Monday, February 28, 2011

Some new, some old

Shang, Wendy Wan-Long. The Great Wall of Lucy Wu.
In this excellent realistic fiction novel, Lucy is going to have the best year ever in the 6th grade, but things get off to a rocky start. A great-aunt is going to come from China and live in her room, she has to go to Chinese school, and she has to deal with the evil Sloane who is challenging her to be captain of the 6th grade basketball team. Luckily, she has a great friend, a crush that just might work out, and a good sense of humor to get her through it all.

Strengths: After I finished reading this, I didn't want to read anything else, because I wanted to stay with Lucy for a little while! There was something about this book that was just perfectly balanced. The family is present and important, but not overwhelming. Lucy's Chinese heritage is crucial but not belabored. Everything in the book is realistically described-- the somewhat overbearing older sister, the family dynamics, Lucy's reactions to everything. Cannot wait to see what else is written by this author!

Weaknesses: Sloane was somewhat stereotypical.

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. The Beauty Queen. (1974)
Something about finishing all of the books made me want to go back and reread older titles. This one GREATLY amuses me, because of Pfeffer's recent success with the Life as We Knew It trilogy. Kit has graduated from high school but is not entirely sure if she is going to college; her family doesn't have a lot of money because her father does not keep up with his child support payments. She would like to become an actress, especially after winning a local beauty contest. Her mother wants her to continue in the contests so that she can get tuition, but Kit has to decide whether to follow her mother's dreams or her own.

Strengths: An interesting period piece, and a physical copy that has worn like iron-- a first edition from Doubleday that circulated well for 20 years but still looks like new!

Weaknesses: Dated. Kit advises her younger sister to lose ten pounds; her mother suggests 15. There is some talk about how just getting married is an option, although Kit and her sister are both intelligent and their mother is a nurse. There is an amusing interview where Kit is asked whether she is involved in women's liberation. My students might be completely confused.

Strauss, Elisa. Confetti Cakes for Kids
Still trying to locate interesting cupcake books for the library, but I have to file this one under "Put the book down and back slowly out of the kitchen." This is craziness. Rolling out fondant and putting it over cakes? Certainly, this has some awesomely cute stuff in it, but I can't see any students actually making anything in this.


Speaking of cupcakes, heads up on a new release by Lisa Schroeder coming out in September 2011. Love the cover! The new Joan Bauer, Close to Famous, is out as well. Whee!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guy-ographies

When I was a library helper in the fourth grade, I would take home two Childhood of Famous Americans books and read them every night. Stadium Drive Elementary School must have been stocked with a set of these; there was a whole section of them. It's harder to get students to read biographies now, and part of the reason is that so many are geared toward research rather than exciting reading. Here are two that offer more in the way of a story.

Sheinkin, Steve. The Notorious Benedict Arnold.
Wow. You can really tell when someone has a passion for a topic. Sheinkin admits to an obsession with Arnold, and this results in a book packed with exciting details and facts about this American hero turned traitor. After a brief description of Arnold's unfortunate early family life (his well-to-do father fell upon hard business times and became the town drunk), Sheinkin follows Arnold's exploits through the Revolutionary War, setting the scene for his eventual downfall. John Andre, Arnold's British contact, was a nice touch, and the first sentence was great: "It was a beautiful place to die." I'm not all that interested in this time period, but I thought it was fascinating. I just wish that Sheinkin's other titles were for older readers.

DeMallie, H.R. Behind Enemy Lines.
Without a doubt my most read biography, this true story of one man's experience in World War II is riveting. Shot down over occupied Holland, DeMallie escaped with the help of the Dutch people but eventually ended up as a prisoner of war and kept an account of his exploits on Red Cross notebooks. Afternotes and illustrations remind students that this exciting tale of survival really happened. Students told me that this had been made into a movie with Owen Wilson, but that identically named venture was set in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

We have a great biography collection in my library, although I finally had to weed out the more narrative tales of Lou Gehrig, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone because...well, there was some serious ponging going on.

Our guys tend to like biographies about guys like them, or who represent something they would like to be in the future. The Beatles have circulated well this year, but we also get a lot of mileage out of Harry Houdini, any sports figure, Spartacus and Caesar (in graphic novel format), and my favorite, poor Philo T. Farnsworth.

Never heard of him? He invented the television. This is why I love to read and recommend biographies!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Assorted Readings

McKissack, Patricia, Frederick and John. Cyborg
Sequel to The Clone Codes
There's still trouble in the future: Leanna has escaped but is missing her mother, who has been arrested for her activity in the Liberty Bell Movement. We are more concerned in this book with Houston, who is a Cyborg. Anyone with any biofe (i.e. bionic) body part is considered a Cyborg, and inferior. Along with the rebel leader Li Rizin, Houston and Leanna try to fight for the rights of people other than Firsts and Wholers, people who are not genetically or biologically manipulated in any way.

Strengths: It's good to see multicultural Science Fiction; what happened to the Lee and Low Tu Books that were supposed to come out?

Weaknesses: Liked the first book, but this seemed like a completely different series! Heavy on gadgets and things like genetic tattoos, this also slipped onto the preachy side, comparing the prejudice against Cyborgs and clones with that against African Americans. A very slim volume, and a bit of a let down. I wanted a second opinion, but could only find another review at Book Reviews and More.

Preller, James. Justin Fisher Declares War!
Justin has a cafeteria disaster his first day in his new school, and rather than hazard being laughed at for that, he becomes the class clown. This puts him at odds with Mr. Tripp, his teacher, and gets him in trouble with other students as well. When the school plans a talent show, Justin wants to be the M.C., a job assigned to Mr. Tripp. The two work together, and Justin learns that he doesn't need to be mean or disruptive to be successful in school.

Strengths: A fast paced, well put together novel for elementary students.

Weaknesses: I didn't like Justin at all, and while the cover is great, I don't see being able to sell this to middle school students. Definitely would buy for elementary.

John, Anthony. Five Flavors of Dumb.
Disclosure: Only read about 200 pages of this, enjoyed it, but was not feeling that it was a middle school book. If your collection skews a bit older, take a look at this Schneider Family Award winner. From the Publisher: "Eighteen-year-old Piper becomes the manager for her classmates' popular rock band, called Dumb, giving her the chance to prove her capabilities to her parents and others, if only she can get the band members to get along. " LOTS of people like this:

Katie's Book Blog
Reflections with Coffee
There's a Book

Also took a look at de Goldi's The 10 P.M. Question (from the publisher: " Twelve-year-old Frankie Parsons has a quirky family, a wonderful best friend, and a head full of worrying questions that he shares with his mother each night, but when free-spirited Sydney arrives at school with questions of her own, Frankie is forced to face the ultimate ten p.m. question. "), but it fell on the wrong side of the quirky/foreign (New Zealand) line for both me and my son, who said it reminded him a bit of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

Trying to look at more picture books for use in the classroom. Her Majesty Queen Rania AlAbdullah's The Sandwich Swap looked like it would be good for understanding cultural differences but didn't have quite enough substance for my purposed. Kiss the Book disagrees!

Finally: toot, toot!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Long Walk to Water

Park, Linda Sue. A Long Walk to Water.
In 1985, eleven-year-old Salva Dut finds himself in the middle of the war in the Sudan. Fighting breaks out when he is in school, and the teacher tells the class to run out to the bush. Salva gets caught up in a wave of people going to Ethiopia; some are of his tribe, the Dinka, and take him along, since there is no going back to his village.

The story of Salva's survival is interspersed with the story of Nya, who in 2008 walks 8 miles every day to get water for her family, which she carries back, barefoot, on her head. Fighting still mars her world, but her family has been lucky. Her life is changed when a well is drilled and her community is able to build a school, since the children no longer must spend their days providing water for their families.

The man behind building the well is Salva Dut, who managed to survive years in refugee camps and was brought to the US with the "lost boys". This is based on a true story.

Strengths: This is a slim volume that all middle school students in the US should read. Like Sheth's Boys Without Names or Schroder's Saraswati's Way, it is a powerful story of how difficult is for young people in other countries.

Weaknesses: I try very hard not to complain, and fully realize how lucky I am to be where I am, so this book made me feel like I need to quit my job and raise money for Water for Sudan full time. This is a very powerful book; really no weaknesses!

Buyea, Rob. Because of Mr. Terupt.
A class of diverse students are glad that they have a new teacher; he's funnier, more aware, and more creative than the "mean old farts" that have been teaching long enough to be wise to the kids' tricks. Classroom dramas unfold; the mean girl, Alexis, tries to start a "girl war"; students have family problems; the class reads Summer of the Swans (which Mr. Terupt says is not an exciting book, but a good one that will make them think) and works with a Collaborative Classroom on several projects. Things are going well until an accident changes all of their lives, and the students need to figure out how to go on despite it.

Strengths: This is a very well-written book; many clever lines, good characterization, enough interest to keep students reading even though, like in Summer of the Swans, nothing really exciting happens. I cried. I rarely cry.

Weaknesses: This is a teacher book. We all like to think that we're going to have some huge impact on students. I'm an old fart who knows I won't no matter how hard I work. Like Frindle, this will be picked up by teachers everywhere and they'll love it. Sixth graders? A few. Seventh graders? Doubtful. I'm going to see if Mr. Buxton will read this and opine.

What I REALLY, REALLY want Mr. Buyea to do is write a book about wrestling!!! That's what we really need. There's such a dearth of wrestling books that he can even put in some stuff about a coach that influences his wrestlers, and students will still read it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paul Janeczko's The Dark Game

Must have been reading Young Adult reviews again, because my pile of weekend reading was strange, dark, depressing, and not middle school appropriate. Drat. Did enjoy the following two.

Janeczko, Paul. The Dark Game:True Spy Stories.
Since this author brings to my mind poetry collections, I had to see what this new book was! Starting with the Revolutionary War, this is a quick overview of famous spy, spy techniques, and improvements in technology in various historical periods including the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Cold War as well as recent moles. Includes bibliography and illustrations.

Strengths: Janeczko clearly has a love for spy stories, and has researched the topic thoroughly. He also has a good eye for presenting this information to younger readers in an engaging way.

Weaknesses: The illustrations could have been better. There were some that looked like they came from 1950s text books, and the credits weren't very clear.


Fuqua, Jonathon Scott. King of the Pygmies. (2005)
Penn enjoys hanging out with his brother Matty, but when he tries smoking cigarettes (so he can impress a girl), he starts to hear the voices of people around him even when they aren't talking. He hears Matty's frustration at being developmentally delayed, his parents' worries, even the depression of his neighbor. For a while, this comes and goes and he thinks he can handle it, but when his uncle professes the same symptoms and tells Penn that it is "Pygmy Syndrome", Penn tells his parents that he may be having mental problems. He talks to a psychiatrist who is not very helpful, but luckily has a good support network in his family and friends, especially Daisy, the girl he likes. This was recommended to me by a student-- I always love it when someone gets a chance to recommend a book to me!

Strengths: This is a good description of someone struggling with a more mild mental illness, and the notes in the back of the book explain schizophrenia a little better.

Weaknesses: Matty is referred to repeatedly as "retarded" and Penn has trouble understanding that Daisy is Filipino rather than Chinese, which just seemed odd given the lengths we go to to be politically correct.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guy Friday--Invasion

Lewis, J.S. Invasion.
E-ARC provided by Net Galley

We've done Guy Friday lists for science fiction list and spies, and Invasion hits both categories as well as monsters and a little romance. Once you add the sly humor and JET PACKS, you have almost the perfect Guy book.

Colt's life is not easy. After the death of both of his parents in a car crash, he is sent to live with his 85-year-old grandfather, a fit military type who was the inspiration for the Phantom Flyer comic book. Luckily, Colt has friends to ease his transition into school; Danielle, a family friend; Oz, whose father runs CHAOS, which is a government agency secretly saving our world from alien invasions; and a girl in whom he is interested romantically. During a trip to the CHAOS academy (which was wiped from his brain), Colt proved himself to be one of the best alien fighters ever and CHAOS is interested in him, but there are other things to deal with first. Colt finds out that it's likely his mother was the target of assassins connected with Trident Biotech, who have been implanting chips into the brains of people with Parkinsons and epilepsy to help them function better... and to turn them into remote controlled armies of killers!! Dani and Oz help him infiltrate Trident, get information to prove that this is the case, and fight off these red-eyed Cursed people, who show up and try to kill Colt at the most unfortunate moments. When Trident kidnaps Dani and implants a chip in her brain, it becomes personal, and Colt works against the clock to make everything turn out okay. There must be a sequel forthcoming.

Weaknesses: Almost too much information-- I wished there were either the Trident story OR the aliens, which felt like an excuse to bring in the grandfather's Phantom Flyer persona rather than a supporting story for the title. Reading a digital copy made it impossible to flip back and check on things I needed clarified.

Strengths: Whew. Talk about fast-paced action and adventure! Students will not get bored with this one, and the take on the aliens was fresh. The characters are likeable, writing deft and sly, villains deliciously wicked. Can't wait to get a copy in the library. I am not alone. Other readers who liked it include:
Bookanista
Mundie Kids (interview with Mr. Lewis)
Reading Review
Secret Life of a Bibliophile (interview)

Apple. I Pad.
Donation to our school from one of our fundraisers.

This device got so much press that I was very interested to see one and be able to investigate its capabilities, especially since I was a huge Apple fan back in the early '90s. But I'm old, and the fact that it didn't even come with a tiny instruction book on how to turn it on was annoying. To set it up, it had to be connected to a computer with internet access, and then registered through iTunes with a credit card. The manual was available online to download (thank goodness I have Adobe Digital editions), and it needed WiFi (which my son just installed this week). Talk about a needy device!

We are investigating educational uses for this; many of our teachers have taken classes. The free educational applications seem to be the most obvious use, but there may be a trouble connecting the unit to our LCD projectors. One of our teachers has her own, which she shows to her classes using the ELMO, which seems about as archaic as connecting it to a film strip projector!

I can't see buying this for myself. It didn't have Claris Works or any word processing program, and I couldn't figure out how to open multiple browser windows (working on book orders takes about five!). Sure, it was fun to watch Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor on YouTube (there was a button; I had to see if it worked; I wanted choose something where nothing inappropriate popped up!), but for working purposes, this would not be a useful tool for me. It's more of an expensive toy to use for the apps and web browsing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Younger to older

Egan, Tim. Dodsworth in London.
I'm a sucker for anything set in London, and someone recommended this "I Can Read" type story of Dodsworth and his duck, who are out for the day. The duck gets lost, and the queen's duck starts to follow Dodsworth around. Eventually, they find the duck and get to spend the night at the palace. A lot of London sites are mentioned, but the illustrations are fairly generic, and I don't know how Queen Victoria will feel about being portrayed as a cow. This might be a good purchase for beginning readers.

Greene, Stephanie. Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley.
Sophie is going to turn ten soon, and thinks her father has agreed to get her a baby gorilla for her birthday. Since she has a large and somewhat stressed family, this seems unlikely, but she tells her classmates, who are all interested. When Sophie finally realizes that she's not going to be getting a gorilla, she starts to dread her birthday. I did not realize that this was the third book in the series. I was hoping for something like Lauren Myracle's Twelve or Wendy Mass' Finally, but this book seems to young for my students.

Monniger, Joseph. Wish.
Things are difficult for Bee and her younger brother, Tommy. Their single mother tries hard to raise them, but is a little too interested in men. Tommy's cycstic fibrosis requires a lot of additional care, which is frequently left to Bee. When a wish foundation grants Tommy the chance to go to California to dive with sharks, the family travels there. After their mother stays away all night with a man she met on the plane, Bee and Tommy decide to go on their own and visit a surfer who was attacked by a shark. Things go badly wrong, and the family has to deal with all of the consequences of a difficult family dynamic.

This was an interesting book, with a lot of information about sharks, cystic fibrosis, and surfing. Unfortunately, I get few inquiries about any of those. Below is a list of books that deal with cystic fibrosis, but given the advances in medical treatment, anything written before 2000 is probably not very accurate.

Ethridge, Keith. Toothpick (1988)
McDaniel, Lurlene. A Time to Die (1992)
Till Death Do Us Part (1997)
Napoli, Donna Jo. Breath (2003)
Kingsbury, Karen. A Thousand Tomorrows (2005)
Halpin, Brenda. Forever Changes (2008)

Betty Crocker: Decorating Cake and Cupcakes.
This was one of the better cake decorating books. Unlike What's New, Cupcake, these have instructions that students could actually follow. No special pans are required, there are good tips on how to make a piping bag out of a plastic bag, and there are lots of cut up cakes, which I know I made in middle school. There are some good seasonal suggestions, and some very cute frog and snowmen cupcakes. The only down side of this is that it is a paperback. Will definitely purchase this, since many students have been asking for cake decorating books.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm done...

...reading all the hardcover fiction in the library, that is! Finished up last night with

Zirpoli, Jane. Roots in the Outfield. (1988)
When his father is going to remarry and wants Josh to spend the year with his new family, Josh is reluctant until he becomes unhappy with his baseball team. Josh is afraid of catching the ball; hence, the nickname "Roots", like that of a tree. Things don't go smoothly when he moves in with his father-- they head immediately up to a lake house, Josh's suitcase with all of his baseball memorabilia is lost, and his step-sister Wendy is a brat. Add to this a mysterious stranger who may be the missing baseball Slug Smith, and the transition is difficult. The stranger does turn out to be Slug, however, and he helps Josh overcome his fear of the ball and realize that while he loves his father, he would much rather be back at his old school.

Strengths: A decent enough baseball story, a little mystery, and a realistic portrayal of a boy's difficulty in dealing with divorce.

Weaknesses: A little dated. Josh's father writes him a letter once a week, and there are music and television references that would be lost on students today.

I finished up just in time for the fifth blogiversary of Ms. Yingling Reads!

In my very first post, I mentioned attempting to read all of the hardcover fiction. This morphed into writing reviews of newer books, with an emphasis on books for boys, since there are so many blogs devoted to books for girls.

My mission statement at work is "The right book for the right child at the right time." This blog is an extension of that. I try to stick with succinct reviews, a few author interviews, and some library information. I fail utterly at contests and giveaways, but hope that this is a good tool for students and teachers trying to find good books.

It's been fun. Thanks to my loyal readers for all of your support!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Erin Hunter Overview

These are HUGELY popular books at my school, but they've been difficult reading for me. Here are some resources to consult if you need to know more about this series.

While the Warriors site is fun, it's a little harder to navigate the books, and used to be blocked at our school under "games".

The Fantastic Fiction web site has a great list, complete with covers AND all of the books, including the Manga. New Releases are mentioned as well, all on one convenient page.

The main series by this author are Warriors (6 books); Warriors: The New Prophecy (6 books); Warriors: Super Editions (4 books) ; Warriors: The Power of Three ( 6 books); Warriors: Omen of the Stars (4 books); Warriors: SkyClan and the Stranger (2 books); four Warriors guides and Seekers (6 books).

38 books, plus 12 manga, are a lot of books, so I am starting to understand why a lot of elementary libraries have not made these purchases. I would not have started buying this series if a very devoted teacher hadn't donated half a dozen books.

I finished the last Seekers book last night. It's been interesting having conversations about the series with the die-hard fans, many of whom are so dedicated that they even surrendered their library books briefly so that I could read them over the weekend! None of them are surprised that I have trouble giving a plot description of individual books.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"A GOOD book won!"

The above quote is by my daughter, Picky Reader, whose favorite nominee for the Cybils middle grade science fiction and fantasy award WON!! (Jacqueline West's The Shadows.) She did a happy dance, although I was slightly sad that Royce Buckingham's The Dead Boys didn't win because my students love it. At any rate, check out the winners!



And look what's coming out on July 12-- book two: Spellbound!



And, if you are interested in tech matters, hop over to E is for Book, where my comment on advising students about e-books received some attention. I do think that eventually I will be able to have these resources for students, but right now we are still running into a lot of tech difficulties, like the fact that the school computers won't work with Adobe E-pub. There are a growing number of students with e-readers, and hopefully I will be able to help them find good books as well.

I talked to our tech person, who is looking into getting the Adobe Digital Editions software to load onto the school computers. We'll see! I have downloaded audiobooks for students, and tell them about The Ohio E Book Project, but it's been slow going.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Magoon, Kekla. Today the World is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration, 1957.

To be published by Lerner Publishing Group on 4/1/11; E-ARC provided by NetGalley.com

The author of Camo Girl and The Rock and the River shows that while her research skills are well honed, she clearly is even better at telling a good story. After a brief discussion of the Civil Rights movement up to the point of integration, the students are introduced and their struggles described. While I knew the vague outline of this, I did not fully comprehend how long it took for the students to actually get to a point where they could go to class. I also did not know that Little Rock closed down its high schools for the 1958-59 school year so they didn't have to deal with integration! This was extremely informative, and the personal struggles of the students is balanced nicely with the legal and political struggles that got them into the school. I think that this is a nonfiction book that students will pick up and read all the way through, and one which will most certainly teach them a lot. I am curious now to look at the other nonfiction by Magoon; I am familiar with her fiction, but not her other work.

Strengths: Information is presented in an engaging and fast-paced way. While detailed attention is given to the events immediately surrounding the school integration, the background history and the progress of the Civil Rights movement afterward is discussed briefly. Period photographs enhance the text and give faces to these courageous young people.

Weaknesses: The digital edition was somewhat slow to navigate; pictures only appeared if the text was set to small. I will definitely buy a print copy of this, since it's difficult to flip back to pages on the PDF file.

For Mrs. N.-- This does discuss quite a lot of violence, such as reporters being beaten, but there was no bad language that I remember. Probably students in 4th grade and up would be able to understand the context of all of the occurrences.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Girl Meets Guy Friday

Disclaimer: I've never been a guy.

So when I found out that Jonathan Liu at the Geek Dad Blog came up with lists of books with strong female characters that he felt should be read by BOTH boys and girls, I was very excited. It's one thing for me to claim a book is good for boys, but I am missing a very important qualification!

Boys Read Pink has been going very well at my library, and I'm going to create a display of the books on Jonathan's lists. The only book I think is not here is the Tamora Pierce Alanna: The First Adventure, which circulates well with boys all the time.

Thanks, Jonathan, for doing my job for me today, especially since the library is closed so I can go roller skating with our Renaissance students. Hop over to the Geek Dad Blog at Wired.Com and check out these great recommendations!

Night of the Bat

Zindel, Paul. Night of the Bat. (2001)
Sadly, out of print. Jake goes to spend time with his scientist father who is researching bats in the Amazon. Shortly after he arrives, Jake is showing a worker his electronic Gizmo that can "see" through the rainforest with echolocation, and they find the bodies of two missing workers. Soon, giant rabid attack bats are taking down workers, and according to the wisdom of the natives, the bite of these bats does horrible things to the victims, so they must be killed. Can Jake use his technology to protect his father against this creature, and prove his usefulness?
Strengths: Fast paced adventure and gore.
Weakness: Out of print! Hyperion, please reissue these all!

Jackson, Alison. Eggs over Evie.
Evie is sad because her famous chef father has moved out, remarried, and is expecting twins with his new wife. He also took her dog, Mousse. Evie helps her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hamilton, with her cat until the cat is hit by a car, then tries to get her to adopt a new animal. Evie's mother is starting to date, Evie meets a boy she likes at a cooking class, and tries to navigate all of the difficult aspects of her life.
Strengths: This is a very charming book. A definite buy for elementary libraries, since the main character is 13 but all of her struggles are appropriate for younger grades. Includes recipes!
Weaknesses: I will buy this for my low readers, but it reads a little young. (The format is smaller, and the cover gives it that air as well.)

LaFosse, Michael G. Trash origami : 25 paper folding projects reusing everyday materials
My origami books were all falling to little pieces, and this was an excellent purchase, although I don't necessarily get to read nonfiction before I buy it. The instructions were easy to follow, the pictures very nice, and the fact that this encourages students to use waste paper, bags, etc. is great. I particularly liked the butterflies folded out of Starburst wrappers. My only problem was that the book came with a DVD, and I never like to circulate those. Probably just should.

Sachs, Marilyn. The Bears' House. (1971)
Had this in my hands to recommend to a student, and totally blanked on it, so I had to read it again. Fran Ellen has trouble in school because she sucks her thumb, smells and tends not play hooky so she can go home to check on her baby sister. Her mother is mentally disturbed in the wake of her father's departure, and the family is barely holding together. To escape her reality, Fran Ellen visualizes herself in the dollhouse in her classroom, which her teacher is going to give to a student upon her retirement at the end of the year. Luckily, this caring teacher finds out about Fran Ellen's situation and tries to help.
Strengths: This is a good book for the lower readers who still want sad books.
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look like a much lighter book.

Also continued my trek through Erin Hunter with Starlight, Twilight, Sunset. Cats following the prophecies of their warrior ancestors and finding a new home. While fighting other cats. And eating moles.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Girls on the Cover

We're still having fun with Boys Read Pink; so many of my books with actual pink covers have been checked out that we've had to broaden it to "girls on the cover"! Here are a couple.

Snyder, Laurel. Penny Dreadful.
Penelope is bored with her life in a mansion in the city, although she realizes she is lucky. When her father decides to quit his job in investments and write a book, the household dissolves in chaos. They run out of money, her father spends all of his time wandering around muttering to himself, and her mother is worried. Then a telegram comes (and the rarity of this event is described; I didn't even think you could send them anymore!) and the family is off to a small town in Tennessee where they have inherited a house. The problem? The tenants have to stay rent free, and there is money owed on a mortgage. While this is a problem, Penelope (who changes her name to Penny) gets a chance to explore her community, make new friends, and generally have a glorious time hanging out. And has Penny been manipulating her life with magic? Will everything work out?

Strengths: Like Any Which Wall, this is a great book for portraying a leisurely summer of running about and just being a kid. I adored it; it reminds me strongly of Elizabeth Enright's books, and in fact, Penny reads many classic works of children's literature to pass the time before she gets to Tennessee.

Weaknesses: A little slow. Since Penelope is only ten, it might be perfect for elementary, but the portrayal of friendships especially struck me as a little younger. By middle school, we have some serious angst going on!

Lockhart, E. Real Live Boyfriends.
This is the fourth book in the Ruby Oliver series. I keep reading these because I ADORED The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, but I never like Ruby Oliver. This must just be a high school book; all of our high schools have these, but none of our middle schools do.

However, this was an excellent book to demonstrate why middle school boys might want to read girl books. It will help them attract the ladies, I tell them! Ruby gives many descriptions of what she wants in a boyfriend, and even passes along e-mails from her boyfriend and explains why they make her swoon. I had forgotten about Frankie, but that is a fabulous book to give to boys!

Also turned all the pages on Erin Hunter's Midnight, Moonrise and Dawn in the New Prophecy series. Nine down, twenty two more to go? (I have to check to see if I have all of them in my library. I may be missing a bunch.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Not What I Wanted Wednesday

Didn't mean for this to be a recurring post; just turned out that way!

Beaudoin, Dean. You Killed Wesley Payne.
From the Publisher: "Seventeen-year-old Dalton Rev arrives at Salt River High where he must outwit crooked cops and killer cliques in order to solve the mystery of the body found wrapped in duct tape and hanging from the goal posts in the football field."

Why this didn't work for me: Loved this author's Going Nowhere Faster, but the film noir vibe of this would be a hard sell to my students, and somehow this exhausted me by page 9. The cliques and the slang were maddening. That said, Guys Lit Wire loved it. This is one I'll have some students look at before I return it to the library, but I don't think it will fly.

Bayse, Dale. Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck.
From the Publisher:"Formerly dead Milton Fauster tries to save his older sister Marlo from "eternal darnation" when she is sent to another educational level of the Underworld reform school known as Heck."

Why this didn't work for me: I bought the first because of student requests, bought this one, and will probably purchase Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck as well, but I didn't like the characters and the Snicketesque vibe didn't make me happy.


Pilkey, Dav. Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future.
From the Publisher "Silly caveboys Ook and Gluk travel to the future where they meet a martial artist who teaches them kung fu so they can return to their prehistoric time and fight an evil corporation that is endangering the past."

Why this didn't work for me: I love Captain Underpants, but this one bothered me because of all the intentional misspellings. It is also more of a graphic novel, with text arranged in comic book format. The Pilkey I have never circulates after the first couple months of school, so I will pass.

Standiford, Natalie. Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters.
From the Publisher: When the Sullivan sisters' grandmother gathers the entire family on Christmas to announce that she is removing them all from her will unless whoever it is that has offended her confesses in writing by New Year's Day, everybody begins to consider what they may have done.

Why this didn't work for me: Maybe it was the characters named Daddy-o and Almighty, or the fact that the money from the will didn't seem like a big deal. Or maybe the whining letter from the first granddaughter who offends her grandmother by having an inappropriate romance. I just couldn't get into it. I think this would be great for high school, but for a girly book, I am looking for something happier.

A student loaned me Ted Dekker's Blink, which looked interesting, but it is definitely an adult book, and I realized that on the rare occasions that I read adult books, I want Nora Roberts. Sad but true. Then, I figured I might as well plow through some Erin Hunter. Do not ask me to describe Rising Storm, A Dangerous Path or the Darkest Hour. Just believe that I had my eyes on every page. Cats were roaming through the woods fighting with other cats and eating moles.

Some day I will have to issue a public apology to Erin Hunter. All four of her. I did just put three more of the Warriors and Seekers books on my list to purchase.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Timeslip Tuesday

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library frequently has a Timeslip Tuesday, as well as excellent weekly round ups of science fiction/fantasy reviews and new releases. Definitely take a look!

Scarrow, Alex. Time Riders.
Copy graciously donated by my former principal.
Liam was supposed to die on the Titanic. Maddy should have died in a plane crash in 2010. Sal almost perished in a fire in 2026. Instead, all three teens were spirited away at the last moment by Foster, who recruits them to be Time Riders. A time machine was made, but its maker realized that it was evil and tried to destroy it, but unfortunately others figured it out and are running loose in time.The teens are stationed in New York City on September 10 and 11, 2001, and observe the days. If anything changes in any way, they have to figure out where history was corrupted, and travel back to save it. As a test run, Liam goes back and stops President Kennedy from being assassinated; the girls figure out what he did, and 2001 stays uncorrupted. When one morning is very different (German seems to be the second language), Liam and a clone helper are sent back to 1956 to try to figure out what has happened. It turns out that Paul Kramer has met up with Hitler, usurped his power, and tried to "improve" the future by putting a very strict government in place. It takes several tries to figure out at what point history needs to be fixed, and things are quite dire for a while, but the Time Riders manage to get the world back to the way it should be, even if that is not perfect.

Strengths: For a time travel book, this made a fair amount of sense. There was just enough discussion on the mechanics, and very realistic implications of history changing on the Time Riders themselves. I always love alternative histories, and the Germans winning World War II is a plot that many of my students will like. I also appreciated that while the future is dystopian, it is better than it could be!

Weaknesses: The characters could have used a little more development. I never felt like I understood Paul Kramer, and his motivation was intriguing.

Why, why, WHY is Simon Scarrow's Gladiator: Fight for Freedom not published in the US? Argh. It looks like a great beginning to a new young adult series.

Teller, Janne. Nothing.
This title recommended by Aaron Mauer at Coffee for the Brain.

When their classmate goes up into a tree to stay becomes life has no meaning, a group of Danish children start assembling a group of items with meaning in an abandoned sawmill. It starts out innocently enough, with books and clothes and bikes, but when this doesn't seem to be enough to move Anton out of the tree, the children start bullying each other to find objects with more personal sacrifice. They bring a hamster. Cut off a girl's hair. Exhume one's baby brother. Behead a dog. Arrange to have a girl raped. Once a boy's finger is cut off, he goes to the police, who are not quite sure what to do. Eventually, the pile is sold to an art museum for over a million dollars, but even then Anton will not come. When one of the girls goes insane, he finally visits, only to tell the group that the pile still has no meaning, especially since they sold it. SPOILER ALERT: The children are so angered that they attack and kill Anton, then burn down the sawmill. The police assume that Anton tried to burn down the sawmill and died in the attempt. Nothing happens to the children. This book was the winner of the Best Children's Book Prize from the Danish Cultural Ministry.

Strengths: Certainly, this is a very deep and effective book about the evil that dwells within us all. It is compared to Lord of the Flies, but it put me in mind of Jackson's The Lottery. Much food for thought here.

Weaknesses: NOT for children. I described this to my daughters. The elder said "I feel violated just hearing about this book!" and the younger said, quietly, "I don't think I want to go to Denmark." Disturbing doesn't begin to describe this book. I almost feel like I should let the public library know that this might be better shelved in the adult section.


Margolis, Leslie. Girl's Best Friend (A Maggie Brooklyn Mystery)
Maggie has a job walking several neighborhood dogs, but hasn't told her busy parents about it. When she starts to notice that a lot of neighborhood dogs are missing, she first suspects her crush, Milo, of stealing them. When a former best friend and now enemy has her dog stolen, Maggie gets involved in the mystery. Add to the mix an elderly neighbor with a mystery of her own, mean girl issues, and the crush on Milo, and this is a great mystery for middle grade readers.

Strengths: This was such a pleasant relief after Nothing. It reminded me very much of a Lenora Mattingly Weber Katie Rose book that also dealt with pet kidnappings. The sense of place (Brooklyn, NY) was wonderful, the characters true-to-life and amusing. This will be a huge hit, just like Boys Are Dogs. (The third book in that series, Everybody Bugs Out comes out May 34, 2011.)

Weaknesses: I could see the answer to the mysteries, and I usually don't.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Boys Read Pink

Last January, I had a Super Secret Evil Plan that involved giving boys books with main characters who were girls. There were a couple of reasons for this: one of my avid boy readers had read all of the "boy" romance books, so I had him try one with a girl as the main character. Since he was a football player, when he recommended this course of action to his friends, they thought it was a hoot. The second reason was that I felt bad about giving books with boys on the cover to girls and just expecting that they would have no objection. In all, I checked out 38 aggressively pink books (we're talking The Princess Diaries) to boys in a two week period. The result? The boys all enjoyed their books, mainly because "they weren't all that different from books about boys"!

I mentioned to some of my 6th graders this year that February would be "Boys Read Pink" month. Because of snow days and various interference, I didn't get to roll it out, and I had boys ask about it.

This got me thinking. It is true that boys are a little reluctant to read books with girls on the cover. MAYBE it's not because they don't want to read them, but because they are afraid that people will make fun of them. They want to read a wide variety of things, just like girls do, but perhaps they need the extra push.

If you would like to try this Super Secret Evil Plan in your library, e mail me and I will send you Publisher file for a flyer and book marks.

It's February. We all need evil plans just to get us through the month!

Loch by Paul Zindel

Zindel, Paul. Loch. (1994)
Loch and his sister Zaidee are with their father at Lake Alban. He is working for the evil Mr. Cavenger, who is trying to find Loch Ness type creatures to "study". There are several in the lake; Rogue, who is the biggest and has killed a couple of people, and a smaller one. Then, Loch finds a baby pleiosaur he calls Wee Beastie and feeds ham sandwiches. Even though the older versions like to chomp people in half, Loch feels comfortable frolicking with the small one. When it becomes clear that Cavenger is not going to keep the animals alive, it's up to Loch, Zaidee, and their friend Sarah to safe guard the animals.

Strengths: Again, a gore fest, but not until page 46. There are a few innocent victims, but in general, pleiosaurs prefer the taste of bad guys.

Weaknesses: Out of print! The copy I was reading had pages falling out of it. Perma Bound seems to have all of these available, although for Loch it says "edition not yet published".

Smith, Andrew. The Marbury Lens.
I was so excited to read this one, based on the information from the publisher: "After being kidnapped and barely escaping, sixteen-year-old Jack goes to London with his best friend Connor, where someone gives him a pair of glasses that send him to an alternate universe where war is raging, he is responsible for the survival of two younger boys, and Connor is trying to kill them all." that I saved it for my Sunday evening reading. Big disappointment. It was an obscenity fest, and also included a party with rampant drinking and undesirable behavior. Sigh. Maybe for high school students, but this was certainly not something I will buy for middle school.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Selling Hope, etc.

Tubb, Kristin O'Donnell. Selling Hope.
It's the spring of 1910, and Hope is tired of traveling the seedy vaudeville circuit with her father, Nick, who is a magician. She is his assistant, and also reads tarot cards for extra money. When the troupe heads for Chicago, Hope's hometown before her mother died, Hope hatches a plan to get kicked out of the troupe and stay in Chicago. With the help of a young Buster Keaton, she sells "anti-comet" pills (really sen sen breath mints coated in flour) for 25 cents each to people worried that Halley's comet will destroy the earth, or at least all of them. This plan goes well for a while, but runs into difficulties when the troupe boss finds her out and wants a cut, and Hope realizes that she and her father have no other useful skills to earn money.

Strengths: Admittedly, I read this one for myself, but at just around 200 pages, I think I can sell this one to the children. Yes, it's an odd historical time period, but Hope is such fun, and the peek into vaudeville life so vivid and interesting that I think students will like it.

Weaknesses: Won't fly off the shelf on its own, and I don't think there are any students out there who have ever heard of vaudeville.

Michaels, Rune. Nobel Genes.
A boy whose mother conceived him with the help of a "Nobel Prize sperm bank" has to deal with his mother's mounting mental instability. His mother has bipolar disorder and is also agoraphobic. A tenant over their garage, Drum, helps occasionally, but the fourth time the boy's mother overdoses on pills, he leaves. A neighbor steps in briefly, but ultimately, the boy's grandmother is called. The boy has held on to the hope that his father is really a Nobel prize winner he will one day be able to locate, but that hope fades, especially once he lands at his grandparents' house. SPOILER ALERT: The boy's grandfather is also his father, which explains why his mother left home and refused all contact. This complicated novel is carefully done; I just handed it to my 7th grade daughter.

Strengths: It's February, and students want really depressing books about abuse, drugs, etc. This fits the bill. The content is disturbing, but the language okay for middle school. My students love this author's Genesis Alpha, although I couldn't bring myself to purchase The Reminder because it was so utterly creepy.

Weaknesses: Obviously, not everyone wants to hand books to middle schoolers that involve a parent in a drug overdose induced coma, but I spend a lot of time looking for depressing books within acceptable parameters, and I think this one is fine.

Price, Charlie. The Interrogation of Gabriel James.
Gabriel is a witness to a shooting, and the police are questioning him. Gabriel doesn't seem entirely innocent, being on the edge of a variety of animal killings, fires, and stalking a girl whom he suspects is abused. His biggest mistake is getting too close to the remaining members of a hippie cult, a cult which has personal connections to his family. Although we know that two murders occurred, the mystery is that we aren't entirely sure who is responsible for them. It might even be Gabriel himself.

Strengths: Students are forever asking for murder mysteries, and there are few to be had. This moves very quickly, is not long, and has plenty of action. It will be most successful with older readers.

Weaknesses: A slightly inappropriate event is the fact that the controlling father of the girl makes his children hang around the house without clothes on. This is not described in any detail or have any more implications other than the fact that they are unclothed, but it does give me a little pause.

Wright, Denis. Violence 101
From the publishers: "In a New Zealand reformatory, Hamish Graham, an extremely intelligent fourteen-year-old who believes in the compulsory study of violence, learns that it is not always the answer."

This one is described as for grades 8 and up, and I would have to concur. Hamish is a deeply disturbing characters who seems to be completely unaware that violence is wrong, and I couldn't read far enough to find out if he ever does. Several uses of the f word, as well as a deeply disturbing description of Hamish's science fair experiment where he mutilates rats, ruled this one out as a purchase for my library.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Doom Stone

Zindel, Paul. The Doom Stone. (Paperback available.)

Jackson jets to England to visit his anthropologist aunt, who has been hired by the British army to investigate mutilations that are occurring around Stonehenge. Right away, Jackson can see that some sort of horrible monster is attacking humans and animals, and after an attack on his aunt, he teams up with Alma, the daughter of a local grave digger, to try to find the source. Meanwhile, the aunt is exhibiting signs of mutation herself, the result of the bite of this ancient monster. Will Jackson and Alma be able to avoid large scale terror by solving the mystery of the ancient stones? Not before a lot of people are maimed in gory ways!

Strengths: This starts out in a very exciting fashion, and is not quite the immediate gore-fest that Reef of Death was. There is more character development.

Weaknesses: See above. What makes me happier might not make students happier. I think I will introduce students to Zindel's horror with this book and move up to Rats!
 
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