Thursday, February 28, 2008

Graphic Novel Versions

I'm old. This is proven by the fact that every time I see a graphic novel/Japanese anime version of anything I think "Oh, look! It's (fill in the novel) as performed by the cast of Speed Racer!

Read the TokyoPop version of EllenSchreiber's Vampire Kisses, which is titled Blood Relatives. A lot of thought went into the art for this adaptation, and there is a bit at the back of the book about the process that is interesting. The story is the same, but reluctant readers will like the graphic novel version and perhaps be intrigued enough to try the other.

This is the main reason that I have also bought the graphic novel version of Stormbreaker and Artemis Fowl. They are good bridge books and do seem to interest students in reading the full text version.

The other proof that I am old-- do not get the whole vampire romance thing. Or goth culture. As I've said before, if students really want to be nonconformist, they'd find some tacky polyester clothing from the 70s. There are whole stores devoted to goth. It's just a different flavor of conformity.

A Year in Europe

Warning: Recently received sizable order of Simon Pulse books to appease the throngs of girls who want to read pink books. At great personal cost, I am reading my way through. There were also a lot of horror books, for which I don't care. I'll alternate.

Rachel Hawthorne's A Year in Europe, which is a compilation of three separate novels, was a great read for a snowy winter night. Three friends from Texas head off for a year abroad, one each to London, Paris and Rome. They each experience another culture, personal growth, and, of course, romance. The romance's all have a slight twist to them, and all the books were fun. A little light on specific cultural and location details at times, but engaging. Great literature? No. But this will keep the girls reading, and since each story is told from the point of view of both the girl and the boy involved, could conceivably be pitched to boys who enjoyed Flavor of the Week or 24 Girls in 7 Days. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bluford High

I'd heard good things about the Bluford High series (Various authors), but they were hard to find in prebinds, and my orders kept being canceled. Finally, PermaBound delivered, and I've been working my way through. These are best read in order, which is listed below. These have been very good, and I can see why reluctant readers like them. Most of the characters are African American, and the setting is an inner city school for better-than-average students. The books address a variety of family, school, and societal problems in a realistic and, thankfully, non-offensive way. While there is irregular grammar, there isn't cursing. Lessons are learned, but not in a preachy manner. I was greatly reminded of Beany Malone, of all things. I'll probably have to buy another set!

(1) Lost and Found
(7) Until We Meet Again (13) Search for Safety
(2) A Matter of Trust (8) Blood is Thicker
(3) Secrets in the Shadows (9) Brothers in Arms
(4) Someone to Love Me (10) Summer of Secrets
(5) The Bully (11) The Fallen
(6) Payback (12) Shattered

A brief description and more information on the series is available at:

Stefan Petrucha's Time Tripper Quartet

I love time travel books, but the older I get, the more they make my head hurt. This was true of Yestermorrow, Inrage, Blindsighted, and Futureimperfect, all of which were wonderfully complex, if hard to describe. (Like Lawrence's Crack in the Line, which is about different levels of reality. When I tell students that, they want to know what happens. Well... in which dimension?)

Since Harry's father died, he has trouble holding on to reality. There are voices, premonitions, and odd behavior. He's been institutionalized and medicated, and still, he doesn't feel right. When he starts seeing snail-like trails of people's lives on the ground, and finds he can go into them and experience the lives... things become really complicated. Then there are the Quirks and Glitches, who mercifully just say "unk", but who cause everyone to go a bit mad in the second book.

Dang. I had these all worked out in my head after I finished them, but the plots have slipped away. What I really liked, however, was the dark, teenage tone, the swiftly moving plots, the quirky characters, and the mind-bending aspects of time travel. These were a great portrayal of a darker side of that thought, which is what I have come to expect from Razorbill. Petrucha, who has done a lot of Nancy Drew and novelizations, has done a great job with these-- so why only in paperback? I have about five heavy-duty fantasy/sci fi fans who will inhale these. Good stuff.

Only one complaint. It's about a Latin phrase, and I want to check with the expert first. Authors, don't use Latin unless you are really, really sure!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lee's Necessary Roughness

Chan Kim's family moves from California, where they have a grocery store and a comfortable life in a Korean community, to a small town in Minnesota, where it is tough to fit in. Chan decides to play football, and does fairly well, although his father would prefer he spend his time studying.

There is just enough football in this book to interest fans, but it doesn't come into the book for a while. The main focus of this book is the family dynamics and the change in culture with which Chan and his sister have to cope. That's probably why I liked it so much. The writing was tight but descriptive, and the story didn't drag at all. There was a surprise toward the end that really knocked me for a loop, not in a particularly good way, but it didn't take away from the fact that this was a nice sports book that I will be glad to give to my students.

This title is from 1998, so there's not the best cover art. The new cover art on books is so good that yesterday I waved The Chaos Code in front of a student and said "You want this book!" He stared at it for a moment and said "You're right-- I do!"

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Smedry has a talent for breaking things, a skill that gets him in trouble on his birthday, when he sets fire to the kitchen of his foster home while trying to cook noodles. He can't worry about this for long, because he receives a bag of sand for a gift, and then a man claiming to be his grandfather shows up to recruit him to help get the sand back from evil librarians that are trying to take over the world.

There is a lot of clever writing, action, adventure and fun in this book. Who wouldn't like talking dinosaurs who carry themselves like Brits? This will be a big hit with the children, despite the warning of the book itself that librarians will not stock it because it portrays them badly.

I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did, and certainly, there were some laugh aloud moments. But I was disappointed. Having just slogged through Lemony Snicket, I found a lot of the same sort of irritating-to-adults humor. (Aren't I clever in writing this? Isn't this funny even though it's very horrible?) Also, there were a lot of things that weren't explained in the frenetic rush, although since the 300 plus page book encompasses mainly the action of one afternoon, there should have been time to tell us why the librarians are evil. There's no real reason.

And come on. Horn rimmed glasses, hair in a bun, and severe clothing? This would be funny if this applied to any librarian any 13 year old had ever seen. This stereotype hasn't been true for the past 40 years. Couldn't the librarians at least have been clever and evil? I'll buy this, but I had expected more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Kidnapped! and Prom Crashers

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of those great books that is unco hampered by archaic language. If I stopped cold in the middle of a sentence thinking "Unco? Unco?", I can only imagine what middle schoolers would think. There are some abridged versions that I may look into, because the story is a good one. David, an orphan, is kidnapped by his rather weird uncle, but gets away and fights in the struggle of the Scottish Highlanders against English rule in 1751. There are some slow parts, and a lot of Scottish dialect. I think I prefer Treasure Island.

Erin Downing's Prom Crashers is not great literature, but was very fun and should appeal tremendously to girls entering high school. I liked that it was not a story that maintained that prom was the end all, be all. Not all of the students were interested in prom, but they went to other proms looking for a boy one girl had met, and ended up having fun. It was interesting that one of the male characters was gay, but it was just part of the story. Very nicely done. I love the covers on this series.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher's book has gotten a lot of buzz, and for good reason. It is a mesmerizing look at the reasons a teenage girl has committed suicide, told in a chilling series of tapes that she has left for the people she deems responsible. The boy who is listening to them was less culpable than the others, who heaped abuse on the girl in a variety of ways, from rumor mongering to a nongraphic but disturbing sexual encounters. For that reason, it is NOT a middle school book, although there may be some 8th graders who want to read it.

This is a hard book to describe, because I don't want to ruin the delicately balanced plot. Each page is just wrenching, especially since the boy was very fond of the girl but never got to know her. I would think most high school collections would want this.

It was hard to read because the tape was interspersed with the thoughts of the boy, so there was a ping pong effect. Also, I wish there had been more in the book about suicide prevention. There are lots of bad choices, but that they ended in suicide (while realistic), was a poor reflection on our society.

I'm going home now-- it's a snow day that wasn't called until I'd been at work half an hour!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Robert Muchamore (and much more)

Posted about Muchamore's Divine Madness on October 08, 2007, and just now got the first in the series, The Recruit, and only now because I ordered it through Perma-Bound. Was not disappointed. So much happened in this book that it is rather like three separate novels-- James escapes an unfortunate home life because of the even more unfortunate death of his mother, ends up in foster care where he gets in trouble, gets recruited by the elite, child-oriented CHERUB division of MI5, goes through the horrific boot camp, and gets sent on a mission to a commune to help defeat ecoterrorists. Wow. Never a dull moment. Depending on how this goes over, I see purchasing another copy of the entire series, because I think the interest, especially from the very difficult to please 8th grade boys, will be huge. The nice thing is that the series does not need to be read in order. A must have for fans of Anthony Horowitz who are panting for the sequel to Snakehead.

Also in the shipment was Lisa Barnham's A Girl Like Moi, which is on oddly shiny, heavy quality paper, with adorable illustrations scattered throughout the pages. A rather airy, vapid tale of a fashion obsessed girl trying to keep up with the richer girls in her school, it had really no substance but a high amusement factor. It will circulate well, but may also date very quickly.

Jospeh Bruchac can be counted on to do well-researched, fairly interesting books on Native American topics, and he does not disappoint with his 2004 The Winter People. Set during the French and Indian war, it follows a teenage boy who must rescue his family after they have been captured by the British. Had to order this one for my student who has decided to read only Native American literature this year, since it will also be a good title to go along with the curriculum. Enough action and adventure to tempt students who do not want to read history!

Could not get into Cornwell's Carpe Diem because I found the main character so obnoxious. Yeah, yeah, you're brilliant and your family is supportive but dysfunctional. Probably a very nice book, but just hit me wrong. Same must be said of Provost's The Book of Time, which floundered somewhere in chapter two for all four readers in my house, even though we are obsessed with time travel right now because of Voyagers! I think it might be because it was translated from the French. This can make books harder to connect with, I think. Exception to the rule: Cornelia Funke.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Avi's Iron Thunder

This is probably the Avi title that I have liked the most. Some of th author's older titles have not aged well (A Place Called Ugly and Emily Upham's Revenge have been gathering dust), but for sheer volume, perserverance and general good quality, this author cannot be beat. Iron Thunder: The Battle Between the Monitor and the Merrimac is a must have for students who have a great interest in the Civil War.

Told from the point of view of Tom, a young boy whose family is struggling after the death of his father, this book weaves in particulars about the manufacture of the Northern armored ship, the Monitor, with details about life at the time. Tom's mother takes in washing, his sister is coughing up blood, and while earning 75 cents a week helping to build the Monitor, earning gold dollar coins for giving information to a Southern Copperhead spy is even more tempting. Still, Tom knows this isn't right, informs on the spies, and ends up sailing on the Monitor and being involved with the battles. There is a lot of good historical information, and the period pictures are wonderful. The book is also well-styled, with illustrations reminiscent of Civil War era news drawings and a pleasing typeface.

To find out more about this author and see his other titles, go to:

Too old, too young, too ???

This is the second time I have looked at Dominque Paul's The Possibility of Fireflies. I had forgotten the sprinkling of obscenities, the pot smoking, and the datedness of the 1987 setting, which are all reasons that I won't buy it. Might be good at a high school, although it does read more like a memoir that would appeal to people my age. Those aspersions cast, I finished reading it and was impressed by the lyrical quality of the prose. It was one of those sad books, with a dysfunctional mother and sister, an absent father, friends drifting away, and a young girl trying to not only keep herself adrift but move forward with her own life. I will look for other titles by this author, even though this wasn't a good fit for my library.

Ross Collins' Medusa Jones looks like fun but is much too young for my library. I am irrationally irritated by younger books, so can't say much. The pictures in this are fun, and the premise is good (young Ancient Greek Gorgon bullied at school because of her hair eventually makes good and saves the day), but I was disappointed that I won't be able to have another Classics books for my students because this is best suited to the under ten crowd.

Another Classics book that had some promise was Katherine Marsh's The Night Tourist, but it somehow did not hit the right note. Jack Perdu, still mourning his mother, finds a mysterious map to a New York that most mortals don't see-- the underground where the dead still roam until they can make their peace and move on. Mortals are forbidden, but with the help of a young (but dead) girl, he tracks down his mother and finds out the secrets of her life and death. The portrayal of New York City was interesting, and the Latin was flawless, but the depiction of the mythology was a bit strained. If I had read this as a straight fantasy instead of wanting more Greek and Roman mythology books, I might have been okay, so I am going to have my son read this. I must say that I started off on the wrong foot when Jack, a "ninth grade Classics prodigy" is helping a professor translate Ovid's Metamorphoses. Talk about fantasy. I was a Latin teacher in my previous life, and even if Jack's father taught him Latin, this seems a REAL stretch to me. Then I started to worry that Jack would major in Latin and never get a job. I'm still thinking about this title.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alex Flinn's Diva

It took a long time to locate a copy of this sequel to Breathing Underwater, which chronicles Nick's abusive relationship with Caitlin. Diva was completely different. While Nick is mentioned, the book is much more concerned about Caitlin's singing career and her acceptance into a school for the performing arts, where she fits in for the first time. She is still dealing with the aftermath of the relationship with Nick, as well as weight related issues (she was at one time very heavy but is keeping the weight off), but this book is more like Rallison's Fame, Glory and Other Things on My To Do List or Romano's Grace;s Turn than it is like a problem novel.

I like Flinn's writing. I think I'll buy it.

The Crusades

If you have a copy of Thea Beckman's 1975 Crusade in Jeans, dust it off and give it to one of your Surcliff-loving history buffs. My daughter is reading it right now and loves it. Basic story: A young boy who volunteers to travel through time to the Middle Ages arrives during the Children's Crusade and is caught in its momentum. I learned a lot, and the time travel is only at the beginning.

Catherine Jinks' Pagan's Crusade, the first of a four book series, is also rich in period details and has a spin on it-- the main character is a Muslim boy raised in a Christian orphanage and who becomes the squire to a crusader. The series covers his whole life.

Michael Cadnum's The Book of the Lion (three book series)follows Edmund as he serves as squire to a knight on his way to join Richard the Lionheart.

Jane Elizabeth Goodman's Winter Hare and Peregrine are very dense but also informative. Best read in this order, the first follows Will, who is training to be a knight, and the second follows Lady Edith, who travels to the Holy Land.

Science Fiction for Girls

I know, I know-- good books should be good books for all, but the reality is that most girls want different books than boys, and vice versa. Science fiction is something that many girls wrinkle their noses at. The best picks for them are:

Schanback, Mindy. Princess from Another Planet. Gracie's mother has always maintained that she is a princess from another planet. The family treats her as if she has a mental illness until Gracie starts to suspect that her mother is telling the truth.

Logue, Mary. Dancing with an Alien. What if you fell in love, only to find out that the boy is from another planet? It might seem like a good idea to go back with him... until you find out the reason he came to earth is to find females to repopulate his planet. Does he love you enough to save you from being a breeding machine?

Gilmore, Kate. The Exchange Student. Having an exchange student living with your family is hard enough, but imagine if the student were a tall, color-shifting alien who takes an inordinate interest in the animals that your family raises. What is his purpose for being on earth?

Butts, Nancy.The Door in the Lake. Okay, this is more for boys, but it is short, and it has my very favorite 30 second recommendation-- Joey is kidnapped by space aliens and returns several years later smaller than his younger brother, and his brains are leaking out of his nose! What happened, and will life ever return to normal?

Every book needs some small hook like the leaking brains!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I read this years ago when I spent the summer reading authors named Smith. This is a problem novel extraordinaire, so it should be appealing to students in middle school, but it is a challenging read, best suited to strong readers with an interest in history.It was published in 1943. The prose is dense and lyrical, and the premise very sad.

Francie's family struggles to get by in Brooklyn in the early 20th century, mainly because the father is an attractive but frequently drunk ne'er do well who finds it hard to hold a job. Francie's mother cleans for people, and Francie and her brother collect rags and bottles, because the pennies they earn might buy dinner that night. The family tries to do better and is rebuffed at every turn. I remember being so relieved at the end of the book that things turned out okay.

My 8th grader was given a copy for Christmas by her godmother, and she's been reading it a bit at a time because both of us loved it. That is a huge selling point for any book.

If there are any librarians out there who have not picked up a copy of this, you must immediately go and read Chapter 2. If the following passage doesn't break your heart and make you more aware of how you treat every child, you are dead inside. Dead!

"Each week Francie made the same request and eack week the librarian asked the same question. A name on a card meant nothing to her and since she never looked up into a child's face, she never did get to know the little girl who took a book out every day and two on Saturday. A smile would have meant a lot to Francie and a friendly comment would have made her so happy. She loved the library and was anxious to worship the lady in charge. But the librarian had other things on her mind. She hated children anyhow."

A rare video review

During 1981-82, there was a television show on Sunday evenings that dealt with time travel-- Voyagers! After a steady diet of Tom's Midnight Garden, Charlotte Sometimes and other time travel books, I was very excited. It starred the late Jon-Eric Hexum and a young Meeno Peluce as Voyagers who traveled to different points in history to "fix" things that went wrong. Never mind that the premise was a little weak. It was great fun, and we got to see everything from Washington crossing the Delaware (he was faced into the wind to avoid seasickness) to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle guessing that the two must have been at the botanical gardens, because they had soil from all over the world on their shoes.

Hadn't thought of this in years, but saw the DVD in the library and immediately brought it home. My children all loved it. My 9 year old has a huge crush on Meeno Peluce, who is, according to, now a history teacher. How cool is that? Highly recommend this whole four disk set to take the chill off these cold winter days!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Richard's The Chaos Code

"He was sitting in his study when the monster came. It tapped on the glass of the French windows to be let in. Like he had a choice. It would smash its way through, or blow under the door if it needed to.

Well, okay! Tell me more! This is what students mean when they say they want a book that sucks them right in.

This book quickly becomes more complicated. Matt is sent to live with his father while his mother is on a job, and his father is not at home. Not only that, but Matt gets attacked! After retrieving a coded message his father left him, he heads off to stay with an aunt, where things get really involved. Matt not only has to rescue his father, he has to stop evil geniuses who are harnessing the power of the earth to create unstoppable golems that will be used to take over the world!

Definitely will buy this one, since this author's The Death Collector has been popular. There is lots of action and suspense, plus a really cool cover. My only disappointment is that it is not a book for reluctant readers, as I was hoping. It is a complicated mystery with lots of clues, history, and surprising things involved. Stormbreaker fans who were able to handle Silverfin will like this one, but struggling readers may have problems with the length.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It

Sundee Frazier has done a wonderful job of creating a dynamic ten-year-old character who loves rocks, scientific studies and Tae Kwon Do, misses his grandfather who recently passed away, has a supportive mother and father and a best friend to hang out with, and just happens to be biracial. This is not secondary to the story, since a chance encounter with his estranged grandfather drives most of the plot, but Brendan has many other facets to who he is, and being biracial is just one of them.

Brendan's mother, a nurse practioner, and his father, a police officer, encourage his interests and allow his a bit more freedom to roam abuot town unescorted than I give my own soon-to-be ten year old. At the mall with his grandmother, he meets the president of the local rock club, who turns out to be his mother's father. The whole family is reluctant to talk about what happened, but Brendan establishes contact and gets to know his grandfather. This is done realistically, and Brendan's struggle to justify the actions of the man who teaches him to drive a truck and plays chess weekly with an African American friend, but who also cut off contact with Brendan's mother, is delicately portrayed.
This is an important book, and I will definitely be purchasing it. I have an increasing amount of students who are biracial, and students need books who show students like themselves. (See the May 11, 2007 posting for more on this topic.) While the Janet McDonald books have been popular, they are still primarily about inner city children, and many black and biracial children live in the suburbs. I hope to see a lot more from Ms. Frazier. She has a nice web site at:

Reading for a snow day

Blame it on the fact that I have spent all my money for the year, and have a book order for August that would take my entire budget. I've been working my way slowly through this and will not be purchasing:
Hemphill, Helen. Runaround. Aside from the disturbing, cranky Lolita-esque cover, it's a quirky Southern story set in the 60's, which is something students don't ask for. Also disturbing was Sassy's quest to get neighbor boy to like her. It seemed precocious for an 11 year old.

Kraft's Miracle Wimp is probably one I will look at again, because I love the title and the fact that the main character has that nickname because his last name is Mayo, but it was told in short anecdotes and was sadder than I had hoped.

Bauer's No Castles Here is quite an interesting blend of fantasy and inner city problem novel, but again, I don't have the readership for it.

Finished the death march through Lemony Snicket, and had I been enjoying it, I would now be disappointed. None of the mysteries are really cleared up. Who are all these characters and why were they making the Baudelaire's lives miserable. And being stuck on an island? There is just something I am not getting. If I still want to know what the V.F.D. is, the books must be compelling in some way, and we will give them points for using big vocabulary words.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Got through a few...

Managed to read The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, and The Grim Grotto. I find that I get very distracted by them now, since I am trying to figure out why they annoy me so much (aside from the villians picking up the new annoying habit of laughing "ha ha hair trigger"-- what?) and why the children like them. Maybe it is as simple as the children liking them because adults don't?

Also looked at Judith Casely's The Kissing Diary, which was okay if I had needed a book about a girl struggling through her parents' divorce, combined with the general trauma of being 13, but I think the title will confuse girls and make them think it is pink and fluffy instead of depressing. Will hold off on purchase.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Avoiding Lemony Snicket

I'm thinking that this weekend I will do a marathon and just finish them all up. That way, I'll be all set for my death march through R.L. Stine this summer.

Rachel Vail's Wonder is an Ellen Conford-esque school story, told with gentle humor, but showing many of the terrible social interactions that usually occur at this age. Everyone feels inept and unloved, allegiances change daily, and actual schoolwork is the least of one's problems. The best part of the portrayal of Jessica losing her long-time best friend. She not only loses her; the friend starts picking on her and ostracizing her. There is enough humor in this book to make it a fun read, and enough serious stuff for it to be used as bibliotherapy!

For wrestlers-- There's a Girl in My Hammerlock is a little heavy on the whole issue of girls wrestling, but has a ton of details about wrestling, training, and the whole culture to make it a worthwhile read. My daughter, who was a team statisticians, thought it was very funny. I wish that Mr. Spinelli would write a straight wrestling book-- it would be very popular, and he has the details down that the wrestlers want to read.

Hernderson's Bunker 10 looked very promising but dragged a bit. There was also some street dialect that was hard to take. I think I will pass, despite the intriguing description (Something is wrong at the top secret Pinewood Militar installation, and the teenage geniuses who study and work there are about to discover the horrible truth as they lead a small military force trying to retrieve data and escape before t he compound self-destructs.)and the shiny cover.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Zindel's The Pigman

The Pigman was published in 1968, and I think it is important for students to know this, along with the fact that it was considered groundbreaking and almost shocking for its realistic portrayal of troubled teens. "Fresh" language, situations, and themes of slightly dysfunctional families, and "bad" teens who smoke, drink and use questionable language(quaintly portrayed with %$@&#) were all a change from the young adult literature of the time, which tended to be more idealistic. The whole story-- after placing a prank call and getting a false donation from a man whose wife has died, two students befriend him and hang around with him until he becomes ill and they betray his trust-- was something different. (It was a trend; The Outsiders was published in 1967.)

Today, teens read shocking literature all the time. It's not just cigarettes and wine, it's heroin. (Beauty Queen) Different voices emerge, sometimes in difficult to follow styles like Klass' You Don't Know Me or Going'sSt. Iggy. After 40 years, The Pigman has some very dated references that should be explained going in-- what is this lock on the phone? Phones have dials that turn around? And why didn't the children just show up on caller i.d.? They got real people when placing prank calls? Not answering machines?

My daughter, who had to read this for class, made the observation that Mr. Pignati inviting the teens into his house and letting them hang out while drinking wine was creepy in the way that the lyrics in a Rankin-Bass Christmas special are now creepy: "If you sit on my lap today/ A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay." Where were the parents? How lucky were the teens that they weren't abused in some way? And what was Mr. Pignati thinking? It almost seemed fitting that they held a party at his house. They were sorry, they made amends; the ending was unfortunate, but it was so contrived that it lost a lot of power for me. Could see it coming a mile away.

Schools everywhere have huge class sets of these. We just purchased a number at my school. It's an interesting piece of period literature, but unless it is explained very carefully, I think its effectiveness is lost on today's children. The copy I read had notes from Zindel in the back that helped a little. I'll have to read the sequels tonight.

Bottom line: This is something that students have to read, not something that they would choose to read.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What actual students read

This information comes via a commenter who liked Unwind; in fact, it was chosen by students to be their Mock Printz award winner.

The books on this list tend to be a little older, so there are many I haven't bought for my library because of content and language. Still, I did reserve a couple of these that I hadn't read yet, since students gave them an award, not adults.

But really, The Book Thief? My problem, I guess, is that I never got much past the age of 13 in my reading likes. Luckily, this serves me fairly well. (In answer to the comment from Ms. F-B, I think I was disappointed because it wasn't a WWII story for which my students ask. What they invariably want is more fighting than anything else. I know many people loved this, but it just didn't do it for me!)

Smith's Bobby Baseball

This title (1989 was sitting on the shelves for years and checked out just once, which is really too bad. It has a low reading level and a cartoony front cover, but I have several students who will like it for the technical baseball details. There are even rosters and scores! The story of Bobby, who lives for baseball and wants to play on a team someday, but who is having problems moving up to the next league because his father is the coach. A lot of sports books like to go light on the play-by-plays and heavy on the problems, but this is lots of descriptions of playing and thinking about baseball. Will get this one checked out today.

Josepha Sherman's Gleaming Bright (1994) will be a harder sell. A rather traditional, medieval fantasy about a girl whose father and kingdom are in peril. Only she can save the day, by retrieving a magic box that was stolen by a wizard. I'm not a fantasy fan, but do love fantasies that are innovative and have a twist to them. This was fine, but lacked that spark.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Rachel Vail and Rachel Hawthorne

My wonderful student also loaned my Hawthorne's The Boyfriend League, which was also fun. Girl's family hosts college baseball player who is in a summer league (Does this happen? Do I care if it does or not?), she hopes he will introduce her to other players, she likes him. Lots of fun details, such as her beauty pageant winning sister, her best friend who also plays baseball, and lots of innocent kissing and snuggling. An idealistic view of high school, which is why I loved it, in the same way that I love Beverly Cleary and Rosamund du Jardin.

Vail's Ever After (1995) was not nearly as fun or as interesting as You, Maybe or If We Kiss, and the cover art is not that attractive (I'm not getting the image posting buttons on blogspot this week. Hmmm.)More of the journal entry, I want to remember how horrible middle school was sort of writing. Hard to tell how I feel about this, but think my dislike is triggered by the fact that I am old. Did I want to read about people's ordinary problems? Can't remember. i do need to push this one more to her fans.

Yoo's Girls for Breakfast is another story. I think I am sending it to the high school. I didn't read it before I bought it, and it is rather coarse, and not really good enough (like Son of the Mob or Slot Machine) to make up for this.

Finally, Tony Johnstone's Bone by Bone by Bone was intriguing and disturbing. She apologizes at the very beginning for the language and the tone, saying that it reflects the time about which she is writing, and the prejudices that her father had. Students should read this, certainly, but I don't think that my students have the background to fully understand what is going on. This would be an excellent accompaniment to To Kill a Mockingbird (which is good, but really, nothing else has been written about civil rights in the last 40 years?). David's father is so nasty, and his relationship with his black best friend would take some explaining for even our 8th graders to fully grasp.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hawthorne's Thrill Ride

A student brought me this one, since she and I share similar tastes. I always love when students hand me books-- thanks, Sarah! This is definitely a pink book, and since there are never enough to keep my avid readers in books, I am adding several other titles by this author to my list to purchase as well.

Megan wants to escape for the summer because her sister is planning a wedding. She will miss her boyfriend, Nick, but the idea of living and working at an amusement park sounds even more appealing than staying with him. Of course, there are cute boys at the amusement park, and lots of fun to be had. A really nice story, perfectly appropriate (a little kissing, but that's it), but full of independence and fun. Looking forward to reading The Boyfriend League and Island Girls (and Boys).

Read more about this author at

Stroud's The Last Siege

I really thought this hard-to-find novel by the author of The Bartimaeus Trilogy would be fantasy. I thought, reasonably enough, that it was fantasy. There's the fuzzy castle on the cover, and the cataloging information states "A chance encounter on the snowy slopes of a castle moat throws together three lonely teenagers, Emily, Simon, and the highly imaginative but enigmatic Marcus, who is the catalyst for all that follows."

What follows is that the children get kicked out of the castle ruins by the caretaker and decide to spend the night there. This involves fibbing to parents about where they are, and lots of chases about the place, some involving suspected ghosts. This is more of a survival tale, so I will try it out on those fans. That, and any child who might like to spend some time hanging out in castle ruins, pretending to be ancient kings defending their stronghold. I would have loved it.

Unhappy reading

Last week was full of books that don't even merit mention, since they were either wildly inappropriate for middle school or just plain bad. If there is a book that does not appear on this web site and anyone out there has any questions about it, I'll be glad to answer if I've read the title. I've also been involved in a death march through Lemony Snicket.

N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards sounded really promising. Henry moves in with aunt and uncle (pseudo-orphan, always good) and finds a room with the titular cupboards, through which he hears and sees various different places. Sounds cool, but I just couldn't get interested. It did seem like something my son would like (He liked The Mysterious Benedict Society and Pond Scum, whereas I did not), but even he couldn't get into it.