Friday, October 31, 2008

A must-have fantasy series for middle schools is Cinda Williams Chima's The Warrior Heir (which I reviewed on May 11, 2006), The Wizard Heir (which I liked even better and forgot to review this summer) and The Dragon Heir. I got in big trouble with a student because I had the last book at home when he was dying to read it! This involves swords, magic, and lots of battles, but isn't medieval. Can't keep these books on the shelf.

That said, I was not in the mood for this third one. Something about Madison, the main character, annoyed me, and I was having trouble keeping the characters straight. That's me, though, and the students have not felt that way. Could be I'm in a bad mood because I have to move every fiction book in the library today.

Which might explain why I liked Sheila P. Moses' Joseph. It was unrelentingly depressing, but at least I could say "My life isn't that bad." Every year, students (mainly 7th grade girls in February) want to read about child abuse, drug abuse, etc., and I just don't understand. It makes their lives seem ggod by comparison. Joseph's mother is a crack addict who has lost their home because of her addictions. She has no redeeming qualities, and goes so far as to keep Joseph from moving in with his aunt, who could take proper care of him. His father is serving in Iraq, and his grandfather has recently died, so Joseph feels that there is no one else to take care of his mother if he leaves. Joseph is doing very well for himself despite his circumstances. This will be incredibly popular, and I appreciated the sensitive way in which the story avoided questionable language and situations. My only dislike-- the language is somewhat stilted, in that the characters hardly ever use contractions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Juvie Three

If you thought Sam Hill made some bad choices in Goblins!, then meet Gecko and Terence in Gordan Korman's new book, The Juvie Three. Gecko (who "has elevated not thinking to the level of high art") drove a getaway car for his brother, who robbed an appliance store. Terence runs with a Chicago gang and can't think of much besides his next heist. They are joined by Arjay, a very large boy whose strength led to an accident in which a boy was killed, in an experimental half way house run by Doug Healey. They are just settling in and complaining about the strict regimen when another accident occurs and Doug is badly injured. They take him to the hospital and abandon him, then decide that the best way to keep the authorities from finding out is to stay out of trouble, do well in school, and surviving until Doug, who has amnesia, returns to health.

This is actually a rather moralistic tale that adults will love, but students will like it to. Korman is such a great go-to author for middle school boys-- my three copies of Son of the Mob are in tatters. I appreciate how he can write convincing stories about a wide variety of characters. It is interesting that in the front of The Juvie Three, he only mentions 7 other books, and completely ignores his several fabulous series for reluctant readers. Chasing the Falconers, Dive, Island and Everest are all life savers for struggling boys. While I don't adore everything by Korman (Jake, Reinvented and Swindle come to mind), this was certainly a worthy addition to his oeuvre.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Royce Buckingham's Goblins! An Underearth Adventure

Take one slacker, one troublemaker, and some bottle rockets and mix them with a whole world of drolling, nasty, furry, black-blooded goblins and what do you get? A book that middle school boys will adore. The cover alone ensures that they will pick this title up, but they won't be disappointed once they start reading, because things happen quickly. Sam Hill (most students won't get this reference, so it's clever rather than annoying) makes a lot of poor choices that get him in trouble with the sheriff in his small town. One lands him in jail for stealing fireworks. While locked up, he meets the sheriff's son, P.J., who is not known for his wisdom or good behavior. When the two of them investigate a border alarm, hoping to get some goods that thieves are trying to smuggle between the U.S. and Canada, they get embroiled in a battle to keep the goblins from straying from their underground home.

The writing has many laugh out loud moments, which I always appreciate. This was great (page 84): "For the first time, [Sam] wondered exactly how he'd gotten himself into such a mess. A bunch of bad decisions, he decided, one after the other. He shook his head. I deserve to be in trouble. And he was not in just in a little trouble. He was alone in a goblin cell, deep underground, waiting to be thrown in some sort of arena, which was apparently a fate worse than being eaten. But there was nothing he could do at the moment, so he stretched out to try to relax. "

Attention, Newbery Committee: Introspective navel-gazing as it should be done. Sam does develop from a slacker and Learns Important Lessons, but in between we have this (page 69):
"Just then, Whitey sank his sword into [the goblin's ] fleshy underbelly to draw its attention. "Keep going!" he yelled to them. His weapon cut a long gash in the jiggly creature, but the wound closed itself like sliced Jell-O, and Whitey's sword energed from the caustic flesh melted to a stump. He tossed it down, them leapt across the sinkhole to follow them. The creature reared, surged forward, and caught him midair. Whitey stuck to its slime-covered underside like a fly on a fly strip."



This is a must buy for middle schools. It has an excellent balance between moral lessons and spewing goblin mucus. A bildungsroman with multi-colored bug blood. What more could we want?

A little cheesy, but oh, so good!

Started off my evening with Scott Morse's The Magic Pickle, a graphic novel (in full color!) published by Scholastic Graphix, which also publishes the Bone series. Must say that I was mildy amused by the tale of a cyrogenically frozen pickle ("Weapon Kosher") with super powers who must defeat a cadre of evil vegetables. ("They's reunited... the entire BROTHERHOOD OF EVIL PRODUCE!") Helped along by Jo Jo Wigman, whom he meets when he pops into her bedroom and fries the footies off her jammies, the magic pickle manages to fend off attacks from the Romaine Gladiator and save the world... for now. I'm currently holding this until one of my students finishes Chasing the Falconers-- he doesn't want to read anything but graphic novels, so I'm trying to broaden his scope. There are two sequels out, and you I'm buying.

I'm well aware that the Students Across the Seven Sea series is formulaic, but I do love them, and the latest installment, When Irish Guys are Smiling, from Suzanne Supplee, was particularly good. Delk (Odd name.) wants to study abroad because she is still grieving for her mother, who passed away two years ago, and is tired of dealing with her young, pregnant stepmother who wants to redecorate away all traces of any former life. In Ireland, she makes new friends, travels, and has a sweet romance with local sheep farmer's son. Lots of details about the countries make all of these interesting, but this one stands out because Delk whines less than many of the other main characters.

How could you not read this title by Brian James? Zombie Blondes. Hannah has moved around a lot with her constantly out-of-work father, and is desperate to fit in with the popular crowd at school, even though her friend Lukas claims that all of the cheerleaders are in fact zombies, and want to make her one as well. He might be right-- how else to explain all of the houses for sale and the strange dissappearance of classmates overnight? The brilliant part of this novel was that I wasn't entirely sure the cheerleaders were really zombies, or if Lukas felt that way because he had been friends with one until she became a cheerleader, and he used the term to describe her midless adherence to their social mores. Are they really zombies? You decide. This one will circulate without any prompting from the librarian.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Looks, The Declaration

Looks, by Madeleine George, would be a good book for high school but was overly bleak for middle school. Meghan, the fattest girl in town, tries to be invisible, mainly to avoid comments from the rude boys in school. Aimee is anorexic but trying very hard to make friends with other girls who share her interest in writing. Much attention is given to Aimee's relationship with food. The prose is lyrical and the voices of the characters feel removed and echoey, which suits the book. The despair in the book is palpable, and this may be why it feels to dispirited to give to middle schoolers. While brilliantly done, it's a deeply unhappy book, and a bit mean as well. "He is best friends with the Latin teacher, a tall, stoop-shouldered, stringy haired specter named Ms. Werner." (p. 54) Ms. Werner gets no more mention in order to redeem herself, and many of the characters are painted in a very unflattering way. There is also some of the current trend to give characters ridiculous names; a secretary is named Ms. Champoux, "like the hair soap". This irritates me, since it marginalizes the characters.
Gemma Malley's The Declaration is another dystopian novel with bioethical overtones. There seem to be a lot of these lately. In this one, Surplus Anna is being raised in a state home for "illegal" children-- her parents decided to take drugs to make them live forever, but also had a child, which is against the law. Since people can live forever, children are discouraged. It's possible to "opt out" of taking the drugs in order to have children, and few do it. The plot centers around a new surplus, Peter, who comes to the home and starts to shake things up. Anna, who is trying very hard to be useful, is intrigued by his stories, and starts to wonder if the way the world seems to be working is right after all. There are a few pat plot twists, but students will like this because it shows children without any power who try to take some for their own. Similarities between this and Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series are inevitable. This is a good book to have on hand for die-hard fans of that series.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alcott Overview

I've had some girls interested in reading Little Women lately, but even though they are strong readers, they couldn't get into it. Instead, they've had some success with Eight Cousins, which is probably my favorite. It's slightly shorter, and Rose, the main character, has a little more spunk. Orphaned and left in the care of an uncle who travels, Rose must live with several aunts and a cadre of all-male cousins. Her aunts want to dress her up like a doll; her uncle wants her to romp and be healthy. It's an interesting view of life in the 1860s, and I remember loving Rose's moral tribulations-- she wants to get her ears pierced, but should she? Rose in Bloom is the Sequel, and girls who finish the first often go on to the second. I find it hard to recommend Little Men to readers, since I was so disappointed in it myself.
Another good title is An Old-Fashioned Girl, even though Polly is slightly priggish. The girls have fun considering what was "old-fashioned" 150 years ago! Jack and Jill is okay, although the thought of two children being bed-ridden for an entire winter after a sledding accident strains the bounds of credulity. I never could finish Under the Lilacs, so don't have a copy in the library. The Inheritance, which was published fairly recently, goes over well with readers new to Alcott, but is rather different in style (more of a thriller), and I didn't care for it.

Some of these titles are difficult to find if you need to replace one in your library. The covers are uniformly blah, but I have to say, who on earth designed THIS one? Possibly the worst cover ever.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Library Realignment

Sorry, kids, no books this week because I've been moving furniture to align with updated library reality. (Pictures of library coming soon!)

Disclaimer: I stink at being a Media Specialist ("You want a smart board, Young Teacher Whom My Sweater Predates? How about this lovely filmstrip projector?"); I reek less as a Librarian (have managed some instruction this year); do okay as a Readers' Advisor. Hence philosophy:

In an ideal world, I would be able to instruct students how to find books they like by themselves. I am here is to get the right book to the right child at the right time. Can't conference with each of 600 students each week, so need to configure the library so that good choices are staring students right in the face.

New project is to put themed sections scattered throughout the fiction section. By the Matt Christopher books, I will put a "Sports" section with a list of books as well as the books themselves. That way, if students are wandering aimlessly (as they often do), they might see a cover that catches their eye. I'm working on lists of spy books, Ancient History, horror, problem novels, humor, etc. I'll be glad to share these one they are done.

The most important thing is to keep students reading and enjoying books. This will make the library and books themselves do a little of the work!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fletcher's Ironhand

As a rule, I don't like fantasy, but when it clicks, it clicks, and I loved this sequel to Stoneheart. George has broken a statue (being an idiot), and set off an age old war between spits (statues of people) and taints (statues of creatures) in London. He befriends Edie, a glint (someone who can read the emotions of things by touching them) and Gunner, a statue. In this installment, Gunner has been imprisoned by the Walker, who is trying to get together two ancient stone mirrors for evil purposes. The Walker also kidnaps Edie so that she can find a matching stone, and is following George, who can make the mirror. George is struggling also with veins of stone and metal that are creeping up his arm to his heart-- unless he accepts several "challenges", the veins will kill him.

There is lots of action and adventure, and it isn't as hard to read as the description would indicate. The London setting is done is great detail, and I loved that part of it. This is not a sure bet for every fantasy fan, but it has been popular enough to warrant it. Having read Sean Ashby's comments on characters in fantasies (Brain vs. Brawn), now I am reevaluating the book's characters.

Read Karen Tayleur's short book, David Mortimer Baxter: Liar, and it irritated me. Reluctant readers probably will like it, and this series is published with them in mind. I was put off by the multiple fonts on each page, as well as the tiny illustrations. I felt like I should decode that information in some way, and that it was integral to the story, like a rebus. It didn't seem to be, so I was confused as to why it was there. These are expensive book ($18 for 71 pages), so I may not get the rest of the series.

Ah, more Rosemary Sutcliffe. Three that are moving on to better homes are Sun Horse, Moon Horse, The Shield Ring, and Song for a Dark Queen, even though I really, really wanted to like that one since its about Boadicea, who showed up in Ironhand. Sun Horse has been in the library since 1977 and has NEVER BEEN OFF THE SHELF. It smells bad. They all do, in fact, and look dusty, aged, and tired. If the writing weren't somewhat stilted and ponderous, I could interest children in them, but the time has passed.

Must go now and chant "We are not an archive" to myself. And weep gently.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Sequel

One I had to read quickly because there's such a line-- Ninth Grade Slays by Heather Brewer. In this second installment of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, a vampire slayer is stalking Vlad, and he hangs out with his Uncle Otis to learn vam[ire survival skills. Not my cup of tea, but wildly popular and rather clever. Lots of eating and drinking blood of the prepackaged variety. My students are clamoring for Tenth Grade Bleeds right NOW!

Sarah Beth Durst's Out of the Wild (sequel to Into the Wild) finds Julie fighting the Wild once again, but this time with her father, the Prince, who has mysteriously been released. Some characters are found to be evil, trying to feed the Wild, so that it captures characters and makes them repeat their stories endlessly. Plenty of action and adventure, a fun twist on fairy tales, but I'm not quite getting the whole point of the wild. Still, a worthy successor to the first book.

Why Jennifer Lynn Barne's books are published only in paperback confuses me, because they are quite good. Tattoo is fun, and Perfect Cover and Killer Spirit are great spy novels, with the twist that the elite spy group uses being cheerleaders as its cover. In the latest installment, Toby is nominated for the homecoming court,How can you not like a book that has on the back cover "Terrorist threat? Bloody mission gone wrong? Demented squad captain? Bring it on."
Also of note: reluctant 5th grader really like Danziger and Martin's Snail Mail No More. I found the book, and the first in the series (P.S. Longer Letter Later) a bit depressing, but she burned through them very quickly and I will not complain1

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Do you have anything that's just like The Outsiders?"

Maybe our teachers do an outstanding job teaching this title, but it is a perennial favorite. I had a student once who didn't want to read anything else. I've spent a lot of time analyzing what students are wanting, and last night I came to the conclusion that it's not gangs so much as the camaraderie that is exhibited by the gangs.

This is why Charles R. Smith's Chameleon will be one that students will like. Shawn is growing up under somewhat difficult circumstances-- his mother is working and in school, his parents are divorced, his neighborhood is not great, and he is "babysat" by a depressed, alcoholic aunt who frequently is embarrassingly drunk. Still, he has friends who try hard to stay out of trouble (they check themselves for gang colors before going to play basketball) and with whom he has some great times. He has parents who encourage him academically and ask questions when he seems to be out of line. Shawn's biggest concerns are whether or not to go live with his dad, leaving his friends but going to a better school; avoiding gang related fights (not always successfully); and surviving puberty. There is some frank discussion of health issues, but since they are handled in an informative way, I think this is appropriate for middle school students. This is a somewhat long book (377 pages), but I think that this one will be popular. The cover is especially attractive and reminscent of some 1960s art.

An example of a book that did not quite work for this topic was Stork's Behind the Eyes. I liked the story of a boy sent to a reform school to protect him from a gang after his brother's death, but it was lacking the feeling of a group helping young people making their way against difficult circumstances. The family is absent, the school is bleak, and the feeling of support was not the main focus of this story.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Happiest Spot of My Week!!!

Just checked my mail after dealing three classes at once (yesterday I wondered why I felt so frazzled-- I had about 475 students visit the library!) and had a package from Becky Riordan, the world's nicest person. Having read on this blog that I was overly annoyed with the plastic-with-trading-cards cover of The Maze of Bones, she sent me a library bound copy! And a Demigod inTraining t shirt that will make me the envy of all of my students! I spent my lunch time bouncing around the cafeteria showing all the students, who were very excited and demanded that I process The Maze of Bones immediately. There are now ten reserves on it!

I did not know there was a library bound copy; the one I had came in the review box for my book fair. I do feel much better about the physical book now, and would also like to say that one of my readers, who can be oddly picky, polished off The Maze of Bones in one evening and has spent several mornings in the library investigating the web site.

Ms. Riordan points out that the books are written to be fully enjoyed and understood without all the other bells and whistles, and this is absolutely correct. I am very excited about the rest of the books in the series because all of the authors are ones I enjoy, and the series got off to a great start with Mr. Riordan's book.

Many thanks to Becky, especially since I imagine she is busy!

The Graveyard Book

Since several of our teachers are requiring mystery, horror or suspense books for November, I was glad of Neil Gaiman's latest. It has a little of all of these elements.

When Nobody Owens is a toddler, his family is murdered by a mysterious man named Jack, and he escapes the same fate by wandering out of the house. He ends up in a graveyard, where he is adopted by the spirits there. They teach him and care for him, and a man named Silas takes care of his physical needs like clothing and food. Bod grows up to be an inquisitive and compassionate boy who can also fend off ghouls when needed. (But I'm sorry; "the 33rd president of the United States" shows up as a ghoul. Really? Harry Truman? My great uncle Jim was fishing buddies with Truman. What was wrong with the man?) The mystery surrounding his family's murder is resolved quite nicely, and there are lots of creepy supernatural moments. The only question is-- should I buy one or maybe two copies?

Sherri Winston's The Kayla Chronicles was pretty good, but hit a little hard on the "girl power issue". Kayle is a bit geeky, but loves to dance, and her equally geeky best friend challenges her to try out for the prestigious dance team at school so they can prove that the dance team doesn't take on flat chested girls; of course, Kayla gets on the team. I appreciated that it showed a strong, suburban African-American girl, but there were a lot of gratuitous health class issues (Kayla accidentally goes into the boys' locker room and gets an eyeful), so I am still thinking about it.

The winner for the year for gratuitous crude language as well as strangest, most off putting character names has got to be Jeremy Jackson's Life at These Speeds. Ninth grader brought it home because it was the story of an 8th grade track runner who goes home from a meet with his parents, and the van carrying the rest of the team goes off a bridge and kills everyone. He transfers (and the other district waives tuition-- this would not happen) to another school, doesn't want to run track, and does. Interesting premise, poor execution. Really too bad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Great Depression

With the economy figuring so largely in the news, and so much talk of "the next great depression", I pulled out a couple of books that I thought children should read. Take a look at these titles and then answer: have any of the pundits really ever heard of The Great Depression? Do they understand how bad it was?

Down Cut Shin Creek, by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer has vivid photographic evidence of how bad things were. People didn't even have intact clothing. Librarians traveled for miles in the rain through the hills of Appalachia to bring people worn out magazines and newspapers. My budget cuts pale in comparison. This is one of my favorite nonfiction titles.

No Promises in the Wind (1970) by Irene Hunt tells the story of three boys who are sent away from home to earn their own living because their parents don't have enough money to feed them.
There are many dangers to living on one's own, even if it may seem exciting at first. In Cynthia DeFelice's Nowhere to Call Home (1999) , Frances' family loses everything. She is offered a chance to live with an aunt but chooses to become a hobo and ride the rails instead. While this is interesting at first, Frances quickly sees how desperate people are who are forced to live this sort of life.

Other notable titles on this topic include Milton Meltzer's Tough Times (2007), Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (1997) and Jeannette Ingold's Hitch (2005).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Boys That Bite by Mari Mancusi

Sunny is a hockey player who puts up with her twin, Rayne, a Goth girl. When Sunny accompanies her sister to a club, she is approached by a very attractive boy who flirts with her... and then bites her! Since he is a vampire (whom Rayne has carefully researched in her own quest to become one of the undead), Sunny has a limited amount of time to reverse the process before joining the social set where sleeping all day and eating raw hamburger are acceptable. Since she has a date for prom with her long time crush, can she reverse the process in time?

This series includees Stake That and Girls That Growl. The first came out in 2006, before Twilight became such a huge hit. I liked this book MUCH better. Sunny doesn't want to become a vampire, so it has a fresh, unwhiny voice and a little spin on many of the facets of vampire lore, while adhering to the main vampire preconceptions. (No crosses or garlic, the vampire who bites you becomes your soul mate or leading force in your un-life.) The only down side to this series, which is mercifully free of bad vocabulary and situations, is that it is available only in paperback. Couldn't even find a prebind. Also, shouldn't it be Boys WHO Bite? This will be a very popular addition to the body of vampire fiction in my library.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Maze of Bones; or Stupid Plastic Covers

First, I love, love, love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Second, The Maze of Bones is a fine book, with lots of very clever lines and a decent plot. Third, I am not a literature elitist. Have Captain Underpants, much stuff not considered for Major Awards.

That said, what the heck? "Read the Book. Play the game. Win the prizes."??? Trading cards included right in the cover, behind a plastic shield that will be destroyed the first time a child looks at it? An interactive web site? This is apparently my line in the sand. It was crossed.

But I have to buy the book. I'll just add it to the rebindery pile now.

Orphans Amy and Dan Cahill have just lost their beloved grandmother, but their problems are even bigger than dealing with relatives and ever-changing nannies. The Cahill family is large and important, and also instrumental in protecting the world from ancient evil. Amy and Dan are left with one clue to solve this problem; so are other members of the family who don't necessarily have good intentions. Traveling from Boston to Paris to Vienna, and having lots of adventures, Amy and Dan try to figure out what role the family has in this mystery, and try to do their best to stay alive while solving it. Slightly reminiscent of the movie National Treasure, This is a fine mystery. Other books in the series (39??) will be by other authors and will, presumably, include more trading cards. *Sigh*

Do not feel compelled to buy Tanya Hurley's Ghostgirl. This has appeared in several girls' magazines, and both of my daughters wanted to read it. It is pretty, with a plastic cover , silver edged pages, and colored decorations, but the story line is thin and the main character whines. Wanted to like it, didn't, and the book will fall apart instantly. I see this more as something girls get for a Christmas present than something for libraries. The web site is impressive. Who thought cut out front covers were a good idea?
Also read Crist-Evans Amaryllis, which is about a boy whose brother is off fighting in Vietnam and is also addicted to heroin. The boy's father is an abusive alchoholic. This was a good book, but still not quite what the boys who like war books are wanting, and so very depressing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Barkham Street

Mary Stolz was a ubiquitous writer for children in the 1960s and 70s, and died in 2006. She wrote a wide range of books, but only four survive in my library. A Dog on Barkham Street (illustrated by tthe same gentleman, Leonard Shortall) who did early Encyclopedia Brown books) was written in 1960 and very pleasant to read, being reminiscent of Beverly Cleary or Carolyn Heywood, who would have been contemporaries.

Edward wants a dog, is beleaugered by a bully who lives next door, and is helped by a visit from a world traveling uncle, who brings him a dog. The problems are not huge, there is humor throughout the book, and the family is strong and supportive. Just looking at the cover makes me feel ten years old and happy. Oddly, my library does not have the companion title that I remember better, The Bully of Barkham Street.
The Explorer of Barkham Street (1985) was somehow depressing. It tells the story of the bully from the other two books, but he is reformed. He is also beset by problems, from his weight to his mother (gasp!) working, to his grandmother dying and his grandfather coming to live with his family. It was depressing and made me think of After School Specials. Has not circulated well at all, and may move to a happier home.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sutcliffe, Sunrise, and Silliness

Rosemary Sutcliffe's The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965)has only left the shelf eight times in 30 years here. The last student to read it was a huge fan of historical fiction and couldn't get through it. Liz B. at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy read it recently and enjoyed it, but I'm afraid that I found it wordy and dull. The same was true of Blood Feud(1976). The adjective that came to mind was "languorous" which is not what students are wanting when it comes to books that are supposed to be about adventure and battles. Beautifully written, indeed, but I just keep chanting to myself "I do not run an archive."

Walter Dean Myers' Sunrise Over Fallujah wasn't very interesting to me, but students seem to be liking it. It follows Robin, a soldier who has entered the army instead of going to college because he was so upset about 9/11. Lots of detail about daily life in Iraq, from descriptions of the camps to interactions with the local people. There hasn't been much else written about Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I did buy two copies. Myers has clearly done his research-- his children have both served in the Middle East.

Had to pick up Mark Reibstein's Wabi Sabi. A beautifully collaged picture book, this is the story about a Japanese cat named Wabi Sabi who asked what his name means. Everyone says "That's hard to explain." The book examines different aspects of this and explains them with haiku. This would be good for a multicultural collection.

Finally, a treat for middle school librarians. Don't think that middle school students would enjoy Sloane Tanen's Appetite for Detention, but the teachers here found it hilarious, if very politically incorrect. See if your local public library has a copy you can borrow!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"T" Authors

In Theodore Taylor's The Maldonade Miracle (1973) Jose is smuggled into the United States after his mother dies and his home is bought by developers. His father is already in the States to work. Jose ends up working with other migrants, including a teacher who is trying to expose the poor conditions . Jose runs into trouble and runs away and seeking refuge in a church, hiding in a loft and bleeding on a statue, which is when the "miracle" in the title arises.

Leon's Story, by Walter Tillage (1997)was written from an interview with a school's janitor who had told students how difficult his life was in the South. It is a very good description of the type of prejudice and difficulties that African-Americans faced before the Civil Rights movement. For example, Leon's father is run over by a joy-riding teen and killed. The teen's father comes, offers the family $100, saying that "these things happen". Told in a direct, first person narrative style, this should be read to gain insight into those times.

Jane Resh Thomas' Courage at Indian Deep (1984) is about Cass, whose family moves from a city, and now runs a small resort in northern Minnesota. He has trouble fitting in, is bullied , and runs away from home on the night of a storm. While in a cave along the lake shore, he sees a boat founder and is instrumental in helping some of the men survive. All of these titles are still in print.

Marthe Jocelyn's Would You (2008) is a good but incredibly sad book. Natalie gets along fine with her sister Claire, who will be going to college in a few weeks. Then, Claire is hit by a car and gravely injured. This is told in a terse, scattered style that I imagine mimics the way time goes when someone you love is in the hospital. This was just too sad to buy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How to Hook a Hottie

Kate has a plan. She wants to be a millionaire, and has made a deal with her parents-- if she can earn $5,000 by the time she graduates from high school, they will give her her college fund to use as start-up capital. She won't have to go to college and can start a business which will make her rich. She has a steady job ferrying a younger girl to ice skating practice but is still $1,000 short.

Enter Brandon, Kate's lab partner and the hottest boy in the school. He has a crush on Kate, which she does not understand, and which she finds somewhat annoying. Still, when Brandon asks her out, the other girls in school assume that Kate has a secret plan that can also help them get the boy of their dreams. Since there's money involved, Kate is all for this plan, and evolves a six-point "hottie hooking hexagon".

Once again, Tina Ferraro (author of Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress) has created a character who is more than a shallow girl interested only in romance. Sometimes sassy, sometimes clueless, Kate eventually figures out what is most important in life. This is a fun read. A definite buy. I'm a little leery of Ferraro's next book, The ABC's of Kissing Boys (coming out in January of 2009), if only because the cover is not the same great style as the first two. I will definitely read it, however!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Michael Spradlin's Keeper of the Grail

Michael Spradlin has been popular in my library for his Spy Goddess series so his new The Youngest Templar series was a bit of a surprise. Well-researched and full of fighting and adventure, it is a bit of a departure from the humor of Spy Goddess, but every bit as enjoyable.

Tristan, an orphan with a shadowy past, has been raised by monks, but because he knows he must leave them soon, when Sir Thomas offers to take him off to the Crusades, he accepts. Even though the voyage is filled with danger and intrigue, Tristan learns to fight and hold his own. When Sir Thomas realizes he will not survive the next fight, he entrusts Tristan with one of the holiest relics of the Templars-- the holy grail. There are two books yet to come that will explain what happens next!

If your copies of Michael Cadnum's Book of the Lion see lots of wear, this would be an excellent series to purchase.

Assorted fantasy

The former librarian at my school bought LOTS of fantasy, so I have to be picky about what I buy. Oddly, it's the boys who "run out" of things to read.

T.A. Barron's Merlin's Dragon is one I may consider, since it comes in between the Lost Years of Merlin and the Great Tree of Avalon series that I have. Didn't do much for me, but has a good cover, and students will certainly pick this one up.

Think I will pass on Marillier's Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret. although I am tempted by books that actually use the word desmesne.
Usually love Robin McKinley's work, but Chalice was written in an odd voice.
Am working slowly on Tolkien's The Silmarillion and will give complete synopsis when I am done.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The 100-year-old Secret

Tracey Barrett's mystery was just what I needed for my 6th graders who need to read a mystery, horror, or suspense novel in October. Xena and Xander move to London with their parents, and aren't terribly happy about it because it is gray and rainy. Out playing "the game" (they try to detect one thing about a person, and then prove it. Xander spots a ballerina and asks where he can take dance lessons), they are contacted by a member of the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives and find out that they are related to Sherlock Holmes. They are given a mystery that Holmes could not solve, and try to find out what happened to a painting that disappeared one hundred years ago. The mystery is easy to figure out, but the 156 page book moves quickly and is easy to understand.

Loved the cover for Ward's Escape the Mask, but it was an odd, dystopian sci fi story that I couldn't get into. Lost me at the first sentence, really: "There was fear coming from the Onesie's cage. " Am I the only one who had a vision of a bunch of terrified infants' underwear?

Margolis' Price of Admission looked okay, but it was another story of celebrity, and included a lot of screen play script. If I can't get into a pink and fluffy book, I'm not buying it.

Ain's Revolution of Sabine also left me cold. It intrigued me at first-- Sabine rebels against her upper class family in Paris in 1776, meets Ben Franklin, and learns to be a free thinker-- but the constant talk of the class struggle and how everyone in her life manifests various aspects of this did not keep me interested.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Before, After and Somebody In Between

Jeannine Garsee's first novel was very well-written and riveting, but it is for older students. Martha's mother frequently moves her around, and this time they have landed with a boyfriend who has a run-down house in a mainly black area of Cleveland. Martha gets by the best she can, considering that the boyfriend beats her, her mother frequently runs off for long stretches, and the school bully has it in for her. She loves to play the cello, but just surviving is enough of a challenge. This would be one that my problem novel fans would LOVE, but I'll have them request it from the public library. Too much language, and a couple scenes that I don't want to hand to 6th graders. Definitely consider this if you have a high school library.

Joanne Harris' Runemarks was a challenge. I have lots of problems with high fantasy, and this is rich with Norse mythology, with which I don't have much familiarity. Started with three maps, which is why this has been sitting by my chair for three weeks. Still, that's personal preference. Will my students like this? Yes. It is well-written in an engaging style which even I could follow, it's complicated enough to satisfy my highest, geekiest readers, and Harris has clearly road tested this on actual children. If you need another huge big fantasy for your middle school, this one is good, and when students finish, perhaps they will pick up Lloyd Alexander's The Iron Ring for some Indian mythology.

I saved Catherine Clark's Wish You Were Here as a reward for finishing Runemarks, because I liked her other books, but I was oddly disappointed. Too much family on the road trip, not enough fun, and an oddly small typeface. Students notice these things. I'll pass.

I Love Your Blog

Don't usually do these, but it did make my day, as well as introduce me to some new and helpful blogs. Thanks to Darla at Books and Other Thoughts for nominating me. Your blog is very useful to me as well, and I love the hammock and palm trees!

Hope I followed all the rules to this, which are
1. Add the logo of your award to your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

I love:

Book Envy Because she draws great connections between books, or books and thoughts. Fairly new-- keep it up!

Bluestocking Because of her very short reviews of LOTS of books. That's really all I need. And the name. You'll be a great librarian!

JacketWhys Because of the fabulous covers and super short description. Puts a lot on my radar I might miss.

Mrs. F-B's Book Blog Because her reading interests go both a little older and younger than what I normally get to. Plus, she has fun animation and I am in awe.

Mrs. Hill's Book Blog Because she also has almost a book a day, and her tastes and library needs align with mine.

Mr. K. Reads Because he teaches 4th grade and a lot of his reviewed books work well for my 6th graders. But Mr. K, join us in the pool and allow comments!

Reviewer X Because she posts frequent short book reviews on slightly older YA books, has an amazing amount of readers, and does blogger interviews.

And last, but certainly not least
Sean Ashby: Author and Illustrator I truly believe that one day he will be unbelievably famous, and then he will come and speak at my school for free even though his schedule is packed. But I love his blog because he affords me a daily dose of Pondering. He reads a TON, has a wonderful feel for what children want to read, and waxes philosophically about it, while I am merely Lemon Pledging philosophically. Not only that, but his art work is beautiful.

Thanks to all of these bloggers, who keep me on my toes!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A bit about Douglas Adams

When I first started reading my way through the library, I had to start with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. A Fine book, but not to my taste, and when I had to follow it with the Hitchhikers' books and Watership Down, I started to wonder about the sanity of the previous librarian.

If you have a boy who doesn't want to read a science fiction book for a class assignment, ask if he liked Monty Python. Then give him Adams. There's a weird crossover, like boys who like horror books also reading about WWII, and girls who like vampire books also liking problem novels. I just got a copy of the fifth book and am reading it, but none of it is sinking in. Instead of a review, here is a list of the series, as well as the official Adams site. Sadly, this author passed away in 2001.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless