Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Vacation

Since it has taken me five minutes just to get to this page at home, I am declaring a Ms. Yingling Reads vacation. I will be back in full force on January 5th, but am afraid if I try to post during the break from school that I will sustain injuries from banging my head against the keyboard while waiting for things to load.

Also, this might turn into Ms. Yingling Quilts, which is what I have been doing instead of reading. Quilted and bound nine baby quilts yesterday, which left little time for reading.

Apologies to loyal readers, but know that there are BIG things planned for the New Year. See you then!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Door of No Return by Sarah Mussi

Zac's grandfather, who firmly believes that he is descended from Ghanaian kings, is brutally murdered and has historical diaries stolen from him. Zac is sent into foster care but is being followed. He and his friend Ashley decide to try to solve the mystery the grandfather believed in-- treasure hidden somewhere in Ghana. With the help of the juvenile justive system, Zac is sent to do community service work in Ghana.

I wanted to like this, and the first 200 pages were great. Suspense, action, a smart and likeable main character who struggles sucessfully against the odds. Since I've had students from Ghana, I thought it was great to see the cultural heritage discussed. However, when Zac lands at a leper colony in Ghana, the book lost momentum and the next 200 pages didn't appeal to me.

This would be quite interesting for high school, but is too much for the majority of my students. I will look for other works by this author, whose web site seems to be under construction.

Research on Ms. Mussi lead to me this interesting article on young adult lieterature for black teens. I particularly liked this comment: "Barney would like to see books featuring black teens that don't involve a serious crisis, but deal with normal teenage stuff." Indeed.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

One fluffy, one fantasy

Rideout and Collins' Girl v. Boy was certainly fun, but there were some more serious messages as well that made it even better. Struggling inner city school is part of a citywide competition to raise money for literacy. The principal decides to make it a competition between the genders in order to raise more money. Luisa Perez is approached to right an anonymous newspaper column representing the girls' participation in the fund raiser, but when she disagrees with the point of view of the boys' columnist, the battle of the sexes heats up. There is a nice romance, if the ending is slightly predictable. The Latina main character is refreshing because that is not the main focus of the book, although there are funny moments when she talks about being one of 11 girls with that name at her school. The only real problem I had with this was that the prize for raising the most money was two weeks off school, and this could never happen in real life. This will be great for 8th graders who have read all my fun "girl" books.

Phillip Womack's fantasy novel, The Other Book, is wonderfully dense and British, so more suited to the reader who has read every fantasy book in the library from Alexander to Yolen, but a must-have for those students. Edward is muddling through his studies at a boarding school when he finds a book that is inherently evil and becomes part of him. If this is not bad enough, an evil school governor shows up and wants that book. Since it is made clear to Edward that he is the protector of the book, and if it gets into the wrong hands the world is in peril, he and his friends fight the forcees of evil. Filled with lots of gory, bloody, violent scenes and enough tangential Arthurian legend to keep those fantasy fans happy, I'll be pleased to order this one even though it made me, once again, wish that I were teaching Latin at Eton instead of being a librarian in Ohio. Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi. (Edward would understand.)
Also picked up Alan Sitomer's The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez, but it is a high school level book. Uhlig's Boy Minus Girl looked like it would be a good funny book for boys, but... EW!! Just did not need to know that much about boys' habits. Wouldn't be able to hand it to anyone and say "Read this".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kathy Mackel's Can of Worms and Alien in a Bottle are ones that I use frequently for science fiction units, so Boost was a surprise, and my favorite book of the evening.

Savvy, an 8th grader who lives for basketball, tries out for a high school age team and makes it, knowing that she is going to have to work very hard. There's a lot going on in her life-- the family has moved to be with an aunt on her farm because the PGA playing father has been disabled, Savvy's cheerleader sister is struggling with eating disorders, the aunt breaks her leg and Savvy has to pick up the slack on the farm, and there is a romantic interest-- a boy whom Savvy likes but who dates her sister. Wow! On top of that, there is the competition on the basketball court. When anabolic steroids are found in Savvy's gym bag, she is suspended from the team even though she doesn't know how they got there. Won't give away the ending, which was nicely foreshadowed. Even girls who aren't into sports will like this one for the story. Boys like stories about steroids enough that after they read Crackback, Juice, and Gym Candy, they might look at this.

Another great read, from Terri Fields, author of Holdup! is My Father's Son. Kevin is doing well splitting his time between his mother and father, and gets along well with both of them. It is a shock when he sees his father's picture on television, identifying his as a serial killer. His father refuses to contact him, and students at school give him a hard time. I thought this would be like Tolan's Plague Year, but it's completely different. What I liked about it most was that I never knew which was it was going to turn. Most YA books are fairly predictable, but this one wasn't at all. It qualifies as a mystery, but I hate to say anything more about the plot and ruin it. Just buy it-- it's quite suitable for middle school, but dark enough that 8th graders will like it.

Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever, 1793 is a perennial favorite with my students, and considering the press on Chains, I think my expectations were high. Certainly, this is an excellent book, and a great addition to a collection of historical novels that fit the 8th grade social studies curriculum, at least here in Ohio. Isabel and her sister Ruth are sold to a loyalist Boston family in 1776, so that book covers both the treatment of slaves and their attempts to gain freedom as well as the Revolutionary War and the struggles of the Colonists to break free. However, the British want to free the slaves, so Isabel struggles. Well-researched, this covers a period in slave history that not many books do, and the characters are intersting and well-developed. Will definitely buy, but I do feel lukewarm. It might be that the book was over 300 pages in tiny print. Hmmm.
Did not care for Kadohata's Outside Beauty. Four sisters, who all have different fathers, are on a road trip with their mother to visit one of the girl's fathers when their mother is in an accident and they are all sent to their different fathers. Too much introspection and not enough action. Read, Read, Read feels similarly, and Library Thing has four reviews of this.
Sydor's My Mother Is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed Up Life had the same flippant, nasty tone for too long. The girls might love it, but I'll pass.
Shannon and Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale's Rapunzel's Revenge was an interesting, graphic novel retelling of the story, but I can't think of an audience for it. The pictures are gorgeous, there's a sort of Wild West twist on Rapunzel, but I can't see my graphic novel boys picking it up, and the girls who do venture into graphic novels tend to like realistic, modern fiction. I'll road test it a bit today. Perhaps this is more of an elementary title.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad librarian, bad!

I read two books last night. One was quality literature, the other was paperback fluff.
Liz Gallagher's book, The Opposite of Invisible, follows Alice, who suddenly recieves the attention of a popular football player. This moves her into a wider social circle and out of "invisibility", but also alienated her from Jewel, her best friend, who likes her as "more than a friend". Not surprisingly, the football player treats her badly, and she starts to miss Jewel. This slim, lyrical volume does cover some high school issues (drinking), but is a tender treatment of the heartbreak of first romances.

So of course I prefered Shannon Greenland's The Specialist: Model Spy. Geeky but gorgeous orphan Kelly (GiGi) James is caught hacking into a government computer system and told that she can either do time in a juvenile detention center or join an elite spy force of other orphan kids with spectacular abilities. Yes, very much like Robert Muchamore's C.H.E.R.U.B. series, but with more eye shadow romance. Her first assignment is to pretend to be a model in order to free her crush's (and fellow spy's) father from the clutches of evil doers. Lots of action, clever writing, and much, much fun. My 9th grader loved it and will be thrilled to know that there are three more volumes (which I immediately put on my book order): Down to the Wire, The Winning Element and Native Tongue. The first book is entirely suitable for middle school, with no language or anything else to which tender readers might object. I've not read the others, but I am taking a chance on them.
The problem was that the first book read, in the words of my daughter, like something that they would HAVE to read for language arts. Quality literature versus well-written but fluffy books that keep kids reading-- you know what my philosophical musings will be for today!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer

Ever since her mother's death, Philippa has clung to black-- it's practical, it doesn't show dirt, and it underlines her general state of mind. When she sees an ad for a nanny who "must love black", she sees this as a way to avoid spending the summer with her father and his new wife. Ten-year-old twins Rienne and Triste are also trying to cope with their mother's death, and the fact that their father is so busy running a spa that he doesn't have time for them and counts on Philippa to keep them out of view of the spa guests and force them to have "fun". In the end, everyone is happier because Philippa allows the twins to have fun in their own way and gets their father to pay more attention to them.

The cover on this (there is also a tag "Get your Goth on") is very misleading. Yes, Philippa wears all black, but she's not really Goth. While this was a fun, amusing read, it really didn't address the Goth issue, and I wish that it had. Other than The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod or Vampire Kisses, I haven't come across anything with Goth main characters. Perhaps I haven't looked. Anyone seen anything?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good history/bad history

I've already had students asking for the sequel to Michael Ford's Fire of Ares (reviewed April 08, 2008), and they will not be disappointed with Birth of a Warrior.Lysander has been accepted by the Spartans despite his Helot mother-- after all, his grandfather is the ephor. For training, Lysander is sent with his enemies Demaratos and Agesilaus to survive in the mountains with limited food and clothing. When the group returns from this adventure, they are thrust into war with Persia.

Not only is this book packed with action and intigue, it sneaks in wonderful moments of personal growth and identity. Mr. Ford studied Classics at Oxford, so the historical details are rich and accurate. A must have series.

It was for the historical inaccuracy that I could not abide Carolyn Hennessy's Pandora Gets Vain, the sequel to Pandora Gets Jealous (reviewed April 16, 2008). DISCLAIMER: I was a Latin teacher. I am picky.
The language was still grating (calling her Pandy), and there were multiple descriptions of the girls' togas. Google "toga". It's very clear that this is a loose outer garment worn by ROMAN men. Pandora would wear a tunic, or a chiton. The only women who wore togas were prostitutes. I could almost stomach that, but then Pandora, who is already in the company of Helen and Homer (vastly different eras), meets up with a Chinese woman, a Mayan, and several other vaguely mythological beings. The Greeks did not really know about the Chinese until the time of Alexander the Great. I know that this is just a fun myth-BASED romp, but I really do fear that it will confuse students who read these because they are enjoying learning about mythology, especially when we are trying to get their time-lines straight.

Beedle the Bard

Everyone will have to buy two copies anyway, but here goes: This slim and horribly bound volume consists of five stories traditionally read to wizard children, with notes from Albus Dumbledore and J. K. Rowling. The stories follow fairy tale conventions and point out different lessons that wizard children need to know. They don't add much to the Potter tales, but are pleasant enough. There is one funny bit about a Mrs. Bloxam, who bowdlerized the tales, making them "more suitable". (And Wee Willykins kissed and huggled the hopitty pot and promised... never to be an old grumpy-wumpkins again" pg. 19)

Would have liked this more without the commentary but with more tales.

G. Neri's Chess Rumble

Came across author Greg Neri at Boyrsread.org while researching a "Connecting Boys and Books" paper. Chess Rumble is a slim volume about Marcus, who is having a difficult time. His sister has died, his father has moved out, and his mother is stressed. Home life is difficult, and school is not any better. Marcus gets involved in fights. His principal introduces him to a chess playing mentor, but it isn't until he meets the man again in the park, in the company of other students, that the man and the lessons he offers click.

This is a great pick for reluctant readers. The cover will appeal, because inner city settings (like Bluford High) are popular, and the spare text does not look too hard for students struggling with reading. My only reservation is that the size of the book looks a bit like a picture book, and this does make a difference.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not what students ask for.

Several interesting books, but just not what I need for my library.

Nicholls' Ways to Live Forever was a very effective story of an eleven year old boy dying of leukemia. I cried at the end. However, the book centered more on the boy keeping a journal to try to figure out who he was and to answer imponderable questions. Koss' Side Effects addressed the reality of cancer treatment more clearly, and even that sits on the shelf most of the time.

Scott's Perfect You was realistic and reflects current events--Kate's father quits his job to sell vitamins at a mall, with disastrous effects on the family's budget. Brother is unemployed after college. Mother is stressed. Kate is involved in a less-than-satisfying realtionship. Grandmother nags and spoils. Not a happy read, but not depressing enough to take students' minds off their own lives-- which may be very much like this book.

Julie Halpern's Get Well Soon is based on her own experiences in a mental hospital, but I did not like the characters. Students ask for books like this, but prefer specific problems: McCormick's Cut, Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World, Shaw's Black-Eyed Suzie, Neufeld's Lisa Bright and Dark and even Greenberg's 1964 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden all have more compelling characters. (Must have enough on this topic!)

9th grader picked up Rinaldi's The Letter Writer, because she covered Nat Turner's slave rebellion in class, but made the comment "It's not about the rebellion." It centers on the life of a white girl who gets herself tangentially involved with Nat Turner. Interesting depiction of the times, but not what we wanted from the book. One told from Turner's perspective would be better.

Didn't read much of Greene's The Lucky Ones. Famly problems during a summer spent at the beach. Lyrically written, but I no one asks for a story about (subject headings) family life, brothers and sisters, or conduct of life. Am also passing on Conly's Impetuous R., Secret Agent, since no one asks for talking cockroaches saving their jazz nightclub home from financial ruin. This author's continuation of her father's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH would be a better choice.

You know you'll have to buy it, because you bought the other eight books in this series, but these are becoming completely indistinguishable from one another. The first couple were clever, and it's funny to ask the librarian to say things like Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants, but really, how does Georgia have a life and write in her journal every five minutes? Prefer the Whytock mentioned earlier this month, Cathy Hopkins' Mates Dates series, and anything by Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jack: Secret Histories and The Reminder

I wanted to like F. Paul Wilson's prequel to his adult novels, Jack: Secret Histories, but was concerned when my public library didn't have it.Premise: Jack and his two friends discover a corpse in the woods that may be tied to a ritual murder, and cult members start dying as well. The prose was oddly dense and ponderous, and it took quite a while to get the story started. For a mystery, my students would put up with that for a while, but the amount of 1980s pop cultural references were so numerous as to be distracting. Drat. Will pass.

Rune Michaels' Genesis Alpha is a big hit in my library, so I had hopes for The Reminder. Synopsis: "Daisy continues to hear her dead mother's voice, and the overwhelming power she experiences leads her to believe that she might be able to go back and save her mother's life." HUGE SPOILER: Daisy hears her mother's voice because her father has made a realistic animatronic head of her, with whom Daisy talks until her father gets a girlfriend and discards the head. Meanwhile, Daisy has told her friends that her mother died of cancer, but she really committed suicide, and Daisy found her in the bathtub. I have horrific visions of this being unwittingly given to a student whose mother has passed away for bibliotherapy. I want to field test this, but it's too creepy, and not in a good way.

Every last one of my vampire books is checked out, so I was glad to come across Vivian Vande Velde's Companions of the Night (1995). Kerry makes an ill-fated trip to the laundromat to retrieve her brother's stuffed animal, and is pulled into a hunt for vampires. She helps a young man escape from the vampire hunters only to discover that he is really a vampire, and not an entirely good one, either. This is quite different in tone from the newer books, and vampires are not as romanticized. More attention is paid to the mystery and the various kidnappings and man hunts that occur. Still, brush this one off and hand to students far down on the reserve list for Twilight. This does have a very brief chat about how vampires enjoy both killing people... and sex. Nothing graphic, just in passing.

Jean Van Leeuwen's Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life(1989) has some very dated moments. There are some vivid descriptions of Flashdance fashions, and several chapters dedicated to dance lessons (as in fox trot and waltz) in preparation for a dance at the country club. There are enough fun moments, and nice family interaction that I am not going to weed it. Speaking of dated books, I was very sad that someone lost Doris Gate's Blue Willow, about migrant farm workers during the Depression. Can't justify replacing this one, but I did love it.

Warner's The Woodshed Mystery made me realize that this would have been the perfect series for me when I was in first and second grade. They are very simple, but longer than most books for children that age. Would have been hot stuff.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chris Lynch's Cyberia

Zane never sees his busy, famous parents, but they know all about what he's doing because his room spies on him. It takes his temperature, tracks his movements, and tells him when he needs to go to the bathroom. This is what the future is like. No one goes outside, because inside is nicer. Zane isn't all that crazy about his lifestyle, but it is made better by Hugo, his dog. When Zane's father drops off the latest gizmo to track Zane, it enables him to hear animals speak. When Hugo lets Zane know that their vet, Dr. Gristle, is behind a plan to microchip and enslave as many animals as possible, the two set out to free the animals and overthrow Gristle's evil plans.

Yes, this strained credulity at times, but it was enormous fun. There were lots of read-out-loud funny moments (Hugo: He even tastes like a jerk. Evil jerk flavor.), fast-paced action, and an underlying important message-- when do our personal identities become subsumed by machinery? Zane is a reluctant but capable hero, and Hugo is now my second favorite literary pet (the first being Gloria from No Flying in the House.) Add a healthy dose of technology and a perfect length (160 pages), and this is a must-buy for elementary and middle school libraries.

Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur is something I will buy if I have money to spare. Gwyna escapes from the wreckage of her master's home and is taken in by Myrddin, a bard who works for Arthur, doing his PR and arranging many of the fantastical events that stoke the mythology. Gwyna helps, while disguised as a boy. This was a nice spin on the Arthur legend, but was slightly Sutcliffe in the telling. This is more for hard core fantasy fans. There are already several good Arthur books in my library(Sword of the Rightful King, Arthur at the Crossing Places), and they aren't wildly popular.

Also sloggged through Warner's Blue Bay Mystery and Mike's Mystery. These are becoming a bit like Scooby-Doo meets Dick and Jane. The language is really stilted, the plots improbable, and yet for struggling readers, these serve a purpose.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Disappointing Books for Young Adults

All day yesterday, a post I read on The LiteraBuss has been going through my brain, thank to Jen Robinson's Friday Visit.

The original post dealt with books that should not be required reading. This has validity. However, I don't think any librarians or teachers are going to remove all Laura Ingalls Wilder from the shelves because of irrelevancy. Much of the discussion I've seen on this topic has to do with personal opinion, and most of the titles could be argued. (The Borrowers? Where the Red Fern Grows? Certainly, students still read these.)

I felt compelled to list young adult books (no fair listing Vanity Fair, the most boring book ever written) that are without question boring and dated, butI found that most of those books are gone from my shelves, and from my memory. Therefore, I will list some books that are disappointing to many students and yet I can't see to take them off my shelves.

Should I? I checked out I Am the Cheese to a student who was bored and asked for a full report.

Babbit, Natalie. The Search for Delicious. Disappointment Factor: Tuck Everlasting was so good.

Byars, Betsy. The Summer of the Swans. DF: Nothing happens. It's not funny.

Cormier, Robert. I am the Cheese. DF: Caused my best friend to never trust her high school librarian.

DeJong, Meindert. The Wheel on the School. DF: Won an award in the '50s. Hmmm.

Duane, Diane. So You Want to be a Wizard. DF: Love the series; first book confusing.

Fox, Paula. Any title. DF: Depressing, dated, ponderous.

Fleming, Ian. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. DF: The movie had Dick van Dyke and was really good.

Hunt, Irene. Up a Road Slowly. DF: Small town relationships and coming of age story doesn't resonate with students.

Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terebithia. DF: No student in the last five years has liked this.

Voigt, Cynthia. The Tillerman Saga. DF: Really long, really depressing. Students get about halfway through Homecoming and give up.

Zindel, Paul. Books not about monsters. DF: Once these were cutting edge. Now they are just a little odd.

Banner in the Sky and other titles

This Newbery Honor book from 1954 was a good companion book to Roland Smith's Peak. Rudi Matt, whose father died attempting to climb the highest Alp, the Citadel, near his Swiss home, has climbing in his blood. Tired of washing dishes at a local hotel, he runs off to the mountains and rescues an English climber who is trying to get to the Citadel. Rudi's uncle won't guide the man, but a guide from a neighboring village agrees to. When Rudi finds out, he runs off to join the group. Rife with harrowing details of cold, deprivation, and competition, students would not know this was set in 1865 except for the lack of sophisticated gear and Polarfleece. The notes say that this is based on author James Ramsey Ullman's experiences, with details drawn from the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

Esther Friesner's Nobody's Princess (reviewed November 07, 2007) was a rolicking good read, and Nobody's Prize continued this imaginative tale of Helen of Troy as a young girl. Helen, along with her former slave, Milo, join Jason and his crew of princes on the Argo in search of the golden fleece. Many characters from Greek myth are mentioned, there's plenty of fighting and intrigue, and it's refreshing to see a treatment of Helen that doesn't make her vain and foolish. There are so many people who know that she is a girl that it stretched my credulity somewhat, but students who are interested in ancient Greece, even boys, should like this.

Another "historical" book that is more action and adventure is Bill Wallace's Red Dog. Adam and his family live in a secluded area of the mountains out west. Adam does not care much for his stepfather and is glad when the man goes to town to file a claim on their property and leaves him in charge. Unfortunately, there are evil prospectors targeting the family's land, since they have located gold in the stream, and they take the family hostage. Adam shows that he has what it takes to protect his family, and of course the dog, whom he has trained to track, helps out, too. A great selection for adventure fans forced to read history.

Emily's parents get divorced when her father decides to quit being a realtor and rejoin the rock band of his youth, and her mother, a free-lance writer, decides to move her from New Jersey to California. Missing her father, Emily writes her journal addressed to him, detailing all of the difficulties she has settling in to her new life. My reluctant 5th grader liked this, but while I liked the basic story, the journal pretense wore thin for me (who really writes extensive dialogue in a journal?) and I was slightly irritated that we have yet another "hippy" mother (although she is researching former hippies and emulating them, and not portrayed as an actual one.) Still, a good addition to the Millicent Min trilogy.

Had some trouble with Papademetriou's Accidentally Fabulous, although 5th grader liked it. The Candy Apple books do tend to focus on nasty girl cliques, but apparently that is a big concern, because all of these titles are popular. Thrift store afficianado Amy has a scholarship to the prestigious Allington Academy, and makes friends with a girl in the "League", but must jump through many hoops before the leader accepts her. There are a lot of fake brand names dropped, but I had a hard time believing that 7th graders really pay all that much attention to designers, or that private schools are really that snooty (and I taught in one for 4 years). This was sort of The Clique lite, and I hope that Papademetriou wrote this by order of Scholastic, because I usually like her titles much better.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

First published in 1903, this Kate Douglas Wiggins classic was reissued with new illustrations for its centenary. Rebecca is from a large, poor farm family, and in order to get an education is sent to live with her mother's disapproving sisters. Aunt Jane is sweet but buckles under Aunt Miranda's exacting and self-righteous thumb. Rebecca does her best to follow their rules, but gets into scrapes (leaning against fresh paint in her new dress) but spreads joy wherever she goes.

Slightly flawed but perky characters were something new at the time this was published-- we have Canfield's Understood Betsy, and of course, Montgomery's Ann. These stories were considered somewhat less didactic. There are certainly lots of fun moments, and Rebecca is an interesting, head strong girl, but what I came away with from this book was this: Really, a 30-year-old wealthy man meets her when she's ten, follows and aids her career, and then falls in love with her when she graduates from high school? EWWWW! Okay, in the end, he's 34, she's 17, and Wiggins never specifically says that they get married, but many elements point that way. To our modern sensibilities, this is just wrong, but 100 years ago, this was probably the best way for poor, bright girls to better their lot. Wouldn't buy this one new or go to great lengths to preserve old copy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cherry Whytock

I enjoy the stories about Angela Cookson Potts ever so much more than I do the ones about Georgia Nicholson (Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging), and yet there are only three of the Whytock titles that have made it across the pond. Unfair!

Angel lives in Knightsbridge, London, with her thin aristocratic mother, her slighty doddering father, and their housekeeper Flossie. She has three good friends (and a diverse, multi-cultural crowd they are, too), likes fashion, and LOVES food. She struggles with her weight, family and boys. I especially enjoy it when the family goes on vacation to places like an Italian villa. Probably not very realistic, but interestingly different.

If you have a large fan base for the Louise Rennison titles (and I still have to read the latest of those-- Stop in the Name of Pants.), make sure that you order all three of these titles: My Cup Runneth Over, My Scrumptious Scottish Dumplings and My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli.

The British Series, as far as I can tell. Yes, Ronni, they seem to be available at Amazon.co.uk, but the last two are not in the U.S. *Sob!*

Angel: disasters, diets and d-cups
Angel: Haggis Horrors and Heavenly Bodies
Angel: secrets, suspicions and sun-kissed beaches

Angel: loving, loathing and luscious lunches
Angel: deli dramas and dreamy doormen

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

John Wilson

Must admit that I bought a number of John Wilson titles without reading them, since I was so desperate to provide the students who will only read war books with reading material. I finally got to And in the Morning last night, and was very pleased.

Jim's father dies early on in World War I, his mother succumbs to mental illness, and he enlists in the army at the age of 15. At first, he is full of the thrill of adventure and danger, but as the war continues and he spends years in the trenches, he hopes merely to make it back home to his young wife. Well-researched and told through engaging diary entries and letters, this is especially effective because it does address the fact that young men find war exciting, and then explains why the reality of this is so different.
There are several other titles by this author: Battle Scars and Flags of War (Civil War), Flames of a Tiger and Four Steps to Death (WWII). There are other titles that I don't own (check the Wilson link above), but I will certainly be checking these other titles for purchase. If you have boys who are interested in war books, these are just right.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Assorted Mythology Books

In the sequel to Anne Ursu's The Shadow Thieves (reviewed on Wednesday, June 13, 2007), Charlotte is uneasy. Having defeated Philonecron in his attempts to steal shadows from all the children in the world to make an army, she worries that he will not rest quietly, and she's right. However, after her escapades, she has been "super-mega-grounded", is in therapy, and is dealing with her parents mistrust.

Her cousin Zee has moved to the US, and she's glad to have him nearby, since he is the only one who understands the adventure she was on and the threat the Greek gods still pose to the world. When he starts acting strangely, she starts to investigate. Things come to a head when she goes on a history cruise with her parents and ends up having to save the entire ship from being fed to a monstrous sea creature.

Like the first book, what makes this story is Charlotte's attitude and fresh voice. Sure, she's fighting evil that threatens the planet, but first she has to convince her parents to let her out of her room. This was very enjoyable. The Immortal Fire is due out on June 9, 2009.

Geraldine McCaughrean's Heroes series are all very good. She has a way with telling all of the nitty-gritty details about the myths (yes, Hercules murders his wife and children), but doesn't do it in an overly sensational way. Titles include Perseus, Theseus and Odysseus. Must have books for your fans of Riordan's The Lightning Thief.

Books that everyone loved that were ....eh

John Green and I don't generally get along, although An Abundance of Katherines is my 7th grader's 6th favorite book. I had high hopes for Paper Towns, since everyone else loved it. My conclusion-- this is more of a high school book, and that's why I was not excited about it.

On the eve of his high school graduation, Quentin (rather geeky, with geeky friends) is approached by Margo, his neighbor for whom he has long pined, who wants him to drive her around town on a mission of revenge. Her boyfriend had a relationship with her best friend, and other friends didn't tell her, so all of them deserve fish in their cars/closets, and some spray paint. After this night, Margo disappears, and leaves clues for Quentin to follow to find her.

I didn't like Margo. She is immature, vindictive, and callous to the feelings of those who care for her. I didn't like Quentin for liking her. Her spree and resultant running away seemed like a poor way to deal with the issues in her life. I am in the minority here. For sparkling reviews, read:

Hip Librarians Book Blog
Fyre Fly Books
Bookshelves of Doom
Reader Rabbit

Felt similarly about Michael Grant's Gone, which was donated by my principal when he realized that post apocalyptic tales are not to his liking. My 9th grader liked this one.

During class, all of the adults in the school disappear. When students leave the school to find out what has happened, they find that not only everyone over the age of 15 is gone, but there is a force field surrounding the area that will let no one out, as well as mutating animals and children who are manifesting strange powers. Students from a local school for troubled children arrive in town and try to rule, creating tension among the town children, who are trying their best to care for the smaller children, keep people fed, and perform other adult tasks. There is a lot of action in this book, and there is sure to be a sequel, but half way through I just no longer cared. Again, in the minority. People who loved it include:

Teen Book Review
Reading Mania
YA New York

From the library shelves, I did polish off Wister's The Virginian, which was on the best seller list for over a year... in 1902. It had some charming stories in it, and I can see why it was popular, but I can't envision students today enjoying it much. Also looked at Rosemary Well's The Man in the Woods (1984), and it is moving to a better home. Badly waterstained, dusty, bad 1980s cover, and hasn't left the shelf in eight years.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Silmarillion

J.R.R. Tolkien kept notes on various aspects of his Lord of the Rings books for many years. In 1977, his son, Christopher, published some of these as The Silmarillion. It is important to know that these notes were in a rough form. The book, while invaluable to the back story of Middle Earth, is very dense and more suited to studying than reading, since the preponderance of names (most of the characters seem to have three or four), places and small details make this difficult going for the casual reader.

This said, I have friends who practically memorized this. If your library is frequented by Tolkien fanatics, you may need a copy of this, although the length of this makes it something that students may want to have for their own.  I have been working on this since August, and seriously had trouble staying awake while reading this.

It has come to my attention that there is also The War of the Jewels : the Later Silmarillion, Part II, The Legends of Beleriand. While the very thought of this makes me want to weep openly, it would be a lovely Christmas present for the person who adores The Silmarillion.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comment Challenge/Happy Thanksgiving!

Please visit Mother Reader to see how the comment challenge wraps up. This was a really great idea, and I learned much about the variety of blogs out there and had nice things said about me by Teacher Ninjas, which I needed. When I get back to an internet connection not powered by hamsters on wheels, the blog roll will be updated.

Will not post again until Monday, December 1 because of said hamster wheel problem AND the fact that I become immediately fascinating to whining teenagers whenever I am near the computer.

Also, I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.

I am going to read The Silmarillion.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gertrude Chandler Warner

Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children (1942) was one of my favorites when I was very young, so I was not surprised to find out that Ms. Warner taught first grade for a very long time. The book is very easy to read, but is not as short as emergent reader books tend to be today, which is probably one of the reason I liked it!

That, and what child wouldn't like the story of four children surviving on their own? They live in a boxcar, find dishes and furnishings at the dump, and the older brother mows yards for people to get them money for lots of bread and milk. When this was first published, there were complaints that the children were enjoying themselves too much without adult supervision.

Surprise Island and The Yellow House Mystery are the second and third books in the series. Ms. Warner wrote 19, and then The Albert Whitman Company continued the series for a very long time. While the mysteries are okay, they lose a lot of their charm for me because the grandfather, who adopts the children, makes everything immediately possible, even though there is still a lot of time that the children are on their own. (Really? Sending a 16,14, 12 and 7 year olds to an island with just a caretaker to watch them?) They are also still really , really interested in dishes, and still eat a lot of bread and milk.

These are books that just are not the same to read when one is not about eight years old. Sigh.

Some Wallaces

Barbara Brooks Wallace does such fun books. Peppermints in the Parlor is one that I love to recommend for mystery lovers. Read Cousins in the Castle last night, and enjoyed that. Amelia is sent on a ship from London to New York after her father's death with an uncaring cousin, becomes separated from the woman and involved in intrigues. She is kidnapped, her clothes are taken, and she is left to survive on the street. Luckily, with the help of a boy she met on the ship who is involved in the theater, she finds her family. This had a very The Little Princess feel to it, thanks to the Victorian setting. I am looking forward to more titles.

Bill Wallace does a lot of animal books, and the students love them, but Snot Stew came perilously close to "talking animals" for my taste. (They don't talk, but the book is from the perspective of two kittens who are taken into a house and have some trouble adjusting. Sigh.) I am looking forward to reading the more historical fiction from this author.

Rich Wallace is usually my go-to guy for sports books, but Shots on Goal didn't do much for me. Maybe it was the kids drinking. Very attractive when the girl threw up and then the boy kissed her. Eh. I'll stick to his other titles.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trip to the public library

The nice thing about getting out is that I choose books by their covers. That can also be a bad thing! I did pick up a lot of titles that didn't meet my library's needs.

The best thing I read was Peg Kehret's Stolen Children, even though it was vaguely reminiscent of a Beany Malone plot line. This author's Abduction! is very popular, so this story of a girl who is babysitting a young child who gets kidnapped will go over well. Not as much mystery as suspense and survival tale, this has all of the things that make Kehret popular--smooth and understandable writing, well-developed plot, and amusing characters.

The rest of the titles I read weren't quite what I needed. Konigsberg Out of the Pocket was a good football book, but centered mainly on the high school main character coming out as gay. Well done, but perhaps more of a high school title.

Wanted to like Dent's Diary of a Chav, but the cover gave it away as rather vulgar. Sue Limb's Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl was another rare English title that didn't catch my fancy.

Tharp's Spectacular Now had a great title and cover, but it was about a boy who spent most of his time either drunk or high. Nope. (Excellent review of this title at Oops...Wrong Cookie.)McNamee's Bonechiller didn't live up to the expectations I had after Acceleration, which is about the best mystery ever. Jones' Stolen Car just didn't grab me, and while Ferraiolo's The Big Splash amused me, I already have The Half Moon Investigators and the Chet Gecko Mysteries written in a film noir style. Just not big among the students.

Biggest disappointment was Phyllis Reynold Naylor's Cricket Man. From Follett: Kenny secretly calls himself "Cricket Man" after a summer of rescuing creatures from his family's pool, which gives him more self-confidence and an urge to be a hero, especially for his depressed sixteen-year-old neighbor, Jodie. An odd offering from an author I usually like.

From the school library stacks: Ruth White's Belle Prater's Boy, one of those award winners that hasn't been checked out since 2003. A decent enough story, about a boy who goes to live with quirky Southern relatives after his mother runs off. Life lessons are learned, secrets are revealed, and he comes to grips with his abandonment.

Bill Wallace's A Dog Called Kitty was a nice story about a boy who was afraid of dogs raising an abandoned puppy and coming to care for him, until the dog is killed rather randomly. Ferrets in the Bedroom, Lizards in the Fridge was much less sad-- girl has some trouble at school because her father keeps so many animals at home, but when he takes the animals to the lab, she realizes that she likes having them around, and they aren't really the cause of her problems. Many funny moments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Accelerated Reader Smackdown Continues

The benefit to this is that I have neglected my reading deathmarch through the stacks, so I am finishing this off and plan to read (*gasp*) The Silmarillion over Thanksgiving. Apologies for the lack of new titles.

Taylor, Mildred. The Trees. In the 1930's south, an African American family's woods are threatened by white men who think they can take advantage of them. These shorter titles from Taylor are good for reluctant readers who need historical fiction. (Solid Gold Cadillac, The Friendship, The Well, etc.)

Tripp, Valerie. Samantha Saves the Day, Changes for Samantha. These American Girl titles actually have a lot of good historical information and are easy to get through. I would think that the interest level is more emergent readers, but again, if reluctant readers need historical fiction, these are great. I like Molly best.

Uchida, Yoshiko. Jar of Dreams. Rinko's aunt Waka visits from Japan for the summer, and the family is glad of her help during the difficult financial times of 1930s Berkeley. When Rinko's mother decides to start a home laundry, she enrages the bigoted owner of another nearby laundry, and the family must pull together to fight him.

Van Draanen, Wendelin. Shredderman: Attack of the Tagger, Meet the Gecko. Nelson has a Shredderman web site which he uses to expose evil doing in his school and town. These are fun, since this gives him a lot of power. He does start out as geeky, but he is just an ordinary kid who takes control of situations with a lot of thought. Mainly for reluctant middle schoolers or 3rd graders, but I enjoyed them.

Wallace, Rich. Double Fake. Calvin and Zero join a summer soccer league and learn to play the game, but struggle with being bested by two girls whom they find attractive. Complete listing of these titles on this blog on January 29, 2008. A must for any middle school library.

Bergen, Lara. Confessions of a Bitter Secret Santa. A Scholastic Candy Apple Book. Reviewed The Accidental Cheerleader on May 31, 2007. This one was okay, but not quite as good. These are my younger daughter's favorites and wildly popular with the 6th grade girls. I finally broke down and am shelving them all under Candy Apple.

After my upcoming winter break hiatus (slow internet connection at home), I promise more NEW titles.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

If you have a lot of computer savvy students who also like to read, this would be an excellent book for your collection. Marcus, who has always found a way around most school and parent controls through technology, uses his skills to regain som eprivacy and freedom after Homeland Security makes life difficult in the wake of a terrorist attack. Rich in all manner of computer lingo and hacking descriptions, this also has action, adventure, and a stick-it-to-the-man sort of vibe. That said, I couldn't finish this book and don't think I'll buy it for my library. It's very long and very technical, and my fantasy/sci fi fans usually run more to dragons. It would be fine for a middle school (the language and situations were okay as far as I read), but I fear the Summerland Effect-- it would get checked out only once a year.

Also read Wood's When Pigs Fly from 1995 which was okay. Girl's family falls on hard times and moves to farm. Sister has Down's Syndrome, best friend has uncaring parents and starts drinking, and neighbor boy's father has burned down house and fled, leaving the boy to live in a cave and earn his living selling at a flea market. How is this in print while Jason and the Gorgon's Blood is not?

One might ask the same qustion of Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World by Mildred Pitts Walter. This actually won the Coretta Scott King award in about 1986. An okay tale of a boy bonding with his grandfather, but a good half of the book is about the boy learning to cook and clean his room. No joke. I can't think that this would be interesting to any preteen boy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jason and the Gorgon's Blood

Have been shamelessly promoting this book on the basis of having read two other titles by Yomen and Harris (Atalnta and the Arcadian Beast and Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons) and was not disappointed when I read this one. It follows Jason, son of Aeson and the real heir to the throne of Ioclus who has been raised by the centaur Chiron. When other centaurs beat up Chiron and steal two jars of gorgon's blood, Jason and his companions (include his evil cousins, the princes) must go across the mountains to retrieve them. There's a fair amount about leading and following, being good people, etc., but mainly it is fighting and roaming about the Greek countryside trying to cross chasms, with narrow escapes. Next, I need to read Odysseus and the Serpent Maze. If your library does not have these, buy all of them!

Theodore Taylor's Billy the Kid was also full of chases and gun battles, but made Billy a nicer character than the real one. For fan's of Gary Paulsen's Mr. Tucket series and anyone who likes Westerns. Doesn't seem to be a popular theme anymore.

Also read Rich Wallace's Fast Company, Betty Ren Wright's The Dollhouse Murders, and Valerie Tripp's Happy Birthday, Samantha. Could not get into Gray's Evernight because it was more vampires, although my 9thgrader liked it and I will probably buy it. Klein's Two Girls of Gettysburg was a bit long for the students who need historical fiction, so I may pass.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soldier X by Don Wulffson

I'm not a big fan of war books, but there are some boys who want to read nothing else. This 2001 title combines many good elements that make this a great read for your WWII obsessed boys.

Erik is only 16 when he is conscripted into the German army. He's not thrilled, because his grandparents are Russian. He gets sent to the front, and there is some rather graphic fighting. The sad conditions of war are all described-- the filth, the cold and damp, the battles that cause young boys to lose their lives. During one of these battles, Erik is badly injured and trapped under a tank with a dead Russian soldier-- he changes uniforms with him and emerges, pretending to be Russian but have amnesia. He ends up working in the hospital where he is treated, and escaping with one of the nurses when the fighting stops.

This was really fabulous for the idea that people are people, regardless of their country. At one point, Erik kills a German soldier who has opened fire on him in order to save his Russian companions. Things are not black and white during a war. The fighting in this book is not glorified.

I had a very dear friend who fought in the Wehrmacht. He didn't want to, but he had to. This gives some insight as to what he must have felt. This book is based on true stories of two people.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I am officially the last person to read this! It is certainly a title worth buying, but I wasn't as thrilled about it as most people have been. Too many dystopian titles lately, perhaps!

Katniss has been taking care of her family since her father's death, hunting and gathering food in the forest, although this is forbidden. At the yearly reaping, however, she is chosed to be a tribute for her community and fight in the annual Hunger Games, a combination of reality tv program and government population control. The other tribute from her community is Peeta, a boy she doesn't know well, but has had positive dealings with. They must both fight to survive, and only one of them can win.

While I didn't quite understand why this futuristic society had crumbled so far-- there is a little discussion, but not enough. Why the Hunger Games? How can Kat's family afford a tv if there is no food? There were a lot of unanswered questions, but they will probably be addressed in book two. I would have prefered a stand-alone title, but students do like series.

On the positive side, the action/adventure/survival was quite riveting, once the games began. I liked Kat and Peeta, and felt that they both matured and learned something. A lot of good discussion about human nature. This will be a popular title, and it has already been suggested for a school book club.

Feel compelled to list other reviews, since mine is rather luke-warm and not specific!

Becky's Books
Fuse #8
YA New York
Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs
Winfield Public Library

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What I read during book fair.

The morning was a little slow (conferences were going on) and I was able to read these all before lunch and also take AR tests. I won't describe these; there are too many. This is the only day of work ever where I have been able to read! I now have about 175 points. It's become a Reading Smack Down!

  1. Fritz, Jean. Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  2. "" .George Washington's Breakfast
  3. Slote, My Robot Buddy
  4. Turner. Nettie's Trip South
  5. Tripp. Changes for Molly
  6. "". Happy Birthday for Molly
  7. "". Molly Saves the Day
  8. "". Molly Learns a Lesson
  9. Willner-Pardo. Spider Storch's Musics Mess,
  10. "". Spider Storch's Fumbled Field Trip
  11. "". Spider Storch's, Teacher Torture
  12. "". Spider Storch's Carpool Catastrophe
  13. van Leeuwen. Amanda Pig on Her Own,
  14. "". Oliver Pig at School
  15. Warner. Sweet and Sour Lily
  16. Wetterer. Kate Shelly and the Midnight Express
  17. Behind the Scenes at a Movie
  18. Sneakers
  19. Sneakers: From Start to Finish
  20. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Growing Up
  21. Tut's Mummy Lost and Found
  22. Pompeii: Buried Alive

(Overall, I have a 94% average, so I do miss some questions! On the last book, I got 8 out of ten, which is sad, because I taught Pompeii, and the level on the book was 2.9! Just shows that you have to pay attention!)

Yoshiko Uchida

I am sorry to report that this author died in 1992. Uchida has a large body of work, some of it biographical. Her family spent time in the Topaz internment camp during World War II, and Journey Home (1978) is somewhat autobiographical, since it follows some of the same paths that Uchida's family's own experiences did. Yuki's family has been released from Topaz, but instead of returning to California, they must live in Salt Lake City, because anyone of Japanese descent is forbidden to live on the west coast. Eventually, they are able to move back to their own home town and work, along with other Japanese Americans, to rebuild their lives. This was especially interesting, since there are some books about the internment camps, but I have read nothing about the aftermath.

Below follows the books that I have in my library on this topic, which is a very good one to add to the study of World War II. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a much better list at

Denenberg, Barry. The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559 Mirror Lake Internment Camp (1999)
Garrigue, Sheila The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito (1999?)

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manazar (1974)

Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower (2006)

Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine (2002)

More resources are available at:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Man That Corrputed Hadleyburg, etc.

Given the title of this Mark Twain work, I feel a little better that it's not Boys WHO Bite. This short story is in book form, with a healthy 3 AR points. The reading level is 7.9, so I am going to use it frequently for my students who don't want to read anything on a level 5.0. This was a little difficult for me to get through, and it will be interesting to see what students think. Hadleyburg has a reputation of a town of high morals and values, but after being treated badly by a resident, a man sends a sack of gold to the town, and instructions on how it is to be awarded. He then sends letters to the top 19 citizens to tell them how to get the award; deceit and devastation result. Fine for students who want some Literature.

Elizabeth Van Steenwyk's Three Dog Winter (1987) was a good sled dog book that gave in to the 80's trend toward problems and involves step-brothers learning to get along while racing. Decent length, decent cover, and has circulated steadily. Have a couple of students in mind for it.

Ann Warren Turner's Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson (2003) was rather enjoyable and had a lot of good details about life in the colonies. Prudence's family supports the king, which doesn't make them popular. Along with the every day occurences such as chores, sickness and schooling, politics and history of the time are covered in an instructive but enjoyable way.

Stolarz's Project 17 looked good (students spend the night making a film in a deserted insane asylum before it is torn down). It was told from different points of view, like Teri Fields' Hold Up, which I liked, but I didn't like any of the characters. That, and the first few chapters involved students making tuna salad and talking to a guidance conselour, which I'm afraid fall into the "this didn't capture my attention" category. May have to take a look at this again; it's book fair week and I am a little weary.

Small Rant on Newbery Awards

I've taken up Mother Reader on the blog comment challenge, and have found some very interesting blogs! Here is an article close to my heart, entitled Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? by Anita Silvey. She points out all of the faults of the latest Newbery winners exactly as I have seen them. The big trouble with awards is that people do use them to foist books on children that children do not enjoy.

The most important thing about getting books to young readers is to provide them with materials they like so that they keep reading. So many times, students HAVE to read so many things that they don't enjoy that they start to feel that they don't enjoy reading itself. The top single reason that students don't enjoy books are that they are boring. Nothing happens. A book can be well-written and contain an explosion in the first chapter; children will like this. It can be well-written and contain introspective navel-gazing; children will not like this. Is Rick Riordan's prose perfect? No. Is it well-crafted, funny, fast-pacing and engaging? Yes! The same is true of Anthony Horowitz. If the next Alex Rider book were to deal more with Alex's conflicted feelings for his father, discussed at length while staring at the sea in Cornwall rather than a spy mission to Africa, it would win awards.

There are lots of books that are both beautifully writtten, literary AND appeal to children. They may be hard to find, but that is the sort of thing that needs to be an award winner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Taking on the "T" authors

Marc Talbert's Pillow of Clouds (1991) is very beautifully written (the main character has some poetry in the book, so clearly this is an interest of the author) and a heart wrenching story of a boy torn between staying with his father in New Mexico and going back to his unhappy mother in Iowa. It's not dated, but definitely of the late 89s school of problem novels. The trend now seems to be more toward action and adventure. Still, come February whe all of my students want to be depressed, this will circulate.

Theodore Taylor's The Bomb (1995) was really interesting historical fiction. Set in the Bikini Atoll, it follows one boy there from the Japanese occupation, liberation, and the setting up of an atomic bomb test site by the Americans. I have about ten boys who love all things concerning WWII who will find this facet of the war something that they have not seen. Taylor was stationed on one of the ships mentioned in the book, and the experience stayed with him for fifty years before he wrote this.

Taylor's Sniper (1989) is a good mystery for boys who also like action, adventure, and big, dangerous animals. Ben's parents are away from their large cat sanctuary when someone starts shooting at the cats, eventually setting fire near the enclosure. Ben, whose parents think he is mediocre, tries to deal with the situation himself, eventually figuring out who is responsible and helping the authorities catch the person. Very good.

Stephanie Tolan's Who's There (1994) is a great evil ghost story. I just wish I'd read it before the big mystery units were assigned! Drew and Evan go to live with an unknown aunt and grandfather after the death of their parents, and find a ghost. It turns out to be the aunt's step mother AND brother, and a lot of family secrets are unveiled. Spooky cold, overwhelming rose smells-- lots of good ghostly details.

I am trying very hard to complete Mother Reader's challenge of posting on five blogs a day. I tend only to comment on blogs listed in my own blog roll, so I am trying to post on five new blogs a day. As long as this can be 15 blogs one day and none on the weekends, I am good. It's helpful to discover new (to me) readers of YA books!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Accelerated Reader Gives Me Nightmares

The contest continues, and I am woefully behind, since I have to read new books before I buy them. Still, I had been dragging my ffeet on reading my way through the collection, so I picked up some AR books and soldiered on.

The Shining Company(1990), by Rosemary Sutcliffe, was actually pretty good. Prosper and his servant Conn are chosen as shield bearers and go on the war trail. Less description and more fighting than most Sutcliffe, and I liked the main characters.

I, Juan de Pareja (1965) by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, about a slave in Spain in the 1600s who worked for an artist. It was very rich with details of the time, but it would take a huge fan of historical fiction to get through this. I like historical fiction, so enjoyed it.

Colin Thiele's Jodie's Journey (1990) was a little bit of adventure and a lot of problems. It is a very good description of a girl's struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, something from which Thiele himself suffers. This will circulate.

Theodore Taylor's Timothy of the Cay (1993) is something I had not read. By "A prequel -Sequel", he means that he tells the story of Timothy up until the time is gets stuck on the island, and the story of Phillip after he is rescued. I understand why the students who enjoy reading The Cay (1969) enjoy this.

Trumpet of the Swan (1970), by E.B. White was something that I read in the 3rd grade. Since it's been a few years (um, 34?) I thought rereading it would be good. I think I like this one even better than Charlotte's Web.

Stefanie Tolan's Plague Year (1990) and Save Halloween!(1993) were both good, but indicative of the time they were written-- the late 80s and early 90s seemed to love a new problem. Plague Year is about a boy who transfers to a new school and has a hard time , first because of his long hair and earring, and then because of a dark secret from his past. Save Halloween! is about a girl who is enjoying her school's research/pageant into the orgins and new meanings of Halloween when her evangelistic uncle comes to town and tries to stop all celebrations of "Satan's Holiday". Good, but more depressing the most students seem to want.

Whew. Now I have to go take the AR tests.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I'm officially the last YA librarian in the world to read this book, and I must say I was underwhelmed. My predominate opinion is that this is an adult book, not one for middle school students. Yes, there is an overuse of the f-word, but that's not my main objection. It's kind of boring. Yes, adults may find the voice of the mildly autistic main character interesting, but he makes so many random comments that I got annoyed. Also, the main plot is that a neighbor's dog is killed, he investigates even though his father tells him not to, and in the process finds that his mother has not died, as his father told him, but has had an affair with a neighbor and run off with him. Well-written, intriguing in a number of ways, but of limited interest to the vast majority of middle school students.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sydney Taylor

I read The All-of-a-Kind Family as a child, and enjoyed it. It was worth rereading-- there is a class reading historical fiction, and this was just cuch fun. How could I not like it-- the whole first chapter is about how Sarah takes responsibility for her lost library book. Each chapter covers a different facet of family life in a New York tenement in 1912. The family is depicted as struggling a bit, but each of the five sisters gets a penny a day in allowance, which seems well-to-do to me. I was fascinated with the description of Jewish holidays and practices as a child, and there is a Sydney Taylor Book Award given for Jewish children's literature now. I wish I had the rest of the series, but they seem hard to find. I would just like to read them myself!

Found this while looking for information on Sydney Taylor; this was an interesting virtual tour of a tenement apartment at the time:

Kate Thompson's Switchers

This is why I am reading all the fiction books in my library. Never having read Kate Thompson's trilogy (Switchers, 1998; Midnight's Choice, 1999; and Wild Blood, 2000), I was recommending it to students who liked vampire fiction. No idea even why. Thus, it was a surprise when Switchers opened with a girl changing into a squirrel and frolicking with the other squirrels, gathering nuts. She then meets Kevin, a boy who can shape-change, and the two of them travel to arctic climes to defeat the krools-- large, amorphous creatures who are threatening to turn the whole world to ice.

In Midnight's Choice, there is a boy who has shape-changed into a vampire, and lots of talking rats. It was a long day, so between the rat dialect and the blood drinking, I didn't pay very close attention, although I did like the battle between the phoenix and the vampire. Students will like this one, and can probably read it without having read the first one.

Wild Blood had about as much rat dialogue, but I liked it a little better. Tess goes to visit her cousins in a remote part of Ireland, and when they go missing, Kevin tries to help her find them. There were some shades of Thompson's latest series, The New Policeman, in that Tír na n'Óg and fairies play a large part in this one. In all, this was not quite what I was expecting, but I know just the students to hand these books to this morning! The sad news is that if you don't have these in your library, they seem to be out of print.