Friday, August 29, 2008

The Sky Village

The Sky Village by Monk Ashland and Nigel Ashland was a book that I really wanted to like. It is a fantasy, but with an Asian setting (as well as one set of characters in Las Vagas), and a fresher, if dystopian, take than slew of the Harry Potter wannabes. This is the start of a series, and will be enjoyed by my fantasy fans, but it sat next to my chair for a month and I just couldn't get into it.

This from the description of the book on the Follett web site, since it's hard to form a coherent overview when it has taken so long to get through something: As animals and machines battle for control on Earth, twelve-year-old Mei is taken into the Sky Village, a web of hot air balloons flying above the ground, where she hopes to be protected from those who hunt her for her unique Kaimira gene, which blends human, animal, and machine traits and makes her a target for all three groups, who want to use her powers for their own good.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Files of Madison Finn

This is a generational problem. The book starts out with conversation in a chat room. I can't read this stuff; my reluctant 10 year old loved this book. Since it is part of a 20 book series (check out, this is a good thing. Put out by the Volo imprint of Hyperion, this is not a bad buy (mainly in paperback or prebinds) for middle school students. Madison is a tech-savvy Millenial who is struggling with various middle school issues-- her parents are divorced, she is doing community service at a nursing home, she has lots of homework, and she has to deal with a mother who calls her "honey bear" way too often. Realistic, gently humorous, but fraught with prose in a tech format that the children love but I find distracting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Greast and Terrible Beauty

I'd read Libba Bray's book a while back but didn't get too far into it. I had it on my list to look at again because of the new popularity of supernatural books for girls. This one starts out well, with Gemma in India, longing to go to England. Her mother is brutaly killed, and Gemma has brushes with forces beyond her understanding, but before we know it she is in a boarding school filled with snotty girls. This part went on and on and was quite boring. The reviews claim that this is fast-paced and thrilling, but I wasn't getting it. I'll hand it to 9th grader if she has time to read, but I don't see this filling the needs of my students. Sigh. Looks so promising, too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Random titles

Natale Ghent's Piper (2000) is a fine read if you have students who are very interesting in dogs who herd sheep. Wesley saves the runt of a litter and works hard to make Piper into a successful working dog. Wesley has issues in her life-- her father has passed away and she and her mother are living with a relative, she has a crush on a boy whose family also raises dogs, Piper does well in some herding competitions, but becomes badly injured, raising the question as to whether or not the dog will be able to remain. This was a perfectly fine book, but a bit trite in many respects.

Diana Hendry's Harvey Angell and the Ghost Child(1997) is the second in an English series. The first (Harvey Angell) is briefly summarized in the first chapter, so the book stands alone well enough. Hendry portrays a slightly mad English family that takes a trip to the beach and gets involved with a haunted house in a style reminiscent of Roald Dahl or Philip Ardagh. A bit over the top, but oddly engaging.

I did not purchase either of these books-- I am grateful to have them housed in my library but bought for a summer intervention program. Still, some of the choices were a bit odd, and I wish that the purchaser had asked for my opinion. These two I can move; Ginger Pye is a doubtful seller!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome Back!

Back to school and a decent internet connection!

Picked up two books that looked similar and had titles that we much the same. Anne Fine's The Road of Bones is very different from her usual work, which tends to be contemporary and humorous. This work is set in a vague USSR setting about 50 years ago, and concerns a boy who is put to work at a young age, suffers a mishap on the job, and needs to run away. The bleakness of a government that is all too ready to conscript or imprison its citizens is made even sharper when we know that this boy is so young, and has really done nothing to deserve this punishment. While Fine intends this as a political statement, boys who like war or survival stories will enjoy this one.

Loved the cover on Robe of Skulls from French, but found it rather young and much less horrific than I hoped. If the character is evil enough to want a robe of skulls, why is she concerned about earning the money to buy one? Why doesn't she just torture the dressmaker? After that thought, I couldn't buy into the plot. This would be better in elementary schools for die hard fans of Lemony Snicker.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Finally-- Breaking Dawn

Spoiler alert: Don't read past the first paragraph if you don't want to know major plot element.'

I was very apprehensive about this book because of the reactions I heard from others. My daughter wanted to buy multiple copies--- to launch flaming through Meyer's windows! Her best friend thought it read "like bad fan fiction". My principal was concerned about the sex. Other mothers were grossed out by the fact that older adolescent werewolves were "imprinting" (choosing as life-long mates, although their roles are as protectors rather than as paramours) on very tiny girls. Since there are a ton of reviews out there, I will just say this: No worries.

I will go ahead and buy two copies, since the traffic will be constant on this one. I have no worries about the sex; it is hinted at and danced around. My only concern would be that it does romanticize it-- as long as you forget the part about her getting pregnant with an alien (sorry, half-vampire) baby who then tears through her insides at birth.

This was no worse than the others, but would have benefitted from intense editing. Weighing in at 625 pages, this could easily have been tightened up to 400, and the story would have been more intense. Do they battle the Volturi at the end? I was tired at that point and no longer cared.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Marissa Moss

My 5th grader is a big fan of the Amelia books, and Moss has continued these until Amelia is in 7th grade. These have been around for a while, and are sort of proto graphic novels. Not too bad, and I did enjoy the way they were done like notebooks (N.B. Not like a blog, although I have a fear that this is not far off!) with illustrations about all of the things that Amelia does.

Another thing 5th grader liked was the graphic novel version of Ann M. Martin's The Babysitters' Club. I don't think I have any of the original novels, since many were paperbacks and if I had them they ave fallen apart, but the story on the one I read was good and appeals to students in several ways-- the girls are portrayed as responsible, independent, and a central theme is usually misunderstanding between friends and how they mend their differences.

A book that I took out as a treat for myself was Cathy Hopkins' From Geek to Goddess, for the Zodiac Girls series. Hopkins has a great series in Mates, Dates, as well as one for older girls, but I wasn't keen aout this latest one. Gemma goes off to an exclusive boarding school (clearly English, but scrubbed of references so it could have been in the US) where she does not fit in. There are clear overtones that gods and goddesses are running around the place, and she gets picked to have a makeover so that she is more socially successful. The plot was hard to follow, I didn't like the characters, and the mythological link was not sufficient to interest fans of Rick Riordan, etc. It's interesting to see that there is so much interest in mythology now that books that are not particularly well done are being published.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Namioka's Half and Half

Like Hot Sour Salty Sweet, this is a book about one event in a girl's life during which ethnic identity is tested. Like the aforementioned book, even though it's a bit odd, it works.

Fiona Cheng has a Chinese father and a Scottish mother. She looks more Chinese; her brother looks more Scottish. How does she identify herself on forms? And more importantly, how can she understand both sides of her ethnic heritage and make all of her relatives happy?

Set against a multicultural festival, Fiona must choose between helping out her father when he is presenting a new book, and her Scottish grandfather, who needs another dancer. Both events are conveniently (for the plot) scheduled at the same time, and Fiona must come up with a clever solution to make everyone happy.

This is a short book, but I did enjoy it. Since middle school is so much about identity, many students will like this, even if their ethnicity does not exactly coincide with Fiona's.

Have a new shipment of hi/lo readers in. On the plus side, Geoff Edgers' Who Was Elvis Presley and Who Were the Beatles were nice, succinct introductions to these influential musicians. Actual pictures would have been a nice addition, but students who do not know much about these artists might be inclined to learn more after reading these quick picks.

On the horrifying side, volume 2 of R. L. Stine's Goosbumps "Graphix" tales was included. I did not pick this out. There will be lots of traffic on this one, but it's .... everything that is morally repugnant to most librarians. Tacky, ill-done, stupid....I will let it stay as a testament to the fact that I will allow graphic novels in my library, although I usually go for ones that are MUCH better quality than this.

Eclipse (but not Breaking Dawn...yet!)

May I just say that Ms. Meyer is a lovely person who personally responded to some of my students a few years ago when they wanted to interview her. I wish her luck. Her books are popular. There are worse things.

There are also better. Twilight was okay, New Moon was okay but Eclipse really, really irked me. From a literary point of view, I think that all of the books could have been more effectively edited. They all seem to ramble, there are many phrases that are not quite properly turned, and if the books were shorter, I think they would be more coherent. Redundancies bog down the story. We know that Edward is very cold and Jacob is very hot. We know that Bella is conflicted. Please don't tell us again. Introduce some new conflict that isn't creepy, like a young adult werewolf "imprinting" on a two-year-old. Ewwww.

As an independent woman, I found this book irritating. Bella doesn't want to be the sort of girl who gets married right out of high school. But she will be because she looooooves him so much that she can't live without him. She wants to be "closer" to him, but he is traditional and wants to wait until they're married. Fine. But being married to a vampire gives a whole new meaning to "forever". Bella is young. She would rather get married, become a vampire, and follow Edward's family around than go to college, experience the world and, perhaps, outgrow Edward.

While this was an interesting springboard for conversation between my 9th grade daughter and myself, as an undiscussed message, it's alarming. Young girls already get obsessed with boys, and this book seems to be telling them that it's okay.

I'm borrowing Breaking Dawn as soon as possible, but an ardent fan described it as "bad fan fic". I don't have high hopes, but as much as I would like to see Ms. Meyer do well, I would not feel bad if girls get fed up with Bella's sniveling story of conflicted love.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Betsy's Busy Summer

Oddly enough, Carolyn Haywood did not include in Betsy's summer a trip to the St. Louis zoo when the heat index was 110 degrees. I, however, had that pleasure, but survived and am now back.

After years of pestering my youngest to read B is for Betsy, the first chapter book I checked out of my school library in the first grade, she got desperate enough to read it, and, predictably, LOVED it. This necessitated a trip to the library to stock up, since I long ago gave away the rest of the Heywood.

I read Betsy's Busy Summer, and must say that for a series that started in 1939, it has weathered very well. Children falling in fish ponds and trying to rig watermelon seed contests are still gently amusing. There was a description of the "parcel post wagon" arriving, and it was pulled by a horse. This seemed odd, as I suppose sending 8 year olds to the grocery to get a list of items might be, but all in all, it was enjoyable.

While Haywood is predominantly an author for elementary school students, struggling middle school readers will probably still enjoy the short chapters and easy to understand circumstances. Many of the books to not specifically mention the age that Betsy is.

For more on the author, consult the nice biography on this site: