Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Food Issues

In Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, Lia's best friend has died because of complications of bulimia and anorexia. Lia struggles with anorexia herself, and in the wake of the death is plunged into another bout of losing weight. She can't control her stepmother, her distant and driven mother, or the students at school who make fun of her, but she can control what she eats, and she feels powerful when she doesn't. Obviously, this will not end well until Lia stops her self-destructive behaviour, which includes cutting. This was a very lyrical account of a serious eating disorder; well done; probably will win prizes. The girls who crave problem novels will like it as well. It was a bit too literary for me. The poetic language seemed out of sorts with the topic, somehow.

Deborah Lytton's Jane in Bloom addressed another side of eating disorders-- how they affect the rest of the family. Jane's admired older sister Lizzie struggles with anorexia and dies suddenly of laxative and diuretic abuse. This completely unhinges Jane's mother, who spends the summer with her parents, and leaves Jane to try to recover from the death with the help of her father, a new puppy, and an older babysitter. There is also a sweet friendship/romance witha boy whose parents have been killed in a car accident. Like Vrettos' Skin, this addresses the children who are affected by eating disorders and pushed aside by their families. Nicely done.
Probably my favorite, though, was Erin Dionne's Models Don't Eat Cookies. Certainly, many girls suffer with anorexia, but FAR more suffer from being overweight. That's the case for Celeste, whose aunt has nominated her for a HuskyPeach spokesmodel fashion contest. Since Celeste gets endless grief about her weight from a popular bully at school (to whom she almost loses her best friend-- very true to life!), she does not want to be a part of that! In order to be ineligible, she tries to lose weight. I liked how healthy choices were discussed, although readers could probably use even more factual information about food choices and exercise. This was certainly not literary, and could have been a bit better written, but the message, characters and general plot were very good. My 5th grader, who adored The Melting of Maggie Bean, will like this one.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Debbie Viguie's Scarlet Moon

A parent recommended this book, knowing that I can't keep anything related to vampires or werewolves on the shelves for very long. This is a Simon Pulse paperback title, part of the "Once Upon a Time" series.

Ruth, whose father is a blacksmith and whose brother has gone off to fight in the crusades, is attacked by a wolf when very young. She still dreams of the wolf's green eyes, and when the local noble shows up, she is surprised to see that he has the same eyes. He is also not put off by the fact that she is not cowed by his nobility nor the fact that she is working as a blacksmith, and a romance blooms. Of course, things cannot go smoothly. Ruth's grandmother has been banished to the woods for possible witchcraft, but this ends up serving Ruth well. This is billed as a "reimagining" of Little Red Riding Hood, and was quite a fun, light romp. There are other titles in this series, and I am looking forward to them. Twilight fans will enjoy these.

Also picked up Shaffer and Barrows The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on the recommendation of several friends. It sounded like something I would like (London author, in the wake of World War II, communicates with citizens of an island that was occupied by the Germans during the war, finds new purpose and romance in her life), but seemed somehow derivative. I was disappointed.

Decided that Paul Volponi's newest title, Response, would be best suited to high schoolers. I had enough trouble with the fact that Noah is beat up while trying to steal a car, and the moral ambiguity might be difficult for middle school students. No, Noah does not deserve to be beat up, but he was doing something he ought not to have been doing. Like Artemis Fowl, I couldn't find a sympathetic side. There is also some language.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Forty Years of Accumulation

This will anger someone, somewhere, who doesn't understand how I can get rid of anything when money is so tight. The explanation: five laser disk players and biographies from 1960 will not fill the need I have for good, new fiction books for my students.

As much as possible has been recycled, given to other teachers or buildings, and reused. The screens at the bottom of the picture were picked up from a local college-- they have silver screens instead of white. Who knew? The typewriter does not work, and I have the other four that remained in the building.

Does this break my heart? Yes. This whole pile goes to auction, so hopefully the district will get a little money, and these things will get repaired and used. My library will be more efficient and effective when I don't have the shelves clogged with extra glass for overheads we no longer have, neatly wrapped in newspaper.... from 1992.

This has taken ten days. During that time, I've also checked out 1,762 books. I think I've earned my keep!

Chew On This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Our 8th grade health class watched Super Size Me, so I thought there would be some interest in this title.

The subtitle to this book is "Everything you don't want to know about fast food", and that would certainly be the case for some of the animal treatment issues, which could (and should!) upset some sensitive students. This is a great book to have, though, because despite its lenghth (318 pages) it is very readable and on a level that even 4th graders would find easy.

Starting with the history of the hamburger, this book covers a wide variety of issues-- the way that food is prepared, the exploitation of teen workers, the effects of fast food culture on the US and foreign countries, the health implications of a fast food diet. Replete with statistics and research, this was a compelling read. My family has never eaten fast food more than about twice a year, and we don't eat much meat, so this was preaching to the choir for me. Students who do eat a lot of fast food might be given a lot of "food for thought" with this informative title. Students who are really interested in this topic could also pick up Greg Critser's Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Search for the Red Dragon

I want to see Mr. Owen's outlines for these books. They are so amazingly convoluted in the way that so many characters meet up that he must do very careful planning on top of writing a rollicking good story. I was so excited when this book was returned at the end of the day, because then I could take it home and not feel guilty.

Nine years after their original adventure, Jack calls John and Charles to visit him in Oxford. He's been having horrible dreams that Aven is in trouble. Once the group is reassembled, Laura Glue arrives from the Archipelago with a message from Peter Pan (her grandfather)-- the children are being stolen from the Archipelago, and all of the dragon ships have disappeared! Laura Glue is supposed to deliver the message to James Barrie, a former caretaker who has forsaken his job because of the pressures of the real world. He stays behind, but the others, along with Bert, head off to find out what is going on. The Pied Piper, King Arthur, and the lost colony of Roanoke all make an appearance.

In reviews of this series, they are listed as grades 8 and up, and most reviews mention that the literary allusions make these books more suitable for adults than teens. I disagree. I think that, like all truly great children's literature, this speaks to readers on different levels. While I enjoyed connecting all the literary dots (as did some of my hard core fantasy readers), I've talked to students who liked the story but didn't have a clue that the characters were all based on preexisting real or fictional characters. They just liked the adventure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nora Leigh Baskin's Anything But Typical

We have an autism spectrum unit in our building, so I was very interested to read Baskin's Anything But Typical. This was one very well researched and well-written book. Middle school aged Jason is autistic. He is mainstreamed and knows a lot of ways to cope with the expectations of "neurotypicals", but it's still hard. School is a struggle, but when he goes on line, he can control his world a bit more. He is very involved in Storyboard, a writing web site, and publishes many of his stories there. He makes friends with Rachel, who also writes, and is able to communicate with her more effectively than he can communicate with other students in his school, since distractions such as facial expressions are not there to distract him. When his parents decide to take him to the Storyboard convention, and he finds out that Rachel is also attending, he is understandably leery about meeting her.

Jason's voice, and the view inside his psyche, is what makes this book riveting. I'm not a fan of quirky/dysfunctional characters, but I was drawn into Jason's world right away. Having worked with students on the spectrum, I think this was an accurate portrayal of one student struggling to make his way in a world that he has trouble understanding. If you have an interest in this topic, I would recommend John Elder Robinson's Look Me In the Eye. This book, while not really for students, also clearly described the difficulty of existing in a world where people don't necessarily speak one's language.

Vivian Vande Velde's Stolen has a promisingly creepy cover, and I am always looking for horror books, but it wasn't quite what my students are requesting. It has a quasi-medieval setting, which I have learned in the past few weeks is NOT popular among most readers (A teacher assigned a very nice project using fiction to learn about this time period. Then we realized that everything we had was vastly long, and the students are not happy. They even think Avi's Crispin is dull.) In short, Isabelle is found wandering in the woods, not able to remember anything. It is believed that she is a child stolen by a witch. Had its moments, but I'm going to pass.

Lauren Henderson's Kiss Me, Kill Me also had too many elements I don't like, even though it was well written and had some good twists. I'm just burned out on books set in exclusive private schools. Scarlett, a gymnast, struggles to fit into her school, and when she kisses the popular Dan at a party and he dies of an allergic reaction, she is traumatized and has to change schools. She begins to realize that Dan's death was not an accident, and starts her own investigation into the events. Too serious for a pink book, not mysterious for a mystery. Just not what I was looking for.

Items of the day unearthed in cleaning the library yesterday-- language arts posters for 1975, study prints of Mexico from 1963 that were last checked out in 1980. The good news-- I now have a place to store library posters we actually use!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jstin Richard's The Parliament of Blood

When I realized that the copy of Justin Richard's The Parliament of Blood was the British version (never said Baker and Taylor's web site was user friendly, but their prices are good), I wondered what the other versions looked like-- from left: UK hard cover, UK paperback, and US hard back. Think the US version is most attractive.

Liz, George and Eddie are back after their adventures in The Death Collector. After a mummy unwrapping at the British museum ends in a farce (the mummy staggers off into a waiting taxi, which all figure is an elaborate joke), George, curator of uncatalogued items, gets an invitation to join the Damnation Club and uncovers all manner of evil plots. Liz is on stage, and happy until her father passes away-- only to come back as one of the undead. Eddie is not happy with life off the streets because school is unpleasant, so he's glad to have some intrigue to occupy him.

It turns out that the mummy was Orabis, Lord of the Dead, and the savior that slumbering vampires all over London have been waiting for. He needs blood, so Victorian London is starting to see bloodless corpses littered about. Orabis' henchmen are well placed in government, so there's no contacting the police to help when things go wrong. There's a lot of action in this book, lots of teeth sinking into necks, but it's not overly gruesome. The plot has engaging twists: George ends up saving the day with a bit of engineering.

I'm not doing well outlining the plot because I'm preoccupied with testing tape recorders today, but I will say this: I started this book yesterday morning, and at several times during the day I thought "Ooh! This is waiting for me at the end of the day!" Thought about not finishing it this morning because I overslept a bit, but had to find out how it ends. And I don't like vampire books, remember. This one could almost stand alone, but reading The Death Collector would help a lot. Definitely buy both, because they will circulate well. My only complaint-- the cover should have matched the first book better. I would have gone with a textured mummy to match the textured dinosaur on the first book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

James Owen's Here There Be Dragons

I ordered this one without reading it on the strength that the two main characters were based on C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I was not disappointed. This is fun for regular fantasy fans (good plot, lots of action), but an absolute delight for hard core fans who will get the literary references dropped on almost every page. James Owen really did his research, and got his Latin correct as well!

During the first World War, three men are brought together by the murder of a scholar. John, reeling from his experiences at the front, was tutored by him; Jack, another Oxford scholar, was delivering papers to him; and Charles, an editor, was visiting on business as well. The three repair to a club after being interviewed by the police, where they find out that they are in charge of the Geographica Imaginarium, and are promptly attacked by sword wielding monsters!

Saved by a man named Bert and wisked away on a magic ship, they are quickly plunged into a world of enchantment and danger. They must all work together to keep the Geographica safe so that they can defeat the Winter King and restore the rightful king (whom they find in the guise of a servant boy) to the Silver Throne. John wishes that he had worked harder on his studies, since he is in charge of translating the maps. Despite obstacles, the group manages to perservere and triumph-- for now. The Search for the Red Dragon and The Indigo King are already out-- The Shadow Dragons comes out on October 27, 2009.

This is an absolute must if you have fans of Lewis or Tolkien. My only problem was that I felt like I was missing a lot of the references. It would have been nice to have an index in the back. I had, for example, no idea who Charles Williams was.

Back to cleaning out the library this week. Two more alarming finds-- four remote controls that are plugged into the televisions and have long wires, and a turkey shaped wicker basket filled with dessicated buckeyes. The madness ends on Friday, and then the library will be CLEAN!

June Sproat's Ordinary Me

Ordinary Me is a great book to hand to girls who don't want to read a mystery but have to for class. Kate is living an ordinary life-- hanging out with her best friend, pining after attractive but out-of-reach boy, and suffering through high school, when she has an accident in driving class which injures a runaway convict. Media coverage makes things get strange in her world-- the boy is interested in her, popular girls pay her some attention, and eventually she gets pulled into a mystery involving the convict. Because of the bright cover, I didn't expect that part! The plot is innovative, and there is some very funny writing in this book, so the girls will love it. Perfectly appropriate for middle school, this is a fun mystery romance. My only criticism would be that Kate's voice is a little disorganized, which made me like her a little less. I don't think the students will notice. Thanks to June Sproat for sending me two copies!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Demigod Files; Scaredy Kat

This is what I don't understand. Does Disney/Hyperion not think that Rick Riordan is a good writer? Why do they keep publishing his work in horrible, cheap bindings? (Think Maze of Bones.)The Demigod Files is just the thing to keep my students happy until May 5th, when the next Percy Jackson book comes out. There are three short stories, all rollicking good adventures, as well as "interviews" with the characters, illustrations, and maps. Didn't quite understand the games (word searches?). As always, it was the sheer brilliance of writing that I love about Riordan-- the turns of phrase that make me wish that I had written them. ("Like somebody was getting attacked by possessed poultry, and believe me, that's a situation I've been in before." pg. 5) He interests the readers immediately. Give the man some more respect, Disney. This includes more than putting an embargo on his titles!

Another author who does not get the treatment she deserves is Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. I thought her Lily B. series was brilliant, and yet her publisher religated her to Scholastic paperbacks and stopped her after three books. Her Suddenly Supernatural series is in the same paper over boards binding that The Demigod Files is, and these covers last about two weeks in backpacks and lockers before they look chewed on. Scaredy Kat, the sequel to School Spirit, continues the story of a girl who finds she has the same ability to communicate with spirits that her mother does. This time, she is involved with a spirit in the house next door, who turns out not to be dead, but just in a coma. The brilliant thing about Kimmel is her characters and families. Things are a little rocky at Kat's house, but the relationships are portrayed as warm and supportive. I am really excited about Unhappy Medium, which comes out this April.

Loved Kathleen Krull's biography of Marie Curie, so picked up her L. Frank Baum biography, but it's a picture book. Interesting enough, but much too young for my students. That, and I just weeded biographies and may never purchase another one. I think I had every single biography that was here when the building opened in 1969. No one seems to do biography projects any more, and as much as I love biographies and try to push them, the students just do not check them out.

It's on to the Final Frontier of Cleaning-- the cabinets in the back room. Whee!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Weeding, not reading

For the past five days, I have spent about ten hours per diem sifting through the lowest level of 40 years of accumulated dreck. I could no longer stand the dust and clutter in the library. I've been cleaning stuff out for ten years now-- how can anything be left? But there is. The funny thing is that some people in the building think I am getting rid of "too much". Yes, it would be so much better to have the shelves clogged with books no one will read.

Tomorrow, it's the tape recorder and slide projector cabinet. Really. Not even joking. This is what I have been doing instead of blogging and commenting on blogs. When I get home, I'm too tired from hauling books around to read. Next week I'll be back to blogging.

In case anyone thinks that I should not be cleaning, here are some things that I found.
  • Carbon paper
  • Microfiche boxes with "Newsweek 1975" dividers
  • A hosiery box from about 1965
  • Videos with teachers with Mike Brady hair
  • A Christmas tree and two boxes of decorations (I have time?)
  • 300 metal magazine files
  • Slide projector cartridges that are square-- no projectors
  • Another film strip projector
  • 8 mm film of "Brian's Song"
  • 200 blank cassette tapes
  • 60 remotes for a media retrieval system that doesn't work
  • A gold spray painted bust of King Tut
  • Plastic cases for 5 inch floppies
  • A 1963 Encyclopedia Britannica film on videotape: Taro: Boy of Japan
  • A box of Kleenex from 1974. The tissues have yellow flowers printed on them. Keeping that one!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Angel Boy by Bernard Ashley

Another book that Diane Hofmeyr brought to my attention is Bernard Ashley's Angel Boy. Set in Ghana, it concerns Leonard, who has decided to run off for the day for a sightseeing trip because his father is traveling and his grandmother is boring. Ghana is not the place to run away if you are a small boy-- he is beset by older children who intend to sell him as a house boy on the Ivory Coast. He manages to escape, but has a lot of harrowing adventures before someone takes him seriously and helps him find his father. I have not come across many books set in Ghana, although I have had several students from there. Very interesting, and the students who like Iqbal or The Breadwinner will be intrigued.

I had high hopes for Dick E. Burhans' Crunch! : a history of the great American potato chip but had my doubts when the only copy I could get was from the University of Cincinnati library. While I loved this book, it's far too technical for my students. It was, without a doubt, the most complete book about potato chips and potato chip manufacturing that will probably ever be written, and I annoyed my family by quoted random information from it all evening. Who knew that Ohio was such a hot bed of chip production? I wish that Burhans would write a condensed version of this for students, about a 100 pages, with more illustrations. I'd buy two copies, but somehow I don't think I can get many children interested in this much detail!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Books about Somalia

Our school has a growing population of children from Somalia, and I hadn't been able to find any until Diane Hofmeyr from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure brought Na'ima Robert's from Somalia with Love to my attention and mailed me a copy! All the way from England!

Safia is happy with her culture and her home life even when things are thrown in to chaos when her father comes to England after years of being apart from the family and living in Somalia. Her brother starts to make poor choices and get into trouble, her cousin Firdous is dealing with having to live with an aunt by making poor choices herself, and Safia debates whether or not strict adherence to her upbringing is the way that she should behave. What I liked about this was the description of the family life and traditions, including liberal use of Somali words and phrases. While set in Great Britain, I think that my students here will find this an interesting read. Young Adult fiction centers largely on issues of personal identity, and I am so glad that there is a book that speaks to one version of an experience that many of my students have had in acclimating to another culture.

Mary Hoffman's The Color of Home is a picture book. Hassan starts school in the US and does fairly well despite his limited language skills. However, when the class does paintings, Hassan starts off with a pleasant home scene but then adds flames to the house and shows his uncle's death. An interpreter is brought in, and Hassan's past is discussed. He then paints a new picture for his mother, takes it home, and starts to see that his new home is not as gray as it had seemed. I'm not sure that this is quite right for the middle school, but was a very interesting book. I did not realize that Hoffman also wrote Stravaganza: City of Stars. (City of Secrets, book 4, is out now.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jennifer Echols' Going Too Far

Jennifer Echols' newest book was an education for me. I rarely stray from the world of middle grade fiction, and while an excellent book, this does not fall within that category. Published by MTV books, this is a compelling novel about the choices teens make, the consequences, and uncontrollable things that happen to people.

Meg made the decision to smoke pot, get drunk and get romantic on a dangerous train trestle with a drug dealing wastrel. Getting caught was what made her have to spend her time riding along with a local policeman during her spring break while her restaurant owning parents are out of town. They figure that between the ride along, working, and sleeping, Meg won't have time to get in trouble. They are partly right, but the trouble turns out to be a romantic interest in the John, the policeman, who turns out to be 19 instead of 40, as Meg originally thinks (she's drunk at the time). Why is Meg so desperate to escape her small town roots, and why is she failing so miserably because of her bad choices? That's what made this such a good read. There were all sorts of twists that I didn't see coming.

Must say that the cover creeped me out. The stubble on the man's chin and the set of his jaw made me worry, but John is an okay guy. I'm still trying to figure out the audience to this one-- clearly older girls who are buying books instead of checking them out of school libraries. (Does Reviewer X want to opine on this one?)

Many thanks to Ms. Echols for sending this one to me. I thought the writing was crisp and intriguing, but problem novels are not my thing, and after this I had to read several Beany Malone novels! There were a few other books that I looked at this weekend, but I didn't get far enough into them to comment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Girly Books

What can I say? I'm a girl. That's why Lisa Greenwald's My Life in Pink and Green made me happier than the baseball books. Very like The Teashop Girls, it concerns a girl, whose mother and grandmother run a struggling business. While Lucy would rather hang out with her friend Sunny (and her cute brother), she helps out in the pharmacy a lot after two staff members have to be let go. After she helps a girl fix a bad hair do before an important dance, she starts to build up a make over clientele and helps to bring the pharmacy up to date. The "green" part comes from a club that Lucy joins, and a town grant for "green" businesses for which she applies. A little improbable that a teen saves the business, but still a lot of fun, and very empowering!

I love how Tina Ferraro mixes fun books with problems. Her How to Hook a Hottie and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress are already in tatters in my library even though they are fairly new! This one is every bit as good. Parker is mad because she didn't make the varsity soccer team. Her friends don't want to hang out without her because of this. She and her brother come up with an improbable master plan-- at the annual kissing booth run by the varsity members, his friend will demand to kiss Parker for $300. She will then HAVE to be put on varsity. The friend demands that the kiss be a good one, so Parker gets involved with a neighbor boy just for "kissing lessons". Since he's two grades behind her, this leads to some problems. There's a lot of mean girl issues, drama with the neighbors, and an authentic teen voice. I could see the holes in Parker's plan, but I don't think she could. There's a lot of kissing in this one, all very clean, but I love the fact that Tristan is a year younger and Parker still is enthralled with him. Very few books cover this topic. Very, very fun!

Baseball Books

Personal preference comes into playin this review, so I apologize. Even though I understand baseball more than football, I find baseball books extremely tedious, especially when as in the first two titles, Preller's Six Innings in the Game of Life and Jennings' Out Standing in My Field, they include rosters, scores, and diagrams. This, of course, is just what the boys who will read nothing but baseball books want.

Of course, you can't have a novel without a problem. Baseball likes to throw in players with cancer (Preller) or overbearing fathers (Jennings). I must say that I greatly enjoyed the biography of Jennings-- maybe he'll write a more general humor book! Zinnen's Holding at Third has a brother battling cancer. All are good and will circulate well. Just not my "cup of pink tea".

The stand out was Sharon Robinson's Safe at Home. Elijah, whose father has died, has to move to Harlem from Connecticut, and play baseball instead of basketball. Robinson (the daughter of Jackie) has worked with a lot of children and knows her baseball. Slam Dunk is the sequel to this one.

Front Facing Covers and Shelf Space

Earlier in the year, I weeded a ton of old reference books (preAIDS Merck Manual, anyone?) and stretched out the fiction to 3 whole rows. This included one empty section in each line of shelving. My brilliant idea was to put thematically linked books and an accompanying pathfinder so that students who were browsing would see covers. There were spy books next to Horowitz, fantasy next to Jacques, vampire books next to Shan, etc.

The down side? After the first day, there were never any books left, so I'd have a shelf with just The Vampire in the Bathtub and book 4 of Vampire Kisses. Sad looking. The only section that worked is right behind the circulation desk and is filled with prebind Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies. The only reason this works is that girls read and return one of these a day.

With some donations and every cent of the board money in my budget, I purchased books, so I've added about 700 new books this year. These are mostly fiction and *sigh* a lot of Perma-Bound. Because of this, I've had to do away with the empty shelves, but it works. Soon, there will be nothing on the dreaded fourth shelf down, where no one looks.

So far this school year, my library has checked out 22,064 books. That's for 600 students. (This is up from 21,604 from last year at the end of March.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More Vampire Books! Wheee!

Not my favorite thing, but there's such demand for these titles. Thanks to the authors for clever spins that made these amusing even for me!

Marlene Perez's Dead is the New Black was a murder mystery and a vampire book. Brilliant! When popular trend setter Samantha Devereaux comes back from summer vacation, she's sporting a new look. It's Cheerleader Goth, which sends the real Goth students into a panic-- they start wearing pink and green, cardigans and pearls! However, Daisy Giordano, whose mother is a psychic who helps the police with murder investigations, thinks more is going on than just a style change. When cheerleaders start to fall mysteriously ill, she joins the cheerleading squad and has a romance, uncovers lots of freakiness in Nightshade, and helps squash the evil afoot. For now. Very, very clever and enjoyable!

The sequels are Dead is a State of Mind, (From Follett: When a gorgeous new student's prediction that a teacher will be murdered comes true, seventeen-year-old Daisy is determined to solve the crime, but when all signs point to the killer being a werewolf, she fears she is in over her head.) and Dead is So Last Year (Again, Follett: In the beach town of Nightshade, California, home to both human and supernatural beings, the Giordano sisters find summer employment and uncover mysteries involving doppelgangers and oversized football players. ) They are available in prebinds. Should have ordered two of each!

For the boys, it's Kevin Emerson's Oliver Nocture series. In The Vampire's Photograph, Oliver realizes that someone has broken into the decrepit house above his family's basement lair, and is trying to take pictures of him. He doesn't mind all that much-- he's always felt at odds with his family and a little, well, queasy about the whole vampire thing. And for good reason. It turns out that he's part human, and his involvement with humans leads him into some dangerous situations. The details about Oliver's vampire world are fresh and fun (young vampire's need a lot of sugar!), and this is perfect for the boys who feel like they need to read Twilight but don't really like it. More serious than Brewer's Vladimir Tod and not as violent as Shan, this is a great series for middle school boys. Again, available in prebinds and should have bought two of each.

The series:

#2: The Sunlight Slayings

#3: Blood Ties

#4: The Demon Hunter

#5: Eternal Tomb, coming April 1, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two older titles from Anthony Horowitz

Who knew that early Horowitz works were so influenced by Roald Dahl? Here are two reissued titles that are both goofy horror.

In The Switch (1986), Tad has a cushy life. Busy but extremely wealthy and overindulgent parents give him everything he wants, with one exception. When he isn't able to go to an amusement park, he wishes that he were someone else. He wakes up the next day as Bob Snarby, who carnival worker parents are filthy and grotesque. As Bob, he gets involved in a robbery plot that goes awry and gets sent to the Association for Children in Distress (ACID), a charity run by Tad's father that is a cover for using children to test cosmetics. He escapes, kidnaps "Tad", and in the ensuing fracas (lots of chasing about and shooting) is returned to his former body. Because Tad's parents are sent to jail, and Bob's parents run off, both boys end up at the same children's home. Over-the-top fun.

Groosham Grange (1988) also includes phenomenally wicked and uncaring parents, ala Matilda. David is kicked out of his school, and receives a mysterious invitation to attend Groosham Grange, where the children only have one vacation day a year and parents are welcome only if they can swim to the island. Things are not right at the grange-- children seem to have the wrong names, they all wear a strange ring, and everything is generally creepy. Fans of Lemony Snicket will like both of these titles, and Horowitz fans who have read Horowitz Horror will not be surprised by them.

I will not even blame Mr. Horowitz for the Latin error on page 10, since it seems to be a typographical error. "Quid te exempts iuvat spinis de pluribus una?" should really be "Quid te exempta juvat spinis e pluribus una?" ("Better one thorn plucked than all remain"). I'm sure this bothered all of you as much as it bothered me.

This is a direct quote from Horace, Epistles 2.2.212, and the "a" and "s" are right next to each other on the keyboard. We'll cut him a break this time.

Thank you to Michael Gilleland's site for answering this question.

Nota Bene: T.H. White's Latin in The Once and Future King (1939) is flawless as far as I can tell. Sic transit gloria mundi.

New Order of Books!!!

While I TRY to read everything before buying it, I do take some chances with trusted authors, and often buy sports or war books without reading because of demand. This order, it was baseball books that I needed.

The Panthers have a problem-- Gig's sister Sydney is playing on their baseball team. But in the waning days of 5th grade, the team members also have individual problems-- Gig's dad is shipping off to the Middle East, Diego has to work every weekend with his family, Isaac's parents are pressuring him to go to another middle school, and Jackson's divorced mother is starting to date.
Luckily, in between playing baseball, the Panthers are able to help each other out. John Coy's Top of the Order is a nicely done, humorous middle grade novel reminiscent of Rich Wallace's Winning Season series. I hope to see a lot more by this author.

Gene Feller's Beanball is a "novel in verse" I'm very picky about these; Helen Frost is the only author who, in my opinion, actually writes in poetic forms. Everyone else just uses short lines of cut up prose. That said, the STORY of this book is well done and intriguing, and this will be useful when the 8th grade does their poetry unit. Luke "Wizard" Wallace is hit in the face with a baseball, causing grave injuries. From the point of view of 28 different characters, the story of the accident, Luke's recovery, and the ensuing implications for everyone are explained. I've not seen anything else by Feller but am now intrigued.

The Kind of Friends We Used to Be, Frances O'Roark Dowell's sequel to The Secret Language of Girls, does not have much of a plot. It doesn't need it. Continuing the story of a group of middle school friends, this is a novel about seeking personal identity and one's place in the world. Kate wants to be a guitarist. Heavy leather boots and involvement in the school writing club are essential. Marylin thinks she wants to be a popular cheerleader, but she also wants to be involved in school government. They want to remain friends, but it's difficult to do when they are trying so hard to be such different people. It's this journey that makes this story line popular with my students.

Sharon Draper's Sassy: Little Sister is Not My Name is a little young for middle school (Sassy is 9), but Draper is tremendously popular with my students and this is the novel I have been begging for: a book about a suburban African American girl that does not concern itself solely with the fact that she is African American. Instead, it deals with her family, including a grandmother who is a professional story teller, her friends, and her school. Sassy gets a chance to solve a lot of emergencies with her sparkly purse, and saves her family when they are stuck in an elevator. A must for elementary schools, but should do well here, too.

Finally, my 8th graders will love Walter Dean Myer's Dope Sick. Lil J is on the run. He and Rico were involved in a drug deal that went bad, and a cop got shot. Lil J finds Kelly in an abandoned apartment, and starts to analyze how his life has gone wrong and got to this point. Lil J's mother is ill and alcoholic, his girlfriend and mother of his child, Lauryn, doesn't approve of his drug using. Things are all piling up against him-- although bright, he's not doing well in school, and there is no help. This book was a little confusing. Was Kelly real? Did he have supernatural powers that allow Lil J to watch his life on television? The constant shift back in forth in time was a bit hard to follow, but I don't think this will bother the students. Warning: One f-bomb on page 160. Other than that, clean for the subject matter and a good addition if your students constantly ask for books about drug abuse.

There are a few more from this order that I need to read, and I've also been working my way throgh The Once and Future King for almost a week. It's good, but very dense, and I've had to look up about two dozen words so far!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

About Advanced Readers' Copies

I truly did not know that ARCs were NOT supposed to be put into library collections. Several years ago, I received some from Melissa Kantor's publicist, and I did put four of the books into my collection. They were removed yesterday when I found out that publishers do specifically say that they are not to be included in library collections. Nothing in my first package indicated that.

What do other librarians do with the ARCs they receive? A student told me yesterday that she got a lot of them from our public library, and she wanted to donate them to our library. I do give teachers books for classroom collections, and keep a stack of my own paperbacks to loan to students who have overdue books, so hope it is okay to use the books in that way.

Interesting timing, since I just decided that I need to start asking publishers for ARCs. Other bloggers seem to have piles of them, and it would make my reviews more timely if I didn't have to wait to read a book until the public library has a copy.

Interested publishers can send me all the books they want, now knowing that I will use them as I ought. They can be sent to:

Karen Yingling, Librarian
Blendon Middle School
223 S. Otterbein Ave.
Westerville, OH 43081

Tuesday books

I love it when people bring ME books to read! A teacher bought a copy of Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Small-Town LIbrary Cat Who Changed the World, and it was delightful but sad. Dewey was left in a book drop in the Spencer, Iowa public library on a cold night and was adopted by the librarians and the community. Myron sets the calming influences of the cat against the difficult times that rural Iowa was experiencing during the time, and brings in stories from her own challenging life. Dewey's subsequent fame and eventual demise is covered as well in a book that is sure to leave even non-cat lovers misty eyed. While this is a good read for librarians, I don't know that students will like the parts about Myron's divorce, health issues, and some of the descriptions of the struggles of rural communities.

Kimerberly K. Jones' The Genie Scheme was a thought-provoking book, but it started off on the wrong foot for me and I never quite recovered. The depiction of the thrift store that Janna and her mother go to seemed so wrong, as did Janna's attitude. (I buy everything my children and I wear at thrift stores and have never once run into a bag lady.) Also, if money is so tight, how did the mother get elected to the school board? Those campaigns are not inexpensive. Still, the book would be good for girls who are forced to read fantasies. Janna, having bought a hat for a bag lady, gets the services of a genie. She makes al sorts of outrageous demands, but starts to realize that everything she recieves is taken away from someone else. If Deriso's Do-Over, Bauer's Thwonk, and Meachem's A Mid-Semester's Night Dream and popular in your library, this might be one to order.

Eve Ibbotson's semi-autobiographical historical novel, The Dragonfly Pool, is a departure from her usual fantasy titles. Tally is sent from her home in London to a boarding school in 1939, in order to avoid being caught in a war zone. She enjoys Delderton, and while there becomes interested in Bergania, an Austrian type country where the prince is speaking out against Hitler. She manages to travel there with her classmates for a folk dancing festival, and gets involved in an adventure saving the prince. While the writing is beautiful and it is an interesting story, it's a confusing book. The cover and size (377 pages) makes me think it is a fantasy, and the fact that Bergania is not a real place didn't help. In the end, I have to go back to the fact that the only World War II books I circulate are books concerning the fighting or Jewish people escaping the Nazis. I have a number of books about the evacuation of children during this time, and they are very hard sells.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Weekend Reading

Sherri L. Smith's Flygirl covers an intriguing historical moment-- World War II from the point of view of an African American pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots organization. Ida Mae has always loved to fly, but hasn't had the opporunity since her father was killed in a farming accident. When her brother goes off to war and she finds out about the WASP, she passes as a white woman in order to get accepted. Rich in details, this covers her life before the military (cleaning houses, struggling to get by) as well as the difficulties she has having to remember that everyone thinks she is white. While this is not the sort of World War II book that will be hugely popular with the boys who tend to read about this era, it is still a worthy addition to a collection and adds depth to our understanding of the many different people who served our country in different capacities.

On the other hand, Chris Bradford's Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior will make the boys happy. Described on the flash Disney/Hyperion web site as "the all-punching, all-kicking, action-adventure series for boys and girls", it is filled with lots of action. In 1611, Jack's father is killed when his ship is attacked by ninja pirates. Saved by the samurai Masamota, Jack is adopted because Masamota's son was killed. This does not make Yamota, his other son, happy, and he proceeds to make Jack's training at Masamota's school difficult. Since Jack is also being pursued by Dragon Eye, the evil ninja who attacked the ship, there are lots of battles and descriptions of samurai fighting techniques. Leaving room for a sequel, this will make the fans of Whitsel's Blue Fingers or the Hooblers' Ghost in the Tokaido Inn series very happy.

Need something fluffy and completely enjoyable? Pick up Rachel Hawthorne's Suite Dreams. Why did a hot Aussie guy never want to crash on my couch when I was in college? After Alyssa's boyfriend (who just can't commit and isn't making her all that happy) takes off for Australia during winter break, she finds out that he is part of a couch swap-- only the couch in his room is taken. Jude ends up staying with her, and after spending a lot of time together, they realize that they are very attracted to each other. I especially liked the realization, after Alyssa has to finally buckle down to writing a paper, that the two are usually both very scholarly, and Jude helps get research material for her. Many thanks to Sarah, who loaned this one to me.

Last and certainly least (we know my opinion of Twilight-- nothing to do with the writing or subject matter, it's just that I've folded too many socks to think that eternity is romantic), be aware that Mark Cotta Vaz has Twilight: the Complete Illustrated Movie Companion out, and most fans will want to look at it. It's filled with a lot more technical details about the clothing and makeup than I cared about, but 9th grader spent some time looking at it. Only available in paperback.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Odd titles

Ninth grade daughter brought me Peter L. Gould's Write Naked, and I loved it. Victor finds an old manual typewriter at a garage sale, hauls it to his uncle's cabin in the woods (on the handle bars of his bike, pretending that he is the Viet Cong, because that's how they moved equipment. And here I thought I was alone in pretending that I was biking across the French countryside as part of the Resistance when I have to bike in the rain!) and starts writing. He meets a home schooled girl who likes to write with fountain pen, and the two share their writing and a little bit more. The use of the lower case "i" was symbolic but annoying to read, and BOTH children have... hippie parents. *Sigh* One mother went to Woodstock, the other lived in a commune. They both apparently had their children when they were over 40. As much as I liked this one, I don't think I have an audience for it in the middle school.

Boxen:The Imaginary World of a Young C. S. Lewis is something that looks fascinating, but which I didn't read much of. It's impressive-- the writing of C.S. and Warnie Lewis when they were 9 and 11. Complete with drawings, and with the misspellings left it, this recreates a huge amount of writing that the two of them did to keep themselves busy when cooped up during bad weather. If all of my students wrote like this, the teachers would die of shock. It's incredibly detailed and imaginative, just what one would expect of such an author. Still, this is for collections who have a large amount of really die-hard Lewis fans. It's not as much for the casual reader.

Life Sucks

In Life Sucks from the team of Abel, Soria and Pleece, Dave is a reluctant vampire. Turned and made thrall by Radu, who owns an all-night convenience store, he is doomed to spend eternity restocking clot jerky and rotating the milk. He misses the beach, the sun, and being a vegetarian. Things improve slightly when he meets Rosa, a Goth vampire wannabe, but things become complicated when he must compete for her attention with Wes, a hunky surfer vampire. Because this begs the question "why aren't all convenience stores staffed by vampires?", you know everyone wants to read it. It is very clever and would never stay on the shelves, but I don't think I'll buy it. I could have stomached the somewhat crude language (one f-bomb), although the book is really pretty tame. I drew the line at Wes ripping the head off a vampire pride. This was a very 'graphic'novel. If you can stomach that scene, go for it, because it was very clever.

In this sequel to The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley, Sabrina and Chloe, who are staying with Granny Relda because their parents have disappeared, are discovered by their evil social working to have been playing hooky, and are sent to school. Unfortunately, shortly after their arrival, their teacher is killed, and they must deal with a variety of Everafters to find out what happened, and perhaps find their parents as well. Lots of action, adventure, and clever uses of fairy tales, although I was vaguely peeved that the Little Match Girl is mentioned-- that's Andersen instead of a folk tale, which is a hair that librarians like to split. Otherwise, good fun and I was disappointed to discover that I don't have The Problem Child, book 3. These have been oddly difficult to obtain from my vendors-- they are always back ordered and then canceled!
Scott Mebus' The Gods of Manhattan took me several days to plow through. Rory, living in New York with their struggling single mother, suddenly starts to notice odd creatures that no one else seems to see. When he is attacked and then saved, he finds out that their are gods all over Manhattan, and they are being killed by the evil Kieft so he can get their power. Rory, who is a 'light', might be able to save the day, but only if he can survive. With the help of his sister Bridget (who likes to pretend to be Death Malibu Barbie), he is sucked into all of the inrigue. Filled with action and adventure, hard core fantasy fans will love this title (HUGE map at the beginning!) and its sequel(Spirits of the Park, coming May 15, 2009). While I enjoyed it, it was so full of random characters based on real historical New Yorkers that I felt like I should constantly be checking footnotes. This will not bother students.

One of my students who is in 9th grade sent me two paperbacks to read even though I've had another of her books since June! (They are both on their way back to you, Sarah!) Melody Carlson is hugely popular with my girls, and her Color Me books are always out. Just Another Girl was a riveting read. Aster is responsible for caring for her mentally challenged sister, Lily, and when she starts to get interested in boys and wants to date, she finds herself annoyed at her mother and absent father for not bearing their responsibilities in caring for her. The romances were sweet and realistic and the portrayal of Aster's struggle between loving her sister and feeling trapped by her ring true. Like the Color Me books, there is a lot of religious talk which seems added as an afterthought and makes part of the book clunky, but most of the readers just skip that. The only problem is that most of these titles are only available in paperback, not even in prebinds, which limits their life tremendously.