Friday, November 30, 2012

Guy Friday-- Alien Invasions

The Assault (Recon Team Angel #1)
Falkner, Brian. The Assault.
25 September 2012, Random House
Copy from YA Books Central and reviewed there.

In the future (shortly before I can retire in 2038), the Earth has been taken over by aliens from Bzadia. It started with a plea from a small group to be allowed to take refuge in uninhabited areas of Australia, but before long they were attacking that area of the world and moving slowly and inexorably through Europe. Only the US has remained free, and the military there assembled a small team of teenagers who were modified to look like Bzadians and trained in their customs and language, as well as military tactics. They are parachuted into the Australian outback with a mission-- to find the base at Uluru and blow it to pieces. To do so, they have to confront actual Bzadians and also deal with a traitor in their midst. Only the leader, Ryan Chisnall, has figured this out and is trying to keep his team safe and the mission on track. When the group finally gets to Uluru, they find out a horrendous plan of the Bzadians, but do their best to save civilians involved and get their team out safely.
Strengths: Wow. I liked the premise of the alien invasion, the description of the Bzadians and some of their gestures and phrases, and the twist when the group infiltrates Uluru. Boys will love the military action, weapons, and fighting. Great cover. Should probably have two copies!
Weaknesses: About half way through the book, I realized I had no idea what the team was doing in the Outback; it was explained shortly thereafter, but there was so much going on at the beginning of the book that I didn't even think about it. Good or bad? Hard to tell.

Sadly, this was not nominated for the Cybils. Drat.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Unfortunate Son

The Unfortunate SonLeeds, Constance. The Unfortunate Son.
14 June 2012, Viking Juvenile
Nominated for the Cybils by lwad

Luc was born with only one ear in 16th century France, and his father is very displeased with him. Instead of working in the family olive groves, he decides to help out Pons and Mattie, an older brother and sister team who are raising a young noblelady, Beatrice, after the violent death of her father at the hands of a lord. The little make shift family does well for a time, until Pons and Luc are attacked by pirates while out fishing. While Pons survives, the news of Luc's disappearance is taken hard by the women in the family, although Luc's real family seem to be resigned to it. Luc is sold to a very educated man in North Africa, Salah, and while Salah's other servant, Bes, is very cruel to Luc, Salah himself works to educate Luc in the ways of healing. Luc wants to be home, but does learn much. Meanwhile, a secret surrounded Luc's birth, and more information about Beatrice's family surfaces. This information drastically changes everyone's lives, and just might make it possible to get Luc back from slavery.
Strengths: Even though the description and cover made me loathe to pick this up, I was very quickly sucked into the story. All the characters were interesting, the glimpse into life in North Africa was fascinating, and the plot moved everyone quickly. This reminded me a little of Jacques' The Angel's Command for some reason, or maybe Jinks' Pagan's Crusade. I enjoyed it.
Weaknesses: This will be a hard sell, since it is an unusual time period.

I was very sad to hear that the author, Constance Leeds, passed away in February of 2012. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001

I Survived #6: I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001.
1 July 2012, Scholastic

Lucas loves spending time with his firefighter dad, but after his father is injured in the line of duty, he starts to spend a lot of time with a coworker of his father who helps out, Uncle Benny. Uncle Benny gets Lucas interested in football, but too many concussions make football something that Lucas can no longer be permitted to do. Angry at this diagnosis, Lucas goes into New York City to visit Benny-- just in time to see the World Trade Center bombed. Uncle Benny responds to the call for help, and Lucas's father also arrives, pulling Lucas to safety inside a building when one of the towers collapses. While things, obviously, did not turn out well for many people that day, the ending is not as sad as it could be for Lucas and his family.
Strengths: This is a very short book told from a point of view that middle school students can understand. I liked that included additional information about football and concussions!
Weaknesses: The pictures didn't add a lot to this. Also disappointed that most of the titles in this series are not available in hard back. I will order the Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg one for the library, but the others don't look as interesting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Library Blather

So, what's going on in the library? Planning my Scholastic Warehouse trip for December requires a bit of paperwork and planning, not to mention work for my lovely volunteers (I have one every day!) when I get books that need mylar, cards and pockets, etc.

Weeding of books and cleaning out of defunct equipment is fairly well done for now, so when March rolls around and I feel a need to clean, I can concentrate on emptying a cabinet that locks so that Mimios can be stored safely for the summer. Note to new librarians-- if you are straightening up and find equipment that you can't quite get rid of, label the box you put it in with a DATE. I found a sealed envelope marked "Keys to things we can't figure out, 6/03", and I figured that we could safely discard said envelope.

Last book order of the year with district money. This takes a HUGE amount of time, as I go back and forth between Baker and Taylor and Follett, trying to get the best price but knowing the fill rate at Baker and Taylor will mean many books don't come. I've been looking at lexile levels, coordinating nonfiction with curriculum, completing series-- this is what I spend most of my time doing at home, and I STILL do work in odd moments when I can at work.

Monitoring study hall and making sure the students in it and keeping up with all their homework. Have to love (or hate) PowerSchool for this reason.E Mailing parents about students who seem to need extra help.

Having about 35 language arts classes per week come to the library for brief (3-5 minutes) instruction and checking out books. Making sure study hall students have something to read. Checked out 237 books yesterday, but it was a slow day. Walked six and a half miles during the school day. No joke.

There are other things, but since the custodian just turned on the cafeteria lights, I need to get hopping and check to see what students have grossly overdue books and need my help to find them, usually under their beds or in the top shelves of their lockers.

Justin Case

Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom

Vail, Rachel. Justin Case: Shells, Smells and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom.
8 May 2012, Feiwel and Friends
Nominated for the Cybils by ntalan

Justin is back, and is finding the summer even more challenging than third grade. He's not going to a science camp this year-- he's going to a regular camp for kids who like to run around. He has to change to swim, wear flip flops, and eat in the mess hall. He also gets involved with some of the other boys in a game of "knuckles", which results in his own always being in a painful state. His parents are proud of him for trying new things, but when they find our about "knuckles", offer to take him out and put him in science camp instead. Justin decides to stay at the camp and try to get along, participating in color war and overcoming his various fears.
Strengths: I absolutely adore Rachel Vail's teen novels. They are excellent. This had its funny moments, and younger elementary students will like Justin and the pictures. This is great for fans of Alvin Ho or Mason Dixon. Ms. O liked it much more than I did.
Weaknesses: Since Surly Teen Boy spent most of his elementary years closing the toilet lid with his feet, washing his hands until they bled, eating mainly granola bars and bananas because he could eat without touching the food, covering his ears in the grocery store because the music was too loud, and being taught to make eye contact with other people, I don't find documentable dysfunction as funny as most people would. All I could think was "Shouldn't Justin be evaluated?" I'm a little unsure of the audience for this. Will "normal" kids want to read about a kid who has such problems? Would they laugh at him? I know that this would not have appealed to Surly Teen Boy. I was glad to see that Justin was trying to overcome his various fears-- who knows? Maybe in a few years he'll be in the Philippines, holding crocodiles without the benefit of hand sanitizer!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Middle Grade Monday--Bauer Dogs

Those of us in the middle grade fiction division of the Cybils have noticed that there seems to be a huge resurgence in DOG books. Luckily, there are more and more students asking for them, so it's a good thing. Perhaps it has something to do with the economy-- dogs make kids feel better when times are tough.

Just a Dog
Bauer, Michael Gerard. Just a Dog.
1 December 2012
Also Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

This is a tremendously sad dog book. Corey is glad to have Mr. Mosely, a Great Dane/Dalmatian mix, in his life, especially since times are tough for his family. Mr. Mosely if often comic relief-- like when he savages a Pink Panther stuffed animal he thinks is menacing Corey's younger sister-- but more often is a source of anxiety. He manages to go missing and get a fishhook stuck in his mouth, get hit by a car, and eventually get cancer. Yes, by the end of the book, Mr. Mosely dies. Still, he is an integral part of Corey's life, and helps him make it through tough times like his father losing his job and family fights.
Strengths: This is a rather suspenseful book; every chapter ends with the promise of something terrible happening.
Weaknesses: This had too many sad and too few happy moments for a short book aimed at lower middle grade students. This is an Australian author, and it occasionally shows in the text.

Bauer, Joan. Almost Home.
13 September 2012
Also Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central
Nominated for the Cybils by Sarah Potvin

Sugar's mother is struggling to find work and is in danger of losing their home after the death of her father. The one bright spot in Sugar's day is her language arts teacher, Mr. B., who encourages her to write poetry for assignments and tries to keep tabs on her well being. Another bright spot is Shush, a small dog another girl thrusts at Sugar in the park right before Sugar and her mother lose their home. Sugar's mother, Reba, is unable to cope. Her only hope is getting in touch with Sugar's father, a gambler who has not been reliable in the past. It is Sugar who contacts a support agency for a place to live. She manages to get Shush accepted because she is always polite and has a habit of writing thank you notes for everything. When Reba thinks she can get a job in Chicago, she takes Sugar there, but the job falls through and Reba falls apart. Sugar goes into foster care and manages to hold on to Shush and try to get her mother to stop relying on her father so that the two of them can move on.
Strengths: Fantastic cover. Look carefully at the run in the sleeve of the sweater. And cute dogs make everything better. I love Bauer's work and will definitely buy this. The supportive teacher is a bonus.
Weaknesses: I could have done without Sugar's poetry. It's enough to know that she writes it without reading examples, which slow the story down.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe andWhat Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's alsoNonfiction Monday, hosted this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Young Adult Titles

CrusherLeonard, Niall. Crusher.
11 September 2012, Delacorte
ARC received from YABC and reviewed there.

Finn's stepfather is an alcoholic former actor who can't find work and so is working on a screen play. Finn, who is dyslexic, flunked out of school and is working at Max Snax, supplementing the two's income. When his stepfather is brutally murdered, Finn is suspected by Detective Prendergast. Finn starts to think that the work he his stepfather was doing somehow compromised the efforts of the local violent mob boss, McGovern, and sets out to see if this is the case. Finn manages to save McGovern's son from drowning, so the man sets him up with a job washing dishes at the Iron Bridge restaurant. Finn discovers all manner of other  crime going on, and manages to hook up with Prendergast's daughter Zoe, who thinks that Finn is a criminal element and would be useful in making her father angry. Finn's mother arrives on the scene, Finn finds out that a friend of his step father's has left him a lot of money, and slowly, the pieces of several mysteries come together.
Strengths: I'm sure that my students would LOVE to read this-- there's sex, the f-bomb every couple of pages, brutal murders, and a fair amount of drinking. Also, a rather happy, deus ex machina end to the story. It was an entertaining way for me to while away a Saturday afternoon.
Weaknesses: See above. This really is so adult that it doesn't even belong in a high school library. Zoe's, uh, proclivities are colorfully described. The language is rank. After I read the book, I felt kind of bad that I had read it!

This Is Not a DrillMcDowell, Beck. This is Not a Drill.
25 October 2012, Nancy Paulsen Books
ARC received from YABC and reviewed there.

Emery and Jake have had their romantic ups and downs, but are able to work together in Mrs. Campbell's first French grade class as helpers. Their skills dealing with small children are severely tested when the fathers of one of the boys shows up and demands to take his son. Not being content to work matters out in the office, he comes back, shoots a security guard, and holds the entire classroom hostage. It slowly comes to light that Brian Stutts fought in Iraq, and suffered so badly from PTSD that his wife left him and doesn't allow him to see his son as often as he would like. The point of view switches from Emery to Jake, and their chapters also include information about their pasts and relationships. The teacher, Mrs. Campbell, passes out from diabetic shock, and the two teens have to keep the agitated first graders quiet and have to try not to set off Stutts.
Strengths: This was a compelling read on a topic of current interest. While the main story was about the gunman and how he came to be so psychologically unhinged, I found the side story about Emery and Jake's' relationship to be just as interesting.
Weaknesses:  A few changes in language and sexual situations could have made this a good choice for middle grade students, too, but as written is more appropriate for high school students.

Love and Other Perishable ItemsBuzo, Laura. Love and Other Perishable Items
11 December 2012

Amelia, who is 15, has just gotten a job at the Coles supermarket, where she feels as awkward as she does everywhere else. Her parents are unhappy and busy, her sister is off at college, school is boring, and she just doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Chris, who also works at the supermarket, is nice to her but gives her a hard time for being a "youngster"... he's 21. Their bickering turns in to a deeper attraction, and we see the relationship progress in chapters alternating between Amelia and Chris' points of view. Chris is desperately searching for the perfect woman, and is alarmed to come to the realization that Amelia may be it.
Strengths: This was a very well done romance, but definitely high school, due to Chris' prediliction for dropping the f-bomb all over his journal entries. I liked the fact that they were attracted to each other but didn't do anything about it because of the age difference.
Weaknesses: So hard to find good romances for middle school girls! They end up reading Nicholas Sparks' books that family members give them, which is not quite right either!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday-- Super GALS

Dark StarFrenette, Emily. Dark Star.
23 October 2012, Disney Hyperion

Audrey is cool with the fact that her mother is a superhero, Morning Star, who spends most of her evenings fighting evil in Minneapolis while pretending to work as a security guard. Audrey misses her grandmother, who has recently passed away, and hangs out with her good friends Gideon and Tink, and knows that she has some powers of her own, but nothing like the powers that her mother has. She is annoyed by her mother's "sidekick", Leon, who moves into their house in order to babysit Audrey. When Audrey is attacked at a local club after the death of a classmate, she finds out more about her mother-- Morning Star isn't just a super hero who keeps the city safe from criminals, she is a renowned demon fighter, and now the demons are attacking all of the Kin Audrey's age, looking for one with certain talents. What are the Kin? Audrey's one, but her mother hasn't wanted to explain, so takes her off to her father's mother, Esther, to learn about her relatives and the powers they hold. Her cousins Iris and  Elspeth are glad to finally meet her, ad Audrey is glad to have some insight into her own abilities as well as what happened to the father her mother has refused to discuss. When the killings increase, the local police are led to Audrey's door, and all of Audrey's family and Kin work to figure out what is going on. I feel a sequel in the offing.
Strengths: Well, the superhero fighting demons was a nice twist, and this was a good action and romance packed book that I think will appeal to girls who liked Die for Me, A Girl Named Digit, Always a Witch, and some of the paranormal-y books like Blue Bloods and City of Ashes. I'll definitely purchase this.
Weaknesses: The romances between high school girls and college guys always bother me as a mother, I think, and the girls will think "oh, he's just four years older". Nothing inappropriate. The ending seemed a little rushed.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Colin Fischer and Autism Spectrum Titles

Miller, Ashley Edward and Zack Stentz. Colin Fischer
8 November 2012

Colin, who is on the autism spectrum, starts high school, and for the first time, is without his aide for the first time. He manages to run afoul (yet again) of Wayne Connelly, who gives him a swirly. Colin returns home dripping wet, but his parents don't ask many questions, but send him back to school. Colin has many quirks-- he doesn't like to be touched, he is sensitive to loud noises, he doesn't like the color blue, and he is very observant. He also tries very hard to remember the coping mechanisms he has learned over the years-- how to read expressions, how to respond to people in various situations, and how to stop talking about what interests him and listen to other people. When a gun goes off in the cafeteria and Wayne Connelly is blamed for having it, Colin is bothered enough to investigate-- Wayne is a very neat eater, and the handle of the gun had frosting and cake all over it. He proceeds with his investigation, befriending Wayne, lying to his parents (which takes a lot of thought!), and assessing the social structure at his school in order to determine who really had the gun.
Strengths: My first impression was that I just really enjoyed the book. I liked the characters, including the once geeky Melissa who has gotten hot over the summer but still is nice to Colin; Colin's brother Danny who is rather angry at all of the attention Colin receives; Colin's parents, who are supportive and yet a little frustrated; Wayne, who is able to befriend Colin once he understands him a little more; even the enigmatic Rudy. I liked how Colin was able to use coping skills, and I liked how his attention to detail was used to solve a mystery. However...
Weaknesses: The point of view was a bit disconcerting. It's told in the third person, yet there are footnotes that are clearly in Colin's voice. It's not always a problem, but is occasionally. I also did NOT    like the scene where Wayne dunks Colin's head in the toilet-- never seen it happen in 15 years, and yet it's a favorite of YA authors. Sigh. The gun making it into school seemed a little unrealistic as well, but could happen. The ending was a bit abrupt, but in general, I not only enjoyed this book but thought that it was a fairly good representation of a student coping with Asperger's Syndrome. There is such a wide range of behavior with such students, and I think that Colin's quirks are reasonably portrayed.Our autism spectrum unit teacher thought it was a good portrayal but didn't know if it would be a book that students with autism would understand, although she thought it helpful to others.

Asperger's Rules!: How to Make Sense of School and FriendsGrossberg, Blythe. Asperger's Rules! How to Make Sense of School and Friends.
15 May 2012, Magination Press

This book covers many topics with which students on the autism spectrum have trouble. Chapters include Your Feelings and Emotions; Teachers and Asking for Help; Friends,Classmates and the Other Kids; Bullies and Mean Kids; and Healthy Habits. Each chapter is further divided into what to expect in situations and how to effectively deal with them. Sometimes, there are flow charts and model conversations, which I found helpful. This was a very text-dense book, and sometimes the way the information was structured didn't make as much sense to me; it's arranged in outline format, and my mind organizes information more effectively horizontally, in a timeline format. (This is why I can't use standard lesson plan books!) Good information-- format could have used work, and some pictures wouldn't have hurt. I don't know how helpful the quizzes will be with the target population. I am going to give this to our autism spectrum unit teacher and see what she things.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the WorldMontgomery, Sy. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. 
3 April 2012, Houghton Mifflin

I liked the set up of this book better-- more pictures, insets with additional information, and a very good biography skewed toward how Ms. Grandin's life was shaped by her perception of the world. I thought it was especially effective in showing the difficulties that Grandin has processing information, but how successful she was in her chosen field of work with understanding how animals think and feel.

Common Core The last two books could be used as nonfiction tie ins with titles such as these:
Baskin, Nora Leigh. Anything But Typical.
Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts
Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye Mystery.
Lord, Cynthia. Rules.
Mackel, Dandi Daley. The Silence of Murder.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Keeping Safe the Stars

Keeping Safe the Stars

O'Connor, Sheila. Keeping Safe the Stars
11 October 2012, Putnam Juvenile
Nominated for the Cybils by Joanne R. Fritz

When Pride's grandfather, Old Finn, is taken to the hospital with encephalitis, Pride knows that she can't tell the authorities that she and her sisters, Nightingale and Baby, have no one to look after them except the elderly and slightly bewildered Miss Addie. The siblings were in foster care once, after the death of their parents, but have enjoyed being with Old Finn on his farm, being home schooled by him and keeping to themselves. In The Boxcar Children fashion, Pride sets out to feed and care for her family, going so far as to set up a small side show cum snack bar for tourists in order to earn money to buy food. Some of the adults in town are suspicious, including a reporter who is charmed by their tourist stop and wants to write an article about it, but can never meet the grandfather to get him to sign a release. When the grandfather is taken to a larger hospital in Duluth, Pride decides she needs to raise money to visit him, and also thinks it a good idea to hunt down a woman whose letters to her grandfather she has found, Justine. Eventually, the concerned adults talk to one another and find a way to get the children the care that they need.
Strengths: Middle grade books frequently depict the main characters in orphan like settings so that they can save the day-- this book showcases actual orphans who have most of their caregivers taken away. Readers who enjoy quirky survival stories will like this one.
Weaknesses: The historical setting of this one (1974, the year that Nixon was impeached) was a bit confusing. Perhaps the story was set then because children's services would be called more quickly today? (Although they weren't in Summer of the Gypsy Moths!) Or so that the children would be inspired by the muscular dystrophy carnivals of the day to make money?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind

Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind.

Hobbs, Valerie. Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind
7 August 2012, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Nominated for the Cybils by Lalitha

Minnie is having a hard time adjusting to moving to a small town. Her father has lost his job as a lawyer and is having trouble finding work. Her mother is putting in long hours selling cars, her brother Dylan is just a jerk, and her Uncle Bill, who was injured fighting, is building a model of an Apache helicopter in the basement and not dealing well with PTSD. Minnie's 6th grade class has run off a number of teachers, but eventually ends up with Miss Marks, who is fresh out of school. Miss Marks tells them to ask questions, challenge what they know, and stand up for what they believe in. Minnie tries to ask some of the hard questions in her life that have been left unanswered, and starts to make friends with one of her classmates, Amira. When Miss Marks' unorthodox teaching methods get her into trouble, and Amira is the target of bullies, Minnie realizes that it's not only important to ask the hard questions, it's important to get them answered and to work to make things right.
Strengths: This was an intriguing problem novel that kept me interested. The juxtaposition between Minnie's uncle and Amira, whose family came to the US to escape war, is an interesting one. Minnie has several difficult situations in her life, but works through them in a realistic manner. I liked that Miss Marks was suspected of being a lesbian, and this caused outrage in the community, but Miss Marks herself refuses to identify herself one way or the other because it isn't anyone's business.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Miss Marks. Animal Farm, The Diary of Anne Frank, and To Kill a Mockingbird for 6th graders? And really, if the most important thing for her was to teach children and open their minds, why get stuck on wearing jeans, multiple piercings,  and t shirts with slogans? Dress like a professional and then you have more of a chance to do the job without incurring the wrath of the public. Lead the revolution in a polo and khakis, I say!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mysterious Buildings

Hocus Pocus HotelDahl, Michael. Hocus Pocus Hotel
1 August 2012
Nominated for the Cybils by Stone Arch Books

Charlie thinks that he is going to be beaten up by Tyler Wu, who is silent but thuglike, when Tyler sends him a note. Instead, Charlie meets Tyler at the Abracadabra Hotel that Tyler's parents run. Tyler needs Charlie's help with determining where one of the residents has gone. Charlie has a photographic memory and good deductive skills, so the two navigate the eccentricities of the old building (and sometimes equally old residents!) to solve the case. After this, Tyler suspects that there is a ghost in the hotel, and Charlie is also instrumental in figuring out that case.This book costs $10.95, while when split into two different books (Out the Rear Window and To Catch a Ghost), the cost of each is $17.99. A new book is coming out in January 2013, but I can't tell if it is one book or two!
Strengths: This is realistic fiction, and a decent, if predicable mystery. I've been doing a brisk business in Ron Roy, Donald Sobol and short Nancy Drew mysteries with children who "forgot" to pick up mystery books for a language arts unit test, and this would fit the bill.
Weaknesses. This is a low level, high interest books, and the prose is not beautiful.

The Lost Treasure of TuckernuckFairlie, Emily. The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck.
25 September 2012, Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Robert

Even though her family has gone to Tuckernuck Junior High for generations, Laurie would rather go to Hamilton with her friend Kimmy. She's even more irritated when, for a class job, she gets chosen gerbil co-monitor with the annoying Bud. Still, there is the hope that the school will actually be torn down and all the students relocated to other schools. In a stroke of luck, Laurie comes across a clue to the lost treasure that the founding principal, Maria Tutweiler, hid in the building, and she decides that this will make her year better, so she and Bud take off on a chase that includes breaking into offices and trying to avoid the prying eyes of a student journalist. There are also other concerns, such as Kimmy making new friends, and the evil school board member bent on the destruction of Tuckernuck Hall. Even if Laurie can find the treasure, will it be enough to save the school?
Strengths: This reminded me of The Red Blazer Girls, with its clue-oriented mystery and school setting. I thought that the ending had a clever twist to it, which I don't want to ruin!
Weaknesses: High slappage factor on Laurie. She is unhappy and rather unpleasant for most of the book.

Monday, November 19, 2012


EndangeredSchrefer, Eliot. Endangered.
1 October 2012, Scholastic Press

Sophie goes to Congo to stay with her mother, who is an advocate for bonobos in the war torn country. It's hard to leave her father in Florida, but she gets caught up in her mother's mission when she buys a young bonobo from a trader on the street. Her mother isn't happy about this-- giving the man money will only make him go and kill more bonobos to get their babies to sell. Sophie enjoys raising Otto, however, and he acts as if Sophie were his mother. When a coup occurs in the city, the country is thrown into chaos. Sophie is supposed to be airlifted out of the country, but refuses to leave Otto behind. Her mother is off resettling bonobos, and the sanctuary is attacked. Sophie escapes into the forest, and eventually tries to make her way to the city. Danger is everywhere, but she and Otto manage to survive. They eventually make their way to a UN camp, but Sophie is still unwilling to give up Otto, so the two head out to try to find her mother.
Strengths: This was nominated for the National Book Award, and I really hope it wins. An exciting adventure story that rings true to life-- I'd like to think that Sophie would forget about Otto and keep her own safety first and foremost, but what she does is realistic for a teenager.
Weaknesses: Horrible cover. Horrible. I've had a few books about gorilla sanctuaries over the years, and they've been hard to move. This was nominated for the Cybils Awards as well, but moved to Young Adult fiction for the violence.

Middle Grade Monday-- School Stories for Girls

Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player
Barshaw, Ruth McNally. Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player
28 February 28th 2012,Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Nominated for the Cybils by Jean Reidy.

Ellie's life is very busy. Her father is the coach of her soccer team, she has Journey of the Mind meetings, and it's spirit week at her school. But things don't go all that well. Even though her father is the coach, she has to practice really hard, and she's not very good at soccer. The Journey team involves lots of different activities, and the competition is a little scary. School is fun, but there is always some kind of drama going on. Luckily, Ellie keeps herself straight in her journal, complete with drawings, and has a very supportive family.
Strengths: This is a notebook novel, and anything like that is super popular right now. A lot of younger girls play soccer, so that could be a big draw as well. Ellie is more likable than Greg Heffley!
Weaknesses: This book was heavy on lists, instructions, explanations of activities, etc. that slowed down the narrative pace.

On a personal level, I found it hard to believe that Ellie's family would eat breakfast together AND play Balloon Bobble or Simon Says while eating... on a Wednesday morning. Good for them, but... wow! I haven't seen my children at breakfast since my freshman was in kindergarten, and only then because I woke her up at 5:45 a.m. to braid her hair! Our mornings went fairly smoothly, but people were really sleepy!

Stealing PopularTrueit, Trudi. Stealing Popular
4 September 2012, Simon and Schuster Mix
Nominated for the Cybils by B. Stolzen

Coco has finally been in one school long enough to make friends, Fawn and Adair. When Fawn gets kicked out of her own locker by one of the school somebody "royalty", Dijon, Coco decides that enough is enough, and starts to try to claw her way into some semblance of popularity. She does this by helping Adair try out for cheerleading, and then rigging the voting so Adair and three "sortabodies" make the squad. She also nominates Renata for the fall court, and then gives her a makeover so she has a better chance. Other deviousness, including hiding stinky stuff in Dijon's locker and tricking girls who follow her daily makeup tip into wearing Firefly glow-in-the-dark lip gloss work to a certain extent at increasing Coco's popularity while bringing down the social significance of Dijon and her cronies, Venice, Truffle, and Evian. When a theft occurs and a "sortabody" is blamed, will all of her plans come crashing down?
Strengths: The Mix paperbacks are always popular, and books about girl drama are huge, especially with 6th grade girls.
Weaknesses: Coco never gets into trouble for her crimes, and doesn't seem to feel too bad about them, even when Dijon goes out of her way to be nice to her. All the girls are mean, so it's hard to take sides. I don't know of any middle schools that have a fall queen, or any that hold to having only thin cheerleaders any more, but it is possible.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Perogies and Gyoza.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Secret Tree

The Secret Tree
Standiford, Natalie. The Secret Tree
1 May 2012, Scholastic
Nominated for the Cybils by Pink Me

Minty and her friend Paz are wild about the roller derby, and are busy practicing their routine for the local Fourth of July parade. Summer is filled with all sorts of other activities, too-- staying away from the Mean Boys who give them a hard time, getting away from Paz's annoying little sister Lennie, and figuring out the mysteries of the Witch House and the Man-Bat, as well as the mystery of who put a curse on Paz. Minty gets some clues when she finds a tree in the woods where people in the neighborhood put slips of paper with their secrets on them. With the help of Raymond, Minty tries to figure out which person in the neighborhood belongs to which secret. Paz starts to hang out with other girls and be less interested in roller derby, so Minty welcomes this job, even though more often than not, the secrets are about uncomfortable realities, and Raymond has secrets of his own.
Strengths: This book had some great characters, very realistic friend drama, and a strong sense of neighborhood. 
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that people would be putting secrets into a tree. Why? Some local legend or custom?

The Bell BanditDavies, Jacqueline. The Bell Bandit. 
Nominated for the Cybils by Debbie, The Styling Librarian
 1 May 2012, Houghton Mifflin

In this third book, Jessie and Evan are on their way to their grandmother's house, but things are very different-- their grandmother has forgotten something on the stove and done very serious damage to the house. New Year's Eve, which usually involves a big party and ceremonial ringing of a historic bell on the nearby hill, will be a different affair. Their mother is concerned; they manage to get the house fixed, but there is no quick fix for their grandmother, whose dementia is so severe at times that she doesn't even remember Evan. This makes the disappearance of the bell even more worrisome. Jessie and Evan have their suspicions, but start looking for the bell with the help of a neighbor boy, Maxwell. When their grandmother wanders off, however, Jessie and Evan have more to worry about than the bell.
Strengths: This reminded me very strongly of Miracles on Maple Hill-- something about the setting, the tone, I'm not sure what. A good read and subtle mystery.
Weaknesses: Maxwell is described in a way that makes me think he might be identified as on the autistic spectrum. He does a lot of rocking, has verbal ticks, and does not seem as mature as a 6th graders should be. Yet, when Jessie asks his mother "what is wrong" with him, the mother replies "He's just different, that's all. He sees things differently than we do." I think the situation with Maxwell could have been explained much more clearly. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Classics in Graphic

The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel

Duprau, Jean. The City of Ember Graphic Novel
Adapted by Dallad Middaugh, Art by Niklas Asker
25 September 2012, Random House
Copy from YA Books Central and reviewed there

The City of Ember, first published in 2003, has been a popular dystopian book in my library long before The Hunger Games phenomenon hit. I've never seen the 2008 movie, but now I may have to. This was a great graphic version of an old favorite, and was very well done. The sepia toned drawings give a feeling of the underground oppression, but are clear enough that I had no trouble telling characters apart (often a problem with graphic retellings-- everyone looks like Speed Racer to me). The text is easy to read, although necessarily small, and conveys the gist of the book when combined with the pictures.

Graphic novels can get to be a bit annoying in a school library; I've riffed often about how students will come in three times a day to check out three each time, and I wonder if they do anything but look at the pictures. (With the possible exception of one enterprising students who discovered he could get all of his AR points by reading the graphic novel version of the Cirque du Freak books and taking the test on the novel versions!) Still, my hope is always that students will pick up the graphic version and be intrigued enough to read the original, because the graphic version must always leave out some of the really good parts.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel
This is, of course, my whole reason behind buying Hope Larson's version of A Wrinkle in Time! (2 October 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) I hope it is as well bound as The City of Ember.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Guy Friday--Double Vision

Double VisionBradley, F.T. Double Vision
16 October 2012, HarperCollins

Heh. This book starts on the Friday before Thanksgiving break!

Linc is one of those kids who means well but is constantly in trouble. When he and his friend Daryl "accidentally" let out a bunch of chickens when their class is on a field trip to a chicken farm, it's the last straw. The farmer wants to sue his family (which is struggling already), the school wants to expel him, and he's an international sensation on YouTube with bird poop on his head. This draws him to the attention of "a top secret special ops team called Pandora" that realizes he is a dead ringer for one of their kid agents, Benjamin Green. Ben is missing in France, where a "evil Mona Lisa" has been stolen from a baker's family. This painting can hypnotize crowds of people, and Pandora is worried that it will fall into the wrong hands. Linc's parents are told that if he goes into a "boot camp", he'll be off the hook for damages, and he is whisked off to France, quickly trained, and plopped smack dab in the middle of intrigue and adventure. Francois, the daughter of the baker HATES Ben, because she feels he is responsible for her father's disappearance. The two are able to follow clues that the father leaves, and uncover double agencts, double crossing, and a lot of danger!
Strengths: This book did not wast a minute sucking me in. The field trip is short but disastrous, I could believe the agents' excuses and his parents' submission in letting him go. Even the kid agents and quick training seemed plausible. Pitch perfect for middle school boys. Definitely ordering a copy.
Weaknesses: I'm not a huge fan of clue oriented mysteries, and this does have a path of clues that have to be found and followed, but it wasn't belabored. Don't think students will mind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Great Unexpected

The Great UnexpectedCreech, Sharon. The Great Unexpected.
2 September 2012, Harpercollins
Nominated for the Cybils by John Schumacher
Copy received from YA Books Central and reviewed there.

The town of Blackbird Tree has more than its fair share of orphans and old people. Naomi lives with Nula and Joe, her mother having passed away shortly after her birth, and her father dying of an infection after a dog attack that also disfigured Naomi's arm. Her friend Lizzie lives with a couple she hopes will adopt her. The two makes friends with Finn, an unusual boy who also has a mysterious past. While the children in Blackbird Tree are hanging out, helping the strange and elderly (Crazy Cora, Witch Wiggins, etc.), an older woman in Ireland is planning revenge. She sends her solicitor to spy on the residents of Blackbird Tree and report things back to her. This lady is somehow connected to Nula, and when Joe passes away, the solicitor has Nula, Naomi and Lizzie all come to Ireland, where all of the secrets of the past are revealed and come together for everyone's benefit.
Strengths: Creech has a writing style that incorporates all of the elements of stories that language arts teachers love. There's foreshadowing, character development, conflict, and good use of all sorts of figurative language, as well as symbolism. While some of the mysteries I had figured out early on, there were some surprises at the end.
Weaknesses: This had a lot of quirky characters and improbable connections and occurences. It is realistic fiction even though many of the reviews I looked at hinted that magic was invovlved. I think that this would be a hard book for students to get into on their own.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Revolution at Various Times

Sophia's War: A Tale of the RevolutionAvi. Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution
25 September 2012, Beach Lane Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Amy Koester

Sophia and her family live in New York City, and are struggling not only with the British, but with the direction their own sympathies are taking. They end up with John Andre being billeted in their house at the same time Sophia's brother William, a strong Patriot, is held by the British in prison. When William dies, any fond feelings the family has for the British die as well, but they must keep their opinions secret. When Sophia's father is injured and unable to work, she presents herself at the printer for whom her father works and offers her services. There, Mr. Gaine puts her in contact with Mr. Townsend, and her career as a spy begins. A few years later, she steps up her activity and ends up uncovering information crucial to the Patriots, and risks everything to make sure that it gets into the right hands.
Strengths: Great cover, and this was packed full of historical information. A glossary author's note, and bibliography help to make this a great novel for class study. While Sophia's situation is unusual, Avi makes it seem possible, and the fact that she is a female gives a nice twist to a Revolutionary War tale.
Weaknesses: The sheer amount of historical facts made this somewhat hard to follow, and the story sometimes seemed dry.

My Own RevolutionMarsden, Carolyn. My Own Revolution.
9 October 2012, Candlewick Press.
Copy received from YA Books Central and reviewed there.

Patrik has grown up with Danika, but has started to have romantic feelings for her. They have played games and shared an interest in the Beatles, but things become difficult between them when Bozek moves from Bratislava and Danika finds him attractive, and politics also comes between them. Patrik's father is a psychiatrist who balks at being told by the government what diagnoses to hand out, but he doesn't know what he would do in the US. Danika's father decides to join the Communist Party so that he can get a better job earning more money and perhaps put meat on the table. After Patrik is caught in several acts of "treason" (graffiti and setting fire to a flag at a rally) and sentenced to being an apprentice to a miner instead of being able to continue in school, the family decides that the must leave Czechoslovakia no matter what happens to them.
Strengths: There is not much fiction about the Communist regime during the 1960s, and this describes the living conditions in that time and place very well.
Weaknesses: No specific year is given, and there is no historical background to help readers know when this occurs or what the situation was in Czechoslovakia. While I was able to put together clues like Beatles' records, fountain pens, and Dr. Martin Luther King leading African-Americans during race riots, my students will not have this background. Explaining this at the beginning would have strengthened the story considerably. As it was, I spent a lot of the beginning of the book trying to figure out what the setting was. The boy and girl in modern looking hoodies on the cover did not help.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Game Changer

Game ChangerHaddix, Margaret Peterson. Game Changer.
October 2012, Simon and Schuster

KT is a great softball pitcher, and her family's life revolves around her games. During the most important game of the year, she is badly injured and passes out, only to wake up the next morning with no memory of how the game ended. She can't find any information online, her mother doesn't mention it, and when she gets to school, things are... weird. Instead of math and language arts, the classes are running on treadmills and pitching. The pep assembly is honoring the mathletes, and the popular kids are involved in "acs", or academic competitions. Her brother Max, who was formerly a lumpish sort who played video games when dragged to KT's games, is now the center of the family's life because he is excelling in an ac and has hopes for a college scholarship. Once KT figures out that she is in an alternate world, she decides she has to get back to the real world, but getting back means figuring out how she hurtled into the alternate world to begin with. The mystery lies with her attitude, her brother, and an academically gifted girl, Evangeline, who was scorned in the real world but popular in the academically focused one. But even when she gets back, will things return to normal?
Strengths: My high school activities were Latin club, speech team, and orchestra, so you KNOW I was looking forward to this. There are some great moments-- KT doesn't want to go to the pep assembly, cross country is compared to the geography ac, cheerleaders have cheers for math-- and the whole concept of a world where sports are school and academics are the sought after activity is an amusing one.
Weaknesses: KT's journey was a little labored. It took her forever to figure out what was going on, and even longer to figure out how to get back. A lot of time is spent on explaining this alternate world,  but I still didn't quite buy it. Have to buy the book, though, if only for the dedication to two generations' worth of In the Know teams!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- Chained

ChainedKelly, Lynne. Chained.
8 May, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR)
Nominated for the Cybils by Irene Latham

Hastin's sister is very ill with a fever, and his mother takes her to the doctor, even though his father has passed away and the family is barely surviving in rural India. In order to pay the bill, the mother goes to work cleaning the house of a wealthy man, but when he starts to abuse her, Hastin looks for another way. He is hired by Timir, an elephant trainer, who offers to pay the hospital bill in exchange for Hastin's work for a year. The first thing Hastin has to do is to trap a young elephant, and he feels so badly about separating Nandita from her herd that he promises to take care of her. This is difficult, since the training is harsh and Nandita suffers greatly from the cruelty. Hastin makes friends with the cook, Ne Min, but is forever getting in trouble and having more time added to his enforced servitude. Nandita is almost sold to another circus owner, and things might have improved for Hastin, but Nandita suffers a heat stroke. The sale is called off, and the abuse gets worse. Eventually, Hastin needs to decide is staying is the best option for both him and Nandita.
Strengths: This was a good depiction of the struggles that children in other countries face. The note at the end explaining that there are laws in India forbidding this kind of treatment of animals and children (but that they are ignored) is helpful. This would be a good book to read in conjunction with Tua and the Elephant.
Weaknesses: Cover is not appealing; when will publishers realize that this makes a HUGE difference? This is a good book, but not on a topic that students pick up on their own, so an appealing cover is especially crucial when trying to get this into students' hands.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at The Flatt Perspective.

Library Ramblings: Loved William Polking's The Trouble with Cybils post over at Nerdy Book Club. Since I need to read things other than Cybils' nominations as well, I've been keeping notes but not necessarily reviewing every single book, as I have felt compelled to do in the past.

Have continued with cleaning out dated technology. Just need the storage/work space. I am hoping that the fire marshal doesn't visit until after I get the six televisions on carts on their way. This is the main reason I am not waiting until March, as I usually do, to clean out. Since teachers have had LCD projectors in their rooms for two years, no one wants overheads or televisions. This has been a problem.

Weeding, however, is somehow easier. About 15 years ago, there was a huge shipment of Permabound books for the start of the Accelerated Reader program, and they weren't chosen with as much care as I would exercise, so most are no longer read. They look nice on the outside, but the pages are brown and crumbly and smell really bad! Not the sort of thing to enthuse children about reading!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day-- Fire-free Zone

Lynch, Chris. Fire-free Zone (Vietnam #3)
1 November 2012, Scholastic. ARC from

After Rudi reluctantly joins the Marines, he finds that he enjoys military life more than he imagined. He loves to follow orders and please his superiors, and he's even more excited when his unit sees some active combat and he gets to kill a Vietnamese soldier. He takes a group of marines to retrieve care packages, and ends up doing a lot of fighting. When his leg is gravely injured in an attack on a village, he ends up in the hospital and could go home, but chooses to stay. When an unpleasant officer is killed right after his return, he is questioned about it, but Rudi's loyalties to the marines and his focus in killing the enemy are both very strong. His friends seem a little concerned about his gung ho attitude. I will be interested to see if Rudi's story is continued after he serves his tour.
Strengths: Lots and lots of good details of fighting that the boys will really like. This series fills a much needed gap in any historical fiction collection.
Weaknesses: Like the first book in the series, this seems to glorify war more than most middle grade fiction treatments of the topic, so I will be interested to see what the rest of the series brings.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Audition and Subtraction

Audition & Subtraction
Dominy, Amy Fellner. Audition and Subtraction
4 September 2012, Walker
Nominated for the Cybils by Cari's Book Blog

Tatum and Lori are best friends and band mates and do everything together, especially a duet for band competition. When hot new guy Michael moves to town, everyone swoons over him, especially Lori. Lori has recently lost a lot of weight and isn't used to boys thinking of her as hot, so when Michael starts paying attention to her, she is elated. Tatum is glad for her friend, but misses her, and feels awkward about the whole middle school romance thing, especially when she starts looking at her friend Aaron in a new light. Are they dating, or are they just friends who kiss? Tatum is also dealing with her parents' separation, and with her mother being sad and yet trying to move on by doing embarassing things like community theater. When  Michael and Tatum have to compete against each other for a place in District Honor Band and Lori is more supportive of Michael, the girls' friendship is tested. Ah, middle school. It's never easy. By the author of OyMG.
Strengths: Perfect middle school romance book for girls.I especially liked Aaron and Tatum's relationship. Tatum's other problems were realistically portrayed. This is the sort of book I would read all the time if I had my druthers.
Weaknesses: The importance of auditions, duets, wind ensemble, etc., seemed more like high school than middle school to me, especially with the overnight trip for auditions. Middle school girls love to read books about high school students, so it would have been set there. Still putting this one on my order list right now! Will be a hard sell to boys, though!

My Extra Best FriendBowe, Julie. My Extra Best Friend.
14 June 2012, Dial
Nominated for the Cybils by CarolA

Ida May is excited to be away from home at Camp Meadowlark, especially since most of her good friends are going to be there as well. What she doesn't expect is that Elizabeth, her former best friend who moved from Wisconsin to New Mexico and never wrote, will be there as well. Elizabeth is now calling herself Liz and has changed a bit, and is also a bit mean to Ida May. Still, there are all sorts of distractions at camp, from boys to a giant backpack full of contraband candy. Expected camp activities come into play as well-- Ida May struggles with swimming, there is a legendary monster, and the campers (when they are not fighting with each other) test the bounds of camp rules. Will Elizabeth and Ida May be able to work through their difficulties in this fifth installment of the Friends for Keeps series?
Strengths: I seem to recall my daughter's fourth grade teacher saying that girl drama is a HUGE part of fourth grade, so this series would be a must have in an elementary school library. Camp stories are always fun-- my daughter is undertaking the grueling task of reading my 8th grade novel, which is set in a summer camp.
Weaknesses: The girls often seemed much older-- lots of interest in boys, etc. This would probably be appealing to actual fourth graders. There were also a LOT of characters to keep straight. Maybe if I had read the four earlier books, this wouldn't have been so hard.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Guy Friday-- Zany Adventure

We Dine With Cannibals (An Accidental Adventure, #2)
London, C. Alexander. We Dine with Cannibals.
14 November 2012, Philomel
Nominated for the Cybils by Michael Scotto

In this sequel to We Are Not Eaten by Yaks, twins Celia and Oliver Navel are back, reluctantly being sent on adventures. This time, they are in search of their mother, who has run off to find the Lost Library of Alexandria, and are frequently forced to accompany Sir Edmund on dangerous trips because their adventurer father lost a bet to him. They start by almost being killed in Incan ruins my booby trapped khipus, and then, when their father is kidnapped, continue on in the company of daredevil reality show start (and Celia's crush) Corey Brandt along the Amazon River, and meet perils at every page-- poisonous and lethal animals, deadly waters, and attacks by reportedly cannibalistic tribes. Sir Edmund tries to sabotage their efforts, but being the resourceful (and well versed in television survival shows) children that they are, they triumph.

And yes, despite a dream sequence when the twins have a hallucination after taking some tropical drug, this is technically reality, as unlikely as the adventure is.

Strengths: Middle grade children in orphan mode? Check? Nonstop action and gross situations involving fire ants, mud, and other slimy substances? Check. Evil villains? Check. Illustrations? Check. This has all the elements of a great birthday book for a middle grade boy. London is a great writer, and even though he almost lost me at Snack Cakeville, now I want to read the book about Fordlandia!
Weaknesses: This falls into the category of boy-goofiness-I-don't-understand. In the universe where everyone does what I tell them to, Mr. London spends all of his time writing military books like Dog Tags, and Scholastic publishes them in decent, hardcover editions!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fire in the Streets

Fire in the Streets (The Rock and the River, #2)Magoon, Kekla. Fire in the Streets.
28 August 2012, Aladdin
Nominated for the Cybils by T.S.Davis

This sequel to The Rock and the River (2009) follows Maxie after the death of her friend Sam's brother Steve. Maxie and Raheem live with their mother in the projects, and are struggling to pay the rent and get food. Sam's family is well off, but reeling from Steve's death. Maxie has two very good friends, Patrice and Emmalee, but neither of them are as interested in working with the Black Panthers as Maxie is. Not content to stuff envelopes and babysit at the office, Maxie wants to be a fully trained (and armed) member who is allowed to go on patrols wearing the Black Panther Jacket. Despite the rough spots in her life (her mother loses her job and starts bringing home a variety  of men, her relationship with Sam is rocky, Raheem is about to get drafted), she believes in the work of the Black Panthers and tries to get others in her neighborhood interested. Things get harder for the organization when someone inside starts giving the police information, and Maxie finds out that the person doing this is closer to her than she thought.
Strengths: Really well researched and compelling, this is a topic not covered much in middle grade or young adult fiction. (Even One Crazy Summer doesn't have much detail about the Black Panthers' work, other than with children.). I do have the first book in my library, and it circulates steadily. What I would LOVE to see now is a nonfiction companion about the Black Panthers by Ms. Magoon, who did such an excellent job on Today the World is Watching You. (Which she's working on!!! So excited!!!!)
Weaknesses: There is some tiptoeing around sexual topics that might make this less appropriate for younger middle grade readers. The mother has men over, and Sam and Maxie consider doing more than kissing, but it's all delicately handled.

Now I am really interested in the history of the Black Panther Party. The platform of the party, which is mentioned in part in the book, is available at:

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Flying the Dragon

Flying the DragonLorenzi, Natalie Diaz. Flying the Dragon.
1 July 2012, Charlesbridge
Nominated for the Cybils by Katie Fitzgerald

When Skye and Hiroshi's grandfather becomes ill, it throws both their lives' into chaos-- Hiroshi's family moves from their village in Japan to Virginia, in order to be near Skye's family and get treatment for the grandfather. Skye (whose mother is not Japanese) suddenly finds her father embracing his culture and forcing her to do the same, even though it means that she has to attend Japanese classes instead of playing All-Star soccer. They are in school together, and Skye (whose family now calls her Sorano) is embarrassed by her cousin. Hiroshi is also embarrassed, because he feels his ESL class is too easy, and yet is still struggling with English. The cousins also have a hard time sharing their grandfather, since he wants to spend time with both of them working on kites and preparing to compete in a kit battle. When the treatments aren't working, both children know that their time with their grandfather is short, and that they need to work together instead of spending their time fighting.
Strengths: I cried. The story with the grandfather was moving but not maudlin. Very well done. This was a great book for introducing all sort of differences between US and Japanese culture while not painting either one as better.
Weaknesses: Multicultural topics, as well as books involving grandparents, are a really hard sell, and the cover doesn't help this one. This could be paired with Park's The Kite Fighters or McCaughrean's The Kite Riders for some nice March reading with a class, though.

Got this copy through Interlibrary Loan from the Kent Free Library, where I got my first library card in 1969!

The Making of Japanese Kites: Tradition, Beauty and Creation

Let me know if the addition of nonfiction books to coordinate with the fiction book mentioned annoys people.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Timeslip Tuesday-- Lost in Paris

Mira's Diary: Lost in ParisMoss, Marissa. Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris.
4 September 2012, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

When Mira's family gets a postcard from her mother, who has disappeared, they all decide to go there, since the father has conveniently gotten a fellowship there. Mira hopes to find her mother, and she does... but only after she travels back in time to 1881. She meets Claude, who offers to help her find a place to stay. He is working with a group of artists, so Mira ends up at Mary Cassat's. She has limited contact from her mother, who tells her that she is a time traveler, must follow certain rules, and that they are both in that time to prevent an injustice. Mira soon finds out that the injustice has to do with the treatment of Jews at the time, and she is drawn in to the story of Alfred Dreyfuss. She goes back to 2012 to let her father know what is going on, but then goes back to 1895, where she is still unable to help as much as she would like, and when it is awkward for her and Claude (who fell in love with her) because he is now so much older. Since her mother does not come back to the present, a sequel is probably forthcoming. Historical notes at back, and sketches accompanying text.
Strengths: Good time travel method (touchstones) and purpose, lots of historical information.
Weaknesses: This might have too much historical information for the casual reader who is more familiar with Moss' Amelia books than her other work. I knew a bit about the artists that appear (Degas, Renoir, Manet), and I still had to concentrate to follow.

Common CoreCover image for Mary Cassatt : impressionist p...Cover image for Impressionism

Jones, Allan and Gary Chalk (Illustrations).The Six Crowns: The Ice Gate of Spyre (Book #4)
23 October 2012, Greenwillow Books
Also reviewed for Young Adult Books Central

This series is based on the premise that there was at one point a world ruled by six wise badgers, which then exploded. Bits of the world and the creatures on them survived and were scattered around the sky, and are called the Sundered Lands. Esmerelda, the Princess of Darkness, had this fact revealed to her by reading the Badger Blocks, and is on a quest to find the six crowns of the ruling badgers. However, both the evil Captain Grizzletusk, a pirate, and Esmerelda's Aunt Millie. Esmerelda has a group of companions who are helping her in her quest, and the group gets into a variety of adventures and perilous circumstances along the way.
Strengths: Has many of the qualities of Brian Jacques' Redwall series, but is geared toward younger readers.
Weaknesses: This was personally painful to read. This is a quote from page 2 of the ARC, "Rattle me bones and strain me gravy," sighed Ishmael, his long head between his paws. "Even as oyster has his own wheelbarrow, and that's a fact." No, it doesn't make any more sense in context. I don't like Brian Jacques' books, and this was for a younger audience, and those books are always hard for me to like as well. If you have students who would like to read Jacques' work, but the books are too long, this might be one to try.

Common CoreCover image for Badger's Burrow
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