Monday, November 30, 2009

Charlie Fletcher's Silvertongue

This is the conclusion to Stoneheart and Ironhand, which should be read first to fully understand this installment.

George and Edie are still fighting the battle against the evil seeping out of the London Stone and the Walker, who has managed to stop time. London is enshrouded in snow and the people have all disappeared, and George and Edie are left to fight the evil with the help of the the statues of human that have come to life. I loved the descriptions of London, and the many battles are exciting. Edie also comes to terms with her mother's death, and George struggles to place himself in the universe-- there was more here than I felt I got from the book. Was either reading too slowly or too quickly. Really, really enjoyed this series, although I would love to see a website detailing all of the statues and characters portrayed.

The Book Aunt gives a much more detailed description.

Carol Beach York's Remember Me When I Am Dead(1980) was sad to read because it is one of the few remaining books in my march through the alphabet, but it also isn't in style anymore. A slim volume, it concerns two sisters, 9 and 7, whose mother has died. Their father has already remarried, and their stepmother is very nice, but the older of the girls is obsessed with her mother, and keeps writing herself disturbing notes from her. At the end, it's revealed that the younger sister is actually doing this to get her sister sent away, but the parents decide to send both girls away. This was supposed to be suspense, but just doesn't seem relevant today. The book has been sitting unloved for eight years on the shelf. Sigh. Weeding, here we come.

I was really enjoying Peter Abrahams' Reality Check, but it is more of a high school book, considering how many times the f-word is used, and the two instances of people ending up unclothed in bed. Oh, well. From the publisher: "After a knee injury destroys sixteen-year-old Cody's college hopes, he drops out of high school and gets a job in his small Montana town; but when his ex-girlfriend disappears from her Vermont boarding school, Cody travels cross-country to join the search."

I really, really wanted to like Shana Norris' Troy High, which took Homer's Iliad and set it in a high school, with the war being between the football teams, but it somehow didn't live up to my expectations. May still purchase it, because others liked it.
Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf
Katie's Bookshelf

Read some adult literature! Yarrow and O'Donnel's Gen Buy: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail was just disturbing. My children are so sheltered from advertising that it would never occur to them to buy an article of clothing at full price and only wear it for a month. The other day I had on a navy wool turtleneck that is almost 25 years old! Wow. I hate shopping, so this was just an eye opening book for me. Also learned that Gen Y is from 1978 to 2000, which was helpful to know.

Loved Adriana Trigiani's Lucia, Lucia. In fact, I think for break I will check out a lot of other books by this author. Set in 1950s Greenwich Village, it's the story of an Italian woman who goes against the dictates of the day and wants a career. Would be okay for high schoolers, if they would be interested, because the language and situations were mercifully calm for adult fiction, which might well be one reason that I enjoyed it so much!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lupica, Garsee, Buckley, and some whining

Mike Lupica's Million-Dollar Throw was such a great book that one of my students approached me with this offer-- if I would write the Accelerated Reader test for this book, he would donate the copy he bought to the library! Admittedly, I've been buying football books without reading them, so I had to catch up. Nate's family is struggling, but he saves enough to buy a football signed by his idol, Tom Brady. Because of this purchase, he signs up for a drawing to throw at a target during a Patriots game and win a million dollars. Of course, his name is chosen. This has an odd effect on his game, however-- he starts to mess up. This lack of focus could also be blamed on the fact that his best friend Abby is going blind and may be sent off to school, or the fact that his father and mother are working two jobs to make ends meet. While there is lots of football, there are enough other issues that I was interested. Good characters in interesting situations. See-- a book like THIS should win the Newbury. The only bad things-- the title screams Dan Gutman, and the cover screams Tim Green. This will lead to some confusion, which is too bad.

I knew that Jeannine Garsee's second book, Say the Word, would be more of a high school book, but I had to read it anyway, since her Before, After and Somebody In Between was so good. Shawna has been estranged from her mother ever since her mother left her family to live in New York with Fran. When her mother has a stroke, it's difficult for Shawna to deal with not only her death, but with her father's anger, the complicated legal situation with Fran, and the people at school who assume that Shawna must be a lesbian like her mother. Add to the mix that Shawna is drawn to Fran's children, who knew more about her mother than she did, that Shawna's best friend is gay, and that there are lots of family secrets (that I don't want to spoil), and this is an intriguing book. Every time I would come to a scene with alcohol or sex, or the f-word, I would think "I can stop reading now. This is a book for high school", but then a twist would make me read more! I gave this book to my 16-year-old to read, but won't be purchasing for school. Drat.

Wanted to like Michael Buckley's N.E.R.D.S.: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society because I loved The Sisters Grimm, but I was not feeling it. Maybe it was the cartoon illustrations or the whole Cartoon Network feel. (My children didn't watch many cartoons because I really think they lead to seizures... in the adults who have to watch them!) In theory, this is everything I want: kids out to save the world with their super-geek powers. Maybe it was too geeky: a character whose headgear attracts metal to it magnetically is a bit over-the-top. I'm going to keep this on my desk to wave at children and see what they think. It might just be more of an elementary book. Usually, when I don't get something (Wimpy Kid), this is the problem.

Also a problem: I only have $600 left to buy books for this year, so this makes me pickier than usual. My strategy was to spend most of my budget before our levy, just in case, but this now leaves me a bit short.

However, I have also started on a massive weeding plan. The architects' revised plans are much more to our liking (Except the three foot tall shelves. I would live on my knees.), and the realization hit me that I need to pack all 12,700 books into boxes this summer. Do I really want to pack up Quaaludes: The Quest for Oblivion (1985), store it, then put it back on the shelves? Or environmental books from 1978? Or any animal book titled The Wonders of Woodchucks? It is so hard to weed, but if the book appears on the great blog, Awful Library Books, it has to go!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anna's World by Coleman and Perrin

Received a copy of Anna's World from Chiron Press. Set in a Shaker colony in the 1840's, it is a good, detailed depiction of life at that time. Anna has been sent to live with the Shakers after a flood has sickened and destroyed much of her town. She chafes at the strict ways of the Shakers and longs to be reunited with her father, but when she finally joins her father in Boston, she finds that he manufacturing munitions, which goes against what she has been taught. Much in this book is informative, from the depiction of racial relations to Henry David Thoreau as a character to the day-to-day workings of a Shaker community. There is some excitement and intrigue with both the war and people at odds with the Shakers, but the lenghthy sermons and philosophical discussions could have been trimmed up a bit. A useful book if your school covers this period of history.

I am done with Lisi Harrison, no matter how much my daughter adores her books. Her latest, Charmed and Dangerous: the Rise of the Pretty Committee, was too much. 7th graders are completely different from 4th graders, and since this book discusses the genesis of the group when the girls are ten, I could not believe that the girls were at a New Year's party, in designer clothes, pulling the pranks that they do, at that age. While there is a place for shallow, fluffy literature, there's a huge difference between harmless and hurtful, and this crosses the line. Massie is irredeemably evil, and I felt like a bad mother and librarian allowing my daughter to read this. There is a new series out, Alphas, and I will just pass.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Laurel Snyder's Any Which Wall

It is a rare book that makes me want to read it aloud (I hate to); it is an even rarer book that makes me cry during the introduction. This did both. Maybe it just hit me at a good time, but Snyder's Any Which Wall was the sort of book I would have loved as a child. Part Edward Eager (who is quoted), part Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays), this book made me sigh with happiness when I turned the last page.

Siblings Henry and Emma have free reign of their Iowa town during the summer, and they spend most of their time with friends Roy and Susan, riding their bikes around town, stopping by the local diner, and going to the library. One appallingly hot day, they ride out to a corn field where they find a wall and a key which feel overwhelmingly as if they must be magic. They debate the existence of magic, contemplate the rules, and end up being whisked away to the local diner. After this success, and some more pondering, they end up visiting Merlin at his castle, the house of the worst pirate ever, their own town years back, and New York city.

Snyder asks us from the start to suspend belief. "Have you ever stumbled onto magic? Maybe while you were trudging to school one drizzly day, or in the middle of a furious game of freeze tag? Has anything odd ever happened to you? If you're shaking your head right now, if you think that nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, you might be mistaken. Because it's possible that you stumbled onto magic and missed it-- that you were teetering on the edge of a strange and wonderful adventure but then turned the other way." (Page 1)

Don't we all want to believe that this is the case?

This book gets extra bonus points for Lily, the "chirky" (cheerful and perky) librarian, who helps the children and is a fun but realistic character.

The LeUyen Pham illustrations are very evocative of Joe and Beth Krush ones (The Borrowers, Fifteen, and according to Collecting Children's Books, Elizabeth Enright!). This was an inspired paring of author and illustrator.

There have been some attempts in recent years in books that feel like classics, but this is the most successful one I have seen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Girls and Boys

Leslie Margolis' Boys Are Dogs has been a HUGE hit in my school, so I was very excited to read the sequel, Girls Acting Catty. Annabelle is still struggling to find her place in middle school, and matters are complicated when her mother announces that she is going to marry her boyfriend, whose college age son comes to spend vacation time with the family. Annabelle and her friends also have to deal with the "popular" girls who feel a need to put them down for inconsequential reasons. (E.G. Annabelle doesn't shave her legs.) While I had a little trouble believing that the evil Taylor would really challenge her friend to eat and wearing only green things for three months in order to be taken on a vacation with her, this was an isolated Clique moment in an otherwise very realistic novel that addressed all-consuming teen angst moments with clarity and humor.

All students deserve to see themselves reflected in the books in my library, which is why I read Lee F. Battle's David Inside Out. David is a runner who has a crush on his teammate, Sean. Sean returns his interest somewhat, but in ways that are not helpful to a healthy relationship between the two. David's friend, Eddie, is openly gay, and when David sees the trouble that Eddie has in school, he tries to "break" himself of his own feelings.

If David were heterosexual, I would not buy this book. It is not appropriate for middle school. There is drinking, graphic sex (with a girl as well), and language. The fact that David is homosexual does not change my position. I really do wish that there were more books with homosexual characters that did not include descriptions of behaviors that 6th graders do not need to read. High School collections should certainly consider this title.

It should be noted that in Girls Acting Catty, there is a very brief mention of Annabelle's uncle and his boyfriend. The point is not belabored; the characters have other roles to play. This is what I would like to see more. Just don't tell Scholastic. They might pull the book from from their fairs, ala Lauren Myracle's book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nonfiction: A Plethora of Subtitles

Diane Siebert's Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art was an interesting collection of poems about places around the United States. This is a decently long book (26 poems of varying length), and will work well for the poetry unit that our 8th grade does. The illustrations make this an especially attractive volume, but I appreciated the fact that Siebert used rhyme and meter in her poems. I was particularly take with her "Cadillac Ranch: Texas": "Graffitied, rusted, dented hulks, they hint of days long gone;/Around them, far-flung fields reach out to meet the dusk and dawn".

A little too short and elementary was Laurie Purdie Salas' Lettuce Introduce You: Poems About Food. This is horrible, but one thing I look for is poems that are at least forty words long, so that students can memorize them. There were only one or two that long. The pictures will make students hungry, and there is a wide variety of types of poems represented in this volume; about half rhyme. Okay for elementary school, but I'm not sad that Fuzzy Fast Blur: Poems about Pets was canceled from my order.

A Battle of the Books title was Sid Fleischman's The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. I'm not a Fleischman Fan, but this was okay. Fairly well illustrated, short, informative, and to the point. The anecdotes about Twain's early life are amusing, and given the amount of white space on the page, this would be a good biography for even reluctant readers. I should have liked this one more than I did, because it really was well-done.

Maybe I was distracted by Winchell's Good Girls, Good Food and Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses During World War II. This is not really a book suitable for school collections because of the sheer density of the prose (it's written by a college professor) and the concentration of discussion about sexual mores during WWII, but it was interesting. I would love to see Penny Colman do a treatment of this topic ala Rosie the Riveter, with more pictures and information that high school students could use for reports on the home front, because the times were so different, and I think it is good for people to remember that yes, not that long ago, women did not leave the house wearing slacks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Shadow Dragons by James Owen


It took me five days to read this, because it was like eating fudge. Godiva fudge, if there is such a thing. So rich, and so amazing that I could only read a little at a time. I'm afraid I can't do the plot justice after only one reading, but The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica is the most wonderful fantasy series I've come across recently.

John, Jack and Charles are a few years older, and concerned that Rose Dyson, who isn't aging, is in danger. When they try to take her somewhere safe, they get taken seven years into the future. World War II is brewing, as a result of all of the machinations of the Shadow King in the archipelago. The Keep of Time is crumbling, and the group saves Don Quixote and take him with them to Tamerlane House, where all of the Caretakers Emeriti "live" on in portraits. An astonishing number of literary characters are brought to life, and we find out all about how sucessful or unsuccessful many of them were. In the end, Arthur's sword Caliburn is restored (at great price) and the Red King is destroyed-- at least for the time being. There are sequels rumored to be in the offing.

I cried at the end. I wondered about Kipling being evil, and sure enough, his personal tragedy with his son is discussed. There really needs to be a companion volume to these listing all the real people with biographies, and a bibliography of the fictional characters. This is a perfect book for the students who are well on their way to memorizing elvish runes and need a challenge. These can all be read without understanding its vast literary heritage, but is better if one does.

Here are some reviews that do a better job with describing the plot:
Becky's Book Reviews
The Writer's Notebook

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lynda B. Comerford

Lynda B. Comerford Rissa Bartholomew's Declaration of Independence was an excellent portrayal of the realignment of friendships that occur in middle school. Rissa has been forced to be friends with Beth for years because their mothers like each other. Shortly before entering middle school, however, Beth becomes Bethany, and increasingly is absorbed by clothes, boys, and clothes. Rissa, whose mother makes her wear Beth's hand-me-downs and participate in activities that Beth likes, doesn't understand when Rissa wants to take violin instead of ballet, and why she no longer wants to be friends with the girls with whom she has car pooled for years.

Rissa just wants to be herself, but first she has to find out who this is. This is the journey that every middle school aged girl takes. Balancing personal quirks with public acceptability, deciding upon one's social standing, figuring out what clothes to wear-- it's difficult, and Comerford understands and addresses these issues in a realistic and yet helpful way.

Because I did like this so much, I found myself getting picky about it. Needs better title. Do 11-year-olds really go to the mall alone? Mine doesn't. Her mother is just now going back to work? But the thought with which I left this book was-- when is the sequel coming out? Anastasia Krupnik would be about 35 right now, so it's really time for another good series of books about an engaging character. My 6th grade daughter will adore this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Stuff

My students are HUGE fans of the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies, so I was tickled to come across one of their new authors, Rhonda Stapleton, who has three new books coming out over the next several months. They look really great, and I can't wait to read them.

Ms. Stapleton is having a fabulous contest to win her new book, Stupid Cupid, as well as other Fabulous Prizes: I am off to work on my awful love poem and submit it. I might cheat and find a poem I wrote when I was 20 to post; they are sure to be awful!

Thanks to Au Courant for the breaking news on Rick Riordan's new series set to be released on May 4th-- it's The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid. How would I ever keep up with new titles if I didn't take some time to read blogs?

Oooh. Too excited about the new Riordan. Have to go tell some teachers. It's conference night, so we're all her until 9:00 p.m.!

In Too Deep

In Book 6 of the 39 Clues series, Jude Watson's In Too Deep, Amy and Dan head to Australia, where their parents visited a friend shortly before their death in the house fire. While there, they have dealings with Irina Spasky and Isabel Kaba, but are not quite sure which woman they can trust. Amy and Dan learn much more about her parents' death, gather a few new clues, and, of course are involved in a lot of dangerous exploits.

This was a fine addition to the series, and I liked Amy's emotions about her discoveries. I have trouble following all the clues, so I would not do well at the online game! I do wish that Scholastic had put these in better bindings. Like the Lemony Snicket books, these start shredding the first time a student touches them, and this collaborative effort between so many fine authors deserves better.

Because there are lots of questions about when the next book comes out, here is the list from Scholastic:
Book 1: The Maze of Bones (September 9, 2008) by Rick Riordan
Book 2: One False Note (December 2, 2008) by Gordon Korman
Book 3: The Sword Thief (March 3, 2009) by Peter Lerangis
Book 4: Beyond the Grave (June 2, 2009) by Jude Watson
Book 5: The Black Circle (August 11, 2009) by Patrick Carman
Book 6: In Too Deep (November 3, 2009) by Jude Watson
Book 7: (February 2, 2010) by Peter Lerangis
Book 8: (April 6, 2010) by Gordon Korman
Book 9: (June 8, 2010) by Linda Sue Park
Book 10: (September 1, 2010) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Thank you to Harry Abrams publishing for sending me a fourth copy of this, which I apparently won in a contest I cannot remember. The three I ordered was clearly not enough. One of my library helpers, a strong reader of complex fantasy, waited while I typed the cards for this one, so the appeal is apparently universal.

Just not to me. And remember, I'm a huge fan of Captain Underpants. Just don't get these at all.

I decided, however, that in this instance, my objections to the book probably make it more popular. I refused to take reserves on this, on the basis that the entire school would want to reserve it, and that would not end well. The children who happen upon a copy serendipitously are thrilled. There are a bunch of copies in the book fair if they are really desperate.

From the Publisher: Greg Heffley recounts his daily experiences during summer vacation as he tries to live out his ultimate fantasy of spending the days indoors playing video games with no responsibilities and no rules, despite his mother's attempts to pack the summer with outdoor activities and family fun.

This is Book Fair Week. Please remind me next year NOT to do this again!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Urban Fiction/Time Travel

Queen of the Yard, book three of the Denim Diaries by Damien Lee was an interesting book. It took some getting used to, because every day events were told in a realistic, matter-of-fact voice, but instead of Beany Malone cooking dinner and worrying about her dress for the big dance, it depicted inner-city girls beating up members of their own gang. That certainly got my attention, and I did very much like the fact that the characters were all struggling against obstacles but still trying to get to college. Also appreciated that "mature" subject matter was delicately handled. Patience is a gang leader but also an honor student. She believes that the gang helps her and her friends survive in their troubled neighborhood, but when she finds out that one of her own wants to kill her, she must make sure that her dreams of college are not jeopardized. There is some drinking, and Patience and her friend Denim each have intimate relationships with their boyfriends, and while these are not described graphically, these scenes are what make me question purchasing these books. These would be very popular, but more appropriate for high school.

Last year, when I had five heavy-duty fantasy fans gasping for a new book per day, I would have definitely purchased Jason Cockcroft's Counter Clockwise, but this year time travel has been a tough sell. Nathan's mother is killed by a bus on a London road, pitching his father into depression and inaction. When Nathan meets enormous Beefeater who seems to know him, and his father is sucked through the bathroom wall of their condemned apartment building, Nathan gets pulled into a world where he keeps repeating the past and trying to make it the way it should be, even though he's not entirely sure what that is. Plenty of action and adventure, a little goofiness, and good family relationships made this a fun book to read, and being set in London never hurts anything!

Friday, November 06, 2009

John Wilson Rules!

I've been recommending all of the John Wilson books that we have, even before reading them, (And in the Morning, Flames of a Tiger, Battle Scars, etc.) but when I do read them, I am so impressed. Never having been a boy, I don't get the fascination with war, but I know it is there. Perhaps boys read books about war for the same reason that girls like books about child abuse. Four Steps to Death was so good, and so sad. Lots of action and explosions and deaths, but such a good message in the end. From the publisher: "The fates of three young men come together during the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia during World War II. " If you don't have it, just buy it. I'm not putting a plot description because I got sidetracked reading Mr. Wilson's blog: His "Eviscerating Noddy" post should be required reading for all young adult authors. Mr. Wilson gets what boys want to read. No introspective navel gazing voyages of self discovery. The funny thing is, something like Four Steps to Death is a hugely philosophical comment on the atrocity of war. The students still get that, but it's sugar coated in lots of death and destruction, so the medicine goes down. They're reading, they're learning, and they're getting that message. If the book is so dull that they won't pick it up, they don't. Mr. Wilson, I bet Teletubbies makes a very loud, squeaky squish when they are stepped on!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What I Did Today

All I seemed to accomplish yesterday was to get one DVD player out of the box, labeled, and connected to a television. I felt that I needed to be more organized and work harder, so I kept track of most of what I did today. If nothing else, this shows that I am doing SOMETHING with my time.

4:40-4:50—Bike to Work
4:50-5:00—Straightened back work room and self (see bike ride, above)
5:30- 6:15- Printing, sorting, and delivering overdue reports
6:15- 6:30-E mail (20 messages)
6:30-7:00- Database fixes and overdue paperwork
Consulted with language arts teachers on November requirements.
7:00-7:45- Assembling all equipment inventories in preparation for bar coding all equipment and entering it into Destiny database.
7:45—Roaming hall with cart to collect books, assembling chorus for…
8:00—Singing on announcements (Chorus chickened out)
8:05-Class (Class= 30 minutes and include 3 minute talk (about book fair), readers’ advisory and check out for 30 students. Followed always by study hall students, then checking in books.)
High school student shelver and new middle schooler arrive for training.
Show students how to use Publisher for Greek Gods Project (repeated throughout day)
Take money for two lost books.
Put new barcodes on four books
E Mail Ancient Rome project rubric to 7th grade social studies teachers
Consulted with MD teacher about having her students do an assessment in library
Fixed printer jam
Fiddled with work area set up, moved desks
Checking e mails (15)
Checking on book fair volunteers
Instructing parent volunteer on work to do
Disemboweling dead overhead for parts
Sharpening pencils
11:10- Class
11:35- Class
Fixed printer jam
Printed Rome Project papers
12:10- Class
12:30-1:00 Lunch, checked mail, conferred with teachers about Rome project
Rescheduling book fair visits because of assembly
1:10-Class E Mail (10)
Instructing second parent volunteer on work to do
Fixed printer jam
Helped teachers with laptop computers
2:00—Worked on updating inventory with students
Checked on book orders
2:45- Checked in all books
Filed all cards
Ran overdue report
Cleaned up library
3:30- Will leave. Really. Have a haircut, which is really work related, so I don't scare children!

Alane Ferguson

I'm not a fan of CSI-type crime shows, but the Alane Ferguson forensic mysteries about Cameryn Mahoney are excellent. The Christopher Killer, Angel of Death, Circle of Blood, and now, The Dying Breath all kept me on the edge of my seat, and even though these are all fairly graphic in the descriptions of dead bodies during investigations and autopsies, they are done in a didactic and factual way that makes the books seem educational rather than gross. Cameryn certainly sees her work that way-- she wants to be a forensic investigator, so approaches the clues in a purposeful and driven way, even when she herself is in danger. Her former boyfriend and psychopathic serial killer, Kyle, is after her, and is responsible for three more deaths in the community. Accompanied by deputy Justin (who is more of a romantic interest, although the difference in their ages-- 4 years-- is addressed carefully), she manages to track down Kyle, solve the method of murders, and escape with her life. This feels like it might be the last in the series, but I hope it's not. The tone and organization of these novels makes them okay for middle school, but they are forensic mysteries. I also love Ms. Ferguson's Overkill and the National Park Mysteries. (Done with her mother, Gloria Skurzynski. Which is just cool!)

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver have 16 books out in the Hank Zipzer series. They are slightly young for middle school, since Hank is in 4th grade at the beginning, but so fast-paced and somehow charming that they do work. Not necessarily plot-driven, they are more anedoctal, with Hank getting caught in snafu after snafu. In I Got a "D" in Salami, Hank has to bring home a report card with all D's, so when the card gets thrown into a grinder and made into a batch of salami, he doesn't mind-- until he finds out that the salami is headed to a business owner who is interested in giving his mother's deli a huge contract. He tries to save the day, with catastrophically humorous results. Hank's learning difficulties are addressed, and these books are at a good level for students who might be struggling with similar problems. It was hard for me to buy these, since they are written by Fonzie, but Winkler brings his directorial talents to these books-- they do move along like a movie.

I picked up Jennifer Brown's The Hate List, since I have seen such positive reviews of it, and while it was very intriguing, I don't think it is a book for middle school. It is very intense, but it is also told in a somewhat confusing fashion via flashbacks. Again, I've been struggling with what makes a book more generally appealing to middle schoolers, and while books like Myers' Shooter or Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun are popular, the combination of factors (length, style, language, philosophical bent) make this one more of a high school book.

Since this is an important and well-done novel about school shootings and bullying, here are some glowing reviews about the book:
School Library Journal
Life in the Thumb
Presenting Lenore
Karin the Librarian

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The W Authors

Mildred Pitts Walter's Second Daughter (1996) is out of print, but the copy I have is in very good shape. It tells roughly the same story as Anderson's Chains. Lizzie and her older sister Bett are slaves during the Revolutionary War. They have lost their father and mother and even their names-- Aissa and Fatou. The book follows their story (based on a real one) from Aissa's birth until the time that Fatou and her husband sue their owners for their freedom. The fact that the slaves wanted to fight on the side of the British is one of those always surprising facts that people don't think about, but the British were going to give the slaves their freedom. If you have a copy of this on the shelves, pull it out for 8th graders who are studying this era.

Yoko Kawashima Watkin's fictionalized autobiography, So Far From the Bamboo Grove (1986) is still available in paperback, and is the riveting tale of her experiences as a Japanese child stuck in Korea at the end of World War II. She, her mother, and older sister all must flee their home quickly and manage to make their way to Japan, but it is far from easy. Her older brother also makes his way there, since Korean feelings about Japanese were not kindly during this time period. This book made me feel grateful for everything that I have, and for the fact that I don't live in a war-torn country.

I keep thinking that there have to be more than four Regular Guy (2002) books by Sarah Weeks, but there aren't. Her recent efforts have been for younger children, but these goofy tales of Guy and his wacky mother are popular. In this installment, Guy's best friend Buzz is hit by a car while riding his bike, and while Guy is waiting at the hospital to see how his friend is doing, he remembers the course of events that made them best friends.

Since I am almost the whole way through the alphabet, I did treat myself to the newest First Kisses book, The Boyfriend Game by Stephanie Davis. *Sigh* This was a wonderful romance book. Trisha is focused on soccer and doesn't care about boys-- until she meets Graham. He doesn't want to worry about girls, is an awesome soccer player, and helps Trisha train so that she can make the varsity team. But he's hot. And Trisha "like" likes him. But he doesn't like her that way. But maybe he does. It's perfect-- that balance between wanting to accomplish something and still being completely distracted by a member of the opposite sex. Davis never portrays Trisha as weak and stupidly girly, and in the end, she gets both the guy AND the varsity team spot. This makes my list for top romantic books along with Girlfriend Material, Along for the Ride, and Fifteen. My only complaint-- why did they change from the green cover, which would match the other books in this series?

And our levy passed by a narrow margin. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Variety of Books

Ben M. Baglio's Animal Ark Books are something that I bought a lot of at the thrift store when my children were in about 3rd grade. A Scholastic series, I assumed they were harmless fluff involving animals. Spaniel in a Stocking was bought by the summer intervention program and housed in my library, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. Mandy lives with her parents, veterinarians who run a clinic in England. A huge winter storm is approaching around Christmas time, and Mandy is excited, until it almost stops some animals from getting proper care. I liked especially how the book discussed animal health issues, like not giving chocolate to dogs, spaniels having hip dysplasia, and birds eating things that make them sick. I usually have a number of 6th graders who are interested in animals, and this is great.

Working my way through the entire opus of Fred Bowen, but it's hard because his books are usually all checked out! Picked up The Final Cut, and it is the same nice mixture of problem, sport, and historical fact that the other Bowen books I have read are. Why does his publisher only release them in paperback, though? This is criminal. In this book, four friends who have played basketball together for years find themselves in competition when they try out for the basketball team. I liked the end notes on Michael Jordan, and how he wasn't a great player when he first started.

Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's What the World Eats was absolutely fascinating. The two visited 25 families in a variety of locations, took photos of them in their kitchen or eating area with a week's worth of food, and also compiled statistics and facts about the country. Every well-to-do US child needs to read this book if they get the least bit whiny. This is a great companion book to Material World, and would be a good book to use in social studies to point out the differences in other countries. I particularly liked how rural China and urban China were both represented. I think there is an adult version of this that includes more countries, and I will be looking for that as well.

Finally, a disappointment and irritation. Ordered Tera Lynn Childs' sequel to Oh. My. Gods., Goddess Boot Camp, because the first was a fun mix of cross country and Greek mythology. I'm about half way through, and I am not joking when I say that I may write to Dutton Books and ask for my money back, because the editing is so poor. This is a huge shame, because I DO like the book but am so distracted by the grammar. Childs and her editor obviously do not understand the verb "to smite", laboring under the mistaken belief that the verb is "to smote", but insist upon using it again and again anyway. Argh! Even my 16 year old knew that the principal parts of the verb were smite, smote, smitten, not smote, smoted, smoted. As she said, "get smoted" just sounds very wrong and should have set off some grammatical bells in someone's head, sending them to something like Curme's English Grammar, just to be sure. Childs and her editor need to be teached something.

Yes, I do realize I am about the only person who will realize this error.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Philosophical Musing #2

Why is it that we all want to be noticed by the universe? Jen Robinson's page alerted me to this article in School Library Journal about book bloggers. Why do I want to be on this list? Isn't it enough to keep doing my job and hope that I have some effect on the students at my school?

This article did raise interesting points. To what end do bloggers write? Do they hope to influence publishing? Sell more books? Wow. I keep hoping that authors will write more skateboarding books, but I don't think I'll make it happen.

Why I blog? I've said it before, but I guess it's always good to remember-- I read a huge number of books. The blog helps me remember and gives my students a way to make sure I am doing my job. My hope is that teachers and librarians who don't have time to read as many books will use my blog as a tool to know more about books than they do, and perhaps introduce them to some good books they can then use with their children.

But wouldn't it be nice to be on the cover of School Library Journal? Congratulations to the bloggers who are. The more good people we have commenting on books, the easier it is for the rest of us to keep on top of the huge number of new books that are coming out.

Wolfson's Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Wolfson's new book will be wonderful to have in February, when all the 7th graders want depressing fiction. You think you have it bad? At least you are not Amanda, a young gymnast who dies of a head injury sustained during a meet. And you're not Dani, who was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body and struggles just to have enough energy and breath to get through the day. Fortunately for Dani, she gets a heart transplant which improves her health greatly. Unfortunately, Amanda's family is still reeling from her death, but her brother Tyler reaches out to the transplant recipients in letters. This was a good, realistic portrayal of both the recipients and the donor family, and was very touching. Like Koss' Side Effects, it seemed realistic and not overly sentimental. This author's What I Call Life is also very good. Warning: A couple gratuitous uses of the f-word, but since this novel has so much to recommend it, I will buy it anyway.

Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmaray read like... something I've read before. Phyllis Whitney? Rumer Godden's Greengage Summer? Very intriguing and atmospheric. Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the small island of Montmaray, a kingdom off the coast of Spain, with her mad uncle, the king, her cousin, younger sister, and housekeeper. The family is quickly running out of money, and life on the island is becoming untenable. Sophie would like to go have her debut in London, but doesn't want to leave the island. However, World War II is starting to cause difficulties, and German soldiers land on the island, complicating things even further. This had an overwhelming feeling of place and time that the reader knows is absolutely doomed. Shades of Brideshead Revisited? This would make a fabulous BBC television program. That said, I can't really think of any students to whom I would hand this.

On the flip side is John Ford's The Morgue and Me. Decent noir mystery, lots of action, but just wasn't absorbing to me. (From the publisher: "Eighteen-year-old Christopher, who plans to be a spy, learns of a murder cover-up through his summer job as a morgue assistant and teams up with Tina, a gorgeous newspaper reporter, to investigate, despite great danger.") However, the cover and title are fabulous, young adult mysteries are really hard to find, so this will be popular. Nothing really objectionable; a tiny bit racy, but in a way that will make students enjoy it.

A lot of the titles I have come across lately strike me as more interesting to high school students. Good stuff, just don't think that any of my students would get into it. Can't explain why, which is bothering me. One example is Claire Zulkey's An Off Year, which has a fabulous cover. Great story, too-- Cecily gets to college and decides that she's just not staying, so she goes home to try to figure out what to do with her life. Perhaps it's just that middle schoolers aren't thinking quite that far ahead yet. Reading about surviving high school is something they like. This is my philosophical pondering for the day.