here for readers.
Just a note: I'm a librarian, in case that wasn't clear."

One thing that I have found boys ask for is books about war. They don't want books set on the home front; they want books about battles. These can be difficult to find; for example, Hobbs' Sonny's War was too much from a teen girl's point of view.

Certainly nonfiction books are good, too. I have gotten several good series lately, including Capstone's Bloodiest Battles, which has been hugely popular, and selected title from the We The People series. This companies The Terrible, Awful Civil War was quite good, replete with facts about clothing, food and sleeping conditions. 24/7 Goes to War was another good series. The problem with all of these, though, is that they are very short.

While not all of the books on this list have a lot of fighting, they have all been popular with my boys.

Books about War

Ancient Times

Ford, Michael. Fire of Ares. (Series of 3)

When slaves rebel in ancient Sparta, Lysander is caught between the Spartan ruling class, with whom he has been training as a warrior since his noble heritage was revealed, and those among whom he was recently laboring as a slave.

Rubalcaba, Jill. The Wadget Eye.

After his mother dies, Damon, a young medical student living in Alexandria, Egypt, in 45 B.C., makes a perilous journey to Spain to locate his father who is serving in the Roman army led by Julius Caesar.

Stone, Jeff. Tiger (Series of 7—Ancient Orient)

Five young warrior-monk brothers survive an insurrection and must use the ancient arts to avenge their Grandmaster.

Sutcliff, Rosemary. Black Ships Before Troy.

Retells the story of the Trojan War, from the quarrel for the golden apple, and the flight of Helen with Paris, to the destruction of Troy.

Dougherty, Terri. 300 Heroes : The Battle of Thermopylae (Series: Bloodiest Battles)

Describes events before, during, and after the battle of Thermopylae, including key players, weapons, and battle tactics.

Crusades, Medieval

Alexander, Lloyd. Westmark. (Series of 3)

A boy fleeing from criminal charges travels about the kingdom of Westmark, and ultimately arrives at the palace where the king is grieving over the loss of his daughter. (Not really historical, but lots of fighting.)

Cadnum, Michael. Book of the Lion. (Series of 3)

In twelfth-century England, after his master is brutally punished for alleged cheating, seventeen-year-old Edmund finds himself traveling to the Holy Land as squire to a knight crusader on his way to join the forces of Richard Lionheart.

Jinks, Catherine. Pagan’s Crusade. (Series of 4)

In twelfth-century Jerusalem, orphaned Pagan is assigned to work for Lord Roland, a Templar knight, as Saladin's armies close in on the Holy City.

Flanagan, John. The Ruins of Gorlan. (Series of 7 and counting)

When Will is rejected by battle school, he becomes the reluctant apprentice to the mysterious Ranger Halt, and winds up protecting the kingdom from danger. (Not really historical, but lots of fighting.)

Spradlin, Michael. Keeper of the Grail

In 1191, Tristan becomes a Templar Knight's squire during the Third Crusade and soon finds himself on a mission to bring the Holy Grail to safety.

Revolutionary War

Avi, Fighting Ground

Thirteen-year-old Jonathan goes off to fight in the Revolutionary War and discovers the real war is being fought within himself.

Barry Denenberg. The journal of William Thomas Emerson : A Revolutionary War Patriot

William writes of his experiences in pre-Revolutionary War Boston where he joins the cause of the patriots who are opposed to the British rule.

Elizabeth Alder. Crossing the Panther's Path

Billy, son of a British soldier and a Mohawk woman, joins Tecumseh in his efforts to prevent the Americans from taking more land from the Indians in the Northwest Territory.

Civil War

Abnett, Dan. The Battle of Gettysburg (Graphic Battles of the Civil War)

Presents a brief depiction of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July, 1863; and describes major Union and Confederate generals as well as details of the fight.

Avi. Iron Thunder.

At Tom’s job at the local ironworks he helps build an iron ship for the Union army, and his loyalty come into question when he is approached by Confederate spies to sell secrets about the ship to the South.

Beatty, Patricia. Charley Skedaddle

During the Civil War, a boy joins the Union Army as a drummer, deserts during a battle in Virginia, and encounters a hostile old mountain woman.

Collier, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier. With Every Drop of Blood.

While trying to transport food to Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War, Johnny is captured by a African American Union soldier.

Fleischman, Paul. Bull Run.

An assortment of characters describe the glory, the horror, the thrill, and the disillusionment of the first battle of the Civil War.

Paulsen, Gary

Soldier’s Heart— Eager to enlist, Charley has a change of heart after experiencing both the physical horrors and mental anguish of Civil War combat.

Severance, John B. Braving the Fire.

Jem joins the Union Army but is not sure of his motives or what he hopes to accomplish, particularly since the Civil War has divided his family and caused much violence and confusion in his life.

Sid Hite. The Journal of Rufus Rowe : a Witness to the Battle of Fredericksburg

In 1862, Rufus runs away from home and settles in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he documents in his journal the battle he watches unfold there.

John Wilson. The Flags of War

Two cousins, Nate in South Carolina and Walt in Canada, know nothing of each other until they are united by the Civil War and a runaway slave from Nate's plantation.

World War I

Erich Maria Remarque ; All Quiet on the Western Front

Depicts the experiences of a group of young German soldiers fighting and suffering during the last days of World War I.

Murphy, Jim. Truce.

Tells the story of the December 25, 1914 truce between German and British soldiers as they laid down their weapons and met in No Man's Land to celebrate Christmas.

Wilson, John. And in the Morning.

Canadian Jim Hay joins the army in World War I and is sent to France where he meets a tragic end.

Spilbeen, Geert. Kipling’s Choice.

In 1915, mortally wounded in Loos, France, John Kipling, son of writer Rudyard Kipling, remembers his boyhood and the events leading to what is to be his first and last World War I battle.

World War II

Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker.

After being taught in a boarding school run by whites that Navajo is a useless language, Ned and other Navajos are recruited to send messages during World War II.

Cromwell, Sharon. GI Joe in World War II

Examines key events involving U.S. soldiers during World War II that have shaped the course of the nation, while defining the GI's place in history.

DeMallie Howard R. Behind Enemy Lines : A Young Pilot's Story

A young American pilot is forced to bail out over occupied Holland during World War II, helped by the Dutch underground, and imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp.

Dowswell, Paul. True Stories of the Second World War
A collection of stories about the events during World War II and some of their later results.

Elliot, Laura. Under a War-Torn Sky.

After his plane is shot down by Hitler's Luftwaffe Henry strives to walk across occupied France in hopes of rejoining his unit.

Hughes, Dean. Solider Boys.

Two boys, one German and one American, are eager to join their respective armies during World War II, and their paths cross at the Battle of the Bulge.

Napoli, Donna Jo. Stones in Water.

After being taken by German soldiers, Roberto is forced to work in Germany, escapes into the Ukrainian winter, before desperately trying to make his way back home to Venice.

Walter Dean Myers. The journal of Scott Pendleton Collins : a World War II soldier

A seventeen-year-old soldier from central Virginia records his experiences in a journal as his regiment takes part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and subsequent battles to liberate France.

World War II

Salisbury, Graham. Eyes of the Emperor.

Following orders from the United States Army, several young Japanese American men train K-9 units to hunt Asians during World War II.

Wilson, John. Flames of a Tiger.

Dieter believes in the policies of Hitler and the Nazis, but as World War II intensifies and he is called upon to fight for his country, Dieter begins to question everything he believed.

Wilson, John. Four Steps to Death

Two bodies, uncovered at a building site, prompt the investigating officer to remember World War II and the circumstances involving their deaths during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Wulffson, Don. Soldier X.

In 1943 sixteen-year-old Erik experiences the horrors of war when he is drafted into the German army and sent to fight on the Russian front.

Vietnam

DiConsiglio, John. Vietnam : The Bloodbath at Hamburger Hill. (24/7 Goes to War)

Explores, through letters and diary entries, the Vietnam War and its effects on the soldiers and the citizens of Vietnam.

Hughes, Dean. Search and Destroy.

Recent high school graduate Rick Ward, undecided about his future and eager to escape his unhappy home life, joins the army and experiences the horrors of the war in Vietnam.

Kadohata. Cynthia. Cracker, The Best Dog in Vietnam.

A young soldier in Vietnam bonds with his bomb-sniffing German shepherd.

Mitchell. A Sniper’s Journey (NF)

Gary Mitchell recounts the experiences he had while serving as a sniper for the United States Army, describing the assassinations he was ordered to carry out.

Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels.

Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam.

Smith-Llera. Danielle. Vietnam War POWs (We the People)

Examines key events that took place during the Vietnam war, focusing on the mistreatment of our POWs.

White, Ellen Emerson. The journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps

A Marine records in his journal his experiences in Vietnam during the siege of Khe Sanh, 1967-1968.

Iraq

Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Robin Perry, from Harlem, is sent to Iraq in 2003 as a member of the Civilian Affairs Battalion, and his time there profoundly changes him.

McCormick, Patricia. Purple Heart.

While recuperating in a Baghdad hospital from a traumatic brain injury sustained during the Iraq War, Matt struggles to recall what happened to him and how it relates to his friend, Ali.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Man From Pomegranate Street

Lawrence, Caroline. The Man From Pomegranate Street. Book 17 of the Roman Mysteries series.

Flavia and her friends, having been accused of treachery by the emperor Titus, make their way back to Rome to beg for amnesty. Unfortunately, Titus contracts a fatal fever, and Domitian takes control. There is still a price on their head, but if they can figure out who killed Titus, they might be spared. They never do find out what happens, but must remain in exile, where the friends all manage to make happy lives for themselves.

These are all fabulous books, and the detail given to Roman life is superb. While not huge circulators, I will get a die-hard fan or two every year, so I am glad to finally have the complete set. Companion volumes, as well as the DVD of the BBC television production of the first book, are available primarily in the UK, which is a real pity. If your 7th grade studies Rome in social studies, these books are a must have. This series was very wonderful, and I was sad to read about Flavia getting married, although the book hints that her crime fighting days might not be completely over.

Two somewhat disappointing books-- Howe's Angel in Vegas looked amusing, but had a frenetic tone that made the book confusing. Also, all things Elvis do not circulate well in my library.

I was angered by Ariela Anhalt's Freefall. It's a great book. Good mystery, some bullying issues, good length-- everything I look for. However, there are multiple, random, gratuitous uses of the f-bomb. Why? WHY? The author is 19, and since I ground my 16 year old for two weeks any time she utters the word, I was just incensed. No. It's not okay to use this word at school, so it should not appear in print in young adult literature. It just shouldn't. Is this censorship? Yes. Is this cramping intellectual freedom? Didn't our mothers always tell us that if we were using profanity, we must not be very creative? There are lots of other books that I can buy.

Question for the day: Did Ms. Anhalt think it was okay to use this sort of language because she read books that used it? Will we be seeing more of this? Where will the foul language end?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Van Alen Legacy

De La Cruz, Melissa. The Van Alen Legacy. Schuyler is tired of being on the run, traveling Europe in the wake of the death of Lawrence, of which Schuyler is accused by the Conclave. When she tries to seek help of the European Blue Bloods, she is found by Jack and persuaded to come back to New York. Mimi is also traveling, as a Venator, mining the memories of people to solve the murder of Jordan. Bliss has troubles too, being possessed by Satan and trying to exist in her body with him as a Visitor. Despite all of the upheaval, Mimi and Jack agree to go through their bonding ceremony, and things come to a head, preparing us all for Misguided Angel, which comes out on October 5, 2010. Also out soon is a short story collection, The Keys to the Repository. As always, I was reluctant to pick this one up (more vampires- yech!), but once I did, I was hooked.

Hutson, Shaun. (Graves, Damien) I Can See You.
In this installment of Scholastic's The Midnight Library, we find out that it's a bad idea to run around at midnight in the fields of a farmer who died exactly 100 years ago; if you to strip 50 year old wallpaper and it reveals a mural of people who look like your missing relatives, you might want to be careful; and if a one-fingered flea market vendor tells you that you don't want that mood ring, you should listen! These are always pleasantly creepy tales for students who enjoy Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. They are available in prebinds for a good price, and circulate well.

For other horror books, I just found The Monster Librarian, which has some good lists.

Hunter, Erin. Forest of Secrets. (Warriors #3)
*Sigh* I always feel bad mentioning these, because the authors who write as Erin Hunter seem such nice ladies, and the students adore these books. My problem? This volume started out with a list of about 60 different cats and then had a map. I made it through the first chapter with full understanding (two rival clan kittens are abandoned and brought to a mother cat who agrees to raise them), but then was plunged into the litany of cat names set against the same problems: mean cats from other clans attack/take their food/want their land. Voles are eaten. I have bought all of these titles as well as the Codes of the Clan and the Cats of the Clan because they make my students happy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hardcourt Comeback is out!

Bowen, Fred. Hardcourt Comeback.
This is the book from Peachtree Publishers that has Blendon's own Mr. McMillan in it (page 26), as a teacher running a history bee at school, no less! The story concerns Brett, who is a star basketball player and all around winner-- until he messes up a shot in a game and starts to have problems with school. He even loses confidence on a rock climbing wall, and is worried that he won't do well at the bee. Not to worry, though-- there is a lot more basketball action than worry, and Brett manages to work through his crises and get back on top of his game. The history Bowen brings in to this title is the "Fab Five" in 1993. I like these titles even more than Matt Christopher's.

Klavan, Andrew. The Last Thing I Remember.
Charlie wakes up in a room strapped to a chair, obviously beaten and bruised. How did he get there? Flashing back to the last thing he remembers, he goes through an ordinary day of school but always comes back to the fact that he is being followed and tortured and he doesn't know why. The facts slowly emerge in between Charlie's escapes, and it turns out that the ordinary day was over a year in the past, and he's escaped from jail where he was sentenced for killing his best friend! We don't find out what exactly happened because this is the first book in the Homelanders trilogy(The Long Way Home came out in February). I was really impressed with this one. A lot of nonstop action, but with intriguing clues. This had an older feel to it-- fans of Morgenroth's Jude and Harazin's Blood Brothers will like this.

Jones, Carrie. Captivate. (**SPOILER ALERT**)
This sequel to Need finds Zara still in love with the were Nick, and still fighting an assortment of evil pixies, including her father, the pixie king. To complicate matters, there is another pixie king following her around, and she tends to turn blue when he is in the vicinity. My daughter and I adored the first book but were disappointed by the "Bella Effect" in this installment. Zara luuuurrrrves Nick, and when he is killed and taken to Valhalla, she is distraught and has to decide whether to turn pixie in order to save him. WILL this save him? Will he love her once she is blue and has pointy teeth? Can she kiss the pixie king without being untrue to Nick? I still liked the story, and will avidly read the sequel, but Zara is a more appealing character when she is stronger and does not whine quite so much. Still, I bought two copies of each!

Walker, Kristin. A Match Made in High School.
Because of the high rate of divorce, Fiona's high school is instituting a year-long marriage course, during which seniors are paired up and given tasks that include managing money and getting along. Unfortunately, Fiona isn't paired with the boy of her dreams, but rather the obnoxious jerk Todd, who is also the love interest of Fiona's nemesis. The two fight and pull pranks on each other, and most of the students don't take the course nearly as seriously as the principal or guidance counselor. I found this book profoundly embarrassing to read, because it was so similar to my own 8th grade novel, although mine was more computer dating. This is a light, fun romp, and students will be much more interested in it than I was.

Yoo, David. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Mitali Perkins recently posted a list of novels with Asian male protagonists, so I've been working my way through those. Like Yoo's Girls for Breakfast, this strikes me as more of a high school title, not only because of the language but because of the contemplative nature of the story. From the publisher: "Despite his nonexistent social standing at Bern High School, Albert spends the summer working with his crush, Mia--the popular ex-girlfriend of Ryan Stackhouse--but as soon as Albert makes headway in his relationship with Mia, Ryan is diagnosed with cancer and pulls Mia, and her attention, away." The only book I can add that is not on Ms. Perkin's list is Sherry Garland's Shadow of the Dragon (1993).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sorrells, Walter. White-out.
Chass, having been on the run all through Fake ID (2005) and Club Dread (2006), is settling in to her new home in a small Minnesota town. When she finds the band teacher murdered during a heavy snow storm, events spiral out of control and a lot of mysteries are uncovered. This installment was very atmospheric, and even though the weather felt like spring outside, it really felt like I was spending a day in this small town with its quirky residents in awful winter weather. This series does very well in my library and is still available. There were just about as many new mysteries uncovered as there were solved, so I'm sure a fourth book is on its way. Can't wait.

Zahler, Diane. The Thirteenth Princess.
Zita has always worked in the kitchen of the castle where the king has twelve daughters, all of whom are named with "A" names. She finds out that she is also a princess, but that after the death of her mother at her birth, she is banished to the servants' quarters. Even though magic has been outlawed in the kingdom, she visits the cottage of a witch who knew her mother and learns more of her background. After making friends with her sisters, they all start to sicken, and only Zita and her friend Breckin can discover what is causing this. I would be leery of more fantasy princess tales if I hadn't been getting a lot of requests for them lately. This one was pleasant, fairy tale fun.

Shusterman, Neal. The Eyes of Kid Midas. (1992)
Many of Shusterman's older titles are being reprinted with attractive new covers. This one reads very much like the Dark Fusion series (Red Rider's Hood, Dread Locks, Duckling Ugly), since Kevin Midas can use magic sunglasses to get whatever he wants. After finding the glasses on the top of a mountain, he and his friend use them to conjure up electronics, make people behave in certain ways, and generally don't exercise any discretion at all with them, even when they start to notice that they can't undo what they have done, and things start to go very wrong. A nice, creepy tale with a realistic protrayal of what boys would do with this power.

Flake, Sharon. Bang!
Mann is still grieving over the drive-by shooting death of his brother, so doesn't do well with the violence that plagues his neighborhood. His parents are supportive and want him to do well in school, but he has trouble behaving himself. His father decides that leaving Mann and his friend Kee-lee hours from home with few supplies and making them walk back is a good way to make them men. When this doesn't work, Mann moves in with an aunt who runs a gambling den. Oddly, this doesn't improve Mann's behavior either, and the only thing that makes him see the light is another tragedy. A student recommended that I buy this, and I liked The Skin I'm In and Money Hungry. This one is very sad, and offers no solutions to the problems of violence in the inner city.

Lasky, Kathyrn. Ashes.
Gabriella's father is a scientist who knows Einstein and other bright lights of German scholarship during the time when the Nazis are rising to power in Germany. She sees all of the changes occur around her-- Jewish shops being closed, schools excluding Jewish students and teaching Nazi propaganda-- but doesn't think that the people she knows will believe in the Nazi message. Her father is accused of being a "white Jew" because he agrees with the scientific work of Jewish scientists, and when book burning and academic witch hunts threaten the family, they realize that Hitler has greater power over the German people than they suspected. This offered some new perspective on different facets of the Holocaust, and had very helpful historical notes. Definitely a good buy for a school where there is a Holocaust unit.

Also looked at Saci Lloyd's The Carbon Diaries, but they seemed overly British and whiny, although an interesting premise. Ferrari's Born to Fly seemed a little young, since it involved an 11-year-old girl during World War II who wants to fly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guy Fridays

CBS News reports that boys are trailing girls in reading achievement.

Not a surprise. Could this be because boys are having trouble finding books that they like?

As readers may have noticed, I have redone this web site with a more "boy friendly" look, and will try to concentrate a little more on finding books for boys.

Would you like to help? Please take the survey by clicking the link on the right. This will let me know what sort of posts would be helpful.

Hardy and History

Dixon, Franklin W. Thrill Ride (Book #4, Undercover Brothers series)
Joe and Frank, fresh from thwarting thieves who were stealing money from charity, head off to Uncle Bernie's Fun Park at the behest of ATAC (American Teens Against Crime) to investigate the death of a woman on a roller coaster. They find an unhappy environment there-- the employees are disgruntled, Uncle Bernie is besieged by an evil land developer, and accidents happen more often than fresh popcorn is made. Joe and Frank must, in the course of one day, rescue a mother and son from a broken Ferris wheel, stop an out-of-control carousel, and escape from drowning in a blocked water slide. Luckily, the are resourceful young men, and they not only do these things while flirting with all the girls, they solve the mystery of why things are going wrong in the part and bring the perpetrator to justice.

Whew. I can definitely see the thrill of this one! The entire series, published in paperback by Aladdin but available in prebind from both Follett and Perma-Bound, is comprised of 33 titles, but it's not necessary to buy them all. I have Extreme Danger (about dirt biking) and Foul Play (football). Boys probably like these not only for the adventure ("Bye, Dad, we're taking off on our motorcycle for a couple of days!") but for the ingenuity the brothers show in dealing with danger. Caught in a water slide? Escaping is just like being caught in a chimney rock formation while rock climbing. Of course. I, of course, read the entire book picturing the Hardy Boys like prehistoric hotties, Shaun Cassidy (Joe) and Parker Stevenson (Frank). *Sigh*

Jenkins, Beverly. Belle. (Kimani Tru, 2002)
After a grueling escape from Kentucky, Belle finds herself in Michigan at a stop on the underground railroad. She has been separated from her father and badly injured, so the affluent African-American Best family takes her in and pretends she is their niece to protect her from slave catchers. An excellent seamstress, Belle befriends the young daughter of the family and helps out as much as she can. The family is involved in an organization to both bring slaves from the South and protect the ones who make it to the North. The son, Daniel, has attended Oberlin college and is engaged to the evil Francine, but soon wearies of her selfish ways and turns his attention to Belle. This was good in historical details but primarily a romance. I will look for the sequel, Josephine, but have not been as pleased with the modern day Kimani Tru books. While it's nice to have a series with African-American characters, the ones that I have read cover more high school topics.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More books for boys

After yesterday's post, I feel like the pressure is on! I have found a few more blogs for books for boys, and have created a new listing to the right. There are a few blogs done by boys, but they tend not to be updated as often. I do feel a little bad, as a feminist, making this distinction, but as a person who never was a boy trying to help boys find books, I need all the links I can get!

Rhuday-Perkovitch, Olugbemisola. 8th Grade Super Zero.
Reginald has all kinds of problems. He's called Pukey by a former friend. His father is out of work. He has a crush on Ruthie and isn't sure what to do about it. Reggie also writes comic books and is a big buddy for a disadvantaged boy. To top it all off, he is volunteering with his church at a homeless shelter and starts to feel that his school isn't doing enough to give back to the community, so instead of helping the shallow Vicky win the election for class president, he decides to run himself.

This book was a refreshing change from inner-city, African American children with problems of drug abuse and gang wars, and the positive role models in Reggie's life, as well as his earnest volunteerism, will be good for students to read. My only problem-- this is long (324 pages) and does verge on the pedantic from time to time. Volunteerism can be portrayed in an interesting way (see Sonnenblick), but Reggie's involvement with the youth group and pastor, as well as his soul-searching, might not appeal to students as much.

Lynch, Chris. Monkey See, Monkey Don't.
This sequel to Cyberia has Zane once again in the evil clutches of Dr. Gristle, the veterinarian who is trying to use animals to further his own evil ventures. Zane is the victim of mind control, via a bird who talks to him in his sleep and tries to get him to... I got confused. Monkeys are running amok, Zane develops super powers and runs 170 in one day, to the chagrin of his parents who are monitoring him electrically, and I started to forget why all of this is happening... both times I picked up this short book. I did adore the first one, and Hugo the dog is still very fun, but this was a surprisingly difficult read for me.

Kessler, Cristina. Trouble in Timbuktu.
Kessler's time living in Africa lends tremendous detail to the intricacies of daily life for twins Ayisha and Ahmed. The two decide to guide two tourists, who turn out to be an evil archaeologist and his wife who are trying to steal some ancient manuscripts. The twins decide to try to stop them, which forces them into an adventure that involves lots of chases and a sand storm. This is again rather lengthy (350 pages), and while there is some action, the rich language and detail make this more of a cultural book than an adventure. Fans of Staple's Shabanu will like this, but I was hoping for something more along the lines of The Devil's Breath.

Check out Mitali Perkin's list of A Dozen YA Novels with Asian Guy Protagonists!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where are the BOYS?

Help! Question of the day: where are the boy book bloggers? Sure, we have our friends at SMS Guys Read, Boys Read! Boys Rule!, Guys Lit Wire, the Mr. K. Reads, Mike Sullivan's lists at Boy Meets Book, and Max Elliot Anderson's Books for Boys. There are lots of blogs and sites put up by male writers, but where are the blogs by fathers, teen boys, and male librarians? There are a ton of blogs by teenaged girls, but no boy book bloggers that I can find.

Has anyone found any?

Here's what I would like to do: I'd like to separate my Book Reviews and Blogs list so that there is a separate list for sites that highlight a good quantity of books for middle school boys. Funny, scary, adventure, mystery-- any kind of books that middle school boys would pick up and enjoy. The blogger doesn't have to be male (newsflash: I'm not!), but has to be especially concerned with finding books for middle school boys. It helps if reviews for books of interest to boys are posted fairly frequently.

Let me know, and we'll get a list going. If we want boys to read, we need to make it easy for them to find books, and also for their (often female) librarians and teachers to find them books.

Please help me out!

Hex Hall!

Hawkins, Rachel. Hex Hall.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when Sophie tries a spell to get a boy interested in one of her friends, it ends with her being sent to Hecate Hall, an exclusive boarding school for the witches, fae, shape shifters and the occasional (underprivileged) vampire who mess up and bring attention to the fact that they are magic. Her roommate, Jenna, is a vampire who is suspected in the blood-draining death of Holly, a dark witch. Sophie has been raised by a mortal mother and had no idea that she herself is a dark witch whose father is the head of the Council, a body who runs Hex Hall and tries to protect the young magic makers from themselves and evil forces such as the Eye of God. Complicating matters is the fact that Sophie's father has made a lot of people angry, and the very hot Archer Cross, a Warlock who is dating Elodie, Sophie's nemesis. When other witches are attacked, Sophie tries to find out what is going wrong so Jenna won't be blamed. After befriending the ghost of her great grandmother and taking magic instruction for her, things come to a surprising climax, and Sophie learns that there are even more facts about her family that she didn't know.

This absolutely, positively tickled me. I was wary at first-- a magic boarding school attended by student who doesn't fully grasp her magic past? Set in the south? But, oh, the funny lines and the snarky attitude of Sophie are a delight. Hard to quote my favorite line, but "...this room looked like it had been decorated by the unholy love child of Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake." (page 33) was the first one that made me snort out loud. There is a sequel in the offing, and I cannot wait. My students will love it as well.

Volponi, Paul. Riker's High.
Martin made a mistake and ended up at Riker's Island. His public defender is dragging her feet and can't manage to straighten out his legal snafu and get him back to his family, and while making one court date that gets postponed, he finds himself in the middle of a knife fight and ends up with a very bad scar on his face. At least he now gets to go to a program that is less restrictive and allows him to study for his GED. Every step is fraught with the opportunity for a poor choice, but Martin is determined to get back to his family and resume his life.

Volponi is such an adept writer with such interesting things to say that I always read his books, but frequently come to the same conclusion-- I just can't support the language in a middle school setting. Yes, I know that a story about a hard-core juvenile detention school would not be realistic if the students said "gee willikers", but I've had 6th graders bring me books with "damn" in them and whisper to me that the books have bad language. I thought the racial message in Black and White was so well done and important that I do have that book in the collection. Yes, I know that I can't be held responsible for every word in every book, and I am still debating this. Would kids read it? Yes. Is the use of the f-bomb overly offensive or gratuitous. No. But I'm still thinking. Argh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It

Selzer, Adam. I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It
In a "post-human world", high school news reporter Alley thinks it's a good idea to have a policy that precludes dating the undead, even though vampires are the hottest guys to date. When she meets Doug at a band gig she's covering, she is drawn to him because of their shared loved of extreme oldies music and starts to fall for his "authentic" goth look. One problem-- he's a zombie created by Megamart, the corporation that exploited the undead to the extent that vampires came out of hiding to lobby for civil rights for themselves and other "post-humans". Instead of crumbling, Doug has chosen to follow an embalming fluid regimen (funded by Megamart as part of the class action suit!) in order to have another shot at the authentic teen age experience. He and Alley date, hang out, and go to prom despite the concerns raised by a vampire guidance counselor who doesn't approve of "mixed" dating-- until things go terribly wrong and their romance comes to a sad but appropriate end.

It's hard to go wrong with anything Selzer writes, and this is brilliant. It's satire, but the sort of satire that a lot of the Twilight fans are not quite going to get. The pace on this is great, the lines funny, and the entire book a fresh perspective on the endless round of undead books. My only concern is that a lot of students are not going to get or care about the references to the older music, but who knows? Maybe it will encourage them to seek out some Cole Porter tunes, which would be all to the good.

Lerangis, Peter. The Viper's Nest.
Amy and Dan, having survived a huge explosion because of the sacrfice of Irina Spasky, must continue their search for the 39 Clues, with their au pair Nellie as well as the ever-suspicious Alastair Oh accompanying them. They think that the next clue lies in Peoria, only to find that they actually need to travel to Pretoria, so they are off to Africa. The two children solve word puzzles, have a few car chases, run afoul of other relatives looking for the clues, get help from people who knew their grandmother (who really got around-- she was on the board of a library in South Africa), and generally rolick around the world with their cat in tow. All improbable, all a little confusing, but very fun. Book 8, The Emperor's Code by Linda Sue Park, comes out on April 6.

Pearson, Ridley. Steel Trapp: The Academy.
Steven "Steel" Trapp is sent to an elite boarding school for gifted students by his father, who is an FBI agent. To his surprise, Kaleigh, whom Steel befriended in the first book, shows up at the school as well. But something is up with the school-- there are secret passages, people sneaking around, and lessons that seem a bit above and beyond the normal high school curriculum. Sure enough, the school is for students who have gifts that help them with spying, and Steel and Kaleigh are put into The Program. In alternating chapters, we read about other children involved in espionage, this time, orphans who have nothing to lose. Predictably, the two groups meet up, thinking that they are on opposite sides, but when the dust settles, they find they are both part of the same organization and will no doubt work together in the next book.

This was fast paced, and can be read without the first book, which is good since someone lost the first book and I haven't replaced it yet. The writing is quick and easy and will go down easily with students who like spy books. The budding romance between Kaleigh and Steel is fun as well. I think I was tired, and this affected my comprehension-- basically, I enjoyed it but didn't understand it very well.

Johnson, Kristi. Reindeer Crunch and Other Christmas Recipes.
Invested in a few cookbooks recently, since the few cookbooks I had had no pictures and were too difficult for beginning cooks. The Capstone Fun Food For Cool Cooks series offers a very small amount of recipes per book but a lot of information about utensils and general cooking tips. The pictures are very nice, the directions clear, and the food looks appealing. When I book talked a number of these last week, some of the students were very excited to check them out-- they had never read a cookbook before. Our special education unit uses cookbooks frequently, and these were a good addition.

Raatma, Lucia. Green Living: No Action Too Small.
Since the only environmental book left standing after our last weeding attempt was a late 80s paperback of 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (yes, the rest were worse), I thought it fair to buy one environmental book. This is a very readable, 62 page book with plentiful illustrations that hits the highlights of things students can do to help save the environment. A good index and helpful sidebars make this a useful read from Capstone's Compass Point Books. There are three other titles in this series.


DiConsiglio, John. Vietnam: The Bloodbath on Hamburger Hill.
Franklin Watts' 24/7 Goes to War series is an improvement on the huge Time-Life books on Vietnam that I had-- students will actually read this series. The text is manageable, the pictures and maps compliment the text, and the first person accounts from three soldiers who fought in this battle make the event seem real and horrible. I especially appreciated the short biographies in the back of what the soldiers did after the war. Additional information on the draft, protests against the war, and various facets of the fighting make this book informative and helpful in understanding what went on. I also ordered D-Day, Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor, and they have all circulated well.

Jolley, Dan. The Rise of the Scourge.
TokyoPop has produced graphic novels of Erin Hunter's Warriors series. This was much less confusing to me than the regular versions, mainly because I could follow the characters by face instead of just ever-changing names. In this book, we follow Scourge from a cute, tiny kitten who is belittled by his brother and sister because of his size to his eventual blood thirsty incarnation as the Scourge. This could be read at any point in the series, as it purports to follow the motivation for Scourge's evil. If you have a following of this series, these will certainly be a hit. They still strike me as just cats being really, really mean, and I don't get it. Bonus points to Mr. Jolley for making this installment make more sense to me than the books, and for keeping the blood and gore to a tasteful minimum.
 
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