Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Indian (India) Culture

Odd, assorted alphabetical reading last night-- Stephen Manes Make Four Million Dollars by Next Thursday (1991) which was fairly low leverl and silly, and Gloria Miklowitz's Close to the Edge (1983) which was about a girl struggling with her own depression and the suicide of a good friend.

Usually, I read books before I order them. I was not thinking, and ordered Maya Running (Anjali Banerjee, 2005) thinking it was the sequel to Naming Maya (Uma Krishnaswami, 2004) which I loved. The first book was about an Indian-Canadian girl whose cousin comes to India, and about halfway through the book, it turned into fantasy, with the statue of the God Ganesh speaking to her and granting her wishes. It worked, though, and I think that it will be good when fans of "pink" books need to read fantasy. The second book was realistic fiction, and about a girl whose father was American and whose mother was Indian. She had to spend the summer with her grandmother in India, and it offered a nice slice of daily life.

There are a few others I liked about Indian culture: Narinder Dhami's Bindi Babes(2004) and Bollywood Babes (2005), about three sisters in England who get into a series of funny scrapes; Blue Jasmine (2004) by Kashmira Sheth, about an Indian girl whose family moves to Iowa; and Shiva's Fire, by Suzanne Fisher Staples, about an Indian girl who is learning classical dance. Oh, don't suppose I should forget Kate Brian's Lucky T (2005), about a girl whose mother gives away the title garment, and the girl goes to do volunteer work in India to try to retrieve it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Adele Geras

Didn't get much reading done this weekend, but did look at Ithaka. I liked it better than Troy, which I read one year on spring break, but the story of Penelope is done better for middle school students in Clement McLarens' Waiting for Odysseus (2000) or Patricia Galloway's Aleta and the Queen (1995). Ithaka was geared toward more of a high school, romance novel crowd. Better than Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, but still not quite appropriate for younger students.

There's a huge number of good books for the middle grades set in Ancient Greece; if anyone needs a list, I'd be glad to post one.

Friday, February 24, 2006

My Weird Hobby

I still use circulation cards, and when they are full, I send them to the authors with nice letters. A lot of authors have written back, and some have even sent books. Lee J. Ames called me and I had a nice conversation with him. He sent me a picture of a bulldog that he drew. It's one of my favorites!


There are a few students who enjoy the Stevenson book, but most of them want something a little more modern. After the 7th grade reads The Face on the Milk Carton, I always get requests for similar books. I will just list most of them, since we pretty much know the plots! Notable exception: Lee Weatherly's Missing Abby (2004), which I read last night. Although this is a tremendously sad book, it was compelling. Emma runs into her former best friend Abby on the bus. They have words, and after that Abby goes missing. While searching for Abby, Emma has to come to terms with how their friendship fell apart, and how she misses not only Abby, but the way she used to be with her. Good mystery, but also evocative of that great middle school Trauma Extraordinaire-- losing former best friend. You can guess the ending if you pay close enough attention, but it still is a gut-punch. Highly recommended.

Others to consider: Martin's Missing Since Monday(1986), Kehret's Abduction(2004) and Deadly Stranger(1986), Mazer's Solid Gold Kid(1977) and Taking Terri Muller (1981), Griffin's Vikki Vanishes (1995), and Duffy's Missing (1988), which is oddly enough a book that is lost with alarming frequency!

If they like Darren Shan

Well, I don't know that I like Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak series, but it has been extremely popular, and it's not half bad. The author also wrote me a lovely letter (see the My Weird Hobby post), and admitted that Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes was a little bit of an inspiration for him. That gets SWTWC (1962)off the shelves more frequently!

When the students finish all ten books and are crushed to know there aren't more, I steer them to Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' In the Forest of the Night(1999), Demon in My View (2000)and Shattered Mirror(2001) Midnight Predator (2002). They are short books, but fairly well-done, and not as gruesome as could be. This is what I look for in horror, although the children are often just as happy with the slash-'em-up R.L. Stine books.

Warning: Shan's Lord Loss (2005)is gory in the extreme, and parents could be upset about the demons murdering the boy's family. However, I bought a copy. It's no more gory than R.L. Stine, however, and much, much more clever. The ending persuaded me that I should get it-- the boy challenges the demon to a chess game. I'm almost looking forward to the next one.

Anthony Horowitz's Raven's Gate (2005) is a departure from his usual work, but keeps to his high standards in both writing and interest. Just more fantastical than I am used to seeing from him.

I've been handing out Neil Shusterman's Full Tilt (2003) with great success, and it encouraged me to look at his new Dark Fusion series. Red Rider's Hood combined werewolves with inner city gangs (to hook the boys who want yet another book just like The Outsiders) and was fun, but Dread Locks was superb. Goldilocks meets Medusa. A phenomenal ending that just put a shiver right down my spine. I'm also going to recommend this series to our 6th grade teachers, to use as a high interest read aloud to go along with their folk tale unit.

Japanese Americans in WWII

This is about a book I'm not going to buy. My Friend The Enemy (2005) by J.B. Cheaney was good, and I enjoyed it, but it's been done, and there was nothing about this book that made it any better than the others. The treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII is a fascinating subject, and I love introducing the students to it, but I would rather use other books. Barry Deneberg's The Journal of Ben Uchida is one of the few Scholastic diary books that I've enjoyed. In this case, the pictures at the back are very informative. Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine (2002) is a harder sell, but an absoultely heartbreaking account of one family's experience from the point of view of different family members. Very moving. A more prosaic treatment is Sheila Garrigue's The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito (1985).

Boys like the Denenberg, as well as the two excellent Graham Salisbury books-- Under the Blood-Red Sun(2001) and Eyes of the Emperor(2005). The last is especially good-- tells the story of Japanese Americans who were in a special unit in the army. There job was to train dogs to attack people who were Japanese! There are certainly other books on this topic, but those were my favorites.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Two Fun Boy Books

Admittedly, it's an odd paring. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (2004), by Jordan Sonnenblick has a great cover, a cool and odd title, lots of funny, quotable lines (But you know how, when you watch The Brady Bunch, you think, "Oh, come on! Nobody is this happy. What's wrong with you people? And who picks out your CLOTHES?" p. 49)-- and it's about a boy struggling with his younger brothers' leukemia. Do I recommend it as a problem novel? Because Steve's struggles with school and the girl on whom he has a crush can be hilarious. His struggles with his brother's illness aren't, but they ring very true. It would be a great book to hand to someone for bibliotherapy, but I liked the story enough to hand it to everyone. Even though it is a bit on the long side (273 p.), I'm definitely getting a copy.

Not so sure about Boy2Girl (2004) by Terence Blacker. I loved it-- Matt's cousin Sam from America comes to live with his family in London after the death of Sam's mother. Sam is rude and thoroughly unpleasant, so Matt's friends insist that Sam perform a task before they will let him into their group-- he has to go to school dressed as a girl for a week. Sam is oddly sucessful as a girl, and it was great fun to read about him both assuming feminine characteristics and teach the girls to carry themselves more like boys. Still, what's the audience here? There is a side story about Sam's estranged father trying to get Sam's inheritance, but it pales beside Sam in a dress. Will boys want to read about gender bending? I think I will keep the copy at the circ desk today and ask.

Not a good sign

It's just not a good sign if I start reading a book and then check to see when it was last checked out, in hopes that it was more than 6 years ago (when we got a year stamp again-- the 1990s were a muddle of only months and days) so I can get rid of the book.

I did this with nearly every Margaret Mahy book I had.

Two, Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (1984) and Aliens in the Family (1985) circulate fairly frequently, when students are assigned genres. Those were okay. The Catalog of the Universe (1986) was SO bad that I pulled it, even though it has a really high Accelerated Reader level. The Haunting (1982) and Memory (1988) hadn't been checked out in a long time, so I'll put them aside. While I was working my way through one of them, my daughter grabbed it out of my hands to look at it, asked who the author was, and handed it back to me with a look of disgust on her face. She'd read one last year and hated it.

I don't know why some books don't appeal to me, but I know that if they don't, it's hard to hand them to children with enthusiasm. Since my library is small (14,000 volumes) and we are comfortably at capacity, it is necessary to weed books when I get new ones. It's hard for me to weed, since the popular books are usually falling apart, and the books I want to get rid of sometimes are in such good shape. But I have to remind myself-- books look great if no one is reading them!

Topic for another time: Why are illustrations by Richard Cuffari often the kiss of death for books? Of all the books I have pulled off the shelves, an inordinate number have cover illustrations by this artist. I like his work, really I do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Moving through the alphabet

Have finished the authors beginning with "L" and am in the middle of "M". Harry Mazer's Snow Bound (1973) was a bit chilly for late February reading, but still a well-layered account of two teens stranded after a car break down in a remote area. I don't know if my wilderness survival fan will like it-- too much character development and not enough, I don't know, eating raw caribou-- but it will be an easy sell. Also, Stephen Manes Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days (1982), although it has possibly the stupidest cover I have ever seen on a book.

Finished up P.B. Kerr's Children of the Lamp: The Blue Djinn of Babylon(2005). I enjoyed The Ahkenaten Adventure (2004) so much, and was so pleased that the series was in alphabetical order, but this book took some dedication. I got a little annoyed at the preciousness of "djunior" and "djinnverso" and the uncle saying "Well, light my lamp", but the story certainly moved along nicely, had good action and pleasant characters, so perhaps it was just my mood. It will certainly circulate, and I think there will be a third book. I hope the title starts with Cairo!

My rewards for reading those were Gaby Triana's Backstage Pass (2004), which I will definitely buy, and Philana Marie Boles' Little Divas (2006), which was sent to the school. Free! Glad to say it was worth having. As many pink, fluffy books as I have, they are always out, so I do need to get more. Backstage Pass was a fun story about a girl whose father is a rock star. It didn't concentrate on that as much as her reaction to him. I liked the friend that she made, and just many details about the book were well done. Even the 8th grade girls, who are very picky, will like it. Little Divas is for a slightly younger crowd, with a great, bright cover, and a nice story about a girl adjusting to her parents' divorce and having a fun summer hanging out with her cousin. Okay, they spend a lot of time lying to a very strict aunt and uncle about where they are going, but since they are going to the mall with an older sister or to watch the boys play basketball in the park, I was okay with it. I need to process the book; it will probably be checked out well before lunch!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nonfiction and other stuff

I was disappointed with Elizabeth Partridge's John Lennon: All I want is the truth (2005). A gorgeous and well researched photo biography, it gives a lot of background information not aimed at adults who grew up with The Beatles. However, there is no constraint when quoting foul language, or in describing some of the situations. Not only that, but quoting a bawdy passage of Chaucer was just not necessary, so it seems to be done for effect. A real shame.

Karen Blumenthal's Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 (2002) was quite exquistite and very informative. Side bars describe various aspects, such as "What is a stock split", and period photos, cartoons and advertisements add to the interest. Might be a hard sell to students to read for pleasure, but it was informative and interesting.

Also read: Ann Martin's Missing Since Monday (1986), about a girl whose young sister is kidnapped. A good suspense story that remains popular. William Mayne's Hob and the Goblins (1993) and Hob and the Peddler (1997) would be good for really hard core Harry Potter fans who are really interested in the concept of the house elf. I had trouble with the tone and style, which included Hob talking about himself in the third person, which drives me mad. Interesting, and popular with the seventh grade girls, is Morgan Menzies' Diary of An Anorexic Girl (2003). Some girls like to read everything they can about the subject, but it's been done better. Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World (1978), Ivy Ruckman's Hunger Scream , and Lori Gottlieb's Stick Figure (2000) are all far more compelling.

Books with underwear on the cover

This prompted by Lauren Myracle's The Fashion Disaster that Changed My Life (2005). As I tell the students, if it's got underwear on the cover, it has to be really good before I buy it. This one wasn't. Given my choice, I would read nothing but what I refer to as "pink, fluffy" books, so if I don't like a light romance, it would be hard to recommend. Nothing overly bad, just an overdone diary format, and nothing fantastic. So, I'll pass.

BUT, there are books with flagrant undies on the cover that I do like: LBD: Live and Fabulous (2003) by Grace Dent is one. Set in England, it's a light story of three friends who are not allowed to go to a music festival, so they plan one at their school. One that I don't care for but that is very popular is Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (2000). I swear the author entitles these in ways that will embarass adults. Again, the diary format is overdone, but it's got a fun tone and lots of Briticisms to set it apart. I vastly prefer Cherry Whytock's My Cup Runneth Over (2003), because it has the same fun British tone but is from the perspective of an overweight teen, and deals with her emotions nicely. All of these have at least one sequel.

For boys, there's always the Captain Underpants books, and some middle school students are still interested in those. One of the funniest books I've read is Michale Lawrence's Jiggy McCue and the Killer Underpants (2002). Jiggy's mom buys him a pair at a flea market, and they are possessed by evil spirits who make him act in uncontrollable ways. His attempts to extricate himself made me snort through my nose with laughter. Good stuff. In fact, when I went to London, I bought the books in the series that are not published in the states. (Only three are out here, with plans for no more.)

The only other book I can think of is Tom Birdseye's Attack of the Mutant Underwear (2003), which isn't really about underwear at all. A nice, fun school story, it has been fairly popular as well.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Recent Favorites

The best book I've read recently is Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I even bought a copy for myself, which I have loaned out 3 times in the last week! Talk about a vicarious thrill-- a teenage girl's aunt dies, and the aunt leave her 13 Little Blue Envelopes, the first of which has money for a plane ticket to London, and directions about what to do when she gets there. Opening the envelopes takes her on a tour of Europe, and she learns more about her aunt. There is some romance involved, but nothing objectionable. Ordering two copies!

Kevin Brooks' Candy has been very, very popular. It is about a 15 year old boy who meets a drug-addicted teenage prostitute and befriends her. He tries unsucessfully to get her off drugs and away from her pimp. While the topic makes it very intriguing to students, and there is some language, a whole lot of what could happen DOESN'T, and I am comfortable handing it to students. It doesn't romanticize drugs. Just very good. Unfortunately, I didn't care much for other titles by this author (Kissing the Rain, Martyn Pig). They get checked out, but the students are disappointed.

A riveting nonfiction title was Karen Blumenthal's Let Me Play, about Title IX and its effect on education in the US and opportunities for women. I learned so much, and I was in school when it was being put in place. The girls in school now take so many of their opportunites for granted. I had my daughter read it-- I only had to tell her about the girl who got a gold medal in swimming in the 1964 Olympics but could not get a college scholarship because there were no college swim teams for girls. She was outraged, and loved the book. This author also has a book about the 1929 stock market crash entitled Six Days in October that I am looking forward to reading.

Yankee Girl

With Black History Month, I've had students request Civil Rights books, and I don't have anything spectacular in the library, aside from To Kill A Mockingbird and Spite Fences. Read Mary Ann Rodman's Yankee Girl (2004), and liked that. It was about a girl who moved from Chicago to the south with her family because her father was working with the FBI to help blacks register to vote. There is a black girl in her school whose father is working with Martin Luther King. They would like to become friends, but the social situation is obviously not conducive to that. I liked the book, and it was informative, but it left me wondering why most of the Civil Rights books for teens are written from the white perspective. Just have to look harder.

Other new books-- Dennis Foon's Skud (2003), which would be good for boys who liked The Outsiders because of the gangs and fighting. Four boys, all of different temperments, have problems-- one is being pushed in ice hockey and not doing well, so of course he bashes up the actor, who has the gang member defending him. Another boy was abused by his mother, loses his girlfriend, and jeopardizes his future by raping her. (The scene is delicately done, but obviously this is a book more for 8th graders than 6th.) Confusing at first, it was rather riveting, and the characters showed a lot of depth. I'm going to run it by some students today. I also liked this author's Double or Nothing, about gambling.

Looked at Joyce Carol Oates' Freaky Green Eyes(2003), but admit I was just waiting for some objectionable language so I didn't have to read the whole thing. Won't buy.

Also won't get Jacqueline Woodson't I hadn't meant to tell you this (1994). A girl is sexually abused by her father, and while it is delicately done, it's just too much. Also, it doesn't seem like the girls who want to read books about abuse would find it interesting. Too poetic, somehow, and from the point of view of a friend outside the situation. Racial situations are interesting, however.

Then plowed my way through three Magic Attic books (Magraw), which are only good for the really low level readers-- just not well written and too short to develop much plot. Read two of John MacClean's-- When the Mountain Sings(1992), which is about skiing in exquisitely boring detail, so I'll try to recommend it to students who ski and see what they think. His other book, Mac,(1987) is going to be pulled. It's about a boy who is raped by a doctor. Again, I was just waiting for some bad language to pull it-- it was not interesting AND offensive.

Kevin Major's Dear Bruce Springsteen (1987) was oddly intriguing. A boy whose parents are getting a divorce and who is trying to get up the nerve to date girls and start playing guitar works through his feelings by writing letters to the rock star. A bit contrived, but the letter writing aspect is not stressed and seems to work. I'll try to get that one in someone's hands today. I recently had a teacher who assigned romance books to the whole class, and the boys complained. Rightly so, not because they shouldn't read romance, but because there is so little for them to read. I did like Tucker Shaw's Flavor of the Week (2003), and have a copy of that on order.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What I'm Doing

Since taking the position of Librarian at Blendon Middle School in 2002, I have been trying to read all of the hard cover fiction in the library. Since there are over 6,000 of these books (counting duplicates), it's been daunting. I also try to read books before I buy them for the library, so I read a LOT. I do cheat a little; if I have ever read a book, even if it was 30 years ago, I don't read it again.

Just this past week, I finished the authors that began with "L", so I'm on my way through the M's. I am also reading a lot of Civil Rights books from the public library because I have had some student requests and need to buy some new ones next year.