Friday, April 29, 2011
Yolen, Jane. Prince Across the Water.
"In 1746, a year after the Scottish clans have rallied to the call of their exiled prince, Charles Stuart, to take up arms against England's tyranny, fourteen-year-old, epileptic Duncan MacDonald and his cousin, Ewan, run away to join the fight at Culloden and discover the harsh reality of war. "
Wyatt, Melissa. Raising the Griffin.
"When the people of Rovenia vote to restore their monarchy, sixteen-year-old Alex Varenhoff must suddenly leave his native England to become prince of a land he knows only from his grandfather's stories. " (This is sort of a princess diaries for guys, with a lot more action and intrigue.)
Burnham, Niki. Royally Jacked.
"Valerie, caught in the middle of her parents' divorce, opts to stay with her father who has just accepted a job as protocol chief for some European royals, but she is beginning to think she has made the wrong choice until she meets the prince. " (This is part of a three book series, and one of the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies.)
O'Connell, Tyne. Pulling Princes.
"Includes glossaries of British slang and fencing terms. Hoping to become more popular at her English boarding school, fifteen-year-old Californian Calypso Kelly invents a fake boyfriend, until she realizes that her wit and skill at fencing may be enough to attract the attention of a real-life prince. "
Thursday, April 28, 2011
E ARC provided by NetGalley.
Every year, nine-year-old Alice's family spends their vacation in the same cottage on the same beach. They are surrounded by people they see every year; an older gentleman, a retired couple and their grandchildren, an artist. This year, however, it is all different. The grandchildren and artist don't come, but Alice's aunt brings a new boyfriend and his troubled daughter, six-year-old Mallory. Alice tries to enjoy her summer, but it's difficult.
Strengths: This would make a nice bedtime read-aloud for children who want more than picture books.
Weaknesses: Much too young for my students.
Harper, Cherise Myracle. Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S.
E ARC provided by NetGalley. Published on 10/4/11
Fashion Kitty appears to save the day when a school t shirt fashion show is imperiled by the evil Leon, who attempts to snare Fashion Kitty with a Ball of Yellow String.
Strengths: Children who have moved beyond picture books but are still struggling with reading love this sort of graphic novel hybrid. Harper's illustrations are great fun.
Weaknesses: Again, too young. I could buy them, but the students would read them in 15 minutes and return them. Definitely a good choice for elementary school, though.
And since the Charles Kingsley poem continues "When all the world is old, lad" , look what I found on the shelves!
Techno Lab: How Science IS CHANGING (emphasis mine) Entertainment (1995) and Police Lab: Using Science to Solve Crimes (in 1993).
Techno Lab doesn't even mention computer games, the internet, MPs, or many other things that have to be mentioned in a book that is not supposed to be a historical overview. These are weeders.
PDF received from author.
Gelsem is taken from her home by the Rulvi and sent from level Gee of her world to level Pee, where prisoners are kept. She does not know what she has done but knows that she has to get home. After several narrow escapes, she meets up with the Parasitic Punks, children from other levels who have banded together to survive. Benji especially wants to take care of her. In the meantime, Bellamy, a thief from another level, blunders into the throne room and is made the new Panjandrum, the ruler of level Pee who really is just a puppet of the politicians. These same politicians are trying to catch Gelsem, as is the evil artist Pterido, who makes statues from the bodies of children! The Punks come to the rescue again, even though one of them is tricked into becoming the Panjandrum after Bellamy escapes. Gelsem is able to use her intelligence to avoid the politicians and figure out some of the secrets of level Pee, and is on her way to discovering how to get home. Perhaps in the sequels (Schismarch comes out in December 2011, and the author is at work on the fourth book), we will find out more about how she can do this!
Strengths: Strong, well-developed characters; good action scenes and pacing. Particularly good start to the book. Excellent villians.
Weaknesses: Bit of an audience disconnect: the writing is strong and the plot complex, which would be good for older children, but there's a distracting goofiness with the description of the worlds (Pee has pachyderms and a plethora of peculiar, p-named pieces) that would intrigue younger students. I imagine that the following books will describe the world a little more, because I still had questions about it at the end.
Edgar, Elsbeth. The Visconti House.
"Laura Horton has always been an outsider, more interested in writing, drawing, or spending time with her free-spirited family than in her fellow teens, but she is drawn to Leon, a new student, as together they explore the mysteries of her eccentric old house."
What I Wanted: A spooky house mystery like West's The Shadows or San Souci's Haunted Houses, or anything by Betty Ren Wright.
Why This Didn't Work for Me: Too introspective and coming-of-age. The American cover (left) made it seem spookier: the Australian cover (right) seems better suited.
Who Really Liked This: Bookshipper, Sweet on Books, Klickitat, Book Yurt, Boomerang Books and Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club.
Cotler, Steve. Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything.
Being a fifth grade boy means being thwarted at every turn. Cheesie and his friend Georgie have the BEST ideas for summer, but keep getting shot down. They can't pull their awesome pranks at fifth grade graduation. Then, Georgie can't go to summer camp because his father loses his job. When the boys find an envelope from the 1950s in the basement, they try to locate the owner to return the penny and necklace within it, but are stopped by a policeman who thinks they are just fooling around. The boys persevere, and things end well, but not after a lot of high jinks.
Strengths: Funny, with enough action to satisfy the target audience. Interesting bits of information thrown in for the die-hard nonfiction readers who are being forced to read a chapter book. I believe Mr. Cotler that he still can think like an eleven-year-old. This will be popular.
Weaknesses: Just a tiny bit too young for my students. I'm getting nose wrinkles from the Time Warp Trio books, which I still think are great, and the same illustrator provided the fine illustrations for this book, which elementary students will adore.
I was a bit annoyed by the constant mention of Cheesie's website, but students might like that. There is a sequel in the works.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Jessica runs her best track race... and then the bus she is on is hit by a reckless driver and she wakes up in the hospital with her leg amputated beneath the knee. Her recovery is physically and emotionally difficult, and the terse descriptions bring a horrible immediacy to her situation. To complicate matters further, there is a problem with the insurance, and her family is struggling financially. When she returns to school in a wheelchair, she befriends Rosa, who has cerebral palsy and is brilliant at math. Rosa's situation helps Jessica realize that while she might not be lucky, her situation could be worse. After her teammates raise enough money to buy her a prosthetic running leg, she decides to run a 10k race-- and take Rosa in a wheelchair with her! There are many, many insightful moments in this book (e.g. after having trouble getting in the shower, Jessica thinks it would have been easier to lose an arm, until she thinks about all of the things that she does with her hands), vast research into recuperation from amputation and the fitting of prostheses, and a palpable love of running.
Strengths: This is a must read. Seriously, an awesome, awesome book. There were multiple times when my nose prickled suspiciously and my eyes leaked a bit. The staccato style gives us an insight into Jessica's personality and makes for a compelling read.
Weaknesses: Everything is resolved a little too neatly, and the time line (8 months from accident to running a 10k) seemed a bit rushed. Not that I really cared. Is it possible to call dibs on a Cybil's nomination?
Sadly, after reading this book I found out that Grete Waitz, the ground-breaking runner, recently died of cancer at the age of 57. Just last week, I mentioned Ms. Waitz's fictional appearance in Zan Hagen's Marathon. Condolences to Ms. Waitz's family, friends and fans.
Restrepo, Bettina. Illegal.
Nora's family is struggling to keep their grapefruit orchard afloat, but their town has become so impoverished that they can't. Nora's father goes to Texas, selling the family truck so that he can pay a coyote to take him. For a while, he sends money, and Nora, her mother, and her grandmother are able to survive. When the money stops, things become impossible, and Nora and her mother use the last of their resources to go to Texas in search of the father. They are lucky upon their arrival. The waitress in the diner at which they stop helps them find an apartment, and they soon have jobs working at food stands. While life isn't exactly pleasant, they are able to get by, even when things don't work out as they plan.
Strengths: Good coverage of a timely topic. This is a much better choice than the 1981 Lupita Manana, which is dated. Of course, we have class sets of those.
Weaknesses: Again, the resolutions are a bit neat.
Calonita, Jen. There's No Place Like Home.
Having recuperated from having gone off the rails a bit, Kaitlyn is back, working in a sit com with her former nemesis, Skye Burke. Things are stressful, though-- her overworked mother/manager is overbooking her and sending her on weird appearances (Turkey Tasters food drive, anyone?) which keeps her from seeing her boyfriend Austin. When the paparazzi are invited to see her take her driver's license test, Kaitlyn is incensed. An accident during this sends her to an alternate reality where she is just an intern on the show that brought her fame, her mother is still a nurse, and the family still lives a simpler existence. Is this what she really wants? Of course not. As much trouble as it is, Kaitlyn loves her designer clothes and magazine interviews, but when she comes back, she rearranges things so that her situation is a little healthier. This final book leaves her in a good place.
Strengths: Always don't want to pick up the next book in the series, always end up loving Kaitlyn and enjoying the book tremendously. Good call by Calonita to end the series, however; anything after five books gets to be a bit much.
Weaknesses: A bit of an odd departure into fantasy, but it works.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Midnight in the Stacks
She had been misshelved.
If the student had placed her closer to the Rick Yancey books, it wouldn’t have been a problem, because she and Alfred had an easy friendship and liked to exchange exploits with each other. To her horror, she had been flung carelessly next to the Paul Zindel books. Right next to them, without the buffer of E.L. Young’s S.T.O.R.M. books, which had in the past cleverly used their gadgets to keep the bloody horrors of Reef of Death and Raptor at a distance, or at least The Pigman, which the horror books wouldn’t touch.
Hippolyta was afraid.
She was right next to Rats. Perhaps it was her imagination, but the cover felt… furry next to her own. She could smell the fetid stink of the garbage dump and sense an agitated trembling from the pages. The last time that Rats has been placed on her shelf it had savaged Briar Rose. Bits of paper still littered the shelf behind the row of books. Briar Rose had been a paperback and Rats had removed the cover and gnawed at the pages until nothing was left but the borrower’s card, which had fluttered helplessly to the floor, only to be found the next day by the puzzled librarian.
Hippolyta checked to see who was beside her and was relieved to see that Atalanta had been misshelved as well. There was hope. Were both Odysseus and Jason on the other side? She hoped the next line of defense was not The Girl in the Cage. She would be useless. And what lay on the other side of Rats? If it were Raptor, all might be lost.
“Atalanta.” Hippolyta hissed. “Do you have your bow handy?”
There was a brief rustling as Atalanta awoke and flipped through her pages. With a sigh, she replied. “Yes. Where have the students flung us now?”
“Right next to Rats. And I have a bad feeling that Raptor might be right beside us. Or more likely Reef of Death. There’s a whisper of salt in the air.” Hippolyta paused for a moment, feeling a distinct nudge at her side, accompanied by a sharp pinch. The shelf trembled, and she could feel the cold metal of the book end slide underneath the edge of her bottom. She knew.
They would have to sacrifice someone, or be destroyed.
She had heard the stories that other books had told; there was the close call when Townley’s The Great Good Thing almost fell to Tolkein’s Smaug but was saved when the transparent fish moved the book to the end of the shelf, and the premature but understandable demise of Shaw’s Flavor of the Week when it was misplaced in the middle of Shan’s Demonata series. Cyril, no matter how big he was, was no match for demons.
She looked around. Were there any paperbacks they could feed to the slavering jaws of Rats? No. Paperbacks, while good companions, never lasted long, so were the first line of defense. The librarian had recently weeded books that didn’t pull their weight—all of the books like to rest on the shelf, but it wasn’t fair to the others if they didn’t circulate from time to time. There was no dead weight to use as bait in this section of shelving.
“Atalanta, can you see what’s on the next shelf over? We need someone dispensable.” Hippolyta felt the pressure at her side decrease; Rats edged ominously forward. She felt a slight dampness as a trickle of radioactive water seeped onto the shelf. “Now! We need someone now!”
In a blur of yellowed pages and musty cardboard, a book was hurled between Hippolyta and Rats. There was a deafening crinkling of mylar, a crunch of brittle paper, and the horrible, dead thud of the dismantled tome hitting the floor.
Hippolyta peered over the shelf. The only marking she could see was “F Wys”. With a startled gasp, she began to sob.
“Not The Swiss Family Robinson! They’ve been here forever!” she cried.
“It was their time,” replied Atalanta cold heartedly, as she straightened her cover. “Besides, it was a lousy translation."
Thank you for your indulgence. Testing this week; it makes us all crazy.
ARC received from publisher.
Some days just aren't good ones. At Will's house, the morning starts with his sister whining that cable is out, then his neighbor turns out to be a crotchety old DEAD guy, then most of his teachers turn out to be zombies who are after him. Luckily, Will is saved by Helene. Turns out there's a whole infiltration "corpses", who use dead bodies to get around, masking their true selves with an illusion that only some teens can see. Will is one, and his father, who was killed by corpses two years ago, was the only adult who could see them. Will's father set up the Undertakers, teens who can see the corpses, both to keep the teens safe and to try to keep the world from falling to the corpses' evil whims. They have a great hide out in the Haven, but when an evil corpse newscaster sets his mind on destroying will, the entire operation is in peril. How can will defeat the corpses and have some chance of seeing his family again? Maybe we'll find out in book two, Queen of the Dead.
Strengths: Yes! THIS is what my students want from a zombie book. Not only is there plenty of graphic description of rotting hands and fighting, there's a slightly snarky main character, a cute but feisty "like" interest, and a whole society run by children who are the only ones who can save the world. Mr. Drago dedicated this book to his son, and it's very clear he consulted him.
Weaknesses: There is a lot of detail on how the society was set up, how one fights corpses, and the relationship between Will and his dad. While this is well done, some tighter editing in these areas would have made this a little shorter and a quicker read. A lot of my struggling readers love zombies, and 465 pages will intimidate some of them.
Whelan, Gloria. Small Acts of Amazing Courage.
Rosalind enjoys living in India in 1918, but can tell that things are changing. Her father has been off fighting, and her mother is not taking it well. Most British children in India are sent back to England for school, but since Rosalind's brother died after being sent back, her mother is reluctant. After Rosalind spends too much time with her Indian best friend and saves a servant's grandchild from being sold to a man who will cripple him and use him for begging, she is sent to live with aunts in England. Her trip there is short, because she and her kindly aunt run afoul of the overbearing one when they attend a talk by an Indian woman who sides with Ghandi's attempts to peacefully overthrow British rule and their picture ends up in the paper. Rosalind is glad to be going home, and her aunt thrilled to be able to go along and help with the situation in India.
Strengths: I adored this, and even requested a book Whelan cites, Children of the Raj, because this is such an interesting historical era. Homeless Bird is one of my most popular historical choices, so I might be able to justify purchasing this one.
Weakness: Not a time period any of the grades study, and anything historical is such a hard sell. Why IS it that adults love historical fiction but the children don't seem to?
Monday, April 25, 2011
ARC received from publisher; release date June 11, 2011
Gray, an overly large reef shark, is kicked out for endangering his shiver (group) by leaving his territory. He and friend Barkley go off and run afoul of the Goblin shiver, then join up with Finn, Snork and a few others to form Rogue shiver, which makes Goblin mad. Soon, however, the Rogues are forced to join forces with Goblin, learn about the great tuna run and meet the mythical Takiza. Gray would like to reunite with his mother, but finds that part of his problem is that he's not really a reef shark but a megalodon.
Strengths: Lots of action, territorial disputes, and fighting. The back cover says this is like Warriors meets Star Wars; the Warriors part is definitely true. This, however, is much easier to follow, as well as a little funnier. This has a sequel coming out in the fall.
Weaknesses: The humor might not hit Warriors die-hards the right way. They take the cats' territorial wars VERY seriously.
Resau, Laura and Farinango, Maria Virginia. The Queen of Water.
Based on Farinango's experiences growing up in Ecuador, this is a sad tale of a young girl from an Indian family who is sold to a dentist and school teacher so that she can watch their child. The mother is abusive, and the father, while kinder, develops an unhealthy interest in the girl as she gets older. This was a fascinating look at how people live in other countries. Not only is daily life vividly portrayed, but the idea that a seven-year-old child would be left in charge of an infant will intrigue American readers. Because the girl is bright and motivated, she learns to read, studies all of the school curriculum, and manages to get into a school so that she can have a better future than child care or returning to her impoverished family.
Strengths: Vivid descriptions and sometimes harrowing situations took me right into this world. I love books that take me somewhere else and give me an insight into lives that are not like mine.
Weaknesses: While appropriate for middle school (the employer's interest never gets too graphic), this might be too long and too introspective for most of my students. I'd definitely buy this for a high school collection. I'll try it with Picky Reader, who loves problem novels.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Partridge, Elizabeth. Dogtag Summer.
In 1980, Tracy knows that she came from Vietnam five years ago, and that her adoptive father fought over there. Still, when she finds dogtags and an ammo box in the garage, she starts remembering what her life was like in Vietnam, and questions arise. Her friend Stargazer knows who his parents are, and feels comfortable with his hippy-ish family, but Tracy wants to know more about who she is and why she came to the US, especially since feelings are still running high that Vietnam vets were "baby killers".
Strengths: This short, highly descriptive novel would be great for the children whose parents were brought over from Vietnam as children. There have got to be a lot of them. The tension between fitting in and remembering one's past is vividly portrayed.
Weaknesses: Audience. This is slightly young for my group, and I have a hard time getting students to read introspective historical fiction, which is frustrating.
Ripken, Cal and Cowherd, Kevin. Hothead.
Connor's father has lost his job, and his mother is working extra hard as a nurse, so while they are supportive of Connor's baseball playing, it's hard for them to get to games and even harder for them to think about paying for summer baseball camp. Even though he's a very good player, Connor finds himself erupting on the field any time anything goes wrong, which doesn't make him look good. His coach is understanding, and a new friend, Melissa, helps him to understand that he needs to channel his anger in more helpful ways. Super-Sized Slugger comes out in the winter of 2012.
Strengths: This follows the Rich Wallace and Mike Lupica formula of short, action-packed story with an understandable problem to be overcome. My students will like this a lot.
Weaknesses: Would rather this were about football or basketball. Students were already asking ig there would be more books from the Barbers. Well, Paul Mantell? And why does this author not write as himself?
Padian, Maria. Jersey Tomatoes are the Best.
In this very serious novel, Eva and Henry (short for Henriette) face a lot of problems. Henry's overbearing father wants to control her tennis career, so she's glad to be off to a prestigious camp in Florida. Eva has been accepted into a high powered ballet school in New York City, (to the delight of her pushy mother) but has trouble dealing with the competitiveness, which worsens her nascent eating disorder. While Henry is dealing with how to manage a promising tennis career, Eva breaks a toe and descends into very ill health caused by her anorexia. Their friendship is the one constant that keeps the two balanced.
Strengths: Love the romance and the delicately hinted sexual pressure that David puts on Henry. Very well done. Enjoyed tremendously.
Weaknesses: One f-bomb--- on page 307! Still, the rest of the book dances around the word, and this instance is used when Eva is on the brink of a huge fight with her mother; this would be an example of a justified use. This is a horrible cover and title for a book because it makes it look frivolous, when it is really an excellent treatment of anorexia. Very well done.
Pyron, Bobbie. A Dog's Way Home.
Abby and her mother are in a bad car accident on their way home from an Agility Championship meet with Abby's dog Tam. Both are banged up, and when they finally are able to search for Tam, they can't find him. When Abby's family has to move to be with her grandmother for a while, she is even more worried that they won't be able to get Tam back. Told in alternating chapters, this chronicles Tam's struggles in the wild and the kind people along the way who help, and Abby's struggles to fit in to her new environment, carry on without Tam, and try to get him back.
Strengths: This is excellent for my young readers who love animal books but are not quite up for Knight's Lassie Come-Home or DeJong's Hurry Home, Candy. Alternating between the two characters was helpful.
Weaknesses: I don't have that much call for dog books, but I have to buy this anyway!
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Young Jack takes off for the Yukon with his ailing brother-in-law, who soon turns back and leaves Jack with provisions but no companion. Things aren't easy-- with the help of a new friend, Merritt, he traverses a frozen, raging river, gets captured by slavers who make him pan for gold, and is almost eaten by a wendigo who does devour many of his companions. Saved by a beautiful young girl, Jack spends a long time in her enchanted cabin recovering before he realizes that she is like Odysseus' Circe, and he must leave before he is forever trapped. Going back has its perils, but he manages to conquer the wild, return to an alcohol addled Merritt, and get ready for, one presumes, his next adventure.
Strengths: Monsters have been greatly in demand in my library lately, and there are always a number of students intrigued by London. This is a fast-paced novel that reads quickly. One review likened the illustrations to the Great Illustrated Classics series, but I thought this added from the book, rather than detracted from it.
Weaknesses: Follett says that this has been canceled by the publisher. Golden's work are intriguing but almost impossible to get from my public library. Since they also seem to be more young adult, I would like to read them before purchasing, and I never seem to be able to. This book wasn't perfect (the enchanted cabin bit dragged a little), but it was a good, solid book for boys that makes me want to investigate this author further.
Rayburn, Tricia. Ruby's Slippers.
Ruby and her mother leave their comfortable but somewhat impoverished life in Kansas to move in with Ruby's estranged and very posh grandmother in Florida. Ruby has trouble fitting in to Sweet Citrus Junior High, especially since she has no talent to perform for the mandatory Citrus Star talent show and gets thrown in with a popular girl who has been giving her a hard time. Her mother, a rather irresponsible but loving woman, has trouble finding a job and constantly runs afoul of her mother, especially when it comes to providing Ruby with technology that will catch her up to her peers. In the end, the three work out their family problems and get Ruby to a more comfortable place in her school.
Strengths: Rayburn, author of the excellent Maggie Bean trilogy has a knack for writing quirky characters with family problems. I normally don't care for these, but this was excellent and has been popular with my girl readers.
Weaknesses: The mandatory Citrus Star competition stretched my credulity a bit, but students won't think much about it.
Homzie, Hillary. Things Are Gonna Get Ugly.
Taffeta Smith has worked hard to improve herself after moving to California-- she is now tanned, fashionable and fabulous. She's popular and having a great time until Mr. Drabner catches her cheating and turns her back into Ernestine, her former geeky self. She is forced to reexamine her dealings with other classmates, especially the pony tailed and nerdy Winslow, who has a crush on Taffeta. In order to reverse the spell, she needs to dance with Winslow at the Winterfest Dance.
Strengths: Girls who love The Clique series will find this tale of fashion, backstabbing and jockeying for popularity amusing.
Weaknesses: Insulted my cultural background. As a Geek American, I was a annoyed by the aspersions cast that Geeks wear polyester, are good at school, hang out at the library, and are, in general, ugly and in need of massive makeovers. ("Then this overweight girl comes whirling up to me. She's got greasy hair and glasses that are smudged and her pants are so high water that they could almost be shorts.") Trust me, I'm the ONLY one in my middle school wearing polyester. And I wear it ironically, okay?
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
|Salem Press (with the help of some distinguished guest judges) is once again surveying the library blog landscape in search of exceptional thinking, writing and information. (For more about this year's nominations, judges, categories, etc., click Blog Awards.)|
This year we've expanded the number of categories we're considering and significantly enlarged the judges' panel. Better yet, we're inviting nominations and (when the finalists are announced) we'll be asking all of you to vote for your favorites.
So, please take a moment to tell us about your favorite blogs. Read all about the awards here or simply make a nomination by emailing me at the address below. Tell me the name of the blog you like and send a link to it, please. I look forward to hearing from you.
Peter W Tobey
Johnny's life in rural 1929 England is difficult, but it's about to get worse. He's picked on by classmates, and his hard-working, widowed mother works as much as she can cleaning houses to keep up with the rent, but it's not enough. Johnny, having been fleeced by an ad himself, decides to start placing ads in the paper for people to send in a shilling or two for advice, to which he replies with things that are not very helpful. He invents an "Aunt Ada" to cover his tracks at the newspaper and post office. Just as things are looking up a bit (his mother gets a job at a TB sanitarium and money comes in from his ads), a local doctor is killed and Johnny's mother is arrested.
With the help of Hutch, the local shopkeeper, Johnny tries to investigate, and comes across a nasty plot involving the doctor's wife and a TB vaccine that is being developed. Also instrumental are Olwen, a classmate whose family died of TB, and a reporter.
Strengths: A lovely picture of post WWI England, a time that is rarely covered in books. The village characters are great fun, and their interactions amusing. Is the world a better or worse place without people like nosy Miss Dangerfield? The mystery, which of course only Johnny can solve, is fraught with enough peril to keep readers going.
Weaknesses: Students may not pick this up on their own, and need to know that the mystery doesn't start until well into the book. Updale's other series, Montmorency, is well received but needs to be handed to students and explained.
Stone, Phoebe. The Romeo and Juliet Code
Felicity wishes that she were still in England, but London during the Blitz is not a place for children to be, so she is sent to live with her American father's family in coastal Maine. The family is a bit eccentric, including The Gram, theatrical aunt Miami, uncle Gideon (who was in love with Felicity's mother) and Derek, a boy Felicity's age who has had polio. Felicity pines for her mother and father, and doesn't know what they are doing during the war, although this is later revealed, as are many other family secrets I don't want to spoil.
Strengths: This was well-written, and evocative of Lowry's Autumn Street and Hunt's Up a Road Slowly, with a touch of The Secret Garden.
Weaknesses: While I have a huge demand for books about WWII, they are always for stories that involve either combat or concentration camps. Even Peck's On the Wings of Heroes does not circulate. What we really could use is something set in the Pacific Theater. Anyone know of anything? Warriors in the Crossfire was good, but did not involve soldiers as much as citizens.
Monday, April 18, 2011
It's been a while since Icecore (2007), so I didn't think this would be a sequel; the subtitle (A Carl Hobbes Thriller) should have tipped me off! Still, this could be read alone. Carl and Beth, having escaped Camp Twilight at the Arctic Circle and faked Beth's death, and settling into a working class life in London. Beth is working at a perfume counter at Heathrow Airport (even though she has some gold bullion tucked away), and Carl gets a job at Sphinx Cargo. Because they ship priceless artifacts, Sphinx has a sophisticated computer system, named Cleopatra, that controls all functions of the building. Carl gets a job as a night watchman there, and starts to turn the computer to his bidding, trying to program it to protect him and Beth. Things go awry when Beth chafes at being unable to steal more bullion and is put in the sites of a bounty hunter who wants to turn Carl over to the CIA.
Strengths: Lots of action and suspense; excellent computer hacking. The descriptions of the computer system and the building are extremely cool!
Weaknesses: Is Carl becoming more evil? Beth certainly is. And what is their relationship? I'm just as glad it's not discussed more. A sequel could be interesting! Hope it doesn't take four years.
Kantor, Melissa. The Darlings are Forever.
Love, love, love Girlfriend Material, but something about this book did not entice me to pick it up. Once I started, however, the twee title made sense (recently deceased and very dear grandmother called them that) and I enjoyed the book. Three friends who have gone to elementary school together must go separate ways in high school. Jane goes to a performing arts school, Natalya goes to a posh private school, and Victoria is more concerned with her father's political campaign than fitting in to her new school. The three carve out some time to be together, but the story follows their separate problems. A sequel The Darlings in Love is already in the offing.
Strengths: More good stuff from this author, and the NYC setting is always exotic for my students. Like the realistic portrayal of separated friends who still try to remain together.
Weaknesses: Could have done without the safe sex week demonstration of putting a condom on a banana, but there wasn't anything really sexual about it, so I think it will be okay.
Lee, Y.S. The Agency: The Body at the Tower.
Mary Quinn is back, and her latest assignment from The Agency is to go undercover as a young boy working at the building site at the Houses of Parliament to discover why a man has fallen to his death from the clock tower. She must cut her hair, wear boy's clothing, live in a seedy rooming house, and work as a bricklayer's assistant. Not only does she uncover personal drama and corrupted business practices, but she is brought together with James Easton again, after his return from India, and the two continue their flirting relationship.
Strengths: Why is Victorian London so appealing? Lee's background is in this are of history, so the details are exquisite and realistic. The mystery is well-developed, and the characters are fun.
Weaknesses: Mary was found out a little too soon and too frequently for my taste, and while this propelled the plot forward, made me wonder about her suitability for the Agency. I'll look forward to the last book when it comes out!
Archer, E. Geek Fantasy Novel.
Ralph is glad to be free of his boring parents for the summer after receiving airline tickets and an invitation from family in England. His parents have always insisted that he never make a wish, and he finds out why-- many members of his family have died that way, and he soon finds himself imperiled on a quest of his own, fighting an evil aunt and thrust into a world that more resembles Ruinscape (Okay, RUNEscape, although the effect that it has on my son's motivation to do anything else is ruinous!) than anything else. Snarky asides and deep investment in hard core fantasy themes sets this apart.
Strengths: Fantasy fans will adore this, from the geeky Ralph to his exploits with exploding bunnies.
Weaknesses: This is not for the casual fantasy reader. No maps, but presupposes deep love of fantasy. (Meaning: I didn't care for it, but Surly Teen Boy loved it.)
Also looked at Thanhha's Inside Out and Back Again, which sounded good (in 1975, girl moves from Vietnam to Alabama) until I realized it was a novel in verse. Students really, really dislike novels in verse, and since this is also historical fiction, this would just gather dust in my library. This, of course, practically guarantees it a Newbery mention; Fuse 8 already has waxed lyrical about it. The Page Turn details all the recent love.
Friday, April 15, 2011
(Vintage library newspaper rack picture from
- Never buy a gallon jug of book glue. By the time the 8 ounce bottle is empty, you will have to remove the lid with pliers. Every time you open it.
- If you use 4" acid-free book tape on both sides, taping the cover back on the book can work as well as having it rebound. Get someone to help hold the book while you tape the inside.
- There is always another layer of junk. Sometimes, this junk is amusing and should be kept for entertainment purposes. Yesterday, in the mylar cover cabinet, I found two dowels for the old newspaper rack, which disappeared a dozen years ago. It was fun to wave them at younger staff and have them guess what they were, or at older staff who exclaimed "Oh! Newspaper hangers!"
- Books go in and out of style. In fifteen years, the 8 copies of The Red Pyramid will fall apart. Already, three have been lost. It was still worth it to have that many.
- I am still working if the library is not jam-packed full of students. I don't believe this and fear for my job unless I have two classes at a time, but if I want to work for 40 more years, I need to remember it's a marathon and not a sprint. If it's quiet today, I can crawl around on the floor and hoist armfuls of fiction around to different shelves because..
- The fiction books will NEVER be in an ideal place.
What are the most important (or randomly amusing) things that YOU have learned as a librarian? Opine.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Van Eekhout, Greg. The Boy at the End of the World.
Fisher is "born" as a young adult with built-in knowledge after the pod life support system that was nurturing him is damaged. With the help of a robot he names Click, the two make their way across a post apocalyptic landscape to find
Strengths: While it's a little bumpy, Fisher's birth and rapid acclimation to fully functioning personhood is believable and is an interesting way to approach a post apocalyptic world. There is plenty of action and enough references to places that we can set the book in a greatly altered US. This will be a good addition to my science fiction collection.
Weaknesses: The cover is not great (at least on the ARC), there wasn't much of the fabulous humor that is evident in the first book, and there were talking prairie dogs. Who had an accent. Frequent Readers know how I feel about talking animals. Must say, though, that the use of prairie dogs was very good!
Bransford, Nathan. Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow.
ARC received from Penguin Putnam.
Jacob and his friends Sarah and Dexter are frequently in trouble in school, especially with substitute teachers. After a particularly bad afternoon that results in his mother having to skip a meeting to remove him from school, Jacob is offered a space ship in exchange for a corn dog, and the friends take off on an intergalactic journey. After "breaking the universe" and running afoul of the space police, they meet Mick Cracken, the worst space pirate in the galaxy, who is running around in his sister's former princess ship and uncover a secret planet of substitute teachers. Will Nathan be able to reconcile himself with his father's absence after his experience in space? And will he go back? I think he might.
Strengths: This will be a quick, funny read for elementary students who appreciate books that include how to spell naughty words on calculators. The writing is facile and engaging and shows clear understanding of the way children's minds work. I also appreciated having a biracial main character in a book that was not about the character being biracial. However...
Weaknesses: ...this falls pretty firmly on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line. Just a bit too goofy for most of my students. Also, while it helped establish the character's identity, I thought that the missing father didn't add much to the story, and the parts where Jacob is longing for his father seem like a later interpolation.
Seegert, Scott. Vordak the Incomprehensible.
If you work with elementary school students, please take a look at this book, since it will be very helpful to younger students whose plans to rule the universe may be in need of some assistance. They will love Vordak's snarkiness and the fun, comic book style layout. From the Publisher: "A top supervillain offers rules and advice to readers on how to develop an evil plan to rule the world.
However, this lands on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line, and I don't see this book getting out much. The illustrations will insure that it never leaves the shelf after December, when the 6th graders stop reading Dav Pilkey.
This is a pity, because Scott Seegert also has a book called It's a Guy Thing: Awesome Real Innovations from the Underdeveloped Male Mind that I thought it was very necessary to mention to Frequent Readers. His web site is a lot of fun. I'll certainly keep an eye out for his other work. I'm thinking a realistic, funny book involving the misuse of skateboards would be awesome, Mr. Seegert!
Ms. Knudson was a prolific author of sports books for girls at a time when that must have been rather unusual. The only one of her books that I had at my library was Zanballer(1972), which I deaccessioned because it hadn't been read and, well, the title was no longer a good one for middle school. I will also pass on Zanbanger (1977) for the same reason, but recently got a copies of Zanboomer (1978) and Zan Hagen's Marathon from other schools in the district where they had been gathering dust. I very much enjoyed these, and am glad to have copies to share with select readers who also can manage Karen Blumenthal's Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America.
Knudson, R.R. Zanboomer.
Zan is enjoying playing on the school coed baseball team, but is injured when she slides into a base and two other athletes land on top of her and dislocate her shoulder. Her friend Rinehart, who is a bit geeky and has a scientific rather than athletic bend, helps her train for the Virginia Cross-Country Championship. The sports details are great, the running tips very helpful, and the look back at 1978 very entertaining... for me. We'll see how it goes with girls reading it as historical fiction. (Cover of my editions by Richard Cuffari. They don't look like his later work, which always appears to be the kiss of death for a title, although I love his illustrations.)
Knudson, R.R. Zan Hagen's Marathon.
Fresh from her victory at the Virginia Championship, Zan decides that she needs to run in the first-ever women's Olympic marathon. In order to do this, she has to make several qualifying races, and enters a tri-state marathon at which she fails miserably. (She sits down and falls asleep for several hours, so finishes next to last!) Her friend Rinehart is on her case about training, so she is running a hundred miles a week, eating healthily, and working out. She enters a military marathon and gets a time that qualifies her for the Olympic trails in Los Angeles. She needs to come up with the money and get out there, which she does, but when she races she makes a miscalculation and comes in fourth, thereby not making the Olympic team. Luckily for Zan, the third place finisher is injured, and the Olympic team calls Zan and offers her support to get back out to the East Coast, since her parents are oddly absent throughout the book! Once at the Olympic Village, Zan makes friends, picks up come running skills, and competes in her fictional race with real women runners such as Joan Benoit and Grete Waitz. The next to the last chapter progresses mile by mile, with Zan and her new Chinese friend Song Mai holding together. Since few people will be able to read this book, I'll spoil the end and say that Knudson has the two finish the race in first place together after Zan helps Song Mai up from a fall. An unrealistic ending, I know, but I misted up at bit. Sigh.
This book falls a little short on logic at times. Where are Zan's parents? Can she really improve so much so fast? Her principal comes to watch her run? Still, this book is worth reading for girls who aspire to run. It is an important part of the history of running, and I'm glad to have several copies.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I read all books on their suitability and attractiveness to my students. This last crop of E-ARCs weren't quite right, but that's why I read things before I buy them. Just because they aren't right for my library doesn't mean they won't be right for yours.
Schmidt, Gary D. Okay For Now.
From the Publisher: "Fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck faces many challenges, including an abusive father, a brother traumatized by Vietnam, suspicious teachers and police officers, and isolation, but when he meets a girl known as Lil Spicer, he develops a close relationship with her and finds a safe place at the local library."
Why I read it: Schmidt is always on awards lists. Also, I never like his books (except First Boy), so feel compelled to keep reading until I find one I do like. I worked on this for over two months and still haven't finished.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: Nothing happens. Doug delivering groceries and acting up in class is about as action-packed as it gets. Historical fiction needs more action to be successful in my library.
Everyday Reading, Kidliterate, and Just a Girl all adored this one.
Cronin, Doreen. The Trouble with Chickens.
From the Publisher: "A hard-bitten former search-and-rescue dog helps solve a complicated missing chicken case."
Why I read it: Hank the Cowdog is weirdly popular in my library, and I liked the cover!
Why It Didn't Work For Me: This falls on the too young side, and the hard-boiled (sorry) detective/film noir feel falls flat with my students.
Bookends, Fresh Fiction, and The Wormhole all liked this book.
Jeter, K.W. Morlock Night (1979)
From the Publisher: "Having acquired a device for themselves, the brutish Morlocks return from the desolate far future to Victorian England to cause mayhem and disruption. But the mythical heroes of Old England have also returned, in the hour of the country’s greatest need, to stand between England and her total destruction."
Why I read it: This is supposed to be the first book to be written in the Steampunk genre, which I am still trying to understand.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: Steampunk is still a hard sell to my students, and the language in this was particularly difficult.
Book Den, Retrospeculation, and BookishArdour all seem fond of this book and of Steampunk.
Review copy provided by author.
You think your life is difficult? Try having a mother who is a performance artist whose pieces have included wrapping herself in saran wrap as a statement against plastic surgery, and who slammed your best friend's mother in a piece called "Nu-trisha, Mother of Doom"! Add to that the general chaos of having a mother who also works as a dog walker and moves frequently and a father who is getting remarried. Poor Marigold. To top it off, the mean girls in her new school have made her a target, and the boy she likes...well, it's complicated, much like middle school really is! In Marigold's fresh voice (that doesn't whine too much) we get to experience all of her trials and tribulations that occur after her mother volunteers to teach an after school drama club. Also by this author is This is Me From Now On.
Strengths: Showcases the meanness that girls like to read in The Clique without being over-the-top and really, really mean. While the mother is central to the problems, she doesn't overwhelm the story... and she's not a hippie! Satisfying but realistic conclusion. Picky Reader wants to read this one after she finishes her Accelerated Reader goal.
Weaknesses: I had a hard time envisioning the Thing that Marigold was sewing. That may be because I am a quilter, though.
This is available from Follett in a prebind for $11.46. Now that the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies aren't publishing any more, I am turning to the Mix imprint, also from Simon and Schuster, to get affordable reads for my girls who go through a book a day!
Monday, April 11, 2011
Based on the true story of the author's great-aunt and great-grandmother. In 1896, Clara's mother, who has been too depressed to get out of bed since the death of Clara's brother, decides suddenly that she can save the family farm from financial ruin by walking from Mica Creek, Washington to New York City in order to get $10,000 offered by a publisher if she can make the trek in the allotted amount of time AND write a book about it. Concerned for her mother's safety and doubting her ability to make the journey unaided, Clara decides to go with her mother. The walk is hard, and a number of obstacles, from obnoxious men to bad weather, and even when the two make it to New York, things do not go well.
Strengths: A beautiful book, this made me SO happy. My daughter and I once walked 26 to Sunbury and back in about 7 hours. This is roughly the length of the walk that these two women had every single day for 7 months! Even though we are very active, we were very sore the next day. The details of the journey, and of the historical time period, were colorful and intriguing. I'll be very interested to see what this author writes next.
Weaknesses: This will be a hard sell. But I'll buy it for the few students who will read it!
Bennett, Sophia. Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings.
Nonie loves fashion, even though her choices are dubious. (Silver leggings?) Her friend Edie is a minipolitico who is trying to save the planet. Her friend Jenny is a minor starlet who is uncomfortable with her newfound fame as well as her body. When Nonie meets Crow, a Ugandan refugee living with her aunt, she is intrigued by Crow's styles. The friends help Crow out with her fashion designs and try to improve her lot.
Strengths: Liked the immigrant twist, and the fact that the extreme pinkness was offset with social conscience. Very fun. And shiny!
Weaknesses: May date quickly, but should last for a good long while.
Gifford, Clive. Cooking in World Cultures series from Powerkids Press.
This series includes Food and Cooking in Ancient Egypt; Rome; and Greece, and also Food and Cooking in Viking Times, which I did not read.
These very short (32 pages) cookbooks are very well done, and something which I needed for the projects which are frequently assigned. It is nice that they all give an overview of the way food was cooked, what foods were available, and also have some easy recipes of foods that are exotic but which students might actually eat. I'm still looking for a slightly longer version of these, with more recipes and more scholarly notes, but these will get a lot of use.
Jeffers, H. Paul. Legends of Santa Claus.
This overview of the different myths surrounding everyone's favorite gift giver starts with a description of NORAD's yearly reports of Santa's wherabouts, and continues to follow his development from ancient times to modern. Clever anecdotes abound, including one about Richard E. Byrd telling his children that he would find evidence of Santa when he traveled to the North Pole. Illustrated.
Strengths: Complete and well-researched, with a good, clear overview.
Weaknesses: Clement Clark Moore most likely did not write The Night Before Christmas; Don Foster's work about this came out at the same time that this book was published. I would have thought that Lerner would have updated this information.
Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
Why is Amelia so appealing even after all these years? She was a canny business woman and did a great job with her publicity! Fleming does another outstanding job of researching all the little known facts about Earhart and putting them together in an intriguing way-- we start with the disappearance and then go back to her early life, then read a little more about the disappearance, etc., so there is some tension even though we know what is going to happen. I did not know that there was someone who supposedly heard Earhart on the radio, nor that she curled her hair into its signature "tousled" look. When I was young, we still thought Amelia might be found; she would be long dead by now!
Strengths: Graphically pleasing, well illustrated and well researched.
Weaknesses: Some students might have trouble going back and forth in time.
Lusted, Marcia Amidon. Social Networking: MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Abdo Publishing.
From the Technology Pioneers series, this volume covers the beginnings of the social networking phenomenon. The backgrounds of the founders and early days of the company are discussed against the technologic climate at the time, and problems are not glossed over. This is a good length, graphically pleasing, and should be one that students will pick up for some time. I rarely buy books on technology because they date so quickly, but this clearly is about the beginnings of these sites, so will keep for a while.
Had an odd weekend with a lot of hauling people around and waiting, and had a small death march through some books. Of note: library books are far more compelling than either ARCs or E-ARCs, especially when they have "new" stickers on them and I know there is only a two week loan!
Harris, Lewis. A Taste for Red.
Stephanie (who prefers to go by Svetlana, now that she is in touch with her dark side) starts to realize that her science teacher stinks. This is because Svetlana is an Olfactive, who can smell vampires (They smell like decaying meat. Lovely.) When classmates go missing, Svetlana investigates, helped by a neighbor and some friends.
Strengths: This is great for younger readers who are obsessed with vampires. Rather like the Poison Apple books, this is a cross between Vampire Kisses and a mystery. Attractive cover.
Weaknesses. More vampires. Sigh.
Lancaster, Mike A. Human .4
After being hypnotized at a village talent show, Kyle and three other people from his town notice the strange behavior that follows the complete catatonia that has struck everyone else. It turns out that Kyle and people like him are earlier versions of humans, and the vast majority of humanity has been upgraded and can no longer detect earlier versions. Presented as notes taken on old fashioned audiotapes, it includes explanations of references to popular culture.
Strengths: Like Brain Jack, the idea that human brains can be connected like computers is interesting, and it's a unique spin on science fiction.
Weaknesses: This is a rather slow moving book, and the sort that I didn't quite understand what was going on until halfway through.
Allen, Crystal. How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.
Lamar loves to bowl, but his father only cares about his brother, who is a star basketball player. Things are tough in the household because Lamar's mother passed away when he was younger, and his father is having work cuts that limit the family's money. When the Billy Jenks, who is constantly in trouble, offers Lamar a chance to make a lot of money by playing with him in games people bet on, Lamar thinks he has something good going, until he realizes that his bowling idol, Bubba Sanders, would not approve.
Strengths: Fun language, snappy scenes, bowling, and an African American main character in the Heartland. I debated whether a picture of Lamar would be good-- could not decide. This cover is good. I also liked the realistic consequences and the supportive adults in this.
Weaknesses: While Lamar's funny style of speaking is appealing, I got a little tired of some of his catch phrases. ("Crackers and cream cheese")
Runholt, Susan. Adventure at Simba Hill.
This third book (The Mystery of the Third Lucretia and Rescuing Seneca Crane) takes Kari and Lucas to Africa where Kari's uncle is working on an archaeological dig. When they start to suspect that artifacts from the dig are being stolen and shipped to England, the pair spring into action.
Strengths: There aren't a lot of mystery series, and Kari and Lucas are appealing characters.
Weaknesses: Didn't like this one as well as the others; the safari-like setting seemed oddly luxurious, and the girls couldn't be on their own as much as they were in Scotland. Still, I'll look forward to the next book.
Selfors, Susanne. Mad Love.
Alice's mother is a well-known romance writer, but after years of struggling with bipolar disorder, is in a mental hospital. Trusted neighbors are checking in with Alice, who is trying to hide her mother's illness from the world, but when money runs out and her mother's publishers want the $100,000 advance for the next book back, Alice needs to find a plan. This plan emerges in the form of Errol, a young man who gives her a manuscript and tells her that he is, in fact, Cupid, and that the story is about his true love, Psyche. At first, Alice is sure that Errol is nuts, but starts to believe him. While pursuing a romance with hot skater boy Tony, she starts to write the story, deal with her mother's illness, and find some direction in her own life.
Strengths: As in Coffeehouse Angel, Errol's appearance is not really explained or excused; we're just supposed to believe it. Considering that the rest of the book is so realistically done, this gives the book a nice zing. It also is a book that will appeal to older girls but is okay for younger ones. (There is one mention of sex, but it's just that; something like "If I wanted to have sex with you, we'd have had it already." Sorry. Can't find the page.)
Weaknesses: A little slow in the middle.
It was warm enough to sleep with the window open last night, and the air smelled like flowers this morning. Could it be that spring has come to Ohio?