Friday, October 12, 2007

Meyer, Gantos and Fredericks

The idea of being a princess mesmerizes middle school girls, and the story of Caterina de' Medici, as told by Carolyn Meyer in Duchessina is full of the grandeur of royalty, and well as the danger. When her parents died shortly after her birth, Caterina was forced to rely on relatives for her care, and was used by many of them to achieve political ends. Widespread bad feelings for other members of her family put her in constant danger, and she is not safe even while staying with nuns at a convent. Eventually forced into marriage with a man who does not love her, Caterina tries to find happiness for herself despite her unpleasant circumstances. Historical notes inform us that Caterina is remembered historically as something of a villain, but this book (part of the Young Royals series that also includes Patience Princess Catherine, Doomed Queen Anne, Mary, Bloody Mary and Beware, Princess Elizabeth) offers a detailed look at what daily life was like for a spirited young woman growing up in a difficult time. These books are a great way to lure girls into historical fiction.

Reading Jack Gantos' I am Not Joey Pigza is not like a plastic slide, "kid-friendly, but also kid-boring" (Page 9). It is definitely more akin to the metal kind that Joey likes to grease with Wesson oil and slide down. Like this stunt, the ride is frenetic and thrilling, but ultimately painful. Joey Pigza has never led an ideal life, but this story is sadder than the other, and hits dead center at the number one concern students have-- establishing personal identity. His father, who abandoned him at birth, shows up with a new identity. His mother is thrilled with the new stability that the father offers and agrees happily with all of the changes-- new names, a new house, and a new source of income. Joey's dad, however, soon shows his accustomed behavior and even Joey realizes that constant playing and lack of responsibility doesn't lead to a good outcome. Fans of this series will enjoy this books for its frenetic style and amusing anecdotes, but it is an ultimately disturbing book with an unsettling ending. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is read as a class novel in our school, and readers of this new title would benefit from discussing this book and thinking about the issues involved with some guidance.

Mariah Fredericks' The True Meaning of Cleavage is a book whose excellent and thought-provoking content overrode the provocative cover, but her new Love: In the Cards didn't grab me. There was a lot going on, and I somehow felt that I had come in in the middle of the story and never really caught up. It was hard to keep up with the large cast of characters, and I could not become emotionally invested in the main character. Still, the cover is graphically pleasing, and the idea of using Tarot cards to predict romantic outcomes will appeal to the insatiable readers of "pink" books. There are two more books planned in this series, but I may pass.

Thanks to Anne Levy at for providing some tips for bloggers. I will try to improve my posts. My real audience is students and parents who are looking for something good to read, but I would like to be a resource for librarians who don't have time to read books but want to know if something is worth purchasing. I'll try to write in book talk format, but that is hard when I don't intend to purchase a book because I didn't like it. I treat my school library very much like a personal collection, and I find that if I don't like a book it frequently doesn't get as much use. Since funds are limited, I do have to purchase carefully, and this often means finding reasons NOT to buy books.

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