Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Easter Sweets and TreatsOwen, Ruth. Easter Sweets and Treats.
15 August 2012, Windmill Books

This has very cute ideas, but only six recipes. (Easter brunch eggs, deviled eggs, cupcake nests, chocolate eggs, bunny cookies and carrot cake.) A very attractive book with clear and easy to follow instructions. This series also has Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. Since these are so short and run almost $20 each, I may go with just the Valentine's and Halloween ones, since those are the holidays during which my students seem to be at their most crafty.



Easter OrigamiOwens, Ruth. Easter Origami.
15 August 2012, Power Kids Press

I haven't actually seen this one, but I have the Valentine's Day Origami, and it has circulated fairly well year round. Not a lot of different designs, but a few good ones, including a very useful heart folded out of money. A much more environmentally friendly gift than a plastic card!

Here's hoping that everyone gets lots of Cadbury Creme Eggs, or whatever your favorite treat is, for Easter!

And I'm having an ethical quandry-- just how evil is Amazon? How upset should I be that they bought Goodreads? Are they evil on a level of clubbing baby seals? Evil on the level of nondolphin safe tuna? Nestle pushing formula in developing countries that don't have clean water? Or evil on the level of Domino's pizza because I just don't agree with their politics. I'm all about boycotting products when I don't agree with the company's philosophy or actions, but I'm torn. My options for buying books where I am are a huge Barnes and Noble or... well, I think there are some independent bookstores in Columbus, but none anywhere near where I am. Is that better or worse than Amazon? And while I benefit greatly from Goodreads (love the widgit showing my progress), I'm not giving them any money, so do I have to delete my account now? Oh, well. Always something in the book world that causes angst somewhere. Will deliberate.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Matinee

StarstruckShukert, Rachel. Starstruck.
12 March 2013, Delacorte Books

Margaret going to a finishing school in Pasadena in the 1930s and is obsessed with the Hollywood stars. Hanging out at Schwab's, she comes to the attention of a person at Olympus Pictures, and he invites her to come for a screen test. This doesn't go over well with her family, and when she is offered a contract, they tell her to never darken their door again. Since the glamorous Diana Chesterfield has gone missing, Olympus needs a new starlet for their historical epic, and Margaret is it. She is obsessed with fellow actor Dane, even though the studio sets her up with Jimmy, much to the dismay of her Judy Garland-esque friend Gabby. Many of the starlets in Hollywood have dark secrets, and Margaret soon finds that the glitter of Hollywood is not always what it seems.
Strengths: Anyone interested in the golden age of Hollywood will find the behind the scenes dealings in this interesting. Styles, types of actors, studio policy-- all of this aligns with what I know of this era.
Weaknesses: More of a YA book due to content, which includes a madame, homosexuality, and abortion. It's all done delicately and would be okay for high school, but there's so much that I will pass for middle school. I can't say I have any students interested in classic films.

Okay. I do try to keep current with technology, but doing so requires being on the computer, and I've discussed how this is NOT my favorite thing. At Jen Robinson's Book Page, I found out about another book site, Riffle (https://read.rifflebooks.com). I logged in through Facebook, which I hate, and did do a couple of lists, but I don't think I'll use it much. It's better than my nemesis, Pinterest (loathe, detest, abhor!), but not as useful to me as Goodreads, which I do find useful for making lists, getting publication dates, etc.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Guy Friday--Toilets!

Okay, I would have to buy this book if only for Mr. Pierson's interaction with a student who asked Yahoo Answers for a summary of Pierson's The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To. The second thing I liked about this was that it was very much something Surly Teen Boy would like, and even sounded a bit like his work. I was greatly relieved to find that Mr. Pierson is not the same age as Surly Teen Boy, but I am old enough to be his mother. Please note that on a night where I could only read one book, I picked the title with a toilet on the cover, completing my transformation as a reader into a 12 year old boy.

Crap KingdomPierson, D.C. Crap Kingdom.
7 March 2013, Viking Juvenile
E ARC from Netgalley.com, also reviewed at YABC

Tom's life is going okay. He's involved in theater and a cute girl might like him, so when his absent father shows up after one of his plays, he's not thrilled-- especially when his father turns into Gark, a messenger from another world who claims that Tom needs to follow him through a clothes donation dumpster in a K Mart parking lot because he is the "chosen one" who will save the kingdom! Tom isn't impressed with the kingdom-- it has no name, the king doesn't know what Tom is supposed to do, Princess Pira is just nutty, and the main job Tom is supposed to perform is to work in the Rat Snottery collecting... you got it... rat snot. He returns to our world and goes about his daily life. He works on a play, tries to make amends with his mother, and hangs out with his friend Kyle. Eventually, he wishes he had stayed in the kingdom, so he goes back. Once there, he finds out that he has been replaced... by Kyle. Kyle, who has always been better than Tom at everything, gets magic powers. He doesn't have to work in the Rat Snottery. Tom decides that he'll hang out in Crap Kingdom for a while, and learns that this is possible because of a soul swap. When he is in the kingdom, a random soul pilots his body for him, and whoever is piloting him has gotten the attention of Lindsy, who is now his girlfriend. Now Tom is perfectly happy to remain in the real world, making out with his girlfriend, but the person who inhabited his body in the soul swap had much smoother moves than Tom does. He panics and goes back to the Crap Kingdom, where he meets the king of the Ghelm, who claims that Tom is THEIR chosen one. The Ghelm are the sworn enemies of Crap Kingdom. Which side will Tom support? Will Lindsy stay his girlfriend? Which world is the best place for Tom to be?
Strengths: This was a very fresh and singular book. Young Adult in feel (with all that making out with Lindsy), but with nothing objectionable. Understanding and use of fantasy tropes in unexpected ways makes this really funny, as does all the gross or goofy details, like the rusty donation box as a portal, the Rat Snottery, etc. I liked Tom's insecurity about being with Lindsy, and also his love-hate relationship with Tom. The writing is simple but not wooden or inexpert-- it just reads like a very talented 15-year-old wrote it, which has its charm. This may be the book I buy as a Christmas present for my son.
Weaknesses: This wasn't that funny to me; just sort of juvenile. Have to file with books I don't like personally, but which I will enthusiastically recommend.

Perhaps a good rule of thumb for middle grade literature is this: If it is toilet themed, suspend disbelief right away and just go with it. 

The Fourth Stall Part III Rylander, Chris. The Fourth Stall: Part III
5 February 2013, Walden Pond Press

Mac is back, but he and Vince are laying low after their last escapade. It's hard to stay away from their old life, though-- Staples is back and wants their help contacting his sister who is in foster care, and they are contacted by Jimmy Two-Tone, a new kid who wants to take over their business and give them a cut of the profits. Jimmy's doing a great business, but Mac starts to suspect that Jimmy is creating problems so he can make money solving them. Turns out this is the case, and Jimmy has been using students from Thief Valley Elementary to cause the problems, but now he owes them $4,000 and he asks Mac for help after school events are being sabotaged too fast for him to fix. It turns out that Kinko, the mastermind at Thief Valley, is Staples' young sister, but this just makes Mac even more determined to take her down in this great conclusion to a great middle grade trilogy.
Strengths: Oh, the sheer number of things that would never happen in a middle school makes this a series that the boys adore. I can't tell you the number of them that knew the exact date this was coming out and wanted it right away! This was the first thing I picked up at a recent book look, once I realized it was there. Gross jokes, over-the-top villains, adventure and running around-- it has everything. I am so glad that they kept the covers the same-- very striking and attractive.
Weaknesses: I don't personally enjoy this sort of thing because it makes me worry about the amount of money involved, about where the teachers are when kids are being bullied, etc. In some ways, it's a relief to know I haven't completely turned into a twelve-year-old boy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rotten

RottenNorthrop, Michael. Rotten.
1 April 2013, Scholastic

JD, who isn't the best behaved kid in the world, returns to town after spending the summer "at his aunt's". No one believes him. His friends are cool with his absence, his girlfriend a bit less so. His mother has taken in a rescue dog in his absence, a huge Rottweiler she has named Jon-Jon but whom JD rechristens Johnny Rotten. The dog has been mistreated and is scared of men, especially when cornered, but is generally a good dog. When JD's friend Mars hops the fence into JD's yard and corners the dog, he gets bit. It's a small wound, but Mars' dysfunctional parents, sensing money, decide to sue. Luckily, JD's uncle is a lawyer, but it turns out that Johnny Rotten has a history of problems at the pound which will make the case even harder. To try to get Mars to call off his parents, JD offers to tell him where he really was over the summer. Mars, of course, blabs the news everywhere, and JD has to deal with endless grief at home. He and his friends decide they need to help Johnny Rotten escape before he can be sentenced to be killed. Can they manage to do this? And how will JD struggle through school now that his past is known.
Strengths: I love how versatile Northrop is-- he's sort of a new Gordon Korman. This book has lots of appeal ( what dog loving boy could turn down that cover), and straddles that middle grade/young adult boundary fairly well. Good sense of place and excellent supporting characters as well.
Weaknesses: If I wanted to nominate this for the Cybils Awards, I'd place it in Young Adult. There's just enough illicit drinking and older boy issues to make middle grade people afraid, but is done in such a way that I think it's okay on middle school shelves.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

World Wednesday-- Journey of Dreams

Journey of DreamsPellegrino, Marge. Journey of Dreams
1 August 2009, Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Tomasa and her family live in the Highlands of Guatemala in 1984. She and her mother weave garments to sell at the market, and her father and brothers farm. When her mother makes an offhand remark about chemicals being sprayed by airplanes making the children sick, the soldiers who have been causing problems target the family. When Carlos is very nearly taken away by soldiers with an older neighbor boy, the mother decides to flee with him. Tomasa, her father, grandmother and two younger siblings stay, until soldiers attack their village. The grandmother dies, but the father decides to try to make it to Guatemala City to reconnect with the mother. Even there is not safe, and with the help of coyotes, the family ends up living in a park in Mexico City. A humanitarian group helps them locate the mother and brother in Phoenix, and they eventually make their way there.
Strengths: Ms. Pellegrino works with people who need to relocate to the US due to horrible conditions in their own countries, so the details of every day life in this are brilliant. The description of the weaving, cooking, and going to market are so vivid, and most middle schoolers will be surprised that people live in ways that differ from their own lives. This could be pared with many other books about difficult circumstances. Since I can't think of anything else about life in Guatemala, this was interesting to read.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the descriptions of Tomasa's dreams, but it's a slight objection. I think I will purchase this for when we have multicultural units.

When looking up Guatemalan weaving, I came across the Sharing the Dream fair trade shop. I'd love to find a huipil or skirt to wear! They are quite beautiful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Timeslip Tuesday-- Cryonics

When We WakeHealey, Karen. When We Wake
5 March 2013, Little, Brown Books For Young Reads
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Teegan loves her life in 2027-- her mom is great (although she misses her dad, who was killed as a soldier), she has an amazing new boyfriend, and she and her friends are politically active and attend a lot of rallies. Unfortunately, at one rally, she is shot by a sniper and killed. Because she has signed paperwork donating her body to science, she has been frozen using Cryonics and wakes up 100 years later. Other "freezies" have not been saved, so the government is very interested in what will happen to her. Because Teegan has been "resurrected", some political groups are not happy- the Inheritors of the Earth think that she has disobeyed God's law and should kill herself, and Australians for Australia consider her an illegal alien and want her deported. The world of 2127 is different in many ways-- it's okay to be gay, and no one blinks if there are gay couples, Muslims aren't discriminated against, and computers are sheets of plastic that can fold up and be put in a pocket. People don't eat red meat, though, and Australia has a strict anti-immigration policy. One of Teegan's great loves is music, especially the Beatles, and when she is finally allowed to go to school, she makes friends with several other students, including the "talented alien" Abdi from Djibouti. Teegan is kept strictly supervised by the government and is not supposed to say anything about her political beliefs, but teens are teens at any point in time, and she manages to find a government conspiracy, shoot her mouth off about it, and get into trouble.
Strengths: I really enjoyed the beginning of this book because it wasn't really dystopian, just what one would expect after a hundred plus years of global warming and depleting resources. Teegan's interest in music excuses her love of a VERY old band, but since there are lots of young Beatles fans even now, it makes it fun (Picky Reader is hovering and waiting for my ARC of this right now!). Good world building, fun characters, and realistic reaction to waking up and finding out an entire world is gone.
Weaknesses: Once the whole government conspiracy crops up, this kind of lost me. Combined with Teegan proclaiming "F**ity f*** f***" , I will pass on purchasing, even though it was an interesting book and would be good for a high school dystopia unit.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sauron's Downfall

Nothing says "Happy Anniversary of Sauron's Downfall" like a Mt. Doom chocolate cake with strawberry flavored lava and coconut fire. Yes, there is a tiny ring in Frodo's hand. And no, that's NOT Dumbledore without his beard. It was a tough journey across the plains of Mordor, and Frodo didn't have time to get a haircut or dye his hair.

MMGM-- Staying in Tune

Staying in Tune #4Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Staying in Tune (Forever Four #4)
7 February 2013, Grossett and Dunlap

Paulina is still working on the 4 Girls magazine, but there are problems. Miko, who usually does the cover art, is under pressure from her father to get into a prestigious music camp, so she doesn't have much time to give to the magazine. Tally is so scattered brained that she shows up at the Mexican restaurant in the mall when she asks the girls to meet her for egg rolls. Thankfully, Ivy is still around to help with the magazine as well as for moral support when Paulina's crush, Benny, doesn't call her at all over Christmas break. Miko asks the new art teacher to be their faculty advisor, which ends up working out better than everyone expected.  Another issue of the magazine is successfully completed, and the girls are ready for more adventures.
Strengths: Kimmel does perfect middle grade series. The characters are always active and interesting, there's a little bit of romance thrown in, and the writing is deft. My avid readers will go through one of these books a day!.
Weaknesses: Tally seemed a bit over the top, as did the mean girl, but since the other characters are well developed, I didn't mind.

Knit Your Bit: A World War I StoryHopkinson, Deborah. Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story
February 21st 2013 by Putnam Juvenile

I have found a good use for picture books-- they offer a good transition for my study hall students between lunch and settling down for study hall! I'm not usually a fan of picture books, but this one was great fun. It offered an interesting look at an odd historical event that students probably know nothing about, and had really fun, Lois Lenski style illustrations, which suited this time period quite well. I thought about pairing this with a book of knitting instruction, but it's hard to get students interested in those. I thought about having students try to knit in study hall, but they probably wouldn't be allowed to have knitting needles!



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 Booktalking.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Corner of White

A Corner of WhiteMoriarty, Jaclyn. A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine #1)
1 April 2013, Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Madeleine and her mother have run away from home and now live in Cambridge, where Madeleine is home schooled with her friends Jack and Belle.  She misses her father as well as her old way of life-- it used to be yacht and caviar, but now it's an attic flat and beans on toast. She finds a note sticking out of a parking meter and starts a correspondence with Elliot, who lives in the kingdom of Cello. It used to be that the World and Cello had people traveling back and forth, but now only small things can get through. Elliot has his own problems-- his uncle was killed in an attack by Purples, and his father and a local teacher have gone missing. His mother is renting out his father's electronic shop to a new family, and he manages to break his leg rescuing a Butterfly Child, so he can no longer go looking for his father. Both Elliot and Madeleine take strange comfort in their letters, and they manage to help each other out-- Elliot provides a cure for Madeleine's mother's illness, and Madeleine sends information about colors that help out Elliot. When Elliot's bravery brings him to the attention of the princesses who are touring the kingdom, he finds out that there is a national problem, and his contact with the World might make him the one to be able to solve it. This is the first book in a projected trilogy.
Strengths: I like the concept of the two worlds, and enjoyed the characters. This was very British, and I enjoyed the Cambridge setting. I really wanted to find out what would happen to both Elliot and Madeleine.
Weaknesses: This was oddly written-- some things that were important to the story weren't really explained (the color attacks still don't make sense to me), but then pages were spent describing odd things that didn't matter. Some of the dialogue was weirdly written. This was also really sad, but told in a lighthearted way. Ah. The author is Australian. That might be part of it. As I said, an intriguing book, but it might be hard to sell to students.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Breaking Point

Breaking Point (Article 5, #2)Simmons, Kristen. Breaking Point (Article 5 #2)
12 February 2013,  Tor Teen

After escaping the Federal Bureau of Reformation (or the Moral Militia), Ember and Chase have been taken in by the Resistance and are staying in a rundown hotel in Knoxville. They are trying to reunite with some of their friends and attack the MM whenever they can, but after Ember gets identified as a sniper and can be shot by anyone, she has to be careful. She does manage to go on some mission dressed in Sisters of Salvation uniforms, and rescues Sarah, who is pregnant by a MM member, from a Tent City. When Tucker shows up, Ember is not happy, since she still blames him for her mother's death. The hotel is attached, but Chase and Ember escape and head to Greenville. At one point, Ember thinks her mother may be alive, but it turns out to be an old friend using her mother's name. Chase and Ember continue to wander about, trying to locate people, help the Resistance, and try to decide what the future of their relationship is after a safe house they plan to use is destroyed and they are forced to go south.
Strengths: Decent world building for a dystopia, and some good characters. LOTS of action. Article 5 has been really popular at my school and has appealed to a number of students who don't normally read a lot. I think it's the militaristic feel to the society and all of the running about.
Weaknesses:  I found it a little hard to believe that there would be this much moving from place to place in a fractured society. It seems like Ember has uncanny luck in finding people even when most communication has broken down. I'll buy a copy because students will read it, but it wasn't quite my thing. Another book is surely in the works.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break

There will be a new book posted every day for the next week, and I'll be around, but I really can't look at a computer every day any longer. Before we got wifi, I had the excuse that our internet was run by hamsters on wheels, but now my excuse is that I am just tired.

Book reviews are all scheduled, but I may not get comments published as quickly as I normally do, and I may not visit blogs and comment.

Will be doing some book related things, just nothing that involves any more electricity than the lamp by my comfy chair or microwaving my rice bag so I can stay warm. Happy spring!

Guy Friday- Science Fiction

Bot Wars (Bot Wars, #1)Kade, J.V. Bot Wars (Bot Wars #1)
21 March 2013, Dial
ARC received from Baker and Taylor

Trout and his brother, Po, are trying to survive on their own after their father has gone missing in the Bot Wars. Po does his best, even though he lost a leg to disease (he tells the girls he lost it in the war), and takes Trout on weekly visits to the Heart Center, where they see if any activity has been supported on their father's heart monitor. When nothing shows up, Trout decides to get help from a friend to post a video about his father. This goes viral, and Trout hopes that this helps find his father, but instead it alerts the United District government, and they take Po into custody and hope to use him to lure their father out. Trout manages to escape and finds that his father is now living in Bot Territory. We don't have complete details about the Bot Wars, but robots are now outlawed. For surprising reasons, Trout's father is a member of MetaRise, an organization hoping to get robots reinstated as citizens. The government offers to give Po back to his father as long as key members of MetaRise give themselves up, so Trout decides that if he can rescue his brother, MetaRise can continue the fight for robot rights, and hope to overturn government corruption in the United District.
Strengths: Some cool technology, dystopian setting involving robots and not the most terrible world, likeable characters, and some interesting twists. There's not a whole lot of action packed science fiction for boys; this was pretty good.
Weaknesses: A book titled Bot Wars should not prolong the action until page 85. It should start with explosions and some robot decapitation. Also, I needed a little more description of when this was set and what the situation was with the robot wars. There was some invented slang that didn't read smoothly. ("Drain clogger" to describe people that are a drag, "wrenched", "geared" and other invented terms.)

Fox Forever (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #3) Pearson, Mary E. Fox Forever (The Jenna Fox Chronicles #3)
19 March 2013, Henry Holt and Co.
ARC received from Baker and Taylor

Locke has left Jenna's tranquil home and has returned to Boston to work with the Network. His job is to make friends with the daughter of Secretary Branson, who is most likely responsible for the death/disappearance of Karden, Miesha's husband. Karden had put together a lot of money to help the Network, but even Branson has just part of the numbers needed to access the account, and Locke hopes to find them out through his friendship with Raine. After a Rocky start, this turns in to a lot more than Locke bargained for, since Raine is tired of her controlling father. When Locke finds out she was adopted, he discovers huge secrets about her family background. The question is whether he can also find out the numbers (with the help of an underground network of Bots as well as the Network) to access the account, and whether there are anymore cubes holding his, Jenna and Kara's souls being warehoused somewhere.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure (attacks by feral children/dogs), good technology (BioPerfect blue gel!), excellent star-crossed romance (they meet in the park in the dead of night), as well as the whole concept of being in the city where you grew up 260 years after you left it. The twists were good, and the conclusion was satisfying.
Weaknesses: The series needs to be read in order, and it took a while for me to get back up to speed on the story. It's been hard to get students to read book two, and since this is the time of year when I second guess every future purchase because there is no money left and my list for the fall is enormous, I'm debating buying this one at all, even though I would like to.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Rules for Disappearing

The Rules for DisappearingElston, Ashley. The Rules for Disappearing.
14 May 2013, Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley.com

"Meg" has been moved with her family in the Witness Protection Program to six different places in under a year. Her father is behind it, but Meg (her latest name) has no idea what. Her mother, unable to deal with the situation, has descended into alcoholism, and her former CPA father is just trying to make ends meet working in a warehouse job. Her sister, Teeny, is becoming more withdrawn and uncommunicative. Meg misses her former life, with nice clothes, lots of friends, and not looking over her shoulder all the time. When she starts school, she knows that she will not be there long, but is attracted to Ethan, who is kind to her and whose aunt hires her to work in her pizza shop. Some details about the precipitating event start to emerge, and Meg starts to believe that she must do something, or her family will be in the protection program forever, and Ethan is around to help her.
Strengths: Don't want to give too much away. This was a good mystery, and the details of being on the run should appeal to students. It feels like there may be a sequel, which would be great.
Weaknesses: A few generic vulgarities, and an incident of drinking, but nothing to make this inappropriate. I did find that it strained credulity that Ethan was able to find a mention on the internet of one of Meg's other identities, but it wasn't a huge part of the plot.


Just in case no one has noticed, the earth has hurtled away from the sun and it will never again be warm.So I think we need some pictures of puppies to get us through the day. The pictures are from Cutestpaw.com.

Bundle up. Spring might come. There's been a weird yellowish light in the sky recently, but only for brief moments.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

World Wednesday-- Multicultural Revolutionaries

History is messy, and revolution messier still. I would like very much to obtain a history textbook for high school that is used in the UK-- what would this text book say about the American Revolution? Not much good, I imagine. These two biographies address men who are considered heroes by some and villains by others. Were they more or less effective than men like Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr.? It's hard to be a revolutionary without killing people, but it's harder for most people to consider men heroes when they have blatant disregard for the lives of those who stand against them.


A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm XDoeden, Matt. A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X
1 February 2013, Twenty First Century Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

"A black man should give his life to be free, and he should also be willing to take the life of those who want to take his." Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X was determined to change the situation for black Americans more quickly. In the early 1950s, he started advocating violence as a way to best achieve these goals, and had the Nation of Islam behind his methods. There is a good explanation about the differences between traditional Islam and the Nation of Islam, and Louis Farakkhan. Eventually, he changed his mind about the use of violence, which put him at odds with the leaders of the group. Malcolm knew that given his violent history, he would not survive to old age, but his death brought up suspicion of greater conspiracies. This book does a good job of describing Malcolm's early life and the start of his political activism, then details his change of philosophy and the various circumstances surrounding his death. The book is attractively formatted with lots of pictures, although the E ARC loaded VERY slowly. The back of the book includes a timeline, short biographies of other key players, and a good bibliography.


Che Guevara: You Win or You Die Kallen, Stuart A. Che Guevara: You Win or You Die
1 October 2012, Twenty First Century Books

I didn't know that Guevara was a medical doctor, that he suffered from severe asthma, or that he was born in Argentina but died in Bolivia. His involvement with Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution was all I knew. This book discussed Che's early life and his well-to-do family, then discussed the rest of his life with the background of his political activities. I especially liked the format of this book-- biographies have changed in the last ten years from blocks of texts broken up by eight page sections of photographs, and that's a good thing. This book had section headings, sidebars, and lots of photographs, so it was not as boring as page after page of text. The portrayal of Che is very balanced, giving plenty of time to his motivation to help the downtrodden but not neglecting his murderous tendencies concerning those he considered oppressors.



Here are a few multicultural reviews. Again, putting these together involves being near a computer, which I try to avoid at all costs:

Bijoy and the Big River at Saffron Tree
Courage Has No Color at TMC Guys Read
Dark Dude at Guys Lit Wire
Greenhorn at Middle Grade Ninja
Hide and Seek at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Little Yokozuna at Charlotte's Library
What's For Lunch at Jean Little Library

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dragon Run

Dragon RunMatthews, Patrick. Dragon Run. 
1 March 2013, Scholastic.
E ARC from Netgalley.com; reviewed at Young Adult Books Central.

Al has high hopes for his Testing, but is assigned a zero, the lowest rank in his medeivalish community. A guard helps him escape because of a hat he has borrowed, and tells him that Cullers want to kill not only him, but his entire family. His friend Wisp's father, a former military man involved in a horrible dragon battle, knew that Al would be a zero and warned the family. Al heads to Brighton and teams up with Bird, an "earther", and the two are in the city when it is attacked by rockeaters. They are then accused of stealing and meet Magister Lundi, who is impressed with Al but throws him in jail anyway. He escapes, and ends up in Dockside, where he reconnects with Wisp as well as friend Trillia. Al has discovered that the dragons whom he has been taught protect everyone really are evil and are sucking Potentia out of everyone. Will's zero rating means that he transmits the least amount of power to the dragons; hence he is useless to them, and the Cullers are there to insure that zeroes are wiped out. After escaping Cullers yet again, Al proves invaluable to Magister Lundi in defeating the evil Lord Archover and the dragons.

To check out a lot of background information on the different types of creatures, etc., check out the web site at http://www.dragon-run.com/.

Strengths: There are never enough fantasy books to keep hard core readers happy, and this action packed adventure will be just the ticket for lovers of dragons and medieval adventure. The class rank system is very interesting, especially given how Al's zero works out for him in the end. The best part of this is the action-- Al is a great sword fighter, there are scenes like the rockeater attack and multiple fights with the Cullers, as well as a huge dragon battle.
Weaknesses: There were a lot of things about the world of this book that could have been explained. They made sense eventually, but I would have understood more easily with an up front explanation. Fantasy is really not my thing. Charlotte at Charlotte's Library had a better review.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MMGM--Baseball, The Perfect Game

Perfect GameBowen, Fred. Perfect Game.
1 March 2013, Peachtree Press
Copy provided by the author

Isaac is a great pitcher, but his father thinks he can be even better. "Practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect," is his mantra. In order to make the Thunderbolts team, he thinks he needs to pitch a perfect game, and is visibly dismayed when he doesn't. His coach asks if he knows anything about basketball, and asks if he will come and help with a team he coaches. This turns out to be a Special Olympics team. Isaac isn't thrilled about working with "retards", but the coach's daughter, Maya, quickly discourages from using this derogatory term and shows him the dedication to the game that the players exhibit. Isaac and Maya play on the team and help the others to make plays. One of the boys, Kevin, has been reluctant to work with the team, although he is quite a good shot. He warms to Isaac, and the two work on getting Kevin ready to play with the others. On the baseball front, Isaac's dad is still pressuring him to pitch perfect games, but Isaac is learning from both his baseball and basketball experiences that helping the team to win is really what is important.
Strengths: As with all of Fred Bowen's books, this had lots of details about games and tables of statistics that I don't quite understand, but that my readers love. Interwoven with this is the more serious topic of Isaac's unrealistic drive and his slow acceptance of the players on the Special Olympics team. This portrayal is almost painfully realistic-- as often as teachers and parents tell children not to use the term "retard", they still do. Seeing Isaac use this term out of ignorance and then learn why it is hurtful is more helpful than all the lectures adults can deliver. Bowen also writes strong female characters, and includes helpful information at the end of the book both about historical perfect games, Fragile X syndrome, and the Special Olympics.
Weaknesses: This was so much nicer to read in a hardcover with a dust jacket; so many of these titles are published only in paperback. While these are nice as gifts for sports loving boys, they are not as appealing to library patrons.


Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud That Changed BaseballKelly, David A. Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball.
1 April 2013, Millbrook Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Apparently, new baseballs are too white and shiny to use right away, so players would spit tobacco juice on them and rub them with shoe polish to change this, which made the balls rather unpleasant. As a coach, Blackburn looked for ways to season the balls without making them disgusting, and found the answer in mud that he found while fishing. He packed and sold it, and it's the only thing that is allowed to be used to this day. Really. Take a look at Baseballrubbingmud.com.
Strengths: This would be great in an elementary library for Little Leaguers. They'll love the details of spitting on balls!
Weaknesses: This is a picture book, and rather young for my middle school students. I didn't care much for the style of illustrations.

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. 



On a totally random side note, does anyone else think that Roger Sutton is not a very nice person? I don't follow any of the Battle of the Book brackets that are so prevalent at this time of year, but he has decided to opine on the quality of the reviews for the books rather than on the books in question. This is a perfectly fair practice, but Mr. Sutton's tone is one of derision for just about everyone, and he seems to delight in snarky observations that are not constructive. I don't find this to be helpful.

There is always discussion back and forth about whether book reviews are too mean or too nice or give enough information about the quality of  the writing. This made me think about my own reviews, which follow a much derided formual: plot summary, then very short opinion.

This is what I find helpful. The publishers' summaries seem to be lacking in many key elements, so I do find it helpful to read blog reviews. I have a short attention span, so don't really want more than a paragraph, so that's all I write. Unless a book is absolutely wretched (Hokey Pokey, anyone?), I try to focus on what students will like the book, even if I don't care for it personally.

I'm open to any thoughts if people want to chime in with criticism, and apologize for blathering-- I think that all bloggers have occasional crises of usefulness, especially when winter wears on!

I'm NEVER going to be asked to be on the Newbery committee. Oh, well.

Pulse

Pulse (Pulse, #1)Carman, Patrick. Pulse
26 Feburary 2013, Katherine Tegen Books

In the year 2051, Faith has to go to a new school because so many people are moving to the Western State, leaving vast sections of the US sparsely populated. There, she meets Wade Quinn, one of the few boys she has ever met who is taller than she is, and falls hard. School is now more of a warehouse for students, since all instruction is delivered by famous teachers on the Tablets that everyone has. Occasionally, Faith and her friends, including Liz and Hawk, like to take a break from technology and read actuall books in an abandoned school library. This freedom is the main reason not to fall for the propaganda and move to the Western State, but Liz is soon relocated there. Hawk has a crush on Faith and also does a lot of work hacking computers, but his skills are often used for evil by Wade. Hawk develops a "Wire Code" that Quinn shows to Faith. These codes are like drugs-- they interact with people's brains and make them violent if they are exposed to too many. Considering that Faith is also struggling with the fact that she can move things with her mind (the "pulse" of the title), Hawk is very concerned that she has also consumed a wire code. Wade has more evil plans than just messing with Faith's mind-- the Western State is becoming more and more powerful and advancing further, and not everyone want to be in a community where they can't drive, burn wood or have pets. Will Faith be able to be trained so that she can use her powers in the next two books in this projected trilogy?
Strengths: There are some Carman books that I adore-- Thirteen Days to Midnight was brilliant. This had its moments-- the description of actual books versus tablets is absolutely quotable, and the future vision for education is interesting. Some action, lots of dystopian details, great cover.
Weaknesses: This meandered so much that I really had trouble following it. Faith's powers not really being described until near the end didn't help. Wade was really evil, but I never felt what the motivation for this was.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

Revenge of the Girl with the Great PersonalityEulberg, Elizabeth. Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
1 March 2013, Point
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Lexi is tired of spending her weekends following her seven year old sister Mackenzie around to beauty pageants, and is also angry about the money that is spent on this. It doesn't help that her mother and boys at her school consider her "plain". Her friend Benny, however, thinks she has the potential to be better looking and therefore get more boys, perhaps even her long time crush, Logan, who's dating a girl who competes in the high school pageants. Benny dares Lexi to fix herself up when hot football player Taylor asks for her help picking out clothes at the shop where she works, and the ruse is successful-- Taylor asks her out. Lexi dares Benny to fix up his own life and ask out Chris, the boy he's interested in. Soon, both Benny and Lexi are happily dating, leaving their friend Cameron feeling like a third wheel. As her mother's money woes steadily mount, Lexi considers moving to Houston to live with her father, but finds out that he is dating someone. Mackenzie's pageants are pushing the entire family to the edge, and Lexi is starting to feel like Taylor is only interested in her looks. Can Lexi manage to get control of the various facets of her life?
Strengths: *Sigh* If I had my druthers, I'd read nothing but books like this. I've been looking for some fresh romances, and haven't found any with the right balance for middle school, but this was perfect. Enjoyed it tremendously and will buy a copy right away.
Weaknesses: Like most YA romances, this is a bit on the angsty side. My readers are okay with that, but I prefer my romances to be all rainbows and unicorns! I didn't care for the over-the-top scene where Mackenzie and Lexi let their mother know how disgusted they were with pageants, but it was kind of funny.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Guy Friday-- I Represent Sean Rosen

I Represent Sean RosenBaron, Jeff. I Represent Sean Rosen.
19 March 2013, Walden Pond Press
ARC provided by the publisher
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Sean has a great idea for a movie, and is bound and determined to get the attention of a big company to produce it. He reads the Hollywood Insider and knows that he needs an agent and a manager, so he sets out to try to find one. When he is turned away everywhere he turns, he invents an agent for himself, Dan Welch, and has "Dan" contact that big company. Because he can't leave the Midwest and travel to Los Angeles, he arranges a Skype visit and manages to favorably impress Stephanie, the president of the company, who sends him a contract optioning his movie. The deal is for a measly $500, which Sean does not think is enough after checking with some people, so he tries to negotiate for more money. Real life goes on as well, of course, with his cousin's bar mitzvah, physical fitness tests at school, and other middle grade drama.
Strengths: It is very difficult to find funny books for boys, and this is amusing enough and has a very appealing cover. The web site mentioned in the book actually exists (http://www.seanrosen.com/) and has pod casts that sound vaguely like some of the things Surly Teen Boy posted when he was younger. This will be popular with fans of The Fourth Stall, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President and The Fizzy Whiz Kid.
Weaknesses: I had trouble connecting with this one. I can never buy into the story line when it's just highly unlikely, although the boys seem to like this. This is the problem with never actually having been a twelve year old boy. Definitely buying for school, though!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Zom-B Underground

Zom-B Underground (Zom-B, #2)Shan, Darren. Zom-B Underground.
2 January  2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

After throwing Taylor to the zombies, B has been turned into one, and is being held at an undergroung military facility after coming back to some semblance of consciousness. There are revived zombies, who keep going longer than many, but Z is a revitalized one. These zombies can be kept from attacking and eating people's brains, can learn to talk and act almost as if they are still human. The government has located a few teens who fit this profile and has them under lock and key in a facility where they are studied and watched very closely. Z isn't wild about being dead or being locked up, but tries to gets along with the others and not eat the government people. There's still plenty of gore, and but are kept from the full extent of the war raging outside the facility, but I'm sure that will be remedied in Zom-B City on 9 April 2013 and Zom-B Angels on 9 July 2013. A fifth, as yet untitled book is also in the works.
Strengths: It's Darren Shan. It has zombies. It's a series. What more could any middle school student want? Looking at the state of my Cirque du Freak books (falling into tiny pieces from sheer wear), I should probably buy three copies of each.
Weaknesses: The first book was just brilliant-- huge plot twist at end, philosophic treatment of xenophobic father; good stuff. This is "meh" by comparison. I didn't care for the illustrations, either. They were odd and didn't add much. I would have left them out and increased the size of the font.

Zom-B City Zom-B Angels (Zom-B, #4)
Zom-B City (#3) April 9th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Zom-B Angels (July 9th 2013) will be followed by at least one more book.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

World Wednesday-- Cross Country 101

What I want most in multicultural books set in the US is a character who has a different ethnic origin that plays into his development even though the entire book has a different focus. This adds a lot of appeal-- students who want to read about characters who "look like them" will pick up the book, and students who are interested in the particular focus might be introduced to someone who has a different cultural background. Dan Martinez' Cross Country 101 does this beautifully.

Cross Country 101Martinez, Dan. Cross Country 101
25 July 2012, Running Entertainment
Copy won from Guiltless Reading

Eric Hunt's father desperately wants him to be on the high school football team, but two things work against him-- he's extremely small, and Beef and Crush, two JV players, are out to get him. When he saves Paul after they attack him, Paul suggests that Eric try cross country. When Eric turns out to be exceptionally fast, Coach Morris is definitely interested in him. Others on the team are not as supportive-- star runner Vance is disinterested, which is better than the mistreatment he receives from the older runners. Eric is still not sure about running, but when he finds out his mother was a state champion, he puts his heart into his training. It doesn't hurt that the girls on the team, especially Ellie, are encouraging. He ends up doing well at races, but struggles with grades, his father's approval, and the continuing negative attention from the older boys. Despite all of these challenges, can Eric find the inner strength to keep running and improve his life?
Strengths: Tons of good details about cross country training, meets, and the weather-- so important when describing running! Martinez, a runner himself, clearly knows his stuff. Eric's mother is Mexican, and he does experience some troubles because of this, but his mother gives him good insights into dealing with the situation. Supporting characters are realistic, and there are enough issues to make this more than a book about running.
Weaknesses: The illustrations seem out of place for a book that would be read by middle school and high school students. The bullying is somewhat stereotypical-- I'd be behind Ellie bullying Eric, just for a twist! And my complaint about so many books holds true here as well-- tighter editing would make this an even more compelling read and smooth out a few of the inelegant lines.
 



Need some help. Well, more than Loyal Readers can give me, but specifically, a book recommendation. Character education for 7th grade, but not Wonder. Even though it is set in a middle school, those dastardly elementary school teachers have jumped on the bandwagon.  Any suggestions welcome. I'm just drawing a blank.

I also don't have a World Wednesday round up again, because this involves spending time on the computer. I find it vaguely amusing when people put themselves on "tech diets" because the last thing I want to do when I get home is to look at a screen of any kind. Even reading from a Nook is getting to me. We have spring break coming up, so I'll try to be better!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Itch

ItchMayo, Simon. Itch
1 March 2013, Doubleday Childrens
ARC from Baker and Taylor.
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Itchingham Lofte fancies himself an element collector, a past time which has lead to so many unfortunate explosions in his home that his sister Chloe is prepared with a fire extinguisher, and his mother eventually makes him take his collection outside. After he obtains some antique wallpaper from a dealer named Cake, he takes it to school. Unfortunately, his class spends the morning in the hot, damp green house, and the paper releases arsenic gas that makes all of his classmates sick and closes the school for a couple of weeks! After his father (who works offshort on an oil rig and doesn't come home much) arranges a summer internship at a mine for Itch and his cousin Jack (a girl), Itch runs in to Cake again and gets a few more rocks from him. When he shows a strange one to his teachers, one, Flowerdew, decides to "send it to Switzerland to be tested", when in reality he is planning on selling it to the highest bidder because it's radioactive and could power a lot of things. Jack and Itch find Cake again, but he's dying of radiation poisoning and gives them more of the very dangerous rocks, with directions that Flowerdew must NOT have them. Along with Chloe, the children set off to steal back the rock and hide the others. Will it be enough? Apparently not, since there is a sequel, Itch Rocks, coming out in the UK on 28 February 2013. No clue when it will be released in the US-- most likely next year.
Strengths: Lots of science AND lots of action. The science never bogged down the story or felt pedantic. I liked Itch, the supporting characters were all fun, especially his beleaguered parents.
Weaknesses: This would have been a bit better if more tightly edited. At one point, I got a bit weary of the running about eluding villains.

An additional review from Christopher, 7th grade:

Itch is a well-written, fast-paced book about a boy who collects elements. But when he collects an element he believes to be uranium, but is many times more radioactive, which means it is many times more powerful. With the help of his cousin Jack, his science teacher, and his little sister, he goes on an adventure to find the nature of the rock and keep it and the world sage from those who would use the rock for evil.

I would rate this book an 8 out of 10. It was mildly suspenseful, but not as much as is preferable to me. It is entirely action packed, a little too much, but is very good nevertheless. The author had key insight into the mind of an advanced student, and into the mind of the teachers, or so I thought. Overall, good, not perfect, but fairly close.

Not Exactly a Love StoryCouloumbis, Audrey. Not Exactly a Love Story.
11 December 2012, Random House Books for Young Readers

Vinnie's life is fairly typical for 1977-- his parents are divorcing because his career woman mother is fed up with his actor father. Just when Vinnie gets used to this, his mother decides to marry his gym teacher and move to Long Island to get out of the city. Moving in November is hard, and while Mr. B., his new stepfather is making a great effort, Vinnie misses his father. He notices the neighbor girl, who is quiet pretty but whom he feels would never pay any attention to him, and finds her phone number when a jock drops it in the locker room. He starts calling her every night at midnight. She thinks he is an obscene caller at first, but the two slowly talk more and more, looking forward to their (on her part) anonymous conversations. Vinnie starts running, to try to make his stepfather happy, tries to fit in to his new school, and tries to help his mother figure out what she wants from a family situation-- it clearly is NOT cooking! Eventually, Vinnie meets Patsy in real life and gets along well with her, but isn't sure that this will be true if she knows about his phone altar ego.
Strengths: I was definitely drawn into the story, more because I was interested in Vinnie's step family situation. The book was clearly set in 1977 without overplaying this fact. The phone calls with Patsy, while a bit far fetched, were realistically portrayed. I'll definitely have Surly Teen Boy read this one when he returns home.
Weaknesses: Several gratuitous f-bombs as well as a discussion of parents having affairs, were completely unnecessary, so I won't be buying this. Sure, authors can make the choice to use these words; I can also make the choice to use the little money I have to support OTHER choices. I also doubt that today's teens will understand talking on the phone OR the idea of an anonymous call without caller id or a call back feature.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Middle Grade Monday--Ice


 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 Sally's Bookshelf.



Ice!: The Amazing History of the Ice Business Pringle, Lawrence. Ice: The Amazing History of the Ice Business
1 October 2012, Calkins Creek Books

This is why children need nonfiction reading! They can't experience everything in the world, but they CAN read about it! Few of my students today even have grandparents would be able to tell them what an ice card is, or how an ice box worked. I certainly had no idea how widespread an industry supplying ice was in the 1800s! Pringle has done an excellent job of explaining why the need for ice arose, how people met it technologically and practically, and why the industry waned. Details about tools needed, how ice was stored, delivered and used make this absolutely fascinating. To make it even more fun, it was dedicated to Sneed Collard, whose Cartwheel I just reviewed!

Thinking about ice cards made me think of a fun activity to introduce historical fiction. How many of the items shown below can you identify? I'm going to gather them in a box and make classes guess what they are. And yes, I had all of these items in my home and use all but the first!



From top left: Butter paddle, spool holder with pincushion and place for thimbles, typewriter eraser, tomato juicer, clothes brush.


Twelve Kinds of Ice Obed, Ellen Bryan. Twelve Kinds of Ice.
6 November 2012, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Well, I can't possibly review this as well as Betsy Bird at School Library Journal. This is a beautiful little book about winter with wonderful illustrations by Barbara McClintock that remind me of Joe and Beth Krush, my all time favorites. It talks about the stages that winter takes, in the form of the ice that appears and how the children wait eagerly for skating. Having grown up in the '70s when there were some long, cold winters and lots of ice skating, I adored this. It's a bit young for middle school, sadly, but elementary schools should definitely take a look.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Blatherings

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere CastleThe Countess of Carnarvon. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
27 December 2011, Broadway

Admittedly, I have jumped on the Downton Abbey bandwagon.  I adore BBC shows, mainly because actors and actresses look like real people-- they aren't all plastic, gorgeous twenty year olds.This book will keep you going for a bit if you are similarly addicted, and of course reading things like A Room with a View is always good, but if you need some videos to get through the last throes of winter, here are some good ones, along with the 2003  The Manor House, which was a sort of reality/survival show with people taking on the role of the family or the servants.



If you like the time period and costumes, pick up The House of Elliot. For the political intrigue and lifestyle, go for The Duchess of Duke Street. If you would like to live in a manor house in the 1970s, go with To the Manor Born. Follow that up with Good Neighbors, because you ALWAYS need more Penelope Keith. For good measure, throw in a modern day estate in Scotland with Monarch of the Glen, and finish up with Ballykissangel, which is ridiculously addictive and the reason why I learned to do a rolling dismount on my bicycle. Yep, when I get off my bike in the morning at school, I'm really hopping off of it in front of the village store. Sigh.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Writing Children's Books for Dummies

 Here's something a little different for today-- a review of a book on how to write books. Like my interview with Andrew Karre of Darby Creek Publishing, I found that this book shed a lot of light on a process that I don't think about too much. Even if you aren't thinking about writing a children' book (all two of you out there!), this gives a lot of interesting information about the path toward publication.

Writing Children's Books for DummiesBuccieri, Lisa Rojany and Economy, Peter.
Writing Children's Books for Dummies, 2nd edition, 17 December 2012
Copy provided by author

The only thing wrong with books in this series is that they should really be call "The Definitive Guide to..." The "dummies" designation is needlessly self-deprecating for books that offer huge amounts of invaluable information. The recently updated version of this book is no exception.

It would be helpful if every aspiring children's author read this book. Part I is devoted to understanding children's literature and the market for it. I especially liked that this outlined not only what kind of books publishers are looking for, but also addressed that librarians, parents and teachers need to be taken into consideration because we are often the ones who provide books to children. Very keen insights into what all the various subgroups want to see in a book.

Part II addresses setting up a writing space, and talks about the process of writing, including researching your audience and subject. Again, this is something authors really need to do. Part III and IV concentrate on the writing process, and were extremely helpful. I intend to work through many of the exercises, such as creating a character Bible, and outlining character arcs. Even though many of the writing techniques could be used for different types of writing, it was great that everything is geared for writing for children.

The last part is invaluable-- step by step guide to the convoluted process of bringing your book to the attention of agents and, eventually, publishers. This book is certainly an indispensable tool for writers, and should be kept on the writer's desk right next to a copy of the real Roget's Thesaurus.

Admittedly, I have two chapters of a middle grade novel written, but I know very well how difficult the path to actual publication is. When I review books, I am always torn. Part of me is very critical of all writing because I want my students to have books they will love. The other part of me is impressed that the author managed to write an entire book and get it published.

Even though I am a professional reader, I was the sort of child who wanted to be a writer. In college, I thought I could be a poet. (What? You missed my one publication in Writer's Digest in 1985?) At this point, I may have read about opined about too many books-- I have so many criteria for the perfect book that it would be impossible to write. Rest assured, if I do start to write in earnest, I will keep the process to myself!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Guy Friday--Street Kings

Street KingsCowan, Brad V. Street Kings
1 March 2013, James Lorimer and Company
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Cale lives for skating, and is bound and determined to do the skateboarding trick that will get him into the Seven Stairs Crew. He does, but the main person who needs to see it is away, so he keeps working on it. His single mother is struggling to make ends meet as an artist in their small Canadian town, so he tries to earn the money for his skateboarding equipment himself. When he sees that there is a Spring Skate contest, he is encouraged to enter it by J.T., whose family situation is even worse. It is J.T. who also encourages him to lie to his mother and go with a group of older skaters to a neighboring town, where they have some wild adventures evading the police. Another group of skaters, the Mental Posse, gives Cale a hard time because they realize he is good, and break his new skateboard. This makes him even more determined to enter the competition in order to prove himself as well as get some money.
Strengths: This was a great skateboarding book with lots of descriptions of skateboarding tricks and action, as well as a pleasant plot that did not involve building a skate park. I could use 20 books just like this, so I hope that this is a series!
Weaknesses: Argh! Follett does not have this title! It is published in paperback, so I was hoping they would do a prebind. There does seem to be a hardcover available through Amazon Canada, but I'll wait and see if I can get one elsewhere. Canadians must be great skateboarders; at least more of them write about it!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Prisoner- B-3087

Gratz, Alan. Prisoner B-3087
March 2013, Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Yanek's family is living in Krakow when the Germans invade. They, like most other people, thought that the Germans would be quickly turned away. When neighbors start being taken from their building, the entire family moves to a pigeon coop on the roof, where they manage to evade the Nazis, but not for long. Eventually, Yanek's entire family is taken away, and he is taken to ten concentraion camps over a six year period, when he is between the ages of 10 and 16. For a while, he is in a camp with an uncle, but he is soon killed. The uncle had cautioned him to take care of himself first so that he could survive, and Yanek takes this to heart. He works hard, keeps his head low, and survives evil kapos, starvation, death marches, working in the salt mines, and ten camps, including Aushwitz, Birkenau and Dachau. When the Americans finally liberate the camps, he finds a cousin who has survives and applies to go to America. Based on the true story of Jack Gruener.
Strengths: Gratz does excellent historical fiction, and this novelized version of Gruener's life has a wealth of sobering details. From run-ins with people like Mengele, to descriptions of celebrating bar mitzvah's under Nazi rule (even one in a camp), to a harrowing description of him trying to save another boy on a death march, this is an excellent addition to the body of young adult holocaust books. It points out the abject horrors of war but overlays this with Yanek's absolute insistence on his own survivor. Superb.
Weaknesses: I would very much like to see maps included in this. Perhaps the final edition will have them.