Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Shipment of Books!!!!!

The last order of the (school!) year. Sigh. 46 books, over half of which are already checked out. There were a few I didn't read, so I snagged those and read them last night:
Carter, Ally. Cross my Heart and Hope To Spy. Why are these so good? The first book, I'd tell you I love you, but then I'd have to kill you has circulated tremendously well-- all I had to do was stand in the front of the cafeteria with the new book and there were four girls fighting over the copy! The blend of spy techniques (everything from countersurveillance to gadgets to martial arts), private school life, and boys is truly irresistable. Do any high school girls really trust boys? And if you are in training to be a spy, do you trust anyone? Having the boys from the Blackthorne Academy show up at Gallagher was inspired. Quite the fun read. I am eagerly awaiting lots more!

Deuker, Carl. Gym Candy. A brilliant, brilliant sports book, dealing with steroid abuse in a realistic but utterly wrenching way. Mick's father was a bigtime high school football start who didn't amount to much later, so he has transfered his passion to Mick. When Mick gets picked for the high school varsity team as a freshman, the pressure to excel becomes intense, and he turns to steroids after extremely hard work doesn't produce the results he wants. Told in a realistic way (Mick doesn't want to do steroids, but the descent into them is shockingly logical), with a surprising ending and ultimate salvation, I am so glad I ordered two copies. Another great book from a true master of sports fiction.

Springer, Nancy. Dusssie. Boys are not going to be thrilled with the first two pages, which state very briefly that Dusie has 1) gotten her period and 2) her hair has turned to snakes. If I can get them past that (and they may not pay much attention, really), they will enjoy this story about the daughter of a gorgon who has to deal with what puberty has wrought-- a head full of snakes. None poisonous, however. After accidentally turning a boy to stone, she has to come to terms with how to best get through the days with a head that hisses and writhes. Some of this it a little contrived, including the ending, but I really liked it. Fans of The Lightning Thief and other mythology books will find this amusing. Spring has a varied body of works, and all of them are good!

How could I not order How Underwear Got Under There: A Brief history by Kathy Shaskan? While only 47 pages long, it was extremely informative. I am not sure 8th graders will check it out to use for their nonfiction oral reports, but it is a well done survey of what people have worn under their clothes. I learned many, many things (my grandmother, for example, graduated from high school before the widespread adoption of the bra!), and it was told in a straight forward but amusing way. I will have to look for other similar books by this author.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Angie Sage's Septimus Heap Trilogy

Need a ginormous fantasy series to keep your avid readers happy? Magyk, the first Septimus Heap book, weighs in at 564 pages, and I admittedly blanched when I saw this set, which does indeed start with a map. Still, I liked the Heap family, including the foundling Jenna; their fight to save their kingdom from the evil anti-wizards was sympathetic; and the spells, adventures and creatures will keep the fantasy fans eager for the next book. The only things I found annoying, in the end, were the bold print for any Magyk words and spells, and the long, slow reveal of the identity of Boy 412. I got that the first time we met him. Was I the only one?

I still need to read the next two books, but I am dreading them much less.

Sheldon, Snyder and Spinelli

All older titles, these.
Sheldon, Tall, Thin and Blonde 1993. One of this excellent authors first books, this story of a girl who is growing away from her best friend is not as fun as Sheldon's other books, but quite good. It's a theme that resonates with so many middle school girls, and it continues to circulate well.

Snyder. The Runaways. 1999. A rather odd story of three children in a small desert town in 1951 who decide to save up their money to buy bus tickets in order to run away. Dani is tired of her mother not working hard enough, Stormy's mother is abusive, and Pixie's parents are wealthy but work too hard and ignore her. Of course, it takes an entire summer of adventures before they manage to scrape up the money. A decent book, but nothing extraordinary. That said, my very worn paperback of The Velvet Room is one of my favorites. Learn more about this author at

Spinelli. Space Station Seventh Grade. 1982. This book made me ask myself the question "Which do I like better; the early years or the improved Newbery quality Spinelli?" Have to go with the early years, since Love, Stargirl and Eggsleft me cold. Space Station is not so much a novel as a collection of stories about various aspects of seventh grade. Some of them are romantic, some sports, so this is the next choice for one of my 8th grade boys who sheepishly asked for books with romance, but sports, too. Of note is the fact that a anatomically specific word was used several times, and there has been no outrage that I have heard. It is part of the semi-gross middle school humor prevalent in this title.

Have to use all of my resources, and there's no reason these books should not go out fairly well.

Trish, circa 1951

A friend loaned me a battered copy of Margaret Maze Craig's Trish which I enjoyed tremendously. In fact, it's what motivated me to finish Magyk. Since this was a title I hadn't read before, it made me realize something I had never realized before: "bad" girls must not have read books in the 1950s. Patricia is a "good" girl, so of course Dick Keating is enthralled by her and sets out to win her by trying to take her to a roadhouse and liquor her up, but he is so impressed by her strenghth of character that he realizes this is a bad idea. Of course, in the end, he thinks she has made free with another boy (which, my goodness, of course she hasn't!) and puts the moves on her, at which point she realizes that she couldn't possibly be in love with him. Every book I've come across has similar themes; girls who actually necked and petted must have had some serious self esteem issues if they did read.

Must quote one part that spoke to me as a mother in the new millenium:
"Saturday night supper was a casual meal at the Ingrams'. It was the one time of the week when Mrs. Ingram waited until the last minute to start preparations. It was, she said, a form of self-indulgence, but after all the bustle of getting ready for Sunday-- baking bread, frosting a layer cake, washing and sorting the vegetables, cleaning and stuffing the chicken (they always had either chicken or roast beeg on Sunday)-- she guessed maybe her family could put up with a hit-or-miss meal.... Tonight they were having cheese omelet, Harvard beets, pickles, freshly baked bread and homemade strawberry jam. "

This was, of course, eaten in the dining room, by candlelight.

Ye gods. And Trish still wanted to fall in love with Dick? In my mind, she would have been burning some undergarments and planning to run off to college and major in astrophysics, but I guess we are still a good 10-15 years away from that.

This is why I love historical teen fiction!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Begging for Change

This sequel to Money Hungry (which I keep ordering and not getting in the shipment) has been a successful read for my students who want fiction about difficult times in the inner city. While Raspberry's mother is doing okay, and the family does have the support of friends, but after the mother is attacked, it becomes more difficult to stay in their neighborhood. Add to this a drug addicted father who shows up from time to time only to steal from Raspberry, and it's a less than optimal situation. Things do improve, however. All in all, a good, solid read about persevering in the face of difficulties.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Although I very vividly remember checking this out of the library in 3rd grade, I decided to reread it, since my comprehension after 30 odd years was nil.
Kit comes to the fledgling colonies from Barbados. It is a difficult transition from a warm and prosperous environment to the stark winter of New England with the Puritans. Still, she manages to do her best to become part of her new family, but runs afoul of the community when she befriends a widow who is considered to be a witch.

This would be a great read for those students who are "above grade level". There is a lot to this story, and considering it was written almost 50 years ago, is still worth reading and recommending.

But my child is so advanced....

A couple of good posts on this topic:

I could go on for days about this topic, so it's nice to know that others have thought at length about it, too.

My "rule": Children should read what they like. Will admit to "forbidding" children from checking out both Vanity Fair and Last of the Mohicans; it's never the higher readers who come to the desk with them, it's always someone who doesn't like to read, and those are the two most unexciting books I've ever picked up. I do also censor my collection. I'm not for censoring-- I've helped kids find books at the public library, but I don't want to fight with parents when their children read problem novels for high school students.

That said, I think Alix Flinn's stuff is generally okay for 7th graders, and the occasional 6th.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Authors by the name of Smith

Smith, Marya. Winter-Broken. (1990) This hasn't seen much circulation, but this story of a girl living with an abusive father, abetting mother, and three sisters will appeal to students who like to read about people who are worse off than they are. Dawn finds some salvation at a neighboring farm, where the man who feeds the horse gives her work and encouragement. The book ends without resolution, but we do at least know that Dawn has someone who might help.

Smith, Sherwood. Crown Duel(1997) , Court Duel(1998). These will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce's Tortall books as well as Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Fairly high fantasy, although no maps, and standard adventure of young girl against the evil forces attacking her kingdom. In the first book, Meliara is captured and spends most of the time in rags and cold prisons eating wretched food, in the second, she goes to another court and deals with all of the subterfuge. After I glue the second book back together (I'm doing a lot of this lately), this will go out well, but I wasn't in the mood for it. All those made up names like Charic and Justav annoy.

Sleator, William. The Boxes. I've recommended this for years without reading it, based on students' comments. A rather odd mystery/sci fi/fantasy story about a girl who opens boxes her uncle tells her not to, and then creatures who can slow time emerge and cause trouble. The sequel is Marco's Millions, and I need to read that as well.

Slote, Alfred. Moving In. Probably my favorite of the pile, a gentle story about a boy who moves to a new community with his father and sister because his father has bought a business from the wife of a former friend. Robby would rather go back to his old town, and his sister is worried that the father will marry; complications ensue. This might be better for younger students, but it was Cleary-esque and I enjoyed it. Slote's sports titles circulate well, but my favorite is the futuristic My Robot Buddy, which was written in the 1970s and is funny because the main selling point of the robot is that the father can take it on business and use it as a phone.

My goal today will be to get these into the hands of students. Utilizing all the resources, that's what it's about!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mega Biblion, mega kakon

Translated from the ancient Greek: A big book is a great evil.

Not always, but I had a pile of very thick books to slog through. Some of the volumes in this pile had been sitting there for a month, which is never a good sign. If I don't want to pick a book up, what are the chances that a student will. So, while these may be perfectly good books for other people at other times, I can't see them going out at my library:

Sandell. Song of the Sparrows. Arthurian legend in verse. 'Nuf said.

Moriarty. The Spell Book of Listen Taylor. Confusing start, tiny print, just couldn't find a foothold.

McKinley. Dragonhaven. Big disappointment, as I adore McKinley. This, however, was in a voice that I disliked, and was confusing, two things I never have seen in this author's work.I liked the premise, and would buy it for my hard core dragon fans if I had the funds, but sadly must pass.

Bladacci. The Camel Club. A parent recommended this adult espionage title for students, but it meandered a bit. I recommended a parent by this in paperback for a Christmas present, so I will check to see how the student liked it, but I couldn't get into it.

Singer. The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth. 1983. Ah, back when all the funny books emulated Paula Danziger in their long titles and New York setting. Concerning students in a Shakespeare production, this has been gathering dust for a number of years, and I can't see anyone being happy when I pressed it upon them. On to a better home.

That all said, Michael Chabon's Summerland (2002) went out for its one circulation a year yesterday, bringing the cost of this item down to $5.00 per circulation. Why I read books before I buy them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Virtual War Chronologs

There are four books in this series: Virtual War(1997), The Clones(2002), The Revolt(2005) and The Choice (2006). They follow the adventures of Corgan and Sharla after they, with the help of Brig, when a virtual war for their society. The aftermath of winning this war isn't explained, and the other books take up the struggles with Brig's twin clones, Brigand (who is evil) and Seabrig.

These are fast-paced, futuristic books, at least after Corgan breaks out of his literal "box" in the first book. They circulate well.

I'm frustrated, though. The library copy of The Virtual War is falling apart in a rather spectacular fashion, and is out of print. The second book is also out of print. I had the same problem with Voigt's Bad Girls-- when the new one came out last year, I bought several used copies as back up, because they are constantly being lost, rendering the rest of the series rather useless.

We'll see how the glue goes before I recommend this too heartily.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beverly Cleary's Teen Books

Guilty confession-- read Sister of the Bride AGAIN over the weekend because nothing sounded good. This still goes out well in my library, and it is quite contemporary, considering it is almost 50 years old. There are some references to "putting up one's hair" and bobbie socks, but it is the warm family relationships, the teen angst (yeah, she made lots of cookies for the jerk and he never asked her out until she refused to mend his shirt and tells him off. Question is-- why did she want to go out with him then?), and the understandably flawed teen characters that make them appealing.
I do appreciate these new covers, which aren't quite the original Joe and Beth Krush illustrations but do bring them to mind and point out that these are, in a way, historical fiction. Another good one is Fifteen, and I loved both of Cleary's memoirs, A Girl From Yamhill and On My Own Two Feet. Fascinating stuff from an author with enviable longevity.

The one where the kid nearly jumps to his death...

Mary Hershey's book has a title that is much too long (... and lands in California), and has a premise I wouldn't normally find appealing. Boy breaks leg so badly it must be amputated when he is young (jumps off ski lift), and blames his father, from who he becomes estranged. His mother needs time alone over the summer to manage her alcholism, so he goes to live with father and new wife in California. New wife is a double amputee. Boy meets girl and wants to impress her so takes up swimming with tough local coach. Spends much time making father angry. Everything works out well in the end.

Somehow, though, this worked. The kid has a reason to be obnoxious to his father, and really, the things he does are mild and rather funny (spends a lot of time eating junk food because father is health nut). I liked Alastair, but I also liked the father and step mother. This will appeal to boys because of the obnoxiousness, but appealed to me because it was a bildungsroman (haven't used that in a while) and I think it's good to see characters grow as people. This is not a goofy book for elementary students, but written with a more mature humor that will appeal to 8th grade boys. THAT'S what we need more of. A few questionable but delicately handled situations, but no language issues. Will definitely buy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Some of my best friends are books, Halstead

The Able and Talented coordinator sent me a copy of this book (subtitled Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool to High School), so I felt compelled to read it.

I am the mother of three identified A&T students. I was a bright student myself. So I have trouble taking the advice of this book. I fall into the category of bad librarians doing a disservice for these students: "Some say "It doesn't matter what they read, as long as they're reading." But if we apply this attitude to children who have the potential to become serious readers acquainted with books of substance and literary value, then we do our children a disservice."

Huh. Considering how utterly boring many of the books mentioned in this tome are, I would argue that guiding their reading in this way would do them a disservice. Also, this volume is very light on newer books. Really, there have been other books written since Harriet the Spy.

The reason I react so viscerally to this issue is that I was given the luxury of choosing my own reading material, and it was all over the map. Yes, I read Caddie Woodlawn and The Phantom Tollbooth. But I also read Beanie Malone and a lot of dreadful schlock. Halstead is very big on reading as a way to cope with life. If that is the case, gifted readers SHOULD be reading what their peers are reading, especially the dreadful schlock. It gives them something to connect with.

My 8th grade daughter, who read every Animorph book she could find, is now on an Alcott binge. My 6th grader is reading The Lost Years of Merlin. My 4th grade reluctant reader finished Things Not Seen, and is complaining her way through some nonfiction because she is "supposed" to read it. They will all survive.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Bloody Battle of Suribachi

This Sterling Publishing reprint of the 1965 title by Richard Wheeler was difficult for me to read. The true story of this man's involvement in the fight to capture Iwo Jima is bloody and relentless. Casualties for one group were 91%. There are many photographs of the battlefield and the dead and wounded. It's all real.

I did appreciate the comment on page 79-- "We all have some of the saveage in us. Happily not too many of us are capable of wanton brutality. Most of us, in fact, keep out brute instincts under control and do our best to steer clear of violence. But we can't help but be fascinated by it. For example: we call outselves peace lovers but make shrines of our battlefields."

This helps in understanding middle school boys' fascination with war. I like being able to give them eyewitness accounts.Maybe it helps them understand who they are or want to be. Since these were written a while ago, they are generally acceptable for middle school students and are not filled with profanity.

To see other titles, check out:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Shusterman and Skurzynski

Shusterman's The Dark Side of Nowhere was intriguing. What if you and most of your friends are really aliens who have subsumed human DNA and need injections to keep your human form from becoming alien? And you were sent to earth to take it over, but your parents decided the devastation wasn't worth it? And then someone started training you to become alien and take over anyway? Lots of good suspense, a little goofy, and fun. I have a couple of kids in mind for this after I glue the binding back together. Grrrr.

I'll also be gluing Spider's Voice back together, and maybe one on the fans of medieval fiction will be interested in the story of a mute boy who is a servant to Abelard while he is carrying on with Eloise. Rich in details of living at the time, but light on action and adventure. I enjoyed it, but it's not for the casual reader.

Absolutely could not get into Marsden's Tomorrow When The War Began or Oppel's Airborn. Heard good things about them at a conference, but I've been halfway through both of them for weeks now and just can't finish. This is not a good sign, and since I just put in a purchase order for the balance of my yearly book budget, I don't feel as bad about not purchasing them.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz

Finally got a my hands on a copy, and dedicated the whole evening to reading it slowly and savoring it. Just fabulous. How can you not like a book that starts out with splashing down from space and being recruited by the Australian Secret Service? Throw in Alex's godfather, who was the last person to see his parents alive, a trip to Bangkok where Alex gets involved in a boxing match, and the threat of a bomb that will set off a tsunami that could kill tens of thousands of people along the coast of Australia, and you've got a real page turner. Will Alex save the day? Of course, but all the fun is in how he does it.

Packed with the gadgets we have come to love and wonderfully descriptive and clever writing, this is a worthy addition to the Alex Rider series. Horowitz has clearly done his research to make this all seem real, and somehow makes it seem plausible as well. The only thing I missed in this was some emotion from Alex. He seemed a bit cardboard in this one. There was a lot going on, but he seemed distanced from it. I know that your average teen boy is not going to miss that, but I did. Alex did think about the lonliness that the life of a spy can cause, but I didn't have as good of a grasp of his character in this one, and hope to see more in the future!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Shura and Shreve

The flunking of Joshua T. Bates by Susan Shreve is a bit low for middle school students, since it is about a boy repeating third grade. It would be good for fourth graders to read. A little heavy on the teacher going through a hard time as well, but I liked the student who was teasing Joshua being sent back to third grade for a day to see how he would like it!

Gentle Annie by Mary France Shura should have been better, but my eyes kept sliding off the page until chapter 3. Based on the real experiences of a Civil War nurse, something about it didn't keep my attention. Maybe the author wasn't sure about the past that she was constructing for Annie, so that didn't ring true, and by then I was not interested. I do think it would be good for students who are interested in the Civil War, because it gives a lot of details about a side of the battles that is not ordinarily covered.

Some days, no books seem good. Did enjoy the Dorling Kindersley Barbie book, so that tells you where my mind was. (It was a nice historical perspective, and, of course, well-illustrated.