Friday, May 29, 2009

First Book Giveaway!!!

Enter to Win Patrick Carman's Atherton Trilogy!

Thanks to Nicole Bruce of The Book Report Network, I am giving away a three book set of Patrick Carman's Atherton Trilogy. It's easy to win. You will need to do the following:

  • E Mail me ( a very short message about your favorite science fiction or fantasy series. What is it and why do you like it?
  • Deadline is 3:00 p.m. on Friday, June 5th.

  • Be prepared to give me your actual mailing address if you win. Kids, check with a parental unit to make sure this is okay. I will need to give your address to Ms. Bruce.

That's it. Winners will be decided by Ms. Yingling and her board of student helpers!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia

I liked Susan Runholt's title, which utilizes a formula which is always successful-- one easy, well known word (third) with one unusual one. That way, students will say "It was the third something." Plus, it doesn't hurt to label mysteries!

I was not disappointed. Kari and Lucas are both very interested in art, and notice at the museum where they take classes that a suspicious man is copying a painting. When they later get an opportunity to travel to London, they notice him in a museum there. While it's slightly far-fetched that they identify and eventually nab a forger, it shows a lot of girl power, and combines this with international travel. Also of note that there is a mother present, but she is a perfect balance of supportive and hands-off. Fans of Ellen Potter's Pish Posh and the new Michael Beil The Red Blazer Girls will get a kick out of this. What there is a desperate need for are similar mysteries with BOYS as the main characters.

Creative Press has a Built for Success series that I enjoyed a lot. Read The Story of Starbucks and The Story of McDonald's. Titles are also available for Coca-Cola, Disney, Ford, Google, Microsoft and Nike. These are perfect for the nonfiction reading assignment one of our teachers gives, since they are 46 pages long, packed with pictures and information, and, best of all, only $13.66 if ordered in FollettBound. Can't tell you the number of times I've had to explain to a parent that yes, that yes, that 1/4 inch thick book on crayons that a child lost really did cost $25.00! I'll definitely be getting the others, since they are also just fun to read.

Non-book news: The library renovations will be done in the summer of 2011, but we'll be ripping out shelving on Monday and rewiring June 15! I'm also thinking of changing out wall of smiley face stuff for vintage ceramic owls, which are available in plenty at thrift stores. (Ones pictured here are new, by Fruit Fly Pie. This is torturing my principal (who is the BEST principal on the planet!), because he would like the library to step out of the seventies and look like Pottery Barn. I think that it is good for middle school students, who are trying to establish their own identities, to have some examples of stepping outside the box. And dancing. Besides, the owls would make me happy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Favorite book of the year!

Came across this collection of essays edited by Dan Gutman when I visited his web site, and it is a wonderful compendium of useful tips for reducing impact on the environment told in the engaging individual voices of popular children's authors. This is an important book, because children sometimes do not think about recycling, or saving energy, but when they learn about it, become avid practitioners. That the tips from from authors they like makes it even more valuable.

The focus of every essay is that each of us can do small things that add up to a big difference. Rick Riordan talks about using rechargable batteries. Johanna Hurwitz talks about passing on magazines, yarn and other things instead of buying new or throwing things out. Bruce Coville talks about turning off the television so advertisements don't affect us. Lois Lowry rhapsodizes about hanging sheets out to dry. All practical suggestions, many of them funny, and written in short entries that would make excellent class read alouds. I need to purchase an additional copy!

This is a topic dear to my heart, so I'll bore you with the top ten ways I try to conserve resources. They aren't hard, and if everyone tried just one it could make a big difference.

10. Use a reel mower to cut the lawn. Good exercise!
9. Compost kitchen scraps for garden.
8. Eat less meat. (It's too much work and expense anyway!)
7. Use cloth gift bags, which are easier than wrapping paper.
6. Print overdue slips on papers others print and don't pick up.
5. Hang laundry out to dry.
4. Keep thermostat at 58 all winter; don't have air conditioning.
3. Use cloth bags for shopping; reusable containers for lunches.
2. Bike to work and drive only twice a month.
1. Shop for clothing and household items at the thrift store.

The last one was only mentioned by Jerry Spinelli, but is one that I think important. It makes me feel slightly better about the mounds of jeans and t shirts and shorts and jackets and sweaters that my children seem to need. They are also fond of hand-me-downs, and I've even been able to cater to my high schooler's request for brand names. I buy my own clothes there as well, since jackets and slacks are about $2 and shoes about $3. Since moving piles of books around takes a heavy toll on my wardrobe, I can't imagine doing anything else. Plus, shopping at thrift stores keeps the money local. And I occasionally find obnoxious vintage polyester dresses!

Okay. Enough soap box.

Johanna Hurwitz's link above is from a website called Authors Among Us, which lists writers who are/were also librarians. Very fun!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More books

Valentine's Broken Soup continued the trend of depressing books yesterday with the story of Rowan, who is given a negative of a photo of her brother who died and who sets out to find out how it came to be given to her. Her family is dealing poorly with the death. Since I got this book and a lot of others that were all bleak from the "New Book" shelf, I can only guess that for this order, the public librarians were filling a need for sad books.

Snow's Here Be Monsters was at least different. Replete with illustrations, this follows Arthur, who gets trapped in Ratbridge after venturing forth from his home. He runs into a cheese hunt, cabbage headed creatures, and other silly, Roald Dahlesque creatures and situations. At 529 pages, this will appeal to readers in the 3rd and 4th grade who want to prove how smart they are by lugging around a big book, and it is not a difficult read. It somehow seems too young for my middle school readers-- something is just half a note off their sense of humor.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Big Bunch O'Books

Unfortunately, nothing that my students ask for. Fine books all, but I don't see them circulating at my library.

Brown and Elish. 13. Amusing tale of a boy who moves from New York to Indiana and has to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Depictions of Hoosiers would not amuse my Midwestern boys.

Conway. The Goodbye Time. Great cover, but rather young, and too much time is taken up with a game the girls play while talking in British accents.

Garsee. Say the Word. Content more appropriate to high school.

Kelly. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Odd historical period (1899). If I can't get girls to read the Little House books, I won't be able to sell this historical fiction.

Littman. Purge. Great eating disorder book, but for high school students, due to liberal use of f-word as well as some sexual content.

Ockler. Twenty Boy Summer. Again, great cover, but overwhelmingly depressing. Title makes it sound fun, but the girl grieving the death of her best friend's brother was too much.

Taylor. Undone. More for high school. Overly sad and quirky.

Vivian. Same Difference. Too narrowly focused on a summer art school.

Weaver. Super Stock Rookie. Sequel to Saturday Night Dirt, which I could not sell. I thought boys would love to read about racing, but have found that mine do not.

Wyatt. Funny How Things Change. Quirky/dysfunctional/West Virginia.

A lot of these were somehow depressing, and I was in the mood for something happier.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Speculative Fiction

This is a topic that has come up frequently in recent days, so when I saw Firebirds Soaring: An Anthology of Original Speculative Fiction (Sharyn November, editor) I was excited. Comprised of 19 stories that are primarily fantasy or science fiction, it introduced me to several new authors. There are two other books of this nature, and a website, Firebird Books.

The stand out stories where Nancy Springer's Welsh inspired Kingmaker, which I enjoyed because I had not read any of her fantasy. Ellen Klages Singing on a Star was disturbing because of the juxtaposition between fantasy and reality abd the ramifications of one impinging upon the other. Considering my usual ambivalence for Nancy Farmer's work, I was surprised to feel that her Ticket to Ride deserves to be a book-- I wanted to know more about the journey the main character had started and forgave her the evil librarian. The best storywas Kara Dalkey's Flatland. It was futuristic but tangentially dystopian, and conjectured what our current technology could become, and how it could shape our lives.

I was disappointed that there was so little science fiction, which is what I was seeking when I picked up the book. Most of the stories were fantasy, and there were a few, like The Dignity He's Due (which was more about mental illness and homelessness) and Something Worth Doing (historical fiction) which confused me, because I kept waiting for some speculative element to emerge. While this book was a big help for me in finding new authors, and I will certainly look at the other two books, I don't know that I will buy them for my library because it is almost impossible to get my students to check out short stories and there is already a vast collection of them gathering dust.

Also enjoyed Janet Graber's The White Witch. Set in England during the Great Plague, this slim volume concerns Gwen, a young healer whose father sets off for London and leaves Gwen to hide and hopefully avoid the plague. The townspeople are sure that she is a witch, and in the end when they are grief stricken and looking for someone to blame for all of the deaths (which could have been avoided had they listened to her father to begin with!), they try her by water-- and she manages to escape. Not sure whether I will buy this. I have reached the point in the year when I realize just how worn out many of my books are. This book would be checked out a couple of times a year, so it would last a long time. Still, do I buy this, or another two prebind copies of Carl Deuker's Runner, so I can keep mystery fans happy? Should leave this decision until fall.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eulo's The Great Receiver

In Joey's mind, he is a great football player, but in reality, the high school freshman is the team water boy and a part time worker in his father's hardware store. He is also involved with the local animal shelter, where his mother works, and has to work on an English project about world peace with his friend Samantha. When he gets a chance to play on the football team, he finds a lot of success, but also has to learn to balance his involvement in sports with the other things in his life.

The cover of this seems too young, because this was a great football book. Had enough action on the field to draw in the sports fans, plus enough social interaction to keep me interested. I bought this one without reading it and then had a copy donated-- both have circulated well. A student recently asked if this was a series, and this would not be a bad starting point. My only objection would be that Joey is involved in so many things that his character is a little unfocused. Simplify his life a tiny bit, and this would be a great idea.

Speaking of covers, I just got a paperback copy of Nancy Werlin's great Rules of Survival (reviewed here October 25, 2006), and think the new cover is great. Clean, clear and utterly disturbing. I don't know if the children will understand the significance of a cereal bowl full of glass shards, but I love it.
Also feel compelled to mention that book two of Frank Peretti's Veritas Project: The Nightmare Academy, glows in the dark. This wasn't quite as much fun as my son, when he was three, realizing that the Darth Vader on his underwear glowed in the dark, but it did amuse me yesterday morning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Atherton by Patrick Carman

Having just read Farah Mendlesohn's article, The Campaign for Shiny Futures in The Horn Book magazine, it was interesting to read the first book in Patrick Carman's Atherton Trilogy, The House of Power. The science fiction trend really is for futuristic dystopian novels, and this is no exception.

Edgar is an orphan in the employ of Mr. Ratikan, who runs a fig orchard. Atherton is a three tiered planet. In the middle level, the Tablelands, life is difficult and water is scarce. Their fig and rabbit crops are sent to the Highlands, where a few select, fairly evil people are in control of the water. The Highlands is slowly sinking into the Tablelands, which are in turn sinking into the Flatlands, where horrific monsters called Cleaners roam the land and eat everything they find.

Edgar is in possession of a book that leads him to both the upper and lower levels, where he makes alliances and finds out that Atherton is really an experimental planet developed by a brilliant man driven to madness. When the disastrous planetary changes occur, Edgar must help align the surviving people and help everyone survive.
I liked Rivers of Fire a lot better. Science Fiction/Fantasy is not what I prefer to read, and the first book was a challenge for me. The second starts with lots of action and keeps it up, making me look forward to the third book, The Dark Planet. Certainly my students who crave this type of literature will be thrilled.
The Highlands are now sinking and flooding, the Cleaners are invading, and Edgar must uncover as many secrets about Atherton as he can in order to help everyone. To do this, he travels with Dr. Kincaid into the House of Power to retrieve information and finds out more about the planet's creator. Meanwhile, Samuel, Isabel and travel into the center of the planet and meet all sorts of horrible creatures. The citizens of Highlands and Tablelands must work together to cobble together a workable life and defend themselves from Cleaners. Nonstop action makes this an exciting read. I didn't like the hinted romance between Edgar and Isabel at the end (they are 12, after all!), but I assume the third book, The Dark Planet, explains why Atherton was created, and perhaps ties the two civilizations together again.
Watch this blog for a giveaway of these three books very soon! I am working on this with a publicist, having never done one of these before. In June, there will be a giveaway of books 5, 6 and 7 of Harry Potter!

Parental Abduction

Nancy Springer is the rare author who has never written a book I disliked. Although I have neverread her first series, The Books of Isle, I've read everything else she has written and been pleased. Somebody, her newest book, is no exception.

Sherica has always lived under assumed names, always moved several times a year, and always known that her mother abandoned her family for a boyfriend. She has always accepted this path her father has chosen, sublimating her anger and frustration by overeating, until she finally starts to realize that no one else lives like this. With the help of a boy at the local library, she finds a picture of herself on a missing children's web site, and begins the long journey to understand her past and reconnect with the person she is supposed to be.

Has this topic been covered before? Sure. There's Mazer's Taking Terri Mueller (1981), Ehrlich's Where it Stops, Nobody Knows (1988), Pfeffer's Twice Taken(1994), Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton (1994), Sorrell's Fake ID (2005), and Hautman's Doppelganger(2008). Still, it is a topic of interest to children (don't most children wish at some time that they had other, better parents hiding somewhere?), and Springer's treatment has some interesting twists and is a quick, satisfying read. Her word farming has yielded another tasty product.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Odd weekend of reading

Nancy Hope Wilson's Flapjack Waltzes (1998) is out of print, and the copy from my library has never been checked out. This is too bad, because it is a touching story of one family's experience dealing with the death of a teenaged boy in an auto accident. Told alternately between the events leading up to his death and a two years after its occurence, it deals especially with the effect on his younger sister. Natalie starts to heal when she meets an elderly neighbor who survived the Holocaust and also has some survivor's guilt. I'll put this one in the new books pile come September, and hope that it will get checked out. This is one of the reasons why I am glad I am working my way through the entire collection.

Picked up a copy of Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie at the thrift store and bought it because my two younger children will no doubt need it for high school English. I was surprised-- given all the buzz, I was expecting something life changing. I'm sure that Morrie and Mitch were deeply affected by the events chronicled, but the book felt a bit stale and trite to me. Why is it always successful people with significant material wealth and worldly success who have these epiphanies that everything they have tried to accomplish is empty? At least the title is newer than the other things they assign for freshman English. I still maintain that there have been other books written since To Kill a Mockingbird.

I can see teachers assigning The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, because it has that quirky air of Significant Fiction due to side notes, diagrams, and Life Lessons. Admittedly, I did not get very far-- this is Literature, by someone who majored in it in college, and as such has limited appeal. Middle schoolers don't really want books that start out with people drawing maps. Yes, clearly I was ruined as a small child by all of the Little Golden Books that my mother let me read.
Did get all 12,000 books moved around, even though I had seven research classes on Friday. Have work orders in to take down bookshelves, redo wiring, and move the circ desk. Am trying not to think about inventory or retrieving all the overheads and televisions from classrooms!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor

I love Melissa Kantor's books because she writes my favorite sort of stuff-- pink books. Girlfriend Material was so good that I don't feel a need to reward myself (for moving 4,000 books in the library yesterday!) with a Beany Malone book this weekend.

*Sigh* Kate is forced to spend the summer on Cape Cod because her parents are having marital problems and her mother wants to spend time with friends. At first, Kate is angry because she had a lot of plans that were ruined-- playing tennis, hanging out with her BFF, writing. But things start out well. Although the daughter of the family with whom they are staying is cold to her, she soon meets a group of kids and gets involved in activities. Most importantly, she meets Adam.

This book has the BEST first kiss scene that I have ever read. I think I actually sighed and very briefly wished that I could be a teenager again, if only for a moment like that. Adam is a great guy, and the relationship... it's what I wanted as a teenager. There are some problems, but they sort themselves out. Kate's philosophical battles with herself over how things progress is fantastic.

Don't miss this one. I gave it immediately to my 9th grade daughter, and I wouldn't be surprised if she asks for a copy of her own for her birthday.

Okay! Off to move another 4,000 books!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Spook's Tale

The Joseph Delaney The Last Apprentice series is extremely popular in my school. The Spook's Tale and Other Horrors will not sit for two minutes on my desk before some eager child checks it out.

This tells three different stories-- Tom Gregory's beginnings as a spook,
more about Alice the witch's past, and Grimalkin's account of how she became a witch assassin. There is also an overview of the other creatures that appear in the series. This would be a good introduction to the series, or appeasement for those who have read book five and need something to hold them until the August 25th release of Clash of Demons.

I do love these, even though they involve a lot of evil demons and horrific situations. Upon reflection, I think that what is best is the conflict that the characters feel. Sure, the monsters are pure evil, but the witches do have some humanity. The story of how the spook ended up as an apprentice instead of a priest was a prime example of the philosophical choices that many of the characters face. The spooky illustrations and the whole presentation of the books is wonderful as well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side/ Vampire Books

Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side was one that I picked up because there is an insatiable need for vampire books in my school. I was pleasantly surprised because I enjoyed it-- there were enough twists on the vampire legend that I was pleased.

Jessica lives a quiet life as a mathlete and farm girl in Pennsylvania. Her parents have failed to tell her the details of her adoption from Romania, until Lucius, a vampire prince who is her betrothed, shows up. Jessica is adamant that she is not going to run off and be married so that she can be a vampire princess, but she does start to like Lucius. She also starts to realize that vampires are not terribly nice. I thought that, while I liked this, readers who prefer vampire stories would not appreciate the satirical take, but other bloggers seemed to react favorably to this one. Ordering two copies, expecting a sequel.

And, since my reluctant reader demanded to read Twilight, and I've had several questions from parents, I am going to post my Vampire Fiction List. I think I have gotten everything; let me know what I have missed. I will denote titles suitable for younger readers in red.

Vampire Books

Anderson, M.T. Thirsty
From the moment he knows that he is destined to be a vampire, Chris thirsts for the blood of people around him while also struggling to remain human.

Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia. Demon in My View (series)
Risika, a teenage vampire, wanders back in time to the year 1684 when, as a human, she died and was transformed against her will.

Brewer, Heather. The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd: Eight Grade Bites, Ninth Grade Slays
Vlad has kept secret that he is half-vampire, but when his missing teacher is replaced by a sinister substitute, he learns that there is more to being a vampire, and to his parents' deaths, than he could have guessed.

Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass
Able to see demons and the Darkhunters who are dedicated to returning them to their own dimension, Clary Fray is drawn into this bizarre world when her mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a monster.

De la Cruz, Melissa. Blue Bloods.
When Schuyler, turns fifteen, she notices herself going through physical and psychological changes that may have something to do with a fellow coed's murder.

Emerson, Kevin. The Vampire’s Photograph.
Child vampire Oliver Nocturne learns about his destiny after a human girl accidently takes a picture of him. Series.

Enthoven, Sam. The Black Tattoo.
When his best friend is possessed by a demon, Jack, accompanied by a girl with superhuman powers, battles all over London and into Hell to save him.

Graves, Damian. The Midnight Library. (Series)
Collections of spooky short stories.

Gray, Claudia. Evernight.
Bianca, a new girl at the Evernight boarding school, finds herself drawn to another outsider, but dark forces threaten to tear them apart and destroy Bianca's entire world.

Hahn, Mary Downing. Look for me by Moonlight
While staying at the remote inn run by her father, Cynda feels isolated from her father's new family and finds solace in the attentions of a charming but mysterious guest.

Hautman, Pete. Sweetblood.
Lucy Szabo is suddenly in trouble at school, at home, with the "proto-vampires" she has met online and in person, and most of all with her uncontrolled diabetes.

Horowitz, Anthony. Horowitz Horror, More Horowitz Horror.

Kogler, Jennifer Ann. Otherworldlies.
Fern has always been able to cope with the taunts and social ostracism of her schoolmates until a series of events reveal that she possesses supernatural powers.

Mancusi, Marianne. Boys that Bite.(series)
Bitten by a vampire after being mistaken for her Goth twin sister, Rayne, Sunny is in a race against time as she tries to prevent herself from becoming a vampire permanently.

Meehl, Brian. Suck It Up
A teenaged vampire reveals his identity to humans to demonstrate how peaceful, blood-substitute-drinking vampires can use their powers to help humanity.

Mercer, Sienna. Switched! (series)
Olivia, a cheerleader, learns that she has a twin sister whose "goth" appearance hides a secret that prevents the girls from switching identities and performing twin pranks.

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. (series)
When Bella moves to Washington, she meets a handsome boy at school who she comes to realize is not wholly human.

Pauley, Kimberly. Sucks to be Me.
When Mina is forced to decide whether or not to become a vampire like her parents, she also faces a choice between her old friends versus new friends and possible boyfriends.

Pierce, Meredith. The Dark-Angel.
Aeriel must choose between destroying her vampire master for his evil deeds or saving him for the sake of his beauty and the spark of greatness she has seen in him.

Rees, Douglas. Vampire High.
Cody enters Vlad Dracul Magnet School and many things seem strange, especially the dark-haired, pale-skinned, supernaturally strong students. Highly recommended.

Rook, Sebastin. London, 1850. The Vampire Plagues. (series)
Jack Harkett meets Benedict Cole, a stowaway on a mysterious ship that sails into a London port, and they find themselves on the same side of deadly battle.

Schreiber, Ellen. Vampire Kisses.
Raven, an outcast who hopes to become a vampire some day, falls in love with the mysterious new boy in town, eager to find out if he can make her dreams come true.

Shan, Darren. Cirque du Freak.
Two boys who are best friends visit an illegal freak show, where an encounter with a vampire and a deadly spider forces them to make life-changing choices.

Smith, L.J. The Vampire Diaries. (series)
Two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan, find their bond torn apart by the woman they both love and the tragedies of their past.

Somper, Justin. Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean.
When the twins ship is wrecked and Connor is rescued by pirates, he believes that Grace has been taken aboard the mythical Vampirate's ship, and he is determined to find her.

Stine, R. L. Dangerous Girls.
When they return home from camp, twins Destiny and Livvy exhibit an inhuman craving to drink blood by night, compelled to satisfy their overpowering thirst.

Thompson, Kate. Switchers.
When freakish weather grips the Arctic regions and moves southward,a girl & her strange companion save the world from disaster through their ability to switch into animal forms.

Vande Velde, Vivian. Companions of the Night.
When 16 year old Kerry helps a young man escape from a group claiming he is a vampire, she finds herself faced with some bizarre and dangerous choices.

Westerfeld, Scott. Peeps.
Cal Thompson is a carrier of a parasite that causes vampirism, and must hunt down all of the girlfriends he has unknowingly infected.

Interview with Ellen Potter!

Ellen Potter's newest book, Slob, comes out on May 14th! I haven't read it yet, because the ARCMs. Potter was kind enough to send is meant for my 5th grade Reluctant Reader's birthday, so I have to sneak to read it. Ms. Potter was also gracious enough to take time for an interview, despite being very busy. Look for Slob out soon, and also make sure to check out the great mystery, Pish Posh, and the fun Olivia Kidney series.

Ms. Yingling: Were you a big reader as a child? What did you like to read?
Ms. Potter: I was a voracious reader as a kid. I wasn’t fussy either. I read anything I could get my hands on, but my favorite books were Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time, The Secret Garden, among a bazillion others.

Ms. Yingling: You tend to write about unusual characters. What is the most unusual thing about yourself?
Ms. Potter: Well the thing is, I’m quite boring. That’s why I love writing about unusual people. But if I HAD to pick one thing unusual thing about myself, I guess it would be that I can do a wicked toad imitation.

Ms. Yingling: Your main character in Slob is overweight. There are relatively few books with such characters. What motivated you to write about an overweight character?
Ms. Potter: The story was inspired by someone I knew when I was a child. This boy was overweight and picked on mercilessly, even by one of the gym teachers. But this boy was also extremely clever and innovative, and he was able to fight the bullies with his brains rather than his fists. I was always very impressed by him, but as a kid I don’t think I truly understood how difficult things were for him. Once I started to write SLOB from Owen Birnbaum’s perspective, I began to realize how truly heroic this boy (the real one and the fictional one) really was.

Ms. Yingling: Are mysteries hard to write? How do you keep track of all the twists and turns that they require?
Ms. Potter: I don’t think of myself as a true mystery writer. I’m guessing that a real-deal mystery writer probably has a very organized mind, which I certainly do not possess. I just like to spike my stories with a mystery because . . . well, who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Still, my stories often have many different threads that have to be woven together in the end. I don’t consciously try to tie up all these threads. I never plot out my books beforehand. In fact, I generally don’t know what’s going to happen from one page to the next. Yes, I am alert for ways to connect all these threads in tidily, but I prefer to let the story be guided by the characters. They have much better navigational skills than I do. Ask anyone who has seen me looking for my car in the parking lot.

Many thanks! Just a note: Notice how the last two writers have described themselves as voracious readers? That's a happy thought to get librarians through the day. Maybe the really picky kids who drive me crazy searching for just the right book will grow up to write wonderful things some day!
5/18/2009-- Thanks to Ms. Potter, I got some MAJOR Mom Points on my daughter's birthday. She was thrilled beyond belief at her own personally inscribed copy of Slob. There were actually speechless gasps and wide eyes. Since there is an unwritten law in our house that it's unfair to read a gift book before the intended recipient has read it, I will be able to review this soon.

And yes, my children look a little like me.

King Arthur

Perhaps inspired by my new love of Here There Be Dragons, I picked up two books about King Arthur. One was the 1998 Rosalind Kerven Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Classic. I particularly liked this one, since it retold the basic Arthur legends and was accompanied by pictures of places, actors in costume for various films, and had side bars to explain some of the history and mythology. It was an excellent overview, easy to read and understand. I gave this to my son, and will hand it to several of my fantasy fans, since it is such a quick but informative read. I'm looking forward to looking at the Aladdin book in the same series.

Perhaps harder to find is the 1995 Michael Morpurgo book Arthur: High King of Britain. This is more of a story, and a bit odd, because it is the size of a picture book, with lots of illustrations, but also very heavy on text. I didn't care much for the premise of a young boy lost along the shore meeting Merlin, but once Merlin starts to tell the story of Arthur, it was interesting. I feel as if I should go back and read The Sword of the Rightful King and a couple of other books in preparation for finishing The Once and Future King this summer.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge!

Mother Reader has thrown down the gauntlet with the fourth annual 48 Hour Book Challenge! The weekend will be June 5-7 2009. Last year, this challenge coincided with a leg injury, so I was very excited for any excuse not to move. This year, I will try to plan ahead so that I can read with as few interruptions as possible, since the following week is the last week of school, and I will need some incentive to get inventory done and clean the innards of overhead projectors. Great timing, Mother Reader!

Please go to her website to find out all the details and to get started!

Hungry by Alethea Eason

A student gave me Eason's Hungry(2007), which I had somehow missed. It turned out to be a great science fiction book for students who aren't particularly interested in science fiction. I loved the cover!

Deborah knows that she and her family are space aliens, but she is not too keen on the fact that they are planning on taking over the world... soon. The biggest problem with it is that the aliens view the world as a food source, and while Deborah didn't mind eating the odd homeless person, she isn't keen on the idea of eating her best friend! When her grandmother arrives with the first installment of the invasion party, Deborah knows that she has to do something. Subplots about her friend's law suit to force the school to allow him to dress like a vampire, a math competetion, and her parents' struggles with Earth life and the invasion all add up to one interesting book.

After I read this, my son picked it up. Since I just gave a presentation on Connecting Boys and Books yesterday, I appreciated the fact that the cover does not have a girl on it. There's enough gross detail about the aliens eating humans to intrigue some kids, but not so many that it turned my delicate stomach. This will circulate well.

Anyone out there want to tell me what to read? I feel like going up to a library counter and whining "I need a book!"

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Last Olympian

Rick Riordan's The Last Olympian is being released today! I got a copy of it through undisclosed, surreptious means, so was able to read it over the weekend. I'll try not to spoil it for anyone.

Percy has known that he will have to fight Kronos eventually, and everyone at Camp Half-Blood has been preparing for this. When Percy finds out that the Princess Andromeda is headed toward New York City, he knows that the battle has begun.

From the start, the victories of the battle are Pyrrhic. Percy thwarts the boat, but at the cost of a friend. He has disturbing dreams, and finds out background information about some of the characters that is rather sad. While the action packed battle scenes were engrossing, and the humor as present as always, I thought that this background information was the best part. It made the characters seem more real, and their motivations more understandable.

Preparing for the battle takes up the entire book, because aligning everyone takes time. There are a lot of surprises along the way-- nothing we couldn't see coming, but still fresh and innovative. Nico is tricked by his father, Grover is triumphant, Rachel ends up making an unusual decision, and Percy is heroic in a way that he is not expecting, and when he is granted one wish by the gods, he uses it for a greater good.

This is billed as the final book in this series, but there I get the feeling there may other series. I read this one slowly, putting it down frequently, because I just didn't want it to end. If it does, five books is a nice run. If there are others, I will certainly have readers for them, and I will be happy because I am not quite ready to let Percy go! What a wonderful series.

For a video quiz read by Mr. Riordan, go here:

Interview with Michael Carroll

Did you order a copy of Michael Carroll's Quantum Prophecy: The Reckoning yet? It's coming out on May 14th, and I have students who can't wait to read the third book in this series. Mr. Carroll has taken time from his busy writing career, as well as his "important research into finding a cure for Free-Form Jazz" to do an interview!

Ms. Yingling: Were you a big reader as a teen? What books did you like?
Mr. Carroll: I was a *voracious* reader as a teen: generally ploughing through four or five books a week. For a long time I read only science fiction, but that changed when I realised I'd read absolutely every science fiction book ever written, so I had to move on to other genres. I started with horror, then fantasy, then crime... These days I read any kind of book, though not nearly as frequently because I just don't have the time. In 1979 or thereabouts I discovered the works of Harry Harrison, and loved them so much I resolved to become a writer. Thirty years later Harry is still my favourite author - and he's become a great friend,too (I even run his website for him:

Ms. Yingling: You write action scenes so convincingly. Do you run around and blowthings up a lot?
Mr. Carroll: Um... "No" would be the safe answer here! Luckily, it's also the true answer. I'm glad you enjoy the action scenes: they're hard to write so, by my reckoning, they should be easy to read. When I'm plotting a book I tend to work out the action scenes in very great detail, andsometimes I even create the location in CGI on the computer so I can plan out each move (but most of the time I don't because that's taking it too far!). I believe the key to good action scenes is to keep everything moving.Not just the action itself, but the plot: the action scenes should be more than just a couple of characters hitting each other, or more than one person chasing another... They should advance the plot. If one can remove an action scene from a story and the story still works, then it was a bad action scene (for an example: see the "Droid Factory" scene in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones - it's totally unnecessary and was clearly only added so that they could make a game out of it).

Ms. Yingling: How many books do you think will be in the Quantum Prophecy series?
Mr. Carroll: That's a good question, though a little difficult to answer... I originally planned four novels, but my publisher in the UK wanted only three: apparently trilogies sell better than quartets (note how Idon't use that horrible fake word "quadrilogy"!). So I squashed the plot to fit three books, but as the overall plot evolved it began to expand all by itself... Right now, there are three novels plus the short-story collection.Off the record, there's a fourth novel scheduled for publication inthe USA in mid 2010. I say "off the record" because the deal is 99%done: when we nail down that last 1% I'll be making the news official. But this fourth book isn't a sequel to The Reckoning: My publishers,Penguin, asked me for a stand-alone superhero novel unconnected withthe Quantum Prophecy series, because it's easier to sell a stand-alonenovel than it is to sell the fourth part of a series. I didn't want todo that, so we came to a happy compromise: the new book is set 23 years before the main events of The Awakening... Back in the days before the old superheroes lost their powers, and, of course, when they were a lot younger.But back to your question: if all goes well, my current plan is for eight novels: Five in the QP sequence, and three prequels. Ideally,the final novel will tie everything together: the events of the prequel novels will seem to stand alone at first, but they do have a huge impact on the rest of the series. (Plus there's the short-story collection, but that doesn't really count as it's limited to 1000 copies and when they're gone, they're gone: I've no plans to ever reprint the stories.) Of course, this all depends on how well the existing books sell!

Ms. Yingling: Are your books changed for different countries?
Mr. Carroll: The first two books had only small tweaks: localised spelling (such as spelling "localised" with a 'z' and not an 's'), and a few correctedtypos. But the US edition of the third book will have some pretty large differences, at the request of the publisher... One relatively short scene has been greatly expanded, and there's a whole new scen eat the end of the last chapter that reveals something I'd planned forthe fourth book.

Ms Yingling: Do you think that really are superheroes among us?
Mr. Carroll: Not in the "capes 'n' tights 'n' masks" sense, no. But there *should*be. And I should be their leader.But there *are* real heroes: Firefighters, police officers, hospital workers... I know it sounds corny and predictable, but I genuinely think that people who put themselves in harm's way to help others are true heroes. And I'm appalled that in most cases they're paid less than the average wage - they should be paid *more*!And writers, of course. Writers are heroes too. *And* librarians -encouraging kids to read is a very noble calling!
If you haven't looked into this series, try to get a copy of the first two and get caught up before the third one hits the shelves!

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Power of One Sentence

Am giving a presentation to teachers on "Connecting Boys and Books". Since I have an "honorary guy" certificate from the men at Boys Rule! Boys Read!, I am as qualified as any middle aged woman out there to do this. Some of my advice was that teachers don't have to read every single book to be able to recommend it to students. They just need to know a little about popular titles. This got me thinking about the books for which I have one sentence descriptions that get trotted out (all too) frequently.

Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three. It's like Lord of the Rings Lite.

Carter, Dean. Hand of the Devil: A reporter goes to an island inhabited by a giant killer mosquito whose venom liquefies its victims and its psychopathic, serial killer handler.

Dessen, Sarah. Lock and Key. A girl's mother is unable to care for her, so she moves in with an older sister she doesn't know well and struggles to deal with this new situation.

Holm, Jennifer. Boston Jane. A girl heads out to Alaskan gold rush territory to get married, only to find when she gets there that her fiance has abandoned her.

Kehret, Peg. Abduction!: A girl's brother is kidnapped, and when she tries to find him, she gets kidnapped, too.

McNamee, Graham. Acceleration. While working in a public transportation lost and found, a boy finds the journal detailing a planned murder, and tries to stop it.

Zindel, Paul. Reef of Death. I didn't read any further than when the man gets his legs bitten off.

Random books: I don't remember a lot about this, but it did creep me out.

You get the idea. Once the students have a little bit of an idea what the book is about, it's your enthusiasm that sells the book. It doesn't hurt the pitch to say "I loved it", if you've read it; "The principal/my son/our librarian loved it" if you haven't; "This has been really popular"; or "This is Joe Sixthgrader's favorite."