Thursday, April 30, 2009

Clearly a cranky day

Anything with quirky Southern characters does not appeal to me, but there must have been something intriguing about Mitchell's Shadowed Summer that made me request in through OhioLink. From the publisher: "In the small town of Ondine, Louisiana, Iris uncovers family secrets when she conjures up the ghost of a boy missing for decades and decides to solve the mystery of his disappearance. " I only read about four pages, and gave up when they started discussing bras.

Normally like Jen Calonita's stuff, but could not get into Sleepaway Girls. ("When the exceptionally people-pleasing Sam spends a summer as a counselor-in-training, she learns how to say no, to stand up for herself, and what it feels like to have a crush on a great guy. ") The girls will like this one, but I gave up during a long discussion of boys. Occurred to me that the novel I wrote in 8th grade was about camp, which probably colored my opinion.

And an apology: Apparently, Lander's Stuff White People Like offends a lot of people. I was reading it as satire without real social purpose, sort of a Jeff Foxworthy for people who spent their junior year in Europe. So, if you picked it up and were scandalized, I am sorry.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

James Sturm is a cofounder of the Center for Cartoon Studies and wrote, with Rich Tommaso, the wonderful Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, a graphic biography that is leagues better than the Capstone, Rosen or Lucent ones. Done in period style with copious end notes, this tells the story of Paige's career and semi-retirement from the point of view of another Negro League player. (I think. That's my only trouble with the book. The narrator is not named, that I could find, and it's confusing at points as to who is narrating.) This would be an excellent start to a graphic collection for those who really don't want such books. I don't have manga, mainly because they fall apart and often have scantily clad girls, but my collection of titles like this one is slowly growing.

Stewart and Riddell's Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night wolf has a gripping first chapter-- Barnaby is in terrible pain because of an evil doctor. We then follow his work as a "tick tock boy" who delivers messages in the seedy side of Victorian London by jumping over the rooftops and gets into all sorts of paranormal intrigue, this time involving werewolves. Having just read Catherine Johnson's post an An Awfully Big Adventure on violence as a way to appeal to boys, I looked at this with a critical eye, because this one did have a lot of that. Came to the conclusion that as long as the violence is directed against werewolves and evil doctors, we allow it. Did like this one.

Having just read Vivian Vande Velde's Heir Apparent, which was really great, I was a little disappointed in Wizard at Work(2003), but just because it seemed like it was for a much younger audience. A young wizard/teacher is on a summer vacation, but everywhere he goes he gets into situations where he must help someone with a problem that requires magic. This would be good for students in third grade who want to read Harry Potter but are not able, or for a class read aloud for a fantasy unit, since the chapters are self-contained stories and it's a slim 134 pages.

My reluctant reader finished The Clique in two nights and wants the second book. Bookworm had a good point in a comment-- it bothers her how overly grown up the girls are. What could appeal more to 6th grade girls? In my house, this book was a huge jumping off point for discussions on boys, bullying, and friends, as well as quality literature versus books that are just fun, so I don't mind my daughter reading them. I do feel a little guilty about sending them off with my students.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quality Literature

Rich Wallace is such an interesting author, and he clearly knows what boys want to read. His One Good Punch was slim but utterly dynamic. Losing is Not an Option: Stories is about as close to Literature that I have read recently. Nine loosely connected stories about Ron, following him through various activities through a year (sneaking into a football game, going to the fair) are rather philosophical, and yet filled with enough sly humor and bad language that boys will not realize they are reading such good prose. I would not be at all surprised if these stories made it into high school anthologies. For some reason, John Updike's A&P(1961) came to mind when I read this. Not for elementary schools, however.

The flip side: I was oddly intrigued by The Clique series. I really didn't care for the first two, but I took the fourth one home. (Invasion of the Boy Snatchers) It was really mean, and completely unrealistic. Not even a private school is going to let students set up an organic juice bar called "Virgins" in school. The main plot is that Alicia's cousin Nina comes from Spain to go to school. She is well endowed for a middle school student and described in a way that would make a college student sound conservatively dressed. Again, not realistic. She is, of course, a threat to Massie, who is relentlessly mean to her. Massie and Claire are friends now, but this was an unpleasant book. I will have to ask the girls why these are so appealing. The constant name dropping of expensive clothing labels was tiresome and will date this series almost instantly. That said, my reluctant 5th grader picked this one up. It makes me feel slighly better that her all time favorite book is Tuck Everlasting. Sigh.

Of course, what did I spend way too much time being amused by? Christian Lander's Stuff White People Like. Not for school collections, obviously. Not literature. Hilarious, though, in that "Has this man been living in my basement and I didn't know it?" sort of way, combined with a sneaking suspicion that the book was somehow inappropriate. Maybe this is why girls like The Clique. This did help explain my love for riding my bike to work (and telling you all about it), blogging, tote bags, books, red hair, and glasses with dark plastic frames. Here I thought it was because they reminded me of the glasses my father wore in the 1960s!

Now I must go reprogram a bunch of televisions so the 6th and 7th grades can watch educational films while the 8th graders are testing. Darn. I thought that by calling myself a Librarian instead of a Media Specialist, I would get out of this. Nope.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview with Kevin Emerson!

The Eternal Tomb, the fifth in the Oliver Nocturne series, was released on April 15th. Kevin Emerson, looking appropriately spooky in this picture from his web site, is here for an interview!

Ms. Yingling: Were you a big reader as a teen? What books did you like?
Mr. Emerson: I was a big reader as a teen, but there wasn't the kind of YA market that there is now. I moved from mystery series like The Three Investigators up to Stephen King in middle school. I wasn't a fan of "classics," until I took a class in high school about utopian fiction. I loved Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and then I found Kurt Vonnegut, and read just about every one of his books.

Ms. Yingling: Oliver is a bit scared, and lives in a scary world. What scares you?
Mr. Emerson: The thing that scares me the most is close-mindedness, or extremism. What I mean by that is when people firmly believe that they are right and therefore others must be wrong. This is happening everywhere in our world. An obvious example is terrorism, but it's also occuring in governments, religions, organizations, and individuals. The older I get, the more I feel like both sides of any issue have a point. People should listen to each other. If you have a strong opinion or belief, you should express it in such a way that you're leaving space for your friend or neighbor to feel safe expressing theirs, too. And under no circumstances should violence be used. Oliver and his family are dealing with close-minded beliefs in their vampire worlds, mainly with the plans of the Half-Light Consortium, and their extended families. Oliver is pretty open-minded, not that he thinks about that much.

Ms. Yingling: You introduce your own “rules” for vampires. What is your favorite “rule” from traditional vampire lore? Least favorite?

Mr. Emerson: The rule that I was happiest to work into the books was the idea that vampires are compulsive about organization and counting. There's a scene in book three where a vampire drops his cup of gambling money and the entire casino has to stop and count it. This is based on the traditional idea that you could thwart a vampire by throwing rice at their feet, because they would have to stop and count the grains. I had a ton of fun with that idea.I don't know if I have a least favorite rule. I felt like, the more rules the better, because then I had to think up answers for how the vampires would deal. But I had the most fun thinking about what a vampire didn't have. Like, they wouldn't have or need a working immune system, but then how would they deal with bacteria and decay, like a dead body would? Or, if they can think, then their brains must still work, so what kinds of food are best for brain function? Or like, if kids couldn't eat human blood, what would meals and such look like? Stuff like that was fun to me.

Ms. Yingling: Why do you think vampire fiction is so popular now?
Mr. Emerson: I don't know. I just read an article that zombies are the new 'it' genre. A few years ago it was pirates. What will the next one be? Gnomes? Our culture moves as a herd, I think, in the sense that we collectively get excited about a genre, probably because of the state of the world, and so that idea gets explored en masse for awhile. Then we move on. Also, some people smell money and so they write a book in the popular genre cause they know it sells. I swear I didn't do that. I was/am a big fan of Buffy and Angel, and so Oliver was actually the end output of ten years of vampire enjoyment. The timing was fortunate.

Ms. Yingling: What’s your favorite part of writing a book?
Mr. Emerson: Well, I love just about all of it. Each stage has it's cool parts. One of the most fun things about working on Oliver was that as I would be writing one book, I'd be having these thought bubbles about what could happen in the next book. I had this file on my computer of brainstorming for the future books, and some of the ideas would be so crazy, but they were really fun. Another cool moment would be when I was around 2/3 finished with the draft of a book, and the prologue for the next book would start coming together in my head. I'd stop and bang it out, and be so psyched after.First drafts are fun, except when they're not, like when you're stuck for what should happen. For me, first drafts are mainly for plot and momentum. Oh, and also about dialogue. Most of my dialogue comes in the first draft. Second and third (and fourth) drafts are for teasing the character journeys and themes to the surface and then strengthening them. That's also when the really good sentences come together. Part of this is shortening the story, too. My drafts are always too long. I had to chop 50 pages off of book 2, and 30 pages off of book 5. Sometimes, people think, "oh no, but what about those scenes?" but it's not that simple. Anything that I am cutting is being addressed in some other place. I appreciated having to be concise. But don't hold me to that.

Thanks, Mr. Emerson. Since Scholastic publishes this series, I am going to see if they will send me a box of the titles for my spring book fair. I can't keep these on the shelves!

Weekend Reading

Vivian Vande Velde's 2002 Heir Apparent was quite fun, and one of the few fantasy books one of my avid readers has not read! While Giannine is in a total immersion virtual reality game, the equipment is damaged by protesters who don't think the games are healthy for children. If Giannine can't make it through all the levels of the game in time, she may die for real. I liked the thought processes that she had to go through to successfully get through all of the tasks set for her in the quasi-Medieval world where she is made the heir to the throne by the king, angering her half siblings and a lot of other people who try to kill her. The mix of Medieval world and technology was fun.

Cameron Dokey's How NOT To Spend Your Senior Year was a little unbelievable in its premise, but ended up working, and was very thought provoking. Jo O'Connor is used to moving a lot, but when she ends up in Seattle, she falls in love with Alex, likes the house they live in, and wants to stay. However, her father has to move again, and move quickly, because he is a witness to a murder. After faking their deaths, the two move across town, where Jo becomes Claire and joins the newspaper staff at her new school. When her attempt to visit a friend at her old school ends with the rumor that Jo's ghost is at large, her new friends discover
"Claire's" resemblance to Jo, and send her in a school reporter exchange to interview people about the haunting. As I said, unbelievable, but done in an intriguing way.
I finally broke down and bought most of Lisi Harrison's The Clique series at the behest of several students. They have circulated well, but the first book was so mean spirited that I still have my apprehensions. In Best Friends For Never, Massie wants Claire to pretend to be friends so that their parents let them have a Halloween party. They also make a bet-- Massie has to go a whole month without shopping, and Claire will have to wear a different outfit every day. When Massie and her friends wear their skimpy Halloween costumes to school, the principal decides that uniforms are the way to go, and holds a design competition. This is slightly less mean, and as I said, the girls love these, but I found them unappealing and unbelievable. I taught at an expensive private school, and the designer name clothing and horrible snooty attitudes were not evident. The appeal may be that the girls are meaner than what the readers are experiencing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wow! Where to start?

Katie Alender's Bad Girls Don't Die had me laughing and shivering. It was a riveting blend of realistic problem fiction and a spooky ghost story. Lexi is having a hard time in 9th grade and is antisocial and quirky. However, her explanation of how she got that way made perfect sense, and I liked her. The realistic scenes (problems with parents, emerging interest in a boy) made the possession of her sister seem even more frightening. Lexi herself thinks she is losing her grip on reality because of stress; are the strange things she sees really the work of her sister? I don't want to give away the mystery, since the threads are all pulled together so well. This is fresh and different. The only drawback was the unflattering portrayal of the unhelpful school librarian reading a romance novel at work. Sure, this is a fantasy book, but I assure you that NEVER happens. Ms. Alender is having a giveaway contest at her blog.

Janette Rallison is one of my favorite authors. My wish might be to have written her Just One Wish. Annika's 6-year-old brother has a cancerous brain tumor, and all he wants is a Robin Hood action figure-- or so she thinks. When she promises a wish, he wishes to meet Robin Hood in person, setting Annika off on an ill-conceived road trip to get the actor and bring him home with her before her brother goes into surgery. Far-fetched, but believably written. So this wouldn't happen in real life-- isn't that the point of reading fiction? All of the characters are likeable despite flaws and convincingly written. I especially appreciated the realistic ending. Rallison certainly took plenty of notes about her own teen age years and has used this information to advantage!

Our 8th graders are doing a Holocaust unit, so I am always struggling to keep enough books on hand. Monique Polak's What World is Left was very like my favorite, Marietta Moskin's 1972 I Am Rosemarie. Anneke and her family are taken to Theresienstadt from their home in Holland. This was a "model" camp, and the family is treated better than most, because the father is an artist who agrees to do propagandistic paintings for the Nazis. Still, conditions are inhuman. This is based on the experiences of the author's mother. I was enthralled, as many of my students are, and it made me wonder about the appeal of Holocaust fiction. I think that books like this, where the person's happy, normal past is contrasted against the horrors of the concentration camps makes us stop and think about what we would do in similar circumstances. How strong would we be? Would we survive? Books like this make us stop and think about so many things. Even though this is only in paperback or prebind, I'm definitely getting a couple more copies.
Coming Monday: An interview with Kevin Emerson, of Oliver Nocturne fame, to celebrate the publication of his fifth book, The Eternal Tomb.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time Travel

First, we go back to 1961 with Cynthia Voigt's 1982 book, Tell Me If the Lovers are Losers, which is still in print, although I couldn't find a web site for Voigt. I had a hard back copy, and the cover art is different but still incredibly 1980s. Anne is excited to be Stanton, a college for gifted women in the east, because learning is easier than social interaction. Niki, the rebel in jeans from California, is biding her time before switching to Berkeley. Hildy has one year before she must return to the Midwest and marry a farmer. The three are roommates and connect through a shared interest in volleyball, and support each other through a variety of travails, including a sad, sad ending.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It painted an interesting picture of college life. Read this during testing, and one of the first students in the library afterwards was the only girl in school to whom I would think to hand this. Her reaction will be interesting.

Ted Bell's Nick of Time is actual time travel-- there is a Tempus Machina and everything. Nick lives with his family in a lighthouse on Greybeard Island in the English channel. His father loses his job because of spying on the Germans. There is just cause to do this-- U boats are roiling the water off the coast. Nick and his sister end up meeting Lord Hawke and Hobbes, who are really spies, and the trouble begins. Hobbes has created a time travel machine (which sounds a little like the Voyagers! omni), and Hawke and Nick are sent back to 1805, where they are involved in pirates and naval battles. Hobbes and Kate are left to outwit the Nazis, which was somehow the more riveting plot. Winston Churchill is involved in the end, and I would be at all surprised if there were a sequel. There's some Latin, which is decent but maybe not quite right. I'm checking. This is more of a war book than fantasy, but perfect for students who like both. It starts out with Nick getting caught in a storm, and has enough action and adventure to satisfy readers who want a lengthy book.

A student requested The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley. She described it to me, and since I didn't have a copy, provided her with something that sounded similar-- but I can't remember which student or what book. I was NOT in a mood for a thick fantasy book, having seen too many of them recently, so I didn't enjoy this as much as I think I would have otherwise. My son has it now, so I'll get his take on it. Will probably buy the series-- it was sort of Lemony Snicket meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Cirque du Freak. It had an ineffable quality that I liked and yet couldn't identify, hence the damning with faint praise.

In a quasi-Victorian time, Miles Wednesday runs away from the orphanage where his life has been miserable, and lives in a barrel. When the Circus Oscuro comes to town, he wants to sneak in to see a tiger but insteads ends up rescuing Little, a Song Angel. After narrowly escaping being ripped to shreds by the circus Null, the two set off on an adventure to find the Storm Angel and get Little back to where she belongs, as well as Tangerine, Miles' beloved stuffed bear. They are aided by a talking tiger and have lots of interesting adventures.

Again, I liked this one and think it will circulate well in my library, but I really wanted to read Beany Malone, and had trouble getting my mind around, well, the talking tiger. Perhaps I should make it policy to never review books with talking animals in them, since I can never do them justice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson and Relin; Baseball

I try not to complain about things, but it's always good to read a book that nips even those vague thoughts of "I hate to bike in the raaaaain" in the bud. Three Cups of Tea (The Young Readers edition) is certainly that book.

Mr. Mortenson was climbing a mountain in Pakistan in honor of his sister who died at a young age, when he got lost and almost died. Villagers took him in and cared for him, even though they barely had enough for themselves. He vowed to build a school for their community after watching children uncomplainingly do lessons without a teacher, writing with sticks in the mud. Building a school in this remote area was not easy, but he perservered and eventually was put in charge of the Central Asia Institute which works to provide education, especially for girls, in this area.

I stayed up past my bed time to finish this. It really was riveting, and is quite a call to action. If my school weren't already involved in five other fund raising projects, I would definitely try to get people interested in this. Read this if you feel like complaining about anything!

I was pleasantly surprised by Alan Gratz's The Brooklyn Nine, since his other books (Samurai Shortstop, Something Rotten) had not filled the needs of my library. It's hard to give a plot summary, since this is really nine short stories, following one family through nine generations who all touch on baseball in Brooklyn. It touched on a variety of social problems, especially race, that changed through the years. I especially liked the way that women's baseball during World War II was brought into the picture. This was informative without being preachy, had enough actual sport to keep baseball fans reading, and would be a great book for boys who need to read historical fiction but really don't want to.

Contest, and Interview with K.L. Going!

To celebrate the release of her newest book, King of the Screwups, K.L. Going is hosting a contest where readers can "Confess Your Biggest Screw Up! and Win a $100 gift certificate to your local independent bookstore, Borders, or Barnes & Noble, plus a complete set of autographed KL Going YA books."

I have not had a chance to read this yet, but the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, provides this description:

Liam Geller is Mr. Popularity. Everybody loves him. He excels at sports; he knows exactly what clothes to wear; he always ends up with the most beautiful girls in school. But he's got an uncanny ability to screw up in the very ways that tick off his father the most.When Liam finally kicked out of the house, his father's brother takes him in. What could a teenage chick magnet possibly have in common with his gay, glam rocker, DJ uncle who lives in a trailer in upstate New York? A lot more than you'd think. And when Liam attempts to make himself over as a nerd in a desperate attempt to impress his father, it's his "aunt" Pete and the guys in his band who convince Liam there's much more to him than his father will ever see.

Always need more funny books for boys, and I loved St. Iggy, so I am looking forward to reading this one!

Ms. Yingling: In middle school and high school, would you have identified more with the geek contingent, or the cool kids?
Ms. Going: A little of both. I definitely had friends that fell into each category. I was pretty shy, but gained some confidence towards the end of high school.
In middle school I had some rough years where I wasn't at all happy with my appearance, but then as I aged I grew up and lost my braces and the bad perm. I tried very hard to walk that middle line where you don't get picked on, but maybe you don't get noticed as much either.

Ms. Yingling: Why do you think people like to read about other people messing up?
Ms. Going: I can't speak for everyone, but I know that when I read other people's stories of mistakes they've made it makes me feel better about my own mistakes. Since I started the King of the Screwups contest where readers can win a $100 gift certificate to a bookstore by sending in a paragraph or more confessing one of their screwups, it's been fun to read the entries. (I've posted them on my website at: if anyone would like to read them.) Sometimes they're funny and sometimes they're heartbreaking. But they always make me stop and realize that everyone's human. No one is perfect. To learn more about enterring, just visit the website above. The contest runs until June 30th, 2009.

Ms. Yingling: Why did you want to write about someone who was having trouble being
successful in the way that he wanted to succeed?
Ms. Going: I like writing about characters who go against type. Liam, the main character of King of the Screwups, is a drop dead gorgeous guy who wants to be a nerd because this is the definition of success his father lays out for him. Not only did that set-up allow me to explore parental expectations and what effect they have on kids, but it also allowed me to have a lot of fun with a character who isn't your typical teen novel hero. I think people can empathize with Liam's struggle to be someone he's not, even as they laugh at some of his antics.

Ms. Yingling: In St. Iggy, you really get inside the character's head. Do you think
you understand people really well, or do you just really like the characters you create?
Ms. Going: I'd love to think I understand people well, but truthfully it's probably the latter. People are so complex that it's hard to understand anyone you don't know very, very well. Most of the time, unless we're talking about a character we create, that's hard to achieve. I think that's part of what makes writing rewarding -- we can get inside our character's heads in a
unique way.

Ms. Yingling: Did you read a lot as a teenager? What was your favorite thing to read?
Ms. Going: Yes, I read a ton! And I have always read very broadly. I loved fantasy novels, but I also loved books like The Far Pavilions and The Thorn Birds -- sweeping, romantic tales. I loved the classics, like Wuthering Heights and children's books, such as Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. My favorite changed from week to week. Sometimes day to day.

Ms. Yingling: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
I'd love it if people visited my website - I have a large site with games, music lists, videos, podcasts, a blog, book recommendations and much more. Also, for any aspiring writers out there, I have a page set up with writing tips and information on my Manuscript
Critique service. You can also find me on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter under KL Going.

Many thanks to a great author for sponsoring this contest and writing books!

Spies! Mystery!

E.L. Young's Storm: The Black Sphere is the third in the series. I can't find a web site for this author, but did find two more books in the series: Viper Club and Death Web. Hopefully, they will be coming here soon!

Abigail Pope's scientist uncle has been killed with several other scientists in a suspicious explosion. He told her that if he died, InVesta (an oil and arms company) would be responsible. She finds Will, Andrew and Gaia and hires them to find out what happened. It turns out that the uncle was working on a cold fusion project, FIREball, and his death was not an accident. What makes these books appealing is the large number of gadgets that almost actually exist (robot bugs, exploding ink, fabric that hardens), supersmart but not geeky kids, helpful but largely tangential adults, children who can accomplish more because they are children and no one suspects them, and outrageous but believably drawn spy highjinks. My favorite was when the team highjacked a Bobcat to chase someone. Who knew that I would like spy novels so much? Really can't wait for the next two!

Also brilliantly humorous was Michael D. Beil's The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour. (NEWS!!! There IS a web site at started wonderfully, with a backwards publication data page (which, yes, I held up to the mirror), Rick Riordan worthy chapter titles ("In which I enter an alternate universe where burly men read Cosmo and giant house cats roam sacred corridors"), and a fabulous back cover blurb. Not only that, but Monty Python is quoted on page 10! (So I guess I can agree with Provo City Library Childrens Book Review that there is some mild language, but nothing to keep it out of my library.) Basically, three New York City private school girls meet a neighbor who finds a twenty year old birthday card to her estranged granddaughter, and wants the girls to follow the clues, which they do quite ably. I heartily dislike this sort of mystery, but yes, I solved some of the puzzles even though I didn't want to. What kept me reading? The characters, a romantic interest, and fun turns of phrase. (page 263: "What else do you have in that bag of yours?" "A forklift. Miniature nuclear reactor. One of those inflatable swimming pools. Lipstick ray gun.") I am really glad to hear that the Red Blazer Girls have more adventures coming soon.

The only miss of the evening was Alisa Libby's The King's Rose, but only because this story of Catherine Howard's relationship with Henry VIII was more of a high school book. While very well done and interesting, there were too many details that were not really appropriate. The fact that she was 15 and Henry was 50 just was creepy. Maybe the cover should have told me-- it did amuse me, though, because one of our teachers had the splendid idea that girls with low cleavage should be made to wear bouquets to obscure the view. You can think of the delightful name she created for these yourself. (She also had one for the unappealing back view of workmen having to do with boutonnieres, but I digress.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring break is over!

Did I read a lot over break? Well.... yes and no. I read very few new books, but visited a lot of old friends like Dinny Gordon, that poor, benighted girl who who wanted to major in Classical archaeology. Of course, since Anne Emery was writing these books in the early 1960s, maybe Dinny (unlike my archaeologist friends) actually got a job.

It is worth noting that Image Cascade has republished a number of books from the 1950s and 60s. If you have a hankering to own your own set of Beany Malone books or anything by Emery or Rosamund du Jardin, this is a must-visit site!
Also picked up Betty Brock's No Flying in the House(1970), which is now available in paperback and prebind, and is such a charming book that even middle school students enjoy it as a light read. Annabel, a cute young girl, shows up at the home of Mrs. VanCourt with Gloria, a very small talking dog, seeking a home. Because Gloria is so amusing, Mrs. VanCourt agrees to take them in. When it turns out that Gloria is a fairy, and Annabel is showing similar tendencies, a mystery emerges and is solved. How does one know if one is a fairy? You can kiss your elbow! My daughter shared this with her second grade class, whereupon they all had to try-- this would make a great read-aloud for younger students, and reluctant readers take to it well. The Wallace Tripp illustrations are brilliant. I was happy to see that he is relatively young (68), but saddened to see that he has been retired for a number of years due to Parkinson's Disease.

More new books this week, I promise!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Project Sweet Life

Hooray! Just what I need for my library! A funny book for boys. Brent Hartinger has restored my faith in humanity after a spring break filled with books I just didn't care for.

Dave, Victor and Curtis, all 15, are told by their respective fathers that they WILL get jobs this summer. But they don't want to. It is, after all, the last summer they have before getting sucked into a lifetime of working. So they devise A Plan. They will all pretend to have jobs, but raise the $7,000 or so the three of them would make in a different way. Their first plan is a garage sale. They earn over $6,000-- which they then have to spend to fix a car that they damage. They try scheme after scheme, which of course ends up being more work than actually showing up to lifeguard or fry chicken, but is much more fun. The ending is rather fantastical, but fun all the same.

What made this so successful for me was the combination of factors. Boys slightly older than my students, who are off doing independent things. Funny situations that the boys get into because they are trying to accomplish something else. The character development makes sense, and there are no heavy lessons learned, although there are a few sneaky ones. There is an element of mystery, some fun references particular to Tacoma, Washington, and a breezy tone that was completely enjoyable. 7th grader polished it off and shrugged that it was "okay" (high praise from this guy), and even my reluctant 5th grader who gets through three pages of most books before giving up thought that this one was fun.

Authors out there: Read this book. This is what I need. Include some skateboarding, and I'll buy five copies.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Immigrant Experience

Pegi Dietz Shea's Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story (2003) was excellent. While my school doesn't have a Hmong population, we do have a growing Somali one, and I think that these students would identify with Mai's experience. Having spent ten years in a relocation camp with her grandmother (her parents having been killed in the war), Mai moves to Providence, RI to be with her uncle's family. Even though she has some rudimentary English, it is a tough transition. Food is plentiful, but expensive. Clothing must not be just warm, but stylish. Her cousins are too Americanized for her taste, and getting into trouble with boys and alcohol. Mai's grandmother feels worse than useless, since she must now rely on Mai for communicating with the outside world and navigating all of the complexities of their new life. Throughout the story, Mai's traditional embroidery plays a role, and ties together several of the plots. Simple enough for students with limited English to follow, this was also an emotionally complex tale. I will definitely look for more books by this author.

Julia Alvarez's Return to Sender also dealt with immigration issues, this time illegal Mexican workers. Mari lives with her father and uncles who are working on a Vermont dairy farm that is struggling because the father has been badly injured in an accident. Mari and her family (with the exception of two sisters) are in the country illegally, but the farm owners are struggling so much that they don't ask questions. Mari's mother has returned to Mexico but was supposed to come back to the United States. Told from Mari's viewpoint and that of the son on the farm (Taylor or Tyler-- I had to return the book), this book covers a lot. Tyler's grandfather has died, and he's not doing well with it. Neither is his grandmother. The town is rallying against illegal workers. Mari wants more rights for workers who are in the country illegally but paying taxes. While I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it, it would have benefitted from being more streamlined-- perhaps just one viewpoint, or fewer issues.

Harking back to I'll Pass For Your Comrade, Sheila Klass's Soldier's Secret is another telling of the story of Deborah Sampson (Patricia Clapp has one whose title I can't remember; it's rather old.) Following Deborah from her childhood of indentured servitude to her injury on the battlefield and the discovery of her secret, this follows the known facts but adds some nice fictional twists. Not a surprise to me, but girls who don't know anything of the women who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars will be enthralled.

Also picked up (having gone to the library instead of being lazy and having the Library Link bring me books!) Schorr's Goy Crazy, which would be better in a high school library with a larger Jewish population and Rachel Wright's You've Got Blackmail , which sounded like a fun mystery but was distractingly overly British.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Depressing high school books

Although my daughter and I loved the title and the cover of David Hernandez's No More Us For You, it is clearly more of a high school book, and depressing to boot. (Two students become friends after the death of someone they know.) It's too dreary and rainy to want depressing books on spring break!

Gayle Forman's If I Stay was also too grim-- girl's entire family is killed in a car crash, she's in a coma and flashing back to scenes from their life and trying to decide whether she should die and join them or live.

Julia Hoban's Willow was riveting, and this one is tempting to purchase, but the language and mentions of sex catapult it out of middle school. Willow was driving the car when she crashed with her parents-- they both died. She is now living with her older brother and his family, trying to adjust to a new school, working at the college library, and dealing with the pain of the tragedy by cutting herself. She meets a boy with whom she shares many interest, and he helps her through a lot. The language is beautiful and the pain palpable. There is a little more hope in this one than in the others, and we do have some students in middle school with cutting disorders.

The one frivolous tome in this lot was Rob Mcleay's Pirate Arrrt: Learn to Draw Fantastic Pirates, Treasure Chests, Ships, Sea Monsters and More. This is a heavy duty art book for people who already have some talent. While I could come up with decent drawings following Lee J. Ames' directions, this book goes beyond the rudimentary with how to draw expressions, etc. Still, if you have a lot of call for how to draw books, this one is fun.

Philosophic Book Epiphany: When I had nothing but the five fat fantasy books with maps I wanted to get through on spring break, I didn't want to read. When I went to the library and got some new books on different topics, I did. Are students the same way? Probably. The more they are in the library, the more books they have at their disposal, the more likely they are to read, especially if we can ask them how they are enjoying their books.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Morning in a Different Place; The Pike River Phantom

Fiona has a difficult family life. Her Irish-American father gets drunk and beats her mother, so the family has just moved in with an aunt. Yolanda, who was hospitalized after a drug deal of Fiona's brother's gone wrong, also has problems-- her mother wants to move her from New York City to the south. Fiona is white. Yolanda is black. It is 1963.

Mary Ann McGuigan's Morning in a Different Place was intriguing but didn't quite do it for me. I knew that sooner or later, Kennedy would get shot. Students would not have this problem. The sense of time seemed not quite right to me. Racism would have made the girls' relationship much more tense. While it was great that Fiona eventually spoke against her father and forced him to leave the house instead of her mother, it wasn't believable to me given the time setting. This was well-written, and had it been set in a modern time, I would have liked it a lot.

Betty Ren Wright's The Pike River Phantom(1988) is out of print. Dust it off for fans of ghost stories if you have one. Charlie is living with his grandparents because of his father's recent incarceration. His cousin Rachel is there because her parents are missionaries. The two are selling candy bars so that Rachel can win the local Sunbonnet Queen pageant, and Charlie comes across the evil ghost of a woman who unfairly lost this same title to his grandmother years before. Like other Wright titles, the ghost is not explained, just taken as a certainty. The realistic problems in this are balanced well with the supernatural ones, and it is a quick read.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cathy Hopkins

Somehow, I ended up with just one Cathy Hopkins' Truth or Dare books. While I have all of the Mates, Dates book, these are a little more high school oriented, since one of them has a hugely inappropriate but hilarious scene involving toothpaste and strawberry yogurt-- I'm not saying any more!

This one is fine. Cat's widowed father is getting remarried and the family is moving. Cat is okay with this, since it means that she will get help with her younger siblings. She likes her step mother, but things aren't going smoothly with the move, and she finds a trunk belonging to her mother that sets her on a path of rediscovery. Lots of nice family interaction, supportive friends-- this is a highly addictive writer, and for middle school, I'd definitely get all of the Mates, Dates books.

My Cathy Hopkins story. When I visited London, I went to the Heath Library because it was the most likely library that the characters in Mates, Dates would have gone to. (And it's in the garden of the house where John Keats wrote his 'Ode to a Nightingale'.) There weren't any of Hopkins' books there. I later wrote to her and mentioned this fact; she wrote back to say that she donated a set of her books to the library. What a nice lady!

There is a new book out-- Mates, Dates: The Secret Story.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sophomore Switch

A big thank you to Candlewick Press, who sent me a beautiful hardcover copy of Abby McDonald's Sophomore Switch. I read about half of the book before deciding that it is more suited to high school readers (it does deal with college students), so I will probably send this on to the high school.

After I read the whole thing, because it deals with a girl who gets to spend time studying at Oxford. My dream is to volunteer in the Sackler Classic Library there when I retire.

I have no recollection of what contest I may have entered to win this one, so I apologize. My thanks to anyone who had a hand in this!

Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys

This Neil Oliver title was from HarperCollins First Look program and was billed as "epics that we should all know by heart; the tales of courage, endurance and sacrifice that made men out of boys."

In exchange for the book, HarperCollins asks for 20 word reviews. This was my best shot: "Covering a wide variety of exciting tales of heroic feats and brave sacrifices, this book is a good introduction for today’s youth to the tales their grandfathers knew by heart."

All the same, I am a little confused by this book. The stories should be riveting and exciting, but are done in an overly didactic way. The cover is really awful. The insidepictures are cheesy even though The Sunday Telegraph thought it was "sumptously illustrated". The book actually uses the phrase "manly men". I was hoping that the short, episodic nature of the entries would make it good for my reluctant readers, but the leisurely, descriptive style and the (ARC) 364 page length make it unappealing for that group.

Maybe it's a guy thing that I didn't get. Hey, Boys Read! Boys Rule!-- you want my copy?

The Indigo King by James A. Owen

*Sigh* Now I know how my students feel. I have to wait until October for the next book in this wonderful series.

Again, this was a hefty tome with so much fun stuff going on that I fear I will not do justice to the plot. John, Jack, and Hugo are suddenly sucked away from Oxford into a version of the world where the Archipelago has been overthrown by Mordred is ruling and is now the Winterland. When it becomes apparent that the group needs to use a time travel device left by Jules Verne to make things right (and Hugo, new to the group, gets sucked through yet another time portal), John, Jack and some helpful badgers travel through time to try to determine which of a set of twins is evil, and which is destined to become the Cartographer. Aside from setting fire to the Library of Alexandria, things end up working out fairly well, but the twists and turns kept me making voluble comments even when, as one character puts it, getting my head around everything going on made my "skull hurt".

Wow. The number of literary illusions is truly mindboggling. Linking Arthur's sword in the stone to Aeneas and Mordred to Odysseus? Brilliant (even though I had never heard of Brutus, since he is outside of the classical tradition). And I love how John and Jack can travel to ancient Greece and actually talk to people! There was also a brilliant scene in the Library of Alexander-- you can imagine how incredible it would be for those particular scholars to be able to go there.

I can't wait to see where this story goes, but I am still having trouble believing that Mr. Owen lives in Arizona. I can't help but imagine him in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, having a cup of tea in his rooms at Oxford with his characters!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Chris Lynch, Tricia Rayburn

Chris Lynch's Slot Machine is one of my favorite funny boy books, so I was eager to read The Big Game of Everything. I was not disappointed. Jock and his brother Egon work at their grandfather's struggling golf course. They don't get along particularly well in the way that siblings interact-- they pound on each other, but would stop an outside party from pounding on the other one. They get involved in all manner of funny exploits which are brilliantly told (Lynch can tell serious stories, but his turns of phrase in comedy are snort-through-your-nose funny), but also have to help their grandfather through some difficult times. There are very few books about golf out, so this will satisfy a certain audience, but the general humor makes this suitable for any middle school boys who want a funny book.

My only objection: if the boys' grandmother was a profootball cheerleader in 1972, how can their father be a hippie? He's about ten years younger than I am, and no one in my generation is an honest to goodness hippie. No more hippie parents of adolescents. It doesn't work.

The Melting of Maggie Bean was recommended to me by a language arts teacher. It was a difficult book to read, since Maggie was a dysfunctional girl who coped with stress by eating large amounts of chocolate in her room, but who then started to change her lifestyle. In Maggie Bean Stays Afloat, she continues her healthy improvements, working as a swimming instructor at a summer camp, helping out with Pound Patrollers, and continuing to watch what she eats in a smart way. Her problems now revolve around how the changes in her body change her friendships. When she starts to hang out with older kids at camp, she neglects the friends who stood by her when she was picked on for being fat. Written in a thoughtful and realistic way, Maggie works through the various challenges that she faces and becomes a better person. I usually don't go for character development that much, but something about Rayburn's writing makes me really care what happens to Maggie. I will definitely put Maggie Bean in Love (December 22, 2009) on my order list as well as buy a copy for my reluctant 5th grader.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Library Design Challenge

I have become obsessed with optimizing my library and am curious about where others work. I'd like to take a virtual tour of some other school or public libraries and get some ideas for my own! (Thanks for the suggestion, Mary Ison!)

Here's the challenge:
1. List the number of students in your school and volumes in your collection.
2. State the year your library was built and/or refurbished.
3. List one BEST feature and one worst feature of your library.
4. Tell us one dream you have for your library.
5. Include a picture(s) if possible.
6. Leave a comment on this posting so I make sure to drop by!

I don't have enough mental functioning to have a contest (It's 5:14 a.m. and I'm about to go put masking tape "tables" down on the floor), but I have a fabulous prize: a pristine copy of Genevieve Foster's 1959 book, The World of Captain John Smith, 1580-1631. It was checked out exactly once, in 1974.

Here are my answers to the above.

1. 580 students, 13,000 books
2. 1969 (I was four!)
3. Best feature: open and maleable floor plan. Worst feature: 12 entrances. Security nightmare!
4. All library space dedicated to library functions and not storage.
(Left: facing away from entrance. Some book display.)
(Right: facing entrance. Rows of shelves.)
(Left: Computers- 15 total.)
(Right: Biography wall-- future home of fiction!)
Thanks for stopping by! I love my library!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Ohio State Buckeyes

Just in case you didn't know about this series, Norwood House has a Team Spirit: College Football set of books. I don't know what titles are included: I only knew I had to buy the The Ohio State one. My students don't understand that people outside of central Ohio really don't care, and there aren't a lot of books for middle school students about the team.

In all fairness, I bought the Michigan one, too. Of course, that order came first, and I got a lot of flack for it.

Cashay and Paparazzi Princess

Margaret McMullan's Cashay was a nice antithesis to yesterday's If I Grow Up because it did have a message of hope. Cashay's family has created a decent life in inner city Chicago. Her mother is a hair dresser, and she and her sister, although learning disabled, attend school regularly. Everything changes when her sister is an innocent victim of a gang-related shooting. Her mother starts abusing drugs and becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, "Mr. Giggles". Cashay keeps attending school and talking to a caring conselour, who recommends an after school program where Cashay is matched with a mentor, but when her mother gives birth to a drug addicted baby and is sent to prison rehab, Cashay focuses all of her energy on avoiding children's services and remaining on her own. Eventually, the adults in her life track her down and try to help. Where If I Grow Up erred on the side of the overly depressing, this may err slightly on the side of the overly optimistic, but that is a far better message. This will do well to fill the need my students have to read about difficult lives in the inner city.

Must admit that I didn't really want to read the fourth Jen Calonita book. I liked the first three, but have lately grown tired of reading about the overpriveleged and all of their designer wear. I was quickly won over by Kaitlin, the down-to-earth star of a soap opera television show who is devastated by her show going off the air. She doesn't cope well, making friends with celebutantes, shopping too much, and not focusing on her career options for the future. In the end, I enjoyed the book, although the pop culture references will make this date very quickly. The copies will be worn out by then, so it will all be okay.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fantasty versus Reality


Original 1969 circulation desk and odd, assorted components. Workable, a bit rickety, definitely wabi sabi at its finest.


Looking into library redesign is a dangerous thing, but so much fun! The desk is the Gaylord Americana series. Isn't it pretty? If I actually got this, would I feel a need to dress up every single day? With pearls and heels?


Whee! Dysfunction!

No, Eliot Schrefer's The School for Dangerous Girls is not related to Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series at all, although the cover is really similar. Angela has made some really poor decisions, and as a result, he father and stepmother have decided to send her to Hidden Oak, a school for girls with severe behavioral problems. She doesn't think that she should be there and balks at following all of the bizarre rules the school has. Discipline is tough, but the unrestricted behavior of the other students is what is toughest. After a series of missteps, Angela is relegated to the "purple thread"; girls whose behavior is considered beyond fixing. The abuse these girls inflict upon one another is so intense that Angela, with the help of a teacher's son, tries to break out and warn her parents and the community about what is really going on at Hidden Oak. This was a riveting read, even though I really disliked most of the teachers. It wouldn't have worked had they been nice! Students love this sort of depressing book, so if April Henry's Shock Point and Todd Strasser's Boot Camp circulate well, this is a book you should get. I certainly will.

The newest Todd Strasser , If I Grow Up, was even more depressing, although the cover is really great. It will be a big hit with my students. DeShawn lives in the Douglas projects, and is pretty lucky. He does well enough at school to be recommended for an academically advanced program. His mother has been killed, but he has a caring grandmother who takes care of him and his sister. As he gets older, however, circumstances lead him to get involved in gang activities, although he knows this is not a good idea. His sister has twins, and then their father is killed. DeShawn's friends start to run with the gangs. He sees children and mothers killed, promising children descend into drug-addicted hazes, and his own options dwindling. Eventually, he drops out of school to work for the local drug lord, Marcus. When Marcus is killed, DeShawn steps into increasingly important leadership roles within the gang. It doesn't end well.

Students who like The Outsiders and Strasser's Can't Get There From Here will like this one. I don't understand why suburban middle schoolers want to read about inner city gang activity, but they do, and this will fill the bill, even though the tone was rather didactic. The students won't notice.

After my eating disorder book marathon two nights ago, and these two books, I need something a lot lighter to read tonight, although I'm too spoiled by good writing for anything like a Candy Apple Books marathon. Unearthed a copy of the sequel to Karen in the storeroom; maybe that will be uplifting.