Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Wakeman, Nancy. Babe Didrikson Zaharias: Driven to Win (2000)
Born in 1911, Babe Didrikson was a natural athlete who once won a track and field competition by herself by competing in eight events and winning five of them! In an era when women didn't necessarily showcase their athleticism, Babe found ways to earn enough income to support her family while doing what she loved. She qualified for the Olympics, made money through product endorsements, performed athletic feats on the Vaudeville circuit, and spent time not playing sports so that she could be reclassified as an amateur and play golf, until it was more lucrative to play as a professional as a founding member of the LPGA. She married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler who managed her career, and was voted the top female athlete of the first half of the twentieth century. Truly and original, she had the brashness and drive to push the limits, both physically and socially, of what women could do, before her untimely death from cancer at the age of 45.

Strengths: This Lerner biography is well laid out, with pictures and sidebars explaining various historical and cultural events. It moves quickly and is readable, although it is also an excellent resource for reports.
Weaknesses: The writing starts out a bit wooden but improves.

The Sweetest Thing

Mandelski, Christina. The Sweetest Thing.
Sheridan's father is a great chef who owns a restaurant in a small town, where Sheridan's grandmother runs a bakery. When he gets offered his own cooking show, the family may need to move to New York City, which Sheridan doesn't want to do, in part because she is afraid that the mother who abandoned her years before won't be able to find her. Sheridan is a great cake decorator who works hard in the family business while trying to have her own life at school. She has finally caught the attention of Ethan, and the two date. She's thrilled, but saddened that her best friend, Jack, finds their relationship so offensive. When her father's show starts ramping up, Sheridan tries to find her mother, hoping that she will come home for Sheridan's birthday. As in real life, things don't always work out.

Strengths: Excellent romance and cake book! Really enjoyed this one, as did Older Daughter. We both appreciated that Ethan wasn't a huge jerk; Sheridan just like Jack better in the end. The way the relationship with the mother worked out was a bit of a twist, and the fighting with the father showed how much the characters meant to each other. REALLY looking forward to seeing what this author writes next!
Weaknesses: Nothing major; I'm not getting the appeal of the cooking show since I never have watched any on television (Unless you count Graham Kerr back when I was in third grade at the babysitter's), but many people seem to like them.

Silhouetted by the Blue

Jones, Traci L. Silhouetted by the Blue.
Serena has a lot going on-- she has been chosen for the lead role in the middle school production of The Wiz, and she's glad because she loves to act, but things are home are bad. Her mother was killed in an automobile accident, and ever since then, her father (who has struggled with depression before) is struck so hard by "the blue" that he can't even get out of bed. Serena tries to take care of her younger brother Henry; picking him up and taking him to play practice, doing laundry, feeding him and checking his homework, but when they run out of food and money and her father is still not responsive, she contacts an uncle to get help. The uncle comes, just in time to avert a tragedy, and the family tries to band together and move beyond their grief.
Strengths: This is the sort of problem novel that many of my 7th graders adore, because it concerns a girl their age trying simply to survive. I thought it was marvelous because Serena was a solidly middle class African-American girl with strong school interests, caught in a bad situation... and the book was NOT about her ethnicity. We need more books about characters of different backgrounds where the story line does not center around the background. Jones is great for that. Finding My Place and Standing Against the Wind are both strong circulators at my school.
Weaknesses: The ending was a bit abrupt and deus ex machina, but given the situation, it's not uncalled for.

Belated Guy Friday-- Guys Behaving Badly

Sorry. It's summer, and the whole turning-on-the-computer thing is tough for me!

Gosselink, John. The Defense of Thaddeus Ledbetter.
Thaddeus is a know-it-all who frequently decides to do things for the betterment of his school. Adults don't agree. His latest escapade was a "true emergency drill" that has earned him the rest of the year in In School Suspension. It's Februrary. In frequent notes to the principal, his lawyer uncle, and a narrative of hi
s "defense", Thaddeus tries to excuse his actions and get out of his punishment. The format includes various notes, drawings, etc.
Strengths: This is a humorous tale, since Thaddeus gets himself into unusual and quirky situations. He is not a nice boy. Fans of Wimpy Kid might like the visula format that includes pictures and changes of font.
Weaknesses: Wanted to slap Thaddeus. No school would put up with him for that long in ISS. He's a whiny, bratty kid who thinks he knows everything. Ugh. However, this book may fall into the Unspeakable Evil category-- I am never going to get it because I am a girl. And a teacher.

This is a good time to bring up the lovely essay by Jeff Kinney in Time Magazine. I especially enjoyed this quote: "The topic was how to reach "reluctant readers" (whom I've since come to know by the more concise term boys.)"

In this article, he talks about teachers and librarians handing Anne of Green Gables to boys who just want to read about video games and sharks. It's worth reading. I agree with many of his points, and yet I still really detest Greg, whom I think brings problems upon himself. Do I have the Wimpy Kid books in my library? Multiple copies. Do I ever recommend them to students? Never. I do try hard to give students what they want to read, but there are books that deliver that and don't make me want to slap the main character. Big Nate, for instance. I love Big Nate because he is essentially a good person who just can't control himself. It's a fine line, but acknowledging the line and my problems with certain aspects of it makes me more successful at getting "the right book for the right child at the right time." I hope.

Cerrito, Angela. The End of the Line.
Robbie is in a very strict juvenile detention facility. They remove his bed every day, and he has to earn his food by doing what the guards tell him; make lists, attend group sessions, etc. Robbie has ended up at this facility after being thrown out of a string of others for violent behavior... and for killing a classmate. Going between his current situation and his introduction to Ryan, a troubled boy from a dysfunctional home whom he befriends even though he dislikes him. (The narratives are in different fonts, which helps.) Does Robbie understand the impact of what he has done? Can he be rehabilitated?
Strengths: Some students really like to read about students in detention facilities, and this is mercifully clean of "gritty reality" in dialogue. It details what life is like in one of these facilities, and makes Robbie a sympathetic character.
Weaknesses: Robbie never seems like a cold-blooded, calculated killer to me, so I didn't quite understand why he resorted to his horrible behavior? Guilt? While I enjoyed the book, there was something off to me about the whole motivation and subsequent punishment. I don't think students will notice.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waiting for You/ Not What I Wanted Wednesday

Colasanti, Susane. Waiting for You.
Marisa has the most enormous crush on Derek, but he is going out with someone else. She gets on with her life-- hanging out with her friend Sterling, who likes to cook, dealing with her combative younger sister Sandra, being confused about her parents' relationship (which is quickly disintegrating), dealing with her anxiety disorder, and hanging out with her friend, Nash. When Nash confesses that he likes Marisa, things get uncomfortable when she doesn't return the feeling. Eventually, Derek goes out with her, but is he the one in whom she is really interested?

Strengths: After reading So Much Closer and finding it appropriate for middle school, I knew I would have to read more of these books. A lot of my 8th grade girls crave romance books and will only read Nicholas Sparks. They will find these books, with their crushes, pining, and eventual resolutions perfect.
Weaknesses: Too painful for me to enjoy. I hated reading about how much of a crush Marisa had on Derek-- because I have been there. Luckily, that was 30 odd years ago and I have recovered. I guess it's a sign of good writing that the books can make me uncomfortable. Definitely buy
ing whichever ones of these are middle school appropriate.

And here are some books that didn't work for me or my library, but I can definitely see them working at different levels:

Meehl, Brian. You Don't Know About Me.
From the Publisher: " Billy has spent his almost-sixteen years with four cardinal points--Mother, Christ, Bible, and Home-school--but when he sets off on a wild road trip to find the father he thought was dead, he learns much about himself and life."

What I Wanted: A rollicking road trip book with lots of action and humor.
Why This Didn't Work For Me: I was about half way through the book, and really enjoying it, when I realized it was too introspective for middle school. While I can get kids to read gently humorous quirky books for a while, this clocks in at 406 pages. Given it's personal identity theme, this would be great for high school. I adore this author's Suck It Up, and his writing style is great. Also, the cover is perfect.

Watson, Paul E. The Robot.
From the Publisher: " Science-loving Gabe and girl-crazy Dover are best friends. In fact, they're practically each other's only friends. So when Gabe's parents leave town for the weekend, he lets Dover convince him to break into his father's basement laboratory-even though he knows it's off-limits under penalty of lifelong grounding. Once inside, the boys make a shocking discovery, one that will turn a boring weekend into a hilarious madcap adventure: a smoking hot robot"

What I Wanted: A rollicking science geek book with lots of action and humor.
Why This Didn't Work For Me: *Snerk* While this cracked me up, it was not appropriate for me to hand to middle school students. Underaged drinking and salacious interest in the robot... I handed this to Surly Teen Boy, who seemed to enjoy it, but it was crass, which is exzactly why the actual teen boys will like it!
People who liked this include: Chris at School Library Journal and Ryan the Librarian.This just came out, so there aren't a lot of reviews of it around or I would include more.

Paratore, Coleen Murtagh. From Willa, With Love.
From the Publisher: "As summer comes to a close on Cape Cod, Willa finds herself dealing with bad news from her best friend, a surprising secret from her brother, an unexpected crush, and last minute wedding plans."
This is the fifth book in The Wedding Planner's Daughter series.
What I Wanted: Girlfriend Material with a touch of Along for the Ride.
Why This Didn't Work For Me: While this does have some romance, it is more about Willa's interaction with her close-knit community. I enjoyed this to a certain extent, but the first book in the series is not much read, so I haven't invested in it. Willa did get irritating at some points, not just because Willa has long been a name I've had tucked up my sleeve for a character! If this series is popular in your library, it would be a must have.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sidekicks

Ferraiolo, Jack. Sidekicks.
It's not easy to be Scott. While he has super strength and speed, he's being raised by Trent, aka Phantom Justice, and must perform super hero sidekick duties as Bright Boy. The yellow tights and red cape were cute when he was younger, but after a much televised wardrobe malfunction, he's ready to ditch the costume. At school, he's bullied by Jake and ignored by most of the other students. After being in prison for five years, Bright Boy's arch nemesis, Dr. Chaotic, is back, as is his screeching assistant, Monkeywrench. Since the superheroes all seem to be disappearing, it's up to Phantom Justice and Scott to dispatch the pair, but after one clash, Scott discovers that Monkeywrench is really a classmate of his, Allison. The two become friends, and then things REALLY become interesting. Let's just say that the super hero world is not always what it seems. The twists and turns in this are so delicious that I don't want to give them away.
Strengths: This was great! Not at all what I was expecting, and the interplay between good and evil, always a favorite theme of mine, was brilliant! Scott and Allison's relationship rings true, making this a good book to hand to boys who secretly want a romance book. The superhuman aspect is believable, and the inclusion of embarrassing incidents makes this funny as well. I did like this author's The Big Splash, but the film noir style isn't popular in my library.
Weaknesses: The cover is attractive, but a bit on the cartoonish side. I intend to hand this to a lot of 8th graders, and the cover will make some of them flinch.Also, after an uncomfortable conversation with my surly male resource, we concluded that some of Scott's wardrobe problems could perhaps have been averted with some standard athletic equipment that would probably have been useful when fighting supervillians anyway! Small points; I'm looking forward to having this in my library!

Meyer, Carolyn. Cleopatra Confesses.
It's not easy to be the young Cleopatra, either. From her final moments, she recounts her event filled childhood. Her older sisters resent their father and can't wait to rule the kingdom and enjoy all of the perks ruling offers. Cleopatra, however, is a little more attuned to the people, and knows that her father wants her to rule. Once she starts to share the rule with her father, she develops a crush on Marc Antony, but later, of course, has an affair with Caesar. This is not so much about romance as it is about politics, which have to consume most of Cleopatra's thoughts.
Strengths: The description of every day life make this a valuable book to have. The affairs are described delicately enough that the sixth graders can read this.
Weaknesses: I have to agree with Small Review , who liked this but thought it stopped when all of the real excitement began. I also agree that there were times when the plot didn't seem to go anywhere-- there wasn't much action, more thought. This is similar to the books about the young British queens that Meyer has done, and those are popular, so it may not matter.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nonfiction Monday- Biographies

Krull, Kathleen. Sigmund Freud (2006)
Discovered an odd thing while reading this: I didn't want to critique the book as much as I wanted to critique Freud's life! Krull always does an excellent job with biographies, like the one on Marie Curie, but I wasn't nearly as interested in Freud. The style was the same, with nice discussions in a sort of conversational, lecture format, but Curie's life was so much more exciting. The more interesting parts of Freud's life, such as how his dog Jofi was "trained" to get up after an hour, I just didn't believe. Isn't it more likely that he gave his dog a signal? I love biographies, having read all of the Childhood of Famous Americans books I could find in elementary school, but I think I'll pass on this one for my library. The inclusion of actual pictures of Freud would have made it more valuable to my collection.





Bertozzi, Nick. Lewis and Clark.

The note at the beginning of this book helped a lot: what the author want to do was to communicate "the experience of that remarkable expedition". This the book does very well. The graphic novel format made it hard for me to follow some of the history, leaving me to want to read a standard biography or nonfiction book on the topic, but this was a good way to impart the highlights (or lowlights as they were!) of the expedition. The book starts when the president gives the commission and ends with Lewis' problems afterwards, and his suicide.

Strengths: I can see this being used by social studies teachers to recount some of the more interesting portions of the journey or to entice students to read further. It is well-researched and the drawings are comparable to other graphic novels.

Weaknesses: As previously stated, understanding the details is sometimes difficult without the support of a lot of text. The one formatting issue I would have changed is that sometimes the drawings are contained on one page, and sometimes it is necessary to read across the entire two page spread to read things in order. Perhaps this is not a struggle for those used to graphic novels, but I had to reread several pages because of the confusion this caused.

Dickens is the New Dystopia?

Hooper, Mary. Fallen Grace.
Grace and her sister Lily have a place to live, but are just barely surviving by selling bunches of watercress in 1861 London. When Grace delivers a baby (the product of a rape when she was at a training school), it is almost a relief when it is stillborn. While taking the body to the London Necropolis to slip into another coffin, thus averting the fa
te of a paupers' grave pit, she meets James Solent (into whose sister's casket the baby has gone) and Mrs. Unwin, a funeral director who offers her employment as a professional mourner. Needing to get back to her sister, who is "simple minded", Grace hurries back to Seven Dials. Things get worse after their boarding house is condemned, and Grace does go to work for the Unwins. They take in Lily because there has been an advertisement in the paper for a Lily Parkes-- who is set to get a large inheritance! When Grace finds that Lily is missing, she enlists the help of James, and the two unravel the evil machinations of the Unwin clan, and find out some secrets about the girls' past.
Strengths: **SIGH** Loved this. The Dickensian London setting (Grace meets Dickens at the Unwins' funeral emporium when he is buying mourning for Prince Albert's death), the horrible circumstances over which the sisters triumph, their rags-to-riches story. The discussion of funerary practices i
n Victorian London, complete with afterword about the London Necropolis, was fascinating. Also a plus-- At the Sign of the Sugared Plum and its sequel, Petals in the Ashes, are very popular in my library. Picky Reader, a big fan of A Drowned Maiden's Hair, is reading this.
Weaknesses: Cover doesn't say much. There is some discussion of the sexual abuse of both Grace and Mary, but it is very delicately done, so I think it's okay for middle school, but maybe not elementary. Some of Hooper's books are for older readers.

Buzbee, Lewis. The Haunting of Charles Dickens.
Meg is upset that her brother, Orion, has been missing for six months. Her printer father is reluctant to let the family out of the house now, but Meg is drawn one night to Satis House, to which she travels across the rooftops! Once there, she sees family friend Charles Dickens, who escorts her home. She also thinks she sees Orion in the background of a seance that she witnesses in the empty house. With Mr. Dickens' help, she starts to find more and more clues that her brother has been press-ganged and is being held against his will in London. The two take trips into the underbelly of London, and Meg starts to realize how badly some children are treated. Will the two find Orion, and will they be able to do anything to help the plight of the children?
Strengths: Beautiful writing, and a fun introduction of Dickens as a character. Meg is a character with whom I would want to be friends; I loved her family. There were a lot of references to characters in Dickens' work, and although I feel I missed most of them, this book might well entice better readers to look at Dickens' books. I myself want to read Oliver Twist now!
Weaknesses: The quick introduction of the ghost of a street child wasn't developed, especially since the incident is reflected in the title. Yes, I know he is also haunted by the actual children, but the ghost was an odd note. The illustrations were a nice touch, although I wish there were more of them.

If I buy both of these, I have a good excuse to also buy Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London when it comes out in November.

Personal note: Ran my third 5k yesterday with a time of 33:23, putting me 5th out of 11 runners in my age group! SO ridiculously pleased with myself!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guy Friday: Skateboarding Guys

Tony Hawk's 900 Revolution Series


Release date 8/1/11; eARC received from NetGalley.com

Lemke, Donnie. Drop In: Volume 1
Omar Grebes lives on the West Coast and loves to skateboard. He has a friend, Tommy, who skates with him. Both of the boys miss Omar’s father, who was apparently killed in a surfing accident. The body has never been found. After meeting Neelu, a cute skateboarding girl, Omar gets a card from Revolution, a company that he thinks is going to sponsor his skating. When he goes to the shop, he finds an odd piece of wood with magical powers in a glass case. He must protect this artifact, which turns out to be a piece of the skateboard that Tony Hawk was riding when he completed a 900 degree flip in 1999. This flip somehow opened a portal into another world and released powers. Did Omar's father know about this? What does Tommy know about his death? Omar has to keep the fragment safe, but whom can he trust?

Strengths: Obviously: Skateboarding. Tony Hawk. All big draws.

Weaknesses: After the fish taco incident in the first chapter, I didn't like Omar; students will not mind that. The cover would have been better without the cartoon-- I know it looks like manga, but a photo would have been better, because my 8th graders may be reluctant to pick this up. I also had some problem with the fantasy aspect of this-- it wasn't what I was expecting, and detracted from the skateboarding culture, which is what my readers want.

Sherman, M. Zachary. Impulse: Volume 2
Dylan (known as Slider) survives life in foster care in New York City with the help of his older “brother” Mikey and his friend Juliet. When Mikey is followed at the mall by a creepy looking group of Goth kids and gives Slider a key, Slider is concerned, but when he returns home to find out that his foster parents are in the hospital and Mikey has all been injured, he knows that something is wrong. He and Juliet take the key to the skating rink, where they find a box in a locker. The box contains part of a battered skateboard that imbues Slider with amazing skateboarding powers. The Goth kids also want this, so while he doesn't want to trust anyone, Slider relies on Case, a cop and former skateboarder, and joins up with the Revolution group, meeting Omar at the end of the book.
Strengths: I liked Dylan much better, and this has more action packed skateboarding scenes than the first book. Sherman also did the very nice Bloodlines series, and has written book 3 and 4 (Banshee and Unchained) of the Tony Hawk series.

Weaknesses: Since these are not trade books, they will set you back about $19 each. Ouch. Have to really think about these. I do wish the first book were not so much Omar and the Magic Skateboard because the second book was quite good in spite of the fantasy.


And yes, it's blisteringly hot here in Ohio. Nothing like looking at the alarm clock at 5:30 and seeing that it is 87 degrees in the house! Still, working toward my goals:
1. 74 Miles (26 to go. Sigh.) 2. 66 books (4 to go) 3. 52 quilt tops (Made my goal! Hooray!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Odd Job Squad

Fields, Karl. The Odd Job Squad.
EPUB received from the author.


Ander and his friends have a nice little business going at Marina Middle School. They will exact an appropriate revenge on a classmate if they have tormented someone. This is going well until one of the team, Shooter (a girl on whom Ander has a sizable crush), decides that seeking revenge is juvenile and she doesn't want any part of it. The problem is that Shooter is having trouble with the Stacia, who is running for student body president and Ander would like to get revenge on her. At the same time, a case of revenge against football player Dorsey goes terribly wrong, putting Dorsey in the hospital and Ander in the sights of someone who wants to see him and his revenge business go down. Because of these complications, the group has several adventures in San Francisco, tracking down tickets to a boy band concert and generally getting into more trouble than they are managing to escape!

Strengths: This reminded me a bit of Project Sweet Life, which is HUGELY popular with my students. There is always a need for funny books for boys, and this would be good for students who liked The Fourth Stall or Griff Carver. After reviewing both of those, I opined that I disliked situations that teacher would not allow to continue; a lengthy conversation with 8th grade boys at the end of the year indicated that they LIKED that in books! The diverse group of friends, as well as the spot-on romance, was nice as well.
Weaknesses: The first chapter tries to introduce a lot of characters and events, causing me to struggle a bit with the beginning of this book. When I have books like that, it is helpful to tell students to stick with the book until the second chapter because it will be worth it.While this is not available through Follett, it is available for $2.99 as an eBook through Barnes and Noble and Amazon and as a paperback for $9.99. Follett is now carrying Rex Riders, reviewed last week.



Klavan, Andrew. The Final Hour.

Sequel to The Last Thing I Remember, The Long Way Home, The Truth of the Matter

Charlie is in Abingdon Prison where he is managing to make everyone he meets angry, from guards to inmates of all philosophical persuasions. Add to that the fact that he is slowly recovering his memory and realizes that he heard Prince and the Homelanders plan a deadly attic. It's going to take place on New Year's Eve, but where will it be? How will it be carried out? Charlie can't remember, but knows that he has to escape prison and find someone to help him. When a group of prisoners approaches him about helping them escape, he agrees, although instead of killing a guard, he tells him their plan and makes it look as though he is dead. Once he gets out, his former instructor Mike picks him up, and they work together with Rose and others to pin down the exact plans. This is where the action really begins-- there is an air fight in a Cessna and a harrowing rush through subway tunnels before Charlie finds Prince heading towards Times Square. Can he intercept Prince before his evil plans are brought to fruition? Of course, but how he does it is what is interesting to read.

Strengths: There is something enthralling about prison tales, and the politics and violence in this will appeal to the fans of Smith's Lockdown and Solitary. The helicopter scene is excellent. The violence is always justified, and while a bit gory, is never too bad. A student liked the first two so much that he purchased the Accelerated Reader tests; I will definitely buy the next two books.

Weaknesses: I found the portrayal of the Homelanders to be boringly stereotypical. The second book tended towards annoying political preachiness, but this wasn't quite as bad. I don't think that students will be irritated by this, but this combined with the aggressive religious stance made it difficult for me to read the book; it took me over two weeks, and that's unusual. Still, I was able to remember the plot, which is a mark of good writing.

Problem Novels

Volponi, Paul. Crossing Lines.
Adonis likes hanging out with his football playing friends and the girl he would like to have as his girlfriend, Melody. When Melody and Adonis' sister, Jeannie, get involved in a Fashion Club, Adonis is uncomfortable because one of the very active members is Alan. The football players all think that Alan is gay, but it is more likely that Alan is transgendered. This doesn't really make a difference to the football players; they use every opportunity to give Alan a hard time. Adonis is uncomfortable with this. Through his sister, he has gotten to know Alan, who is always the soul of politeness and congeniality to Adonis. Adonis sticks up for Alan in small ways, and his teammates give him a hard time, especially when Alan starts wearing lipstick and dresses and answering to "Alana". When his "friends" plan too humiliate Alan publicly, Adonis has to decide whether to ignore them or to stand up for what is right and protect Alan.

Strengths: Volponi has such a magnificent touch with difficult issues. His Black and White is a brilliant book about race relations. The characters in Crossing Lines are all realistic and finely developed, from Adonis' dad, who is hugely homophobic but teaches Adonis to "play the game" about not telling people how he feels, to Alan's father, who is an Army recruiter tremendously embarrassed by his son. All through the book, I felt as uncomfortable as Adonis did, and was so glad to see that Adonis really does grow and learn to deal with difficult situations. So many facets of the difficulties of transgendered students are covered in a sympathetic way that this would be a great book for high school libraries.
Weaknesses: The football players are the ones who add the inappropriate vocabulary and references to sex to this story.

Peterson, Lois. Beyond Repair.
Cam is trying to keep his household running the way it did before his father was killed in a traffic accident, but it is difficult. His mother is tired and his younger sister requires a lot of his time. When a strange man shows up at his house, he finds out that it is the man responsible for the death of his father. This man wants to help out; shovel snow, do the sorts of things for the family that their father can no longer do. This freaks Cam out, and he needs to find a way to help that man understand that the family needs to get on by themselves, and that the man also needs to get on with his life.

Strengths: My public library has gotten a lot of the Orca Current books recently, which I was glad to see. They are meant for reluctant readers, and have high school aged stories appropriate for struggling middle school readers. The writing, while easy to read, is usually compelling and something that a subset of my students (those who like Bluford but want to move on to topics beyond the inner city) really need.
Weaknesses: I expected this to be more of a mystery, but the bulk of the plot centers around the characters moving on after the death. Not a bad thing, just not what I expected.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Nardo, Don. Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression. (Release date 1/12)

From the Capstone Captured History series. E-ARC from Netgalley.com


Dorothea Lange was on her way home when she saw a sign directing people to a Pea-Pickers' Camp. Weary, she debated not going there, but she did, and the picture at the left is the result. This book chronicles not only Lange's involvement with the picture, but its lasting impact on American society. It follows the story of the woman, Florence Thompson, and how her experiences during the Depression mirrored those of many people.
Strengths: For an overview of the Depression from one very specific starting point, this is a great book. I am very interested in seeing the rest of the series. Don Nardo always does such well-researched and interesting nonfiction. I love to read this sort of book! (Which is why I jumped the gun a little, since it doesn't come out until January!)
Weaknesses: Would love to buy the series, but they are so expensive. I already have a biography of Dorothea Lange. Will out 6th grade be doing the unit on the Depression to go along with A Long Way From Chicago? Then I might buy this. It would also be good for the nonfiction unit.

Biskup, Agnieszka. Vampires and Cells.
E-Arc from Netgalley.com
I really, really wish that I had been at the development meeting for this book. It would have been fascinating. Someone would have mentioned that it's time for a new science series on the body. These are all dull, so another editor says "Hey, why don't we do it in a graphic format?" Someone else countered with "Oh, it's been done. How can we punch it up even more?" "MONSTERS!" an intern yells. "Let's have different horror monsters go about their business and intersperse those pictures in the background with factual information about cells. "

Then they contacted poor Agnieszka. She had bills to pay; any work was good. Her novel would have to wait while she poured her soul into this.

This was certainly not BAD, but it just made me shake my head. The information was all very thorough and well-presented, which made the vampires cavorting in the background... this must be for 3rd graders, and it is well-documented that I have trouble understanding books pitched to those younger than about fifth. I bought a Scholastic title about zombies and the human body for our science teachers, but this was just for a much younger audience, who would probably find them vastly amusing.

I also picked up about four YA books at the library. Three dropped the f-bomb in the first five pages. I don't care how good they are; I'm just not buying them. There was also one in "verse" that read like prose. *Sigh*

No "mediocre" in the title!

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck.
Release date 9/13/11. ARC received from WPL librarian Becky!!

Ben, who is deaf in one ear, is living in Minnesota in 1977 with his aunt and uncle after the death of his mother, the town librarian. One night, while missing her terribly, he goes back to their home and looks around for clues about his father, whom he has never met. He finds a museum program entitled "Wonderstruck", and an address and phone number. He calls the number, but the house is struck by lightning, which travels through the phone lines, and Ben ends up in the hospital, deaf in his other ear as well. Still wanting to find his father, he takes a bus to New York and finds his father is not at the address, but he meets Jamie, whose father works in a museum. Jamie helps him find a safe place to stay while he works out his problems and finds his father.

Another story, told in pictures, in interspersed with this. Rose is the daughter of a famous silent film star, but she is deaf and her mother thinks it is not safe for her to live in the city. She runs away from home and finds her brother, Walter, who works in a museum.This book has gotten so much hype that I hate to say anything to spoil it. Suffice it to say that the two characters, Ben and Rose, meet up and secrets are revealed.
Strengths: Selznick's illustrations are always gorgeous, and he can tell a story through pictures like no one else. Because of all of the hype, and the elaborate mailing boxes (one of which was NOT sent to yours truly. Hmph.), I wanted to dislike it, but I couldn't. Sure to be in the running for a Caldecott and possibly a Newbery, this is a storyline not inherently appealing to children but which will nonetheless be read by everyone because of the sheer force of Selznick's talent.

Weaknesses: Published by Scholastic and 637 pages long. The binding will spontaneously combust in about a week. Maybe I should buy two but only circulate the one so I have a back up when the first is sitting on the back counter with the glue drying. Also, Surly Teen Boy did NOT like it. I knew the answer before he even said it: "Nothing happened." As with so much "literary fiction", the appeal to actual student readers is minimal.

Kraft, Erik P. Miracle Wimp.
High schooler Tom Mayo, nicknamed Miracle Wimp by the kids in his school, is an unassuming kid with a few good friends who is just trying to survive high school. He suffers through shop class, gets his driver's license, has a part-time job, and tries to get along with others as best he can.
Strengths: I'd picked this up before, and liked it better this time. The anecdotal format would be great for reluctant readers, as is the variety of high school situations that Tom finds himself in.
Weaknesses: A lot of vulgarity, and a couple of f-bombs. I was almost willing to forgive this because I could think of a dozen boys to hand this to, but then Surly Teen Boy opined that he thought it was unrealistic and the poor-quality illustrations bothered him.I was disappointed that Mr. Kraft didn't have other middle school boy books out, because I think he does have a knack for this group.

Auxier, Jonathan. Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes.
E-ARC received from Netgalley.com
From the Publisher: "Blinded by ravens in infancy and made to steal for the town's beggar-monger (think Fagin), Peter becomes an expert thief and pickpocket. His wretched existence changes when he steals a box containing eggs that are actually three pairs of magical eyes. When Peter drops the first pair into his eye-sockets, he's instantly swept away. Thus begins a perilous adventure wrought from a riddle found in a bottle. After much travail, Peter learns that the mysterious eyes are not always dependable."

Strengths: A differently-abled protagonist is interesting, and there are certainly some finely draw villains. The action is well-paced, and there is a lot of gore.(Yes, for middle school this seems to be a strength!
Weaknesses: The predominate world of fantasy seems to have moved from ancient Celtic tales (think The Book of Three, etc.) to Victorian London. There are so many of these tales, little demand for them at my library, and this particular book didn't have anything that struck me as unusual enough to make it stand out for my average readers. I do see this getting a lot of love in the fantasy world, however, so wanted to mention it. School Library Journal has quite a lengthy review if you want more details.

Yep. Everyone else is liking it waaaaay more than I am. Maybe summer is just making me difficult.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer as it never was

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. The Summer Before Boys
Julia and Eliza are the same age, but Julia is Eliza's aunt because Eliza's mother is 22 years older than Julia. When Julia's mother, a nurse, is deployed to Iraw with the National Guard, Julia is sent to live at Eliza's house because of her father's heavy work schedule. The girls don't mind at all-- they love hanging out together at the inn where Eliza's father works. They swim, walk in the woods, and get free ice cream from the lady who runs the gift shop when they can sneak in and avoid the eye of the owner. They like to pretend that they live at the time of Louisa May Alcott and pretend that they wear long dresses and have more formal codes of conduct. When Julia becomes interested in a boy, Michael, whose father also works at the inn, she and Eliza come to blows, which results in a crisis involving Eliza running away. Also of concern to Julia is her mother's return; she frequently sites statistics about women who were killed in various wars. As all summers do, this summer when boys were a new interest will end, and Julia will be a different person. How will Eliza deal with that?
Strengths: If you are looking for a book portraying a leisurely summer, this is it. Baskin always does good quirky characters, and Julia's angst is portrayed in a very realistic manner.
Weaknesses: See rant below.
People Who Liked This Book:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Waking Brain Cells (with list of more reviews)

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette.
The Penderwicks face another summer, and more crises, in this third installment of the series. Their father is off on his honeymoon and the eldest sister, Rosalind, is spending this two weeks with a friend. This leaves Skye as the Oldest Available Penderwick (OAP) when they accompany their Aunt Claire to Point Mouette, Maine. Luckily, despite his evil mother, Jeffrey is able to join them, and the neighbor, Alec is very friendly. The three sisters spend their summer relying on each other and getting into all sorts of scrapes. Skye is angst ridden about being the OAP and doesn't want to mess anything up. And why is Jeffrey talking about whether or not they will some day marry? They are 12! Jane is trying to write her novel, but also falls desperately in love with Dominic, a dashing boy on a skateboard. Batty learns to play the harmonica and piano, and collects golf balls. When Aunt Claire sprains her ankle, they all band together to take care of all of the household duties without alarming their father or Rosalind. Family secrets are discovered, and the bonds between the friends and family grow ever stronger.
Strengths: Another leisurely summer book. If you can't get away to the coast of Maine (and really, who does these days?) you can at least read about it.
Weaknesses: See rant below.
People Who Liked This Book:

Rant: The Booklist review for The Penderwicks highlights why I don't care for this sort of book: "Adults who have been longing to find books for children that remind them of their own beloved childhood favorites, look no further." While there are a few children who are looking for literary, atmospheric, old fashioned books, I don't know any of them personally. Except me. I was that child forty years ago, and even then, no one else I knew was reading Enright or Alcott or Montgomery. The two Penderwicks books I bought have never been checked out even though I try to give them to children. Do adults love them? Yes. Do I need them in my library? Not until I get a group of girls who take up giving tea parties and wearing skirts to school.

My fear is that all of the adults who adore these books will try to give them to the wrong children, or worse yet, use them as class read alouds.

The question that remains is how much my mother wanted to slap me when I was mired in my Alcott/Montgomery faze.

They say that there is a fine line between love and hate, and this is certainly true in this case. After reading these two books, and wanting to violently slap Jane for her actions on page 162 ("Jane knew she was gliding, graceful and proud, like a maiden on her way to meet Peter Pevensie, High King of Narnia. And since that was how she looked, she was also thinking maidenly thoughts. About how much she loved this boy, Dominic, and how this would be their first real time together since the love for him had captured her, enveloped her, devoured her." And we wonder why Dominic is scared off???), I had to read three of Enright's books, The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five.

My copies of these are a wonderful, decrepit rebound edition deaccessioned from the public library. The edges of the musty pages are rounded with wear, and as I sat on the porch reading about Mona, Oliver, Rush and Randy going about their adventures under the watchful eye of their maid, Cuffy, I sighed happily. I wanted to live next door to them and help them damn up the creek, and collect scrap metal, and spend rainy afternoons in the attic putting together plays.

I guess why I am slightly angry at new versions of this literature is that it portrays a type of summer that hasn't existed for a good 50 years, probably since the Melendys and Henry Reed gave up their horses for those new fangled motorcars, and at the very least is not accessible to 95% of the population. Is it fair to hold it out as a possibility?

Apparently, I am too emotionally involved on some weird level to be coherent about my feelings on these books. Suffice it to say: No demand. If there is, I will start the girls on Enright and Seredy and Sorenson and go from there.

1. 65 Miles 2. 55 books 3. 42 quilt tops

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guy Friday-- Folk Guys

Golio, Gary and Marc Burckhardt. When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan.
This picture book caught my eye at the library. It gives a brief overview of Bob Dylan's early life (as much as is known; he apparently likes to make up things about his life!) and chronicles how he went to New York City to visit Woody Guthrie, who at the time was dying of Huntington's disease. In meeting Guthrie, Dylan gained entry into Folk circles and started his long and illustrious career. Afterword and resources are included.
Strengths: Nice overview of Dylan's life. The pictures are interesting. Would be a good book for elementary schools where they study music. Might encourage students to pick up longer biographies on both artists.
Weaknesses: Not sure of how many elementary schools need these books. I have such a bad feel for elementary audiences!


Coombs, Karen Mueller. Woody Guthrie: America's Folksinger. (CarolRhoda, 2002)
This nicely illustrated and formatted book unflinchingly discusses the difficulties in Guthrie's early life in a way that students can understand. His mother, suffering also from Huntington's, had erratic behavior that resulted in more house fires than any one family should have. Guthrie's path to a career in music is discussed, and the other singers and historical figures with whom he came in contact are also described. His marital difficulties and multiple children are mentioned without judgement. His eventual demise to to the same disease that ravaged his mother ends the book.
Strengths: The tone of this was very well-done, given the difficulties of Guthrie's life. The historical background is more of a reason to get this book than Guthrie himself; it gives such a vivid picture of the Dust Bowl and all of the social issues in the first part of the last century.
Weaknesses: Students who choose this for a school project will want to select their information carefully. This could make for one depressing Wax Museum feature!

Roberts, Jeremy. Bob Dylan: Voice of a Generation.
neration. (Lerner, 2005)
As with the Guthrie book, the inclusion of vast amounts of historical information as a background for Dylan's life is what makes this book a valuable addition to a collection. As mentioned earlier, Dylan is less than truthful about his own background, but the author gathers what evidence there is to outline the story of Dylan's life. Plentiful illustrations and pages devoted to different historical topics (The Counterculture of the 1960s, The Music of Joan Baez) help to round out the picture of a colorful character.
Strengths: This would be good for a high school collection where they study the 1960s or the Beat poets.
Weaknesses: So little has been done with biographies in recent years that I can't really justify purchasing any more titles. I love biographies, but it is difficult to get students to read them. At least we can always have them sent over from the public library.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Secret Ingredient

Schaefer, Laura. The Secret Ingredient.
Squee! I loved The Teashop Girls, so I was thrilled to see Annie, Zoe and Genna back. Now that they have saved Annie's grandmother's tea shop, The Steeping Leaf, from financial ruin (with help from the annoying Zach, whose father owns the building it is in), Annie is enthused about entering a scone making contest, the prize for which is a trip to London for a high tea tour! In addition to creating a fabulous scone recipe, Annie has to create a blog and be in the top five of blog followers. She spends a ton of time in the summer before high school working on these things, and of course there are obstacles. Genna, back from theater camp, has developed very unhealthy eating habits. Zoe is trying to get the local school system to support locally grown food by serving more veggies in school lunches. Zach continues to be annoying, and another contestant keeps leaving rude remarks on the blog. Annie does manage to make the top five and travels to Chicago for the competition... you'll just have to read the book to find out what happens!

Strengths: It's fun to read about strong girls who have interests that they pursue with a passion. I can't see tea engendering this much enthusiasm, although I certainly am fond of my cup of Barry's Irish, but it's refreshing to see a character put this much effort into a pursuit. The characters are all charming, and who doesn't want to win a trip to London?
Weaknesses: There's no actual SteepingLeafScone.com website! Simon and Schuster should definitely have set one up! I also found it a bit hard to believe that Annie was able to get over 500 followers, but she is much more aggressive about marketing than I am.

Personal Notes: It was a lovely, cooler summer day today, and I managed to run three miles (total: 58) AND drop off 42 baby quilt tops, so after hanging out two loads of laundry and tying up my tomatoes, I sat leisurely on the porch with a cup of tea and enjoyed reading this book. About half way through, I HAD to make one of the scone recipes, choosing the Parmesan and Strawberry that are pictured. Years and years ago (January of 1973, in fact; I have the very first issue) in Cricket Magazine, there was an essay by Lloyd Alexander called "The Hungry Reader". You can see a facsimile of it at The Hungry Reader. When I first read the essay, I had no idea who Alexander was, but I thought about it over the years. Betsy, Tacy and Tib make fudge? I need to, as well. Thus, scones, and a very nice summer day. Thanks, Ms. Schaeffer!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New and Fantabulastic!

Yes, my birthday present this year was a professional blog redesign. I had seen Me, My Shelf and I and thought it was so cute that I contacted Blog Designs By Sheila. She was the definition of patience with me as we worked to come up with a boy-friendly design that would be read by a lot of women librarians! My family all laughed at how tickled I was by the new design, but it was my son who said "It looks just like our kitchen!"

Hey, we like what we like. I still need to work on some links (all of my lists are on the computer at school), and moving things about without blowing the entire site to bits, but for now, I am greatly pleased!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rex Riders

Carlson, J.P. Rex Riders
Copy received from author.

Zeke has a rocky time with his uncle in 1880s Texas, and his impetuous ways get him in trouble. He runs afoul of local villain Dante D'Allesandro when he takes his horse for a ride, but is grudgingly forgiven when he saves D'Allesandro's sister and niece from a rampaging triceratops that obliterated half the town. Zeke also comes across a very strange man who is badly injured and accompanied by a T. Rex! It turns out that D'Allesandro has very evil plans afoot that involve raising herds of triceratops that he is importing... from the planet Ismalis! Inhabitants of this planet managed to transport dinosaurs there before they became extinct, but over the intervening years they have evolved to become even more dangerous! Can Zeke figure out how to stop D'Alesandro and return the dinosaurs to their own planet before too many people on Earth are hurt? The Wild West gets a lot wilder when there are both space aliens AND dinosaurs roaming with the buffalo!

Strengths: This is certainly a totally original idea. Space aliens transporting dinosaurs to the Wild West? That has not been done. It will intrigue a cross section of boys, especially since there is lots of action, adventure, fighting and blood and gore. Surly Teen Boy read this and grunted that it was "Okay", which is practically an indication of a Pulitzer! Mr. Carlson has clearly thought about the type of topics that boys like to read.
Weaknesses: This is a long and complicated book, and in my library, the only students interested in dinosaurs seem to be 6th graders who struggle with their reading. This could be different in other schools, but there could have been some more editing done. Also, this is not available from Follett, although Baker and Taylor does carry it. Check out the publisher's Rex Riders web site to read an excerpt and find more information.

Caleb's Wars

Dudley, David L. Caleb's Wars.
Publication date 10/24/11. E-ARC from NetGalley.com

Life in the south during the second world war does not seem fair to Caleb. He's sick of all the bowing and scraping his father does to white people in town, especially Mr. Davis. Caleb is even more upset because his older brother, Randall, is in the army. If black men can die for the US, why can't they get a fair shake? After a fight with his father, Caleb gets a job at a restaurant Mr. Davis owns. Also working there is Andreas, a German POW. Complicating matters is the fact that after his baptism, Caleb thinks he hears the voice of God, and he manages to heal his uncle's rheumatism. When Randall is injured and in a POW camp, Caleb can't take it. What consequences will there be to confronting Mr. Davis?

Strengths: Very interesting historical perspective. The interaction between Caleb and Andreas is very interesting. The only other book on this topic that I can think of is Greene's Summer of My German Soldier. Great cover, too.
Weaknesses: This moved a bit slowly. There are some scenes that went on longer than they should have, and Caleb's mysticism doesn't add much to the story. The book that my boys really want to read is the story of Randall's experiences as a black soldier fighting in WWII.


Jones, Jen. Faith and the Camp Snob.
Publication date 8/1/11. E-ARC from NetGalley.com

Faith doesn't think she's a typical cheerleader-- she's not outgoing or petite. Her self-consciousness about the matter leaves her open to being badgered by the alpha cheerleader in her group when they go to camp. She misses her mother, but makes a few friends. Can she continue her cheering when she feels that she is not being treated fairly by all of her teammates?
Strengths: This has a lot of basic information about cheering, and a lot of vocabulary. The explanations are very helpful for someone interested in cheering. The first in a series.
Weaknesses: The story line suffers a bit because of the emphasis on cheering. Still, this will be good for my 6th grade girls who might be interested in cheering but struggle with reading skills.

1. 49 Miles 2. 48 books 3. 38 quilt tops

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Daly, Maureen. 87 Ways to Throw a Killer Party.
Publication date 7/27/11; E-ARC from NetGalley.com

This is not a book that I would have sought out, but it was very intriguing. I want to have a time travel party right now! There are, in fact, 87 different parties described, with suggestions for food, decorations, music, etc. As someone who once threw a birthday party for a five year old where the activity was having the children retrieve 100 pennies from the back yard (where I had put 99 pennies!), this would be a huge help to many people. The illustrations by Christian Robinson are worth noting. They are reminiscent of the illustrations in books on similar topics from the 1960s that I collect, so were very fun!
Strengths: If you need a book on throwing parties for a middle school or high school library, this is about the only one I have seen, and very clever and complete.
Weaknesses: The inclusion of some recipes would have made this more helpful.


Robbins, Tina. Lily Renee, Escape Artist.
Publication Date 11/1/11; E-ARC from Netgalley.com

Lily Wilhelm's family lived in Austria and was well-to-do until the Nazi occupation. Like many families, they had their possessions taken and were sent to Vienna, where they luckily were not hurt during The Night of Broken Glass. Unlike many families, however, they were fortunate that Lily was sponsored by a British pen pal and was able to go live with her family. The mother was very mean, but Lily eventually got work as a nurse's aide and survived the Blitz. When the British government classified her as an enemy alien, she tried to hide but ended up turning herself in. Since her parents were in America, she was able to get another transport ship to come to them. Once in America, Lily tried her hand at all kinds of work, but found her niche in illustrating comic books, including one series about a woman spy who works against the Nazis.

Strengths: This will be an excellent addition to the Holocaust books that I have for the 8th graders. While in graphic novel format, it is still interesting and well done. The illustrations are much better than some of the other Lerner graphic nonfiction, and the inclusion of explanatory notes on historical topics at the back make this very useful.
Weaknesses: Parts of the story seem rushed, but this could be a problem of the format.

1. 45 Miles 2. 43 books 3. 37 quilt tops (I sewed for about 11 hours today. This is why I'm trying to finish off my fabric stash and move on to other activities!)

Various Net Galleys

Lester, Joan Steinau. Black, White, Other.
Nina has never thought of herself as biracial-- her parents have always encouraged her to think of herself as Nina. When her parents divorce, and her father starts to embrace some slightly militant black ideas while researching a book he is writing on slavery, Nina is confused. Does her father love HER less because she is half white? While racial incidents keep occurring in her California city, Nina tries to figure out where she is in the big picture and gets some help from reading her
father's book about an ancestor who was a slave.

Strengths: I like that Nina originally did not consider her race to be important, but circumstances cause her to examine it. Aside from race, the problems with her family make this story interesting.
Weaknesses: The chapters of her father's book interrupted the present day narrative and made the book a bit lengthy. I see why their inclusion was important, but it did slow the book down for me.

Landalf, Helen. Flyaway.
Stevie is used to her flighty mother taking off and not worrying about happens to Stevie. She can take care of herself. But when her mother runs off with a new boyfriend and Stevie is left alone for several days, she enlists the help of her Aunt Mindy, who cares too much about what Stevie does. When her mother seems to be sinking further and further into meth addiction, Stevie starts to realize that her aunt is trying to help, and that she will need to get organized and turn her life around. She makes a start at this by volunteering at a local bird sanctuary, where she is intrigued by a boy who works there, but when her mother goes into rehab, Stevie misses her and wants her back at any cost.

Strengths: Very interesting portrayal of an older teen who is dealing with a parent who is incapable of caring for her because of an addiction. Stevie flirts with the idea of drinking and doing drugs herself, but is able to understand the devastating toll they have had on her mother. The supportive aunt is a great character. Picky Reader will adore this. The cover is great, too.
Weaknesses: Stevie makes some bad choices, so this would not be a book for younger students, but it is just right for my 8th graders.

Butler, Dori Hillestad.The Case of the Lost Boy.
This is the first in a series of five books. From the publisher: "King’s family is missing, and he’s been put in the P-O-U-N-D. Why doesn’t his beloved human, Kayla, come to get him?When King is adopted by Connor and his mom, things get more confusing. The new family calls him Buddy!Then Connor disappears! Buddy (aka King) has some big problems to solve."

I have several students who are very interested in books about dogs, and mysteries are always popular, but this is too young. If I had seen the book in person instead of reading an E-ARC, I would have known that this was more appropriate for grades K-3. My children would have loved it in the first grade.


Let's all go to the library...

Things I have learned about my library experiences:
  1. When left to my own devices, I will check out almost exclusively adult nonfiction on pop culture topics. A new Barbara Eden memoir called Out of the Bottle? A history of paint-by-number sets? Books telling me to lower my standards as a mother and I'll be happier? I'll read it all. So if you see my number of books read go up, but don't see the reviews, it's because I've been distracted by things like Soda Pop! From Miracle Medicine to Pop Culture. It's my secret shame.
  2. It's really, really hard to find books for boys when I am browsing for books the way actual boys would. Normally, I spend at least an hour a day reading reviews and searching for titles that my male readers might like. I display these prominently in my school library. When I go to the public library and look at the new book shelves in the teen section, I come home with things like Babes in Boyland, Psych Major Syndrome and a variety of paranormal romance books. Are all the books for boys checked out, or are they just not there?
  3. My own personal Surly Teen Boy will only read books that I hand to him and assure him that he will like. Once I do that, he will read voraciously. Does this mean that the vast majority of my patrons don't read anything over the summer, just because no one is thrusting books into their hands?
It's time to go back to school!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Under Construction

This blog is undergoing some construction, so I hope that readers will be patient. I'm trying to create a nav bar so that I can post lists, and there will also be a really cool new design... soonish.

And yes, I managed to accidentally delete ALL the Books for Boys websites. *Sigh*

Things may look different, but the content should be the same!

Thanks for your patience.

Friday? Really?

Howse, Emily. Zitface.
Olivia has a good life-- she has a solid group of friends at school, and has been successful getting a fair amount of work acting in commercials. When she lands a big part in a Wacky Water commercial AND the really great J.W. starts to like it, middle school is even better even though her divorced father lives far away. When her face starts to break out very badly, however, things start to fall apart. This is no ordinary acne; this is nodular acne, and it hurts and looks awful. Olivia's agent sends her to a dermatologist, who prescribes a treatment regimen, but it doesn't help and eventually blossoms into cystic acne on Olivia's face, back and chest. She loses her job with Wacky Water, kids at school start to call her Zitface, and J.W. isn't as interested in her now that she isn't "pretty".
Strengths: This is a much needed problem novel on a difficult topic, and so deftly and beautifully handled. There are always a few children in middle school who have significant acne, and this book might help them, but more likely would be good for students who don't have massive problems with their faces to understand the plight of those who do. On top of that, the characters in this were great. I especially love Theo, who has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Olivia knows that acne is a small problem in the great scheme of things because of Theo's problems, and it's nice to see that both of them can see through exteriors in a way that J.W. doesn't.
Weakness: Huh. Can't really come up with anything. Really looking forward to having this book in my library.

Brennan, Sarah Rees. The Demon's Surrender.
Sequel to The Demon's Lexicon and The Demon's Convenant. Sin and Mia are both poised to take over the Goblin Market. Sin feels she should, because Mia is a Tourist and Sin has spent her whole life in the market, but Mia wants control so that she can somehow save her brother Jamie from the Magicians. They start to grudgingly work together because there are so many obstacles for both of them. Sin's mother is killed in a magician attack, her younger sister exhibits powers and is wanted by the magicians, so she has to take her half siblings to her father for safety. Most importantly, Sin's relationship with Adam develops into a romantic one... and then his body is taken over by the demon Anzu. For a while, it seems impossible that this will come to any happy conclusion, but in the end, things work out as best they can.
Strengths: LOVE this series, and already have a student eager to finish it. I was able to write this review several days after reading the book; sometimes fantasy is so convoluted that it requires notes, so I appreciate a story that I can remember! The action/adventure and sense of humor in this is great as always. I'm very curious to see what this author will write next! I was interested to see that the cover of the first book was redesigned. Much better.
Weaknesses: More violent than I remember; more people die. I was also a little leery of Sin and Adam's relationship, but it was kept fairly clean.

Parkinson, Siobhan. Long Story Short.
Jon's mother is an alcoholic who can barely take care of Jon and his sister Julie. The father left long ago, and their grandmother has very recently died. When Jon's mother brings home a bag of apples for dinner and hits Julie in the face, Jon knows that things cannot continue. When Julie's face doesn't clear up, the two plan to run away to Galway to stay with Julie's father. There are many problems along the way, but more surface in the second half of the book. The mother has died, Jon is accused of murder, and it turns out that he has not been telling the whole truth about many things.
Strengths: This is the sort of problem novel that Picky Reader likes, and the details of running away are quite good.
Weaknesses: This is a slim volume, and looks like it is for younger students, but there are several uses of the f-word. Also, the second half of the book is hard to follow. If Picky Reader finishes her Harry Potter rereading marathon, I'll see if she'll give me an opinion.

Hubbard, Kirsten. Like Mandarin.
Grace, whose mother had her perform in kiddie beauty pageants as a child, just wants to do well in school and leave her small Wyoming town, but is intrigued by the wild Mandarin. When the two are paired for tutoring and service projects, they become friends despite their differences, but this is not an easy thing. Grace has to put up with her mother taking her younger sister to the same sort of beauty pageants, and has her friendship with Grace tested by the opinions of others. The two plan on running away to get out of their town, but how will that work?
Strengths: This was a highly intriguing novel. It flirts with the girls having crushes on each other-- there is a kiss-- but this never develops as much as it seems it might. The interworking of small town relationships and reputations is fascinating, and the description of the taste of beer was top notch.
Weaknesses: While the beer drinking and general antics might move this to high school, the thing that made me decide not to buy it was more... the tone. In contrast with Zitface, this doesn't reflect middle school concerns. Olivia is concerned with school and family; Grace is concerned with her future and distancing herself from her family. I would definitely buy this for high school, though!

1. 42 miles 2. 38 books 4. 30 quilt tops
(May make my goals yet!)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies

Zadoff, Allen. My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies.
NOT a sequel to Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have. with the further adventures of Andrew Zansky. Drat.

Instead, we are following Adam Ziegler (no wonder I was confused at first!) who is a theater techie who loves working with the lights. He has a good group of spectacularly vulgar friends, a bad case o
f acne, and crushes on a couple of girls; Summer, an actress, and Grace, another techie. The unspoken rule of hi
s school is that actors and techies don't mix, which adds some complications. Also making Adam's life difficult is the theater's golden boy, Derek Dunkirk, whose famous and wealthy father is the biggest reason why Derek has been allowed to design the entire production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream-- he clearly doesn't have enough talent to do it, although he thinks he does. When a lig
hting mishap causes one of the actresses to be injured a few days before the play is to be performed, Summer gets thrown into the role, and we watch as the faulty director melts down, Adam's friends get fed up with him, and Adam deals with his girl problems. Adam also deals with his fears in the wake of his father's death.

Strengths: *Sigh* Really, pitch perfect for 8th grade boys. Mature enough that high schoolers will like it, but clean enough that I can have it is my middle school. I know exactly which student I will hand this to on the very first day of school! Surly Teen Boy is reading this now. The characters and the romance were the things t
hat made me happiest, as well as the close knit group of friends. Excellent. And Mr. Zadoff can come to that lunch with Mr. Sonnenblick and Mr. Riordan where I just want to sit and listen to them talk. We'll make sure it's something healthy.
Weaknesses: Galley Smith thought that there should have been more discussion about Adam's fears and coping with his father's death. While it could have bee
n more fully examined, the story would have held without that element at all. I do see the point, though.

Haberdasher, Violet. The Secret Prince.
Henry Grim is back, and he and his friends are worried about the trouble brewing in the Nordlands. Henry is also concerned that his friends are changing-- Rohan has become a stickler for rules after the troubles in the first book, and Adam thinks they should no longer stay away from the rest of the students because they are different (Rohan is Indian, Adam is Jewish, and Henry is a former servant). This leaves Frankie, on whom Henry and Adam both have a crush, literally out in the cold-- the boys don't want to get caught wit
h a girl in their room, even when she brings cake! Henry arranges secret weapons training for the students because he feels that war with the Nordlands is coming very soon, and when an envoy is sent there, he and Adam tag along, disguising themselves as servants. The problem? Frankie has the same idea and ends up working in the kitchen in the Partisan school. When she doesn't make the train back, Henry and Adam stay behind to keep her safe, and uncover some alarming secrets about Henry's family that impact not only his continued education at Knightley, but the whole relationship between Britain and the Nordlands. A third book is sure to come.

Strengths: Like Knightley Academy, this has great friendships, adventure, the whole British boarding school thing that makes Harry Potter appealing to some kids... and oddly, no magic. I didn't want to read another 502 pages, but once I started it, I was absolutely hooked.
Weaknesses: Same complaint as the first book-- the twee author's name, lots of hype, and not great cover. Very solid book, though.

For people looking for books for middle readers and younger, hop over to My Favourite Books for their Under 14's Only promotion for July.I don't look at much in the way of picture books, but have some need for books targeted at the 8-10 range for my reluctant readers.
 
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