Monday, April 30, 2007

Howard Pyle

Otto of the Silver Hand (1888) was okay; a nice story of a boy in the middle ages caught in bad circumstances. Enjoyed it. Men of Iron, however, was wonderful. You can just imagine ten year old boys in the 1930s sitting in trees reading this book. Normally, I hate dialect, but you just have to love the middle age-speak "Verily, forsooth." Great stuff; great scope for the imagination. Myles isn't a goody-goody-- he gets in fights, he doesn't want the older boys to push him around (Warning: Lengthy discussion of 'fagging', but at least the idea of service in British schools is all explained.), but he grows up to be knighted by the king himself and attempts to avenge the wrong done to his father. Will he succeed? Of course, but it is tense while he is trying. The language is a little tough, but I was able to entice a student to check it out, and we'll see how he likes it.

Weetzie Bat

The time has come to say goodbye to Weetzie. Maybe its a midwestern thing, but "stunning debut" or know, it's a disturbing book, and the 1989 counterculture references don't work any more. A boy checked this book out, and brought it back complaining because of a sentence on page 13 "He had met someone in a video booth at a local sex store and they had groped around there for a while, then gone to the guy's apartment". Later on, Weetzie decides to have a baby-- it's just not a good example. There is a whole series, and luckily this was the only one at my library. The latest Weetzie book came out last spring

Friday, April 27, 2007

I love Melissa Kantor!

The Break-up Bible was fabulous! Exceeded ALL expectations! Wish I had the book here to quote the first paragraph, which was hysterical, but my daughter is reading it.

While the cover is aggressively Pink, and will appeal to those fans, there was so much more going on in this book. Yes, Jen spends the first several chapters in the throes of a massive, drama queen depression after Max dumps her (which was alien to me, but probably will speak to many older girls), but then she slowly moves beyond it.

Since she works for the newspaper, she gets involved in a very intriguing story about race relations in her school-- the administration says there are no problems, but she and a fellow writer (who is African American) notice that minorities are underserved in many honors classes and would just like to start some discussion about why this is. This added some substance to the book without detracting from the Pink enjoyment. A tough balance-- well-done!

I like how her family is involved, her friends are there for her, and while she starts to date another boy, she seems to have learned from the break-up that stuff like that happens, and the only thing to do is to move on.

The only downside is that there is a lot of drinking. Maybe this is a New York City thing. Here in the midwest responsible parents would never take children out to dinner and serve them wine. Hopefully, if a date offerred my daughter sangria, she would reply "My mother would kill me." Gives me pause.

Oh, but the rest was so good, I'm going to have to go with TWO copies. The whole process of coming back from rejection was so well done that I think it is valuable for girls to read. Hoping to hear more from Kantor for many, many years!

Gory versus GORY

A note about gory-- many middle school students love it. Obviously, I'm not all that comfortable with books where multiple people get their heads hacked off. Not in the curriculum. Still, I can't tell my horror fans that they must read Mandy. They will not read. So, I've been working on a collection of horror that is at least well-done, intriguing, or clever.

Paul Zindel's book fit this category. Wildly popular with my lowever level readers, although I must admit that I haven't finished Reef of Death yet! It's fun to say all of the titles: Rats, Raptor, Reef of Death, Lock, Doomstone, Night of the Bat.

Darren Shan's Demonata series almost lost me. Debated for a long time. Cirque du Freak is okay, and oddly addictive, but any book that starts out with demons murdering a boy's family in a rather graphic and gory way gives me pause. Read to the end, and it was so clever that I gave in. Playing chess against the demon was very effective. Well-written. Just be warned.

Carter's Hand of the Devil was also good-- killer mosquito whose venom dissolves its victims, and its pyschopathic, serial-killer handler. Had some good twists. Bought two copies.

Enthoven's The Black Tattoo kept me reading to find out what was going on.

However, Pike's The Hollow Skull did not fit into this category. After reading it, I felt like I should go apologize to all the students who have checked it out. Graphic, crude, unpleasant to read-- I may have to pull it. I do have one very reluctant reader who has read all the good stuff and is refusing everything else I suggest. May try it on him. Basically, evil scientists/aliens implant silicon in people's brains and it turns them into raging murderers. I can't quote lines. Just ick. Just when I was warming a bit to this author, too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Light Fantasy

Recently purchased a copy of Avi's Bright Shadow (1985) at the request of a student, since it is a core novel for a class. 95% of Avi's work is great stuff (A Place Called Ugly doesn't go out much.), so I purchased without reading it. Nice, fast-paced, quasi-medievalish fantasy that students who aren't thrilled with fantasy will like. I don't know how much students will think about whether or not having five wishes would be a good thing or not, but there was enough action that this will circulate very well. It pays to listen to what the students request.

Other titles that work well when students are assigned fantasy:

Bauer. Twonk. Be careful what you wish for. The pinkest of the fantasies.

Brock. No Flying in the House. One of my very favorites. For slightly younger students. The small dog Gloria is so cute in the Wallace Tripp pictures. This one makes me sigh with pleasure as much as Edwards' Mandy.

Banks. The Farthest-Away Mountain, The Fairy Rebel. The first is a classic quest that is easier to follow than a lot of fantasy, and the second is a lot of fun. Both are popular.

Coddel. Diary of a Fairy Godmother. The sparkly cover sells this one, but I liked the idea that no one can live up to all expectations, and it's okay. (Young witch prefers not to be evil.)

Levine. Two Princesses of Bamarre. The story of the sisters appeals to girls who might not care otherwise about the fantasy.

4/27-- Pullman. Clockwork. Just a nice, vaguely creepy short book about some mechanical figures gone wrong. Reads like a long picture book.

Schanback. Princess From Another Planet. Does her mother have mental health issues, or is she really a Princess? Another fun and fairly pink entry.

Wrede. Dealing with Dragons. More traditional fantasy, but the story of a princess who is tired of staying in the palace and apprentices herself to a dragon has great appeal.

There are more, but it's early morning!

4/27-- Many thanks to Ronni for the comment. I had a student loan me his copy of Leven Thumps, but I couldn't get into it. The over-the-top nastiness at the start, and then the evil teacher, just did me in. When I thought about rereading it, I has too much of a nose wrinkle factor going on. (If I ask students if they might like something and I see a nose wrinkle, it's a no-go.) I reread a review, and it compared it to Michael Chabon's Summerland, which goes out once a year here. I WILL recommend this to my hard core fantasy reader, most of whom have cards for our local public library, which graciously delivers items. There is an audience for this, but too small of a one for inclusion in my library, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Airball: My Life in Briefs (L.D. Harkrader)

Since I am always on the lookout for both basketball books AND funny books for boys, (there are not nearly enough written)this was a nice surprise. No bad language, just a great basketball story with underlying problem, and a problem more fun than most. Is Kirby's father the famous basketball player who comes to town, even though Kirby is not a good basketball player?

There is compelling evidence, but the book is so much fun that it doesn't matter. I thought the Stealth technology uniforms were very funny (think The Emperor's New Clothes) and while it almost went over the line of plausibility, it didn't. I can see that a team playing in their underwear would become more closely knit.

The boys will love this one. Clever language speeds the book along, and I've stated the rule before-- if I buy a book with underwear on the cover, it has to be good!

Got through Pike's Time Terror and Night of the Vampire, and am starting to find that I care what happens to Watch, Cindy and the rest. This must be why children like series so much. They are comfortable and familiar. My own children read all 54 Animorphs books and were big fans of the Magic Treehouse series. Note to college professors of children's literature-- it didn't hurt any of them!

Found two older titles that have not circulated well on the shelves-- Bonnie Pryor's Rats, Spiders and Love (1986) which is a very readable story about a girl whose mother might marry a man who will take them away from their home. The girl tries a variety of ways to get her mother interested in her teacher instead, but eventually comes to terms with the boyfriend. Easy to follow, this will go out if I suggest it.

I really liked Mary Frances Shura's The Josie Gambit, also from 1986, which has only gone out four time in 20 years. This is too bad. It is really a mystery-- why does the unhappy Tory seem to be the root of a lot of bad things going on-- and was fast paced and intriguing. Again, if I don't read all the books, how will I know what I should push? I was glad to find this one.

Lily B. on the Brink of Awesome

Lily B. has the freshest voice of any character I have read lately. She is perfect for middle school students, because she does what she wants to do is such a brash and forthright manner-- and suffers the consequences with such grace and humor. Had I had half of Lily's sense of self, my middle school years would have been far happier.

Lily B. first surfaced On the Brink of Cool; the second book is Lily B. on the Brink of Love, which I adored for the vocabulary list in the back. Lily is very smart-- just doesn't always think things through.

Lily B. on the Brink of Paris is the latest romp, and Lily gets into her usual trouble. I sighed with a huge amount of pleasure when I turned the last page, having saved the book for a Friday afternoon as a reward for a long week. Now, though, I want another, and I want it now! The girls in my library feel the same way. Great choice. Pink, but with attitude, which is the best kind of Pink!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Still More Pike and Pierce

I'm afraid these will be a bit boring for a couple of days. I'm finishing up Tamora Pierce, which I am liking, and Christopher Pike, which is just not my favorite stuff. I will admit that I have been checking out a lot of the Pike now that I am reading it. The Accelerated Reader tests are pretty easy.

4/25-- Master of Murder was a bit odd, but I think students will like it. High School student Marvin is secretly a best selling mystery writer, and conniving girl tries to get him to solve the murder of her boyfriend. Big difference between Spooksville and regular Pike. A lot of mature subject matter, but written in such a bald way it's not that offensive.

Did get lazy over the weekend and read Summer at Tiffany, a memoir by Marjorie Hart about the summer circa 1945 that she and her friend traveled from Iowa to work for the summer in the big city. Quite fun, but of little interest to the students.

When I get through enough Pike, I have Melissa Kantor's new book, The Breakup Bible waiting for me. Looks lovely and PINK!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christopher Pike

Must first say that I am not a horror fan. Students, however, routinely ask for Stephen King (read Carrie and Thinner last year and was surprised at how silly and vulgar they were-- I really thought that King would be better than that and was disappointed)or "books where people get killed". If this didn't happen so often, I would be in the conselours' offices frequently. Instead, I send them to more psychological thrillers.

But now, I don't have to! I have Christopher Pike, who actually predates R.L. Stine by one year, since Slumber Party came out in 1985, and Blind Date, by Stine, came out in 1986. Stine is, however, the second most popular author in Germany, after J.K.Rowling. (Cornelia Funke is third.)

Didn't care for Final Friends: The Dance. Doesn't really matter that it is the second book in the series-- there's a long recap. Plenty of unpleasant things happen, but it's a very soap opera-ish book, with seemingly random things popping up in a distracting manner. Look! He's building a telescope! Look! She's at Planned Parenthood! No, someone's parents are divorcing.

I also had trouble with a homecoming dance a few weeks before Christmas, after a basketball game and in a tent. This must be set somewhere a lot warmer than Ohio.

Chain Letter will be popular with the students, since students pay for accidentally killing a man in a car accident with all sorts of blood and gore. These books tend to be a bit on the mature side, with drinking and kissing.

I'll continue my march through. Must admit that Overdue sounds intriguing.

Also read Pierce's Trickster's Queen. Took me much longer than usual to read, since I know that once I finish reading about Tortall, I probably won't get to go back and visit. I especially admire how Pierce makes me care about each new heroine she introduces. Alanna's daughter Aly is my new favorite!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time in Tortall

I am well and truly hooked on Tamora Pierce, and her work has even left me with a new criterion for Good Books-- if I pretend to be the main character when I am doing the dishes or biking to work, it must be good. I haven't done that for years, probably since middle school, when I spent a whole lot of time being Anne of Green Gables. Not all of Kel's powers were useful in conquering the dreaded overdue slips, but it made the time pass more pleasantly. I've asked a lot of students and teachers if they ever pretended to be characters in a book, or worked themselves into new adventures in the book, and seems to be fairly common.

Felt a need to devote some space to putting the books in order. I think this is right:

Song of the Lioness
Alanna: The First Adventure
In the Hand of the Goddess
The Woman who Rides Like a Man
Lioness Rampant

The Immortals
Wild Magic
Wolf Speaker
Emperor Mage
Realm of the Gods

Protector of the Small
First Test
Lady Knight

Trickster's Choice (About Aly, Alanna's daughter. Reading this now.)
Trickster's Queen

Then, I think
Terrier: Beka Cooper #1
Bloodhound: Beka Cooper #2

Whew. Enjoying these, but some of them are a bit on the long side! If I were 12, this would be a fabulous thing; since I am trying to read every book in the library, it's a mixed blessing!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Define "Normal"

Julie Anne Peters' Define Normal is a great addition to my list of depressing problem novels. Nice girl with good grades is to peer counsel black-lipstick-wearing-peer, Jazz. Jazz has some anger management issues, especially toward her mother. As the two get to know each other better, readers find that sometimes the good girls are the ones with the real problems. Hate to say more than that and ruin the plot, which has twists. Not the kind that make you scratch your head, but interesting, logical ones that surface in good time, thanks to sensitive writing. Not gushy or overly sentimental, this is another book that deftly describes the odds that some students need to face while trying to make it through school.

Especially appreciated that there was happiness in the ending, although not of the deus ex machina type. Happy endings require work and maintenance, just like happy endings do in real life.

Other good titles for problem novels-- Shelter, by Cooley; Rules of Survival, by Werlin; Wolfson's What I Call Life. I need to post my longer list before summer.

Forever in Blue

This fourth, and probably last, book in the Ann Brasheres' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series was a little more mature than some of the others. This is difficult-- I want to have the series for the girls to finish, but it's a little much for 6th graders. Okay for 8th, since it's done in a sensitive manner.

Enjoyed, but must say that I can never, never keep the characters straight. There are four girls, and the story switches from one to another so frequently that I get confused. Still, a solid entry in the Pink genre.

Lola Douglas

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Side Effects-- Koss

Loved Koss' Side Effects, about a teenage girl who has lymphoma and lives. The voice is fresh and irreverent, and so different from the other books about cancer. I had to laugh when the main character and her friend go to the library to look for books on cancer, and I got all of the references-- yeah, the one about the kid who gets superpowers because of chemo has never been my favorite either. This book doesn't pull any punches about how hard treatment for cancer is, but there is no self-pitying and whining, but no sanctimonious fighting-the-good-fight, either. Great book.

Another fairly new one-- John Attanas' Eddie and the Jets. Main character is 6th grader, and it's a standard football book with assorted problems (father leaves, friends fight), but easy to follow and moves along at a good pace. Bought this without reading it (had desperate need for football, basketball and war books), so thank the author for a well-done book.

Don't get Pinkwater. Just don't. Fat Men From Space left me cold. THere is some late 70's Monty Pythonesque quality that just never made sense to me, but I've never been a 12 year old boy, and that's the target audience. Did get Lizard Music off the shelves, and my son read Fat Men, so we'll see.

Paul Pitts' Racing the Sun (1988) was a surprisingly (okay, I'm having issues getting through all of the "P" authors-- haven't weeded there and am finding some moldy oldies) readable. Young Navajo boy whose family has decided to live off of the reservation and eschew traditional values has to host ailing grandfather. Nice generational tension, good resolution, interesting examination of culture and what it means to either embrace or reject it, and how there are indeed compromises to be made.

Finally, Alison's Houtte's Alligators, Old Mink and New Money: One Woman's Adventures in Vintage Clothing was just pure fun. I have a few vintage pieces I like to wear to work to amuse the students (most notably a polyester dress in pink, electric blue, lime, orange and hot pink paisley), but don't live the sort of lifestyle where I can pay more than five dollars for any article of clothing, so this was vicarious thrills. Sigh. My reward for making it through Pinkwater, I guess!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Too young, too old

Vera Propp's When the Soldiers were Gone was written from the point of view of an 8 year old who doesn't really know what is going on-- he's been living with another family to survive the Holocaust and is reluctant to go beack to his real family. This will check out to 8th graders who have to read a Holocaust book--it's 101 pages.

Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two meets the Hooded Fang irritated me tremendously-- again, too young for my audience. Six year old goes to buy tomatoes, gets scared by the shopkeeper, falls asleep in the park and dreams that he is in a children's prison. Just didn't get into it at all.

Coburn's LoveSick is liberally sprinkled with the f-word, so there is no way I am going to buy it, no matter how interesting a story it is. Thanks, though, for using it on page one. That helps. I can stop reading.

Looked forward all day to Pierce's Wolf Speaker, but didn't like is as much as I thought I would. The print was really small. I think I was just tired.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Immortals, steroids and fried chicken...oh, my

Loved the Tamora Pierce Wild Magic. Great title. Follows the Alanna series and tells the story of Daine, who ends up working at the palace. Lots of action and adventure with fighting metal birds who are evil, and lots of magic. Now I know the order of the series. This is why I'm trying to read everything.

Eric Walter's Juice, an Orca book, is a slim volume about the fangers of steroid abuse, but will appeal to the lower level readers who want sports books but have read all the Matt Christopher. Easy to follow, good character development. I liked it a lot.

Not so much Maureen Fergus' Exploits of a Reluctant (but extremely goodlooking) Hero. Have to love the title and the cover (striped, with a chicken bucket), but it did not draw me in at all. The fact that every third paragraph is sectioned off with **** didn't help. Just to make sure it just didn't hit me on a bad day, I gave it to my son, who also was not impressed. We are blaming it on being a Canadian writer. What I learned (Juice was also from Canada)-- instead of 6th grade, they say Grade 6 in Canada. Who knew.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Assorted Spring Break Reading

Was oddly intrigued by Ritchie's Erin McEwan, Your Days Are Numbered, which was basically about a girl who struggled with math. She goes to work in a deli from which her mother was just fired, and learns a lot about business and practical applications of math. It was quite good. I'll recommend it.

Qualey's Thin Ice was a great mystery about a girl whose brother (who is her guardian after their parents' deaths) is thought to have been killed in an accident. She doesn't think he's dead and tries to prove it. Compelling.

Peck's The Teacher's Funeral was better than the more popular A Year Down Yonder. I liked the relationships in the family, and the struggles of the sister, Tansy, to teach school. Good historical novel.

Roberts' Jo and the Bandits was also a good one for students who need something historical. It was a bit of a mystery, a bit of comedy, and I enjoyed it. Her Girl with the Silver Eyes was science fiction enough for students who are assigned that, and problem novel enough for students who would like something else.

Phleger's Pilot Down, Presumed Dead was a GREAT survival tale of a pilot who crashes along the coast near Baja, California. He befriends a coyote and manages to survive by fishing. The details of survival were very specific, and there will be a lot of students who love Hatchet who will snap this up.

Pinkwater's Lizard Music was a bit odd, but then Fat Camp Commandos was not exactly mainstream. The only worry I have with this one is that it is dated-- many references to Walter Cronkite and Roger Mudd will confuse students. I will try this science fiction fantasy with comedic touches out on a few students.

Meredith Ann Pierce's The Woman Who Loved Reindeer was good high fantasy about a magic woman/healer who is trying to save several villages from instinction when the earth buckles and mountains spew lava, but the fact that she nursed the half reindeer/half human child and then fell in love with his just disturbed me. Still, fans of The Dark-Angel will like it.

More Tamora Pierce

Loved Alanna. Have several girls reading through this great series about a girl who wants to be a knight rather than go to a convent at all times.

The Circle of Magic series was somehow painful for me, which was a huge disappointment. Helps to know that one should read The Circle of Magic (Sandry's Book, Tris, Daja, Briar) and then The Circle Opens (Magic Steps, Street Magic, Cold Fire, one other I can't remember). There was somehow too much going on, too many characters to follow, and it somehoq diluted my interest in each one.

It was with great dread, then, that I picked up First Test, the first book in the Protector of the Small series, and with great glee that I put it down to pick up Page. Bother were excellent. Kel, a young girl from an interesting family, wants to become a knight ten years after Alanna. This time, the other students know she is a girl and give her a hard time. She triumphs, of course, in many ways. I must bring home the other two books tonight.

Seem to have missed something in between, with the Immortals series. All the books are checked out, and I am disappointed!

Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty was an interesting problem novel about children with different abilities. Can't say it was terrific, but it was certainly painless and interesting. I think it is frequently used as a class novel. Will certainly haul it out for the problem novel unit.

Last Book in the Universe was sort of Fahrenheit 451-esque, but had more action and suspense. Have to love a book whose message is that everyone's life is a story yet to be written. Will get this out today to a student.

REM World didn't do as much for me. I think it is perhaps for slightly younger students. Fat child orders device that will make him thin in his sleep-- when he slips it on he goes into another world where he must save the universe from Nothingness. A bit Phantom Tollbooth-esque, and the pat ending-- where he is suddenly thin-- somehow took away from the story for me. Still, I think there is a reader or two out there for it.