Friday, April 28, 2006

Myer's It Ain't All For Nothing

Hmmm. This title, from 1978, didn't do much for me because it was depressing. It ended with a note of hope, but when Tippy's grandmother is ill and he must go live with his father, who is a layabout and thief, he takes up drinking some weird version of 70's alchopop and generally not doing well. It was not dated, well-written, and lots of my students who like depressing books will probably check this out.

That's always the important thing-- is it something that students will check out, even if I don't personally like it? Can I recommend it even if I don't like it? Obviously, some things are so utterly dreadful that the students don't want to read it, and if I am ever in doubt, I will have one of my avid readers try the book. If they feel the same way I do, I often pull the book. My goal is to have only decent books on the shelves, and I think I am succeeding. I've had many children look at my discard pile lately, and walk away without choosing anything to take home and keep. Usually, children would take home carpet lint if I were giving it away, so I'm pretty sure the books I am getting rid of are bad.

I need something fun this weekend to help was down two more Anne McCaffrey books.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Parnassus on Wheels-- A Pleasant Surprise

Well, here I thought I was going to be able to pull this Christopher Morley title and create more space on the shelves. Written in 1917, last checked out in 1975, it turned out to be a charming and delightful story that I must keep. Granted, it is closer to my heart, but there are still students who will enjoy it. The story of a woman living with her brother, a writer, who is approached by a bookseller to buy his business-- books, horse, dog and all. She has her egg money saved, buys it, and starts her adventuring. She likes selling books, but likes the bookseller a little bit more. *Sigh* Wonderful book. I almost am tempted to track down a copy of The Haunted Bookshop by the same author.

I don't run an archive, but books like this give interest and texture to the collection. I never get rid of a well-written book; there are enough books about ladies with cats and the skin on rice pudding (see previous entries) that can be tossed with relief to leave space for hidden gems like this one.

Also read Walter Dean Myers Crystal(1987). About a girl who starts a modeling career, there will be girls who want to read this.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Pushcart War

This is one of those titles (Jean Merrill, 1964) that I probably read in the third or fourth grade, but had no real memory of, so I had to read it again. It was really funny! I don't know how many students will really appreciate all of the references to how history books are written, but the account of a fictional war between trucks and pushcarts is still funny. It will go down best with some explanation, though-- one fake preface is dated 1996. Need to explain why this is no longer in the future.

Also read Lensey Namioka's The Valley of the Broken Cherry Trees (1980). A good samurai mystery-- for the big fans of Hoobler's Ghost in the Tokaido Inn series this will be a good read, but since most of the series is out of print, it's not quite worth picking up more than the sequel, which I have here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cathy Hopkins, etc.

I love the Cathy Hopkins Mates, Dates and series. Funny, light, set in London: what more could I want? After receiving a circulation card from me, she sent me 8 paperbacks. What a nice person! Read Mates, Dates and Chocolate Cheats and Mates, Dates and Diamond Destiny. Liked both, although the chocolate one was a bit like Wilson's Girls Under Pressure (although with less eating disorder).

Also read McKenzie's Stargone John (1990), which was a short book, but hard to sell to students. It's about a boy who doesn't do well in school because he won't talk, although it's never made clear what his problem in. Nicolasa Mohr's Felita (1979) was more engaging, and students will identify more with a character whose family has moved. It also deals with racism against Hispanics, which is timely.

Michael Morpurgo's The War of Jenkins Ear, however, is about as untimely as it gets. Published in 1995, it has been checked out ONE time. It's set in 1950s England, it starts with a Latin sentence and has a six page debate whether or not one should eat rice pudding skin. Just not going to do well, this poor book. Did I mention that one of the main characters thinks he's Jesus?

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Francesca Lia Block

Well, being curious after reading Necklace of Kisses, I got Witch Baby, Baby Be-Bop, Missing Angel Juan, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys and Guarding the Moon from the Public Library.

This helped me to realize why, although I think Block has a fresh and original voice, the writing irritates me.

Guarding the Moon is about her experience with motherhood, and it didn't read much differently than the others, which is to say that there is too much baby talk in all of the books. Funny nicknames, diminutives, overly long descriptions of things not essential to the plot. I have been able to get Weetzie Bat checked out, but I am not going to go to great lengths to get the rest of the series. Maybe it's an Ohio hang up. These books shriek CALIFORNIA!

Piles o' stuff

Rather depressing pile this weekend. Bleah. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (1927). I'm sorry, Newbery or no, it's going to be almost impossible to get anyone to read this. Not only is there the title, which middle schoolers will ridicule mercilessly, it's just boring. And the pigeon talks to them, in the language of all animals. Tastes change. I have two copies. Hmmm.

Diane McKinney-Whetstone's Tempest Rising (1998) is probably a very fine book for adults, but I don't know why it's in this collection. If a book uses the f-word to describe being hit by bird poop, then I have to really rethink it. It's lucky that it's only been checked out twice in a dozen years.

And with four check outs in 18 years, we have Georgess McHargue's See You Later Crocodile(1988). Girl befriends old woman with cats. Old woman speaks in heavy northeaster accent. A lot. Don't know why children would be turned off-- I thought the description of a house of many animals, run by an infirm woman, was just lovely. Bleargh.

Now, I did say I rather liked three Anne McCaffrey books, but Dragonsdawn(1988) was not one of them. The whole prehistory, spaceships AND dragons thing got to me. Did have a nice conversation with a friend who loves the books, and she said that the series took on a life of it's own, and some books are better than others. I am not just being difficult.

Gloria Miklowitz's Standing Tall, Looking Good (1994) is a serviceable account of three teens who enter the army. This one I can get into students hands today.

Wanted to like Graham Gardner's Inventing Elliot(2003), about a boy who was bullied who turns to bullying himself, but it was just too disturbing, and no good came of it in the end. Plus, even though it was disturbing, it lost me at the end. I just put the book down and didn't want to pick it back up.

Did like Candace Fleming's Our Eleanor (2005) about Eleanor Roosevelt. It's a fun book, done scrapbook style, but I have enough trouble getting students to check out the biographies I have. Will have to pass on purchasing, although it was fun to read.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kate Brian

Liked Princess and the Pauper(2003) , loved Lucky T(2005), and really, really enjoyed Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys (2006). Light, fluffy romance/school book-- comfort reading at its finest, and since it was a long day, it definitely improved my mood.

Megan's parents are transferred to Korea, so she goes to live with family friends who have seven boys. Misunderstandings and mayhem abound. There is a wonderful substory about a soccer rivalry between Megan and another girl (Hailey, also one of the brother's girlfriends) that I liked, as well as a brother with Asperger's Syndrome whom Megan tries to draw out by understanding his quirks.

The problem is that it's not a middle school book. When Hailey is jealous of Megan, she retaliates against the brother she is dating, Evan, by, um, having relations with his brother at a drunken party. There's some language, too much drinking and out past curfew behavior.

Too bad. I wasn't even annoyed by the e mail messages between chapters, which usually irks me beyond belief. Just can't justify it as a purchase, even though it made my day. Maybe for high school.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gentle Ben and Countdown, etc.

Morey's Gentle Ben (1965) was a very serviceable and engaging story which will be great for my animal adventure and Jim Kjelgaard fans. A little schmaltzy, but then the animal stories where the animal does die are so depressing. This story is a little vacation to the wilds of Alaska, and wonderfully undated.

Ben Mikaelsen's Countdown(1996) will be a little harder sell, but has such an interesting premise. A young American boy is chosen to go up in space; in a parallel story, a young Maasi boy is yearning for an education. I really couldn't see how the two were going to meet up, but they end up talking on a Ham radio when the shuttle passes over Kenya. A tiny bit forced, with their discussions of their different ways of life, but an interesting idea that people really can be very much alike even though their lives are very different. Will get both of these into someone's hands today.

I normally really like Gloria Miklowitz, but The Emerson High Vigilantes (1988)was disturbing, and not in a good way. Sure, it's nice that the students want to improve their school and save it from drug pushers and whatnot, and it's great that the author ends the book with questioning whether they should have tried to accomplish this is the way they did, but ultimately this failed for me because the vigilantes were no better than the people they were trying to punish, and they didn't suffer enough for their own acts. The students will probably love it, although it's been sitting neglected on the shelf a while. Dated cover art.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Murphy and Mooser

Two slow moving titles (circulation-wise, that is)-- Claire Rudolph Murphy's Gold Star Sister (1994) and Steven Mooser's The Hitchhiking Vampire (1989). The first is about a girl whose grandmother moves in with her family because she is dying of cancer. The grandmother has a box of letters among her things, letters from her brother who was killed in WWII. With these letters is a letter to another man, and the girl tries to track down his family before her grandmother dies. An intriguing story, good for girls who like problem novels, because it will introduce a little history to them.

The vampire book is more problematic. It's more of a comedy of errors, which is not what students who want vampire books would like. And the boys who want comedy--- I don't know. I will try it on some of my more voracious readers and see what they think. It's only gone out about four times the whole time it has been here at Blendon. It is further handicapped by a less-than-appealing cover.

It's amazing to me that some books will not go out no matter how hard I sell them. I have a rounder of books that is depleted daily, but there are some books that will not circulate even when they are sitting on the very top. Sometimes it is condition-- I have an Ellen Conford book that I love staring at me now, but it's worn and faded. I've had some success recovering books, so maybe I will try that as an experiment. The McKiernan The Dark Tide (Fantasy, Fantasy, 4/18) did go out yesterday, and the student really liked it, which just goes to prove that whether I like a book or not can be irrelevant if I see other merits in the book.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Assorted Spring Break Reading

Really liked Sue Corbett's Free Baseball (2006). The boys will love the idea of running away from home and working for a baseball team, and I liked the more serious issue of political asylum from Cuba and missing his father. Good stuff.

Manning's Guitar Girl was great fun, but too much sex and drugs for my library. Notice, however, that I read the whole thing.

Meyer's Last Domino was interesting, about bullying and the psychological torture that is high school, but the main character ends up killing his parents rather brutally, and it was a very hard book to take.

Block's Necklace of Kisses

Ah, Weetzie Bat. How little we know ye. Francesca Lia Block's Necklace of Kisses (2006) was screaming to be read. Weetzie has a midlife crisis at 40, leaves her husband and business, and checks into a magical hotel where she failed, at her senior prom, to kiss the boy she thinks might have been her soul mate. Okay. The fashion asides are interesting, although if Weetzie has a similar figure to Block's, I don't really see why the crisis!

I enjoyed this book, but am really confused as to the audience. Weetzie Bat(1989) doesn't get a lot of readers these days, and I don't have the rest of the series, although I feel compelled to read them now. No middle schooler wants to read about a 40 year old, and how many 40 year olds would have read the original? I was married by the time it was published, and not reading about high school students.

The ending also didn't quite do it for me. She went back to the husband after meeting with former boyfriend. That just wasn't resolved to my liking. Something about the whole book left me feeling more conflicted about the character than ever. But, as I said, I feel a need to pick up the rest of the books, so there is something oddly compelling about the writing.

Fantasy, fantasy!

Finished McCaffrey's Dragondrums, and feel that I can now finish off the series (what I have of it) without taking the entire summer. It is confusing to figure out the order that the books go in, and they are challenging reads.

I wish that I liked Dennis McKeirnan's Iron Tower Trilogy better, since he visited Blendon years ago and lives locally (I think), but when I opened up the book and saw the map of the imaginary kingdom, my heart sank. When I read the Foreward, I knew I was sunk; he wanted more books like LeGuin and Tolkein, and he succeeded admirably in creating a series (Dark Tide, Shadows of Doom, The Darkest Day) that showed an intriguing world, a good fight against evil, etc.

Now might be a good time to mention that it took me until I was 32 to finish all the Tolkein books, and then only because I was pregnant and ill and didn't have the energy to do anything else. I don't like fantasy as a general rule, so this was hard going. It will be fabulous to hand to my 8th graders who claim to have read everything, however.

Also read through Sam McBratney's The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane (1988), and decided that it's just too young for the students. It was good, but at this age the students want ghosts who cause major mayhem and shed a bit of blood. Think I'll send it to the elementary school, where it should get more use.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Assorted "M" authors

Gloria Miklowitz's Good-bye Tomorrow (1987) is interesting, but I wonder if the students today won't quite get it. It is about a boy who gets HIV from a blood transfusion. Treatment, both medical and social, has changed so much in the last twenty years that the book might be irrelevant. I'll run it by some of my problem novel fans.

Liked Ben Mikaelsen's Touching Spirit Bear(2001), and a lot of the boys who really liked The Outsiders might like it, as well as the boys who have read all of the survival fiction I have. I thought the way that Cole's anger was portrayed was especially effective, and it's still believable that he learns to deal with it by living alone in the wilderness.

Adem's Cross (1996), by Alice Mead, depicts the Yugoslav war in the early 1990's, but the descriptions of violence, frustration, and survival during war time ring true and could describe many different wars. A good one to have read; I think a lot of students will be encouraged to read it.

Marisa Montes (who is apparently the cousin of one of my students) did a good job with Something Wicked's in Those Woods(2000). So many things are covered-- Javi's parents die and he must move from his native Puerto Rico to live with his aunt in California. His little brother has an imaginary playmate, who might not be so imaginary. There are good explanations for some of the paranormal phenomena. The only thing that annoyed me was one character who kept uttering exclamations like "Crackers!" and "Crickets" and perhaps once "Cricket Crackers". But that's just me being easily annoyed.

Anne McCaffrey

Didn't get as much reading done over break as I would have liked, but did get most of the way through the Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums trilogy. Liked it more than I thought I would and will definitely recommend it to some of my hard core fantasy fans who have "read everything in the library".

My daughter started reading, and thought the books were a little confusing. There were a lot of odd names, and many characters to keep track of. At least these three seem to be fairly coherent together, unlike some of the others, which make me feel like I've missed a book somewhere along the way.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Horror, realistic and supernatural

I think I've picked up Eve Bunting's The Presence (2003) before and didn't like it, but this time I enjoyed it very much. It is about a girl who goes to visit her grandmother in California. The girl is feeling guilty about a car crash which she survived but which took the life of a friend, and an evili spirit who lives in a church and preys upon young, guilt-ridden girls targets her. Pleasantly creepy with a good side romance. It will be well read.

Kristen D. Randle's Breaking Rank(1999) was great, and I hope I will be able to find a copy. A boy who is a member of a threatening but morally upright gang gets chosen to be in honor classes despite a history of these gang members not even speaking in school. He is given a tutor, a young girl who thinks he deserves a chance. It is a very complex novel, filled with teen angst, but bears the important message that education is always a good thing and worth the struggle. The fans of The Outsiders will love this one. The ending confused me a bit by being abrupt, but I was also dealing with the aftermath of finding out the dog we were going to adopt was not going to be coming to live with us.

Carrie Rosten's Chloe Leiberman (Sometimes Wong) (2006) irritated me. It went on for pages and pages about what everyone was wearing, until I got bored. Sure, girls are interested in fashion, but there needs to be some other character development as well.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Barbara Brooks Wallace

Having received the nicest letter from this author, I looked up some of her nonmystery books at the public library. I loved Hawkins (1977), about a boy who wins a "gentleman's gentleman" for a month. My son liked it, too, because he likes funny books.

Of course, this author's Peppermints in the Parlor is the best of the "orphan with evil relatives" books. She said her work is often called "Dickensian", but I actually think it is better.

Read Better than Running at Night; well, half of it. It is about a girl who is starting college and had too many inappropriate things for middle school. It started out well, but completely lost me half way through.

I'm slowing down, I know. Spring break is coming up, so I will have to redouble my efforts when not trying to train my family's new dog!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Kevin Brooks

This author had a real hit with Candy (2005), although I was less thrilled with Kissing the Rain (2004) and Martin Pyg (2002). Over the weekend, I read Road of the Dead (2006), which wasn't quite as good as Candy, but was better than the others. A murder mystery, which we always need, about two half-gypsy brothers whose sister is killed. When they go to investigate on their own, they uncover conspiracy and intrigue. The older brother is rather unstable and commits many acts of violence, so I thought long and hard about this, but I think I will get it. The students will flock to read anything by this author, and this one is good.

Will pass, however, on Blake Nelson's Prom Anonymous. It didn't pull me in, and this author is prone to gratuitous sex and language. Same is true of Jenny Pollack's Klepto, which had a very pretty cover but too many cultural references from 1981.

And yes, I tacitly ban certain books from my collection. I am too busy to fight with parents about the contents of my collection. Also, there are certain words which I don't really want to read myself. Didn't our parents teach us that people use profanity when they are not clever enough to think up other words? When did using profanity become creative? I am still, literally, not buying it.