Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What are authors thinking?

Open note to all YA authors-- before you start on your next book, please talk to some actual young adults. Or even people who deal with young adults. If you can't bring yourself to do that, here are some things that I never have any students ask for: (At the bottom, what they DO ask for.)

Novels in verse: They'll check them out, but bring them back and ask what is wrong with the book, especially since most novels in verse aren't really in verse-- they are just chopped up prose. So I won't be buying Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl. Exception to this: Helen Frost can keep writing, but I'd stick to contemporary issues. Historical novels in verse are a hard sell, even when they are good.

Novels about inner city gang members-- AFTER exciting things happen.Rehabilitation and redemption are all good, but don't start there. It's not exciting. I was relieved when Pagliarulo's A Different Kind of Heat lapsed into curse words. I was bored. Start with the shooting, start with stuff leading up to the shooting, don't start with the therapy in the detention center.

Novels about little known points in history-- I'm all for slow moving, introspective historical novels set in places that the curriculum covers, like the Civil War. Or fast paced, exciting novels set during 1912 mill strikes. But Katherine Paterson picked the worst of all possible worlds with her Bread and Roses, Too. Good in theory, but it's not going to make children like historical fiction.

Novels about anyone who swears three times a page: Likes the idea of Gil's All Fright Diner, and I think it is an adult book, but still. Do we need that much bad language in a book about a vampire and a werewolf. No.

Novels where we don't even meet the main character for 30 pages, especially when the book is only 144 pages long. Abbott's Firegirl was a long shot, anyway-- few children ask for books about sensitive young men who help badly fire-disfigured classmates adjust to school-- but if I wanted to read about that, I don't want to wait that long to meet the classmate.

Novels about quirky dysfunctional people who are not quite able to change themselves. No one ever asks for quirky dysfunctional, and yet about 40% of young adult literature is about that sort of person. Stop already! I should have know from the title of Mark Peter Hughes' I am the Wallpaper that it would fall short, and it doesn't help to have a man write about a girl's struggles with adolescence. Other topics, sure. Just didn't work.

What students ask for: Basketball and football books about students who play the sport and have a few mundane issues in their lives. Notable NO: NO boys who like girls who are secretive about their lives because their mothers have lesbian partners. Just no. And not as much baseball.

Books that are exciting from the very beginning. Things happen. People go places. Cars get blown up. Not saying that people can't sit around and find the meaning of life in their navels (that's the only way to get a Newbery, after all), but have them do it in chapter four after they have sucessfully escaped the evil, drug dealing werewolf skateboard gang.

Girly pink books about fun stuff, with few problems. Problem novels where horrific things happen to children. Don't combine the two.

Humor books. Check humor with actual young adult.

And no quirky dysfunctional. Please.

Students Across the Seven Seas (S.A.S.S.)

How could I have forgotten to mention this series? They aren't as good as 13 Little Blue Envelopes, nothing could be, but if you need to travel to exotic locations (and this is February in Ohio, so I certainly do!), this is the way to do it. Each book features a girl in a different overseas study program. Most of the girls are not as happy as they should be, so I wanted to slap some of them, but in general, the chance to travel, plus some light romance, overrode the impulse.

Pink and fluffy is my favorite. None of these are great literature, but they are great fun!

Check out all of the titles at:

Food Writing

I don't hate everything. Really. Loved Schlosser's Chew on This, an expose of the fast food industry. It had historical foundation, too, and even though it told you why fast food was not good for you, it didn't call it evil. Well, not in so many words. Definitely getting a copy of this. And letting my children read it.

Of course, one book I also bought was Kimmerle's Candy: A Sweet History. Very well done, lots of pictures but enough text, too. Half Priced Books had it and I got, well, just a few copies. I've been looking for something like this for a long time, and it was perfect. It might be out of print in hard cover, but it is an excellent addition to any collection above elementary school. And even then, my 3rd grader liked looking at the pictures.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alfred C. Martino's Pinned

This was one very intense book about wrestling. Cutting weight, running until you puke-- wrestling in all its glory. I was riveted, however, and devastated when the ending... well, not to ruin it for the types who LIKE the lady-or-the-tiger endings, but I about screamed when the book ended at the beginning of the state champion meet. I was reading avidly to see if Bobby or Ivan won, and we never find out! Arg! Very good though. Too much sex for middle school-- Mr. Martino, put less in the next one and I'll buy it for the library!

More Scott Westerfeld

Read Last Days yesterday. Had to wonder what all of the rock band stuff was-- interesting and compellingly written, but shouldn't we be more concerned about the vampires? It all made sense in the end, and my only regret was that it ended too abruptly. I was enjoying it, and thought for sure that it would be all wrapped up in a third book, but no. Sigh. Good stuff, too. Wouldn't have minded a third.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jordan Sonnenblick

Read Notes from a Midnight Driver and read so many passages aloud to my daughter that she had to read it, too. I don't know how this author (who also did Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie) can write what are essentially sad books and make them so funny.

This book is about a boy who makes the very bad decision to get drunk and try to drive his mother's car. Fortunately, he doesn't get any further than the neighbor's yard, but he has to serve community service time in a nursing home. This wouldn't be an intriguing plot to most students, but the book is written in such a delightful and funny way that it works. The cover doesn't hurt-- fun cartoon.

Also read Zarr's Story of a Girl, about a girl who makes a bad decision in 8th grade and spends the rest of her school career trying to get past it. The family is entirely dysfunctional. Good book, but too much information, as well as language issues, for middle school.

Not liking the new Blogger style. Can't italicize titles. Sorry.

Neal Shusterman

Everlost is my son's second favorite book. (First is Lubar's Flip. He likes reality based fantasy.) It is a complicated and textured account of what happens to well-loved places and children when they die and don't make it all the way to where they are going-- they go to Everlost, where they battle a variety of evils but ultimately reach redemption. It did take me a week of reading a bit at a time, but it was good. I am not a huge fantasy fan, which would explain my reluctance.

A similar book is one that two of my children have read but I haven't-- Zevin's Elsewhere. Looks promising, and my youngest asked for her own copy, which must indicate some quality.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Geraldine McCaughrean

While her Theseus, Odysseus, and many other titles were quite good, I think I will pass on Cyrano. While I enjoyed it, I can't see many students asking for a book of its type. Her others, especially Peter Pan in Scarlet, are all excellent.

Grisham's Bleachers

Always on the lookout for football books, I thought this adult work would be worth a try and was pleasantly surprised. Nothing objectionable, just a sentimental look at one coach's career through the eyes of his players. I had a student who liked it as well. I'll get a copy and look into more Grisham. Not even any bad language. I appreciate that. The students have liked it, too. Whew.

The Yearling vs. Hell Phone

The Yearling is a wonderful piece of classic literature. Award winning, in fact. And it bored me out of my skull. Is anything ever going to happen? Granted, has it been the only book that I had on me at the lake, it would have been great. However, when I am behind in my reading (a combination of too much quilting and Beany Malone novels), I don't want something leisurely.

This is why the children prefer something like William Sleator's Hell Phone. Would I want it to be the only book that I had with me when marooned on a desert island. No. But is it an interesting, fast paced, quick and dirty read. Yes. Which is why I recommend it and not The Yearling. I am enough of a librarian that this makes me feel bad; I am enough of a middle school teacher that it doesn't.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Dodie Smith

Even though we had four snow days, I didn't read much. Just some more Beany Malone books, plus I did a LOT of sewing.

Did read 101 Dalmatians, which was fun. Well-written, if a bit dated (it's Pongo and Missus; Perdita is the wet nurse dog). Children who have seen the movie will have no problem getting through this fun book.

The only other thing I read was Roux-Lough's The Fresh Air Kid, about a girl from the inner city who spends two weeks with a suburban family. A little hokey, but an easy read. I'll try to get it out to someone today, although with missing so much school, we have over 400 overdue books!