Friday, February 26, 2010

Mark Fink and other NEW BOOKS!

I was so impressed with Mark Fink's The Summer I Got a Life that I ordered his first book, Stepping Up without having read it and was absolutely delighted with it. Ernie and his best friend Mike go to summer camp every year, and this year, Mike chooses basketball camp. Ernie's okay with that until one of the other campers, Rick Craig, gives him a hard time about his game and about his stuttering, saddling him with the nickname "Choke". Mike excels in basketball and gets along with the other boys well, while Ernie struggles. I loved this paragraph (page 51): Life is not fair if an idiot like Craig can be so popular. I wonder what it's like to be the guy everyone respects and wants to hang with. Just once, I'd like to be that guy." Ernie gets his chance after Mike and Rick make some bad decisions and Ernie saves them from a fire. Ernie rockets to popularity, but as with every element in this book, this rise is believable, and Ernie's reaction to it seems true-to-life. Once again, Mr. Fink nails the teen-age voice, describes the angst Ernie feels at a variety of situations with pitch-perfect detail, AND adds basketball plays to the mix. Exactly what I want. Watch for an interview with Mark Fink next week!

It's hard to go wrong with Mary Downing Hahn, and her latest, Closed for the Season, was excellent. I am a huge fan of storybook forest type amusement parks, but there are so few left, so it makes perfect sense that the Magic Forest has fallen into disrepair and is the site of a mystery for Logan, who moves to town, and his friend Arthur, who is very interested in the death of the former owner of Logan's house. Some say that Mrs. Donaldson died when she fell down the chairs, but Arthur believes she was murdered and somehow involved in the embezzlement that led to the financial demise of Magic Forest. When the boys poke around the attic, they find a letter that Mrs. Donaldson left for her daughter, and start to investigate. There are lots of suspenseful moments in this one, and the story is as darkly atmospheric as the cover. 

 For some reason, I find books about India very interesting, and I am able to hand sell these to students, although they are not apt to pick them up independently. Kashmira's Sheth's Boys Without Names tells the story of Gopal, whose family loses their farm and goes to live in Mumbai with an uncle. Nothing goes smoothly-- Gopal's father disappears, the family is short of money, and then he gets kidnapped and works as a slave in a small workshop that makes picture frames. The other boys come from a variety of impoverished backgrounds, and each has a story. Like D'Adamo's Iqbal, I think this is a story that students in the U.S. need to read, so that they realize hoe good they have it. Sheth has not only done her research but does a wonderful job of portraying the ambitions and emotions of her characters.

While Walter Dean Myer's Lockdown will be hugely popular with my students who are oddly interested in drugs and juvenile delinquents, this book was not as riveting as I had hoped. Reese is in a detention facility because he stole prescription pads and sold them to a drug dealer, but he is intelligent and has behaved himself, so he is sent to work at a nursing home as part of a rehabilitation program. He cleans and helps patients, especially Mr. Hooft, a Dutch man who spent time in a children's detention camp during World War II. At first, Mr. Hooft distrusts Reese, but warms to him. Reese tries to keep himself out of trouble so that he can go home and help his younger sister go to college, but keeps making mistakes. I did appreciate the fact that none of the dialogue is in excessive street slang or dialect, but there are at least two instances of the f-bomb that are not really warranted. Myers is a very prolific writer, but it doesn't feel like his heart was in this one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sherlock Holmes investigates Guinevere running for class president

That's the nightmare you have when you mix your reading materials.

Brilliant young Sherlock Holmes knows how to survive in the seedy London neighborhood where his parents have been slowly sinking into destitution. Still, he's rather be out investigating murders with his skills that lingering in the horrible schools to which his parents struggle to send him. When a beautiful woman is stabbed in an alley, Sherlock starts to investigate and becomes a suspect himself when he attempts to clear the name of Mohammad. His actions also run him afoul of the real murderer, who takes his vengeance on Sherlock in a particularly awful way, leaving room for sequels. (A fourth book comes out soon.) Shane Peacock's Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock: His First Case, is a very atmospheric, well-developed mystery that invents an interesting history for Doyle's famous character. My reservations: the writing is somewhat distant, and there's not much interest in Holmes in my school, even though I have several books dealing with young versions of his character. Perhaps readers of Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series would like this one.

It seems like every other book review I read is fantasy, and we're so well stocked that the book has to be fabulous before I even want to read it, but Nancy McKenzie's Guinevere's Gift was very good. Do have a group of students who are reveling in Arthurian legend, and this is an excellent addition. Guinevere is living with her aunt and cousin Elaine. Her uncle, King Pellinore, is off fighting with Arthur. When Sir Darric comes and spends time at the castle, nothing good happens. Elaine wants to flirt with him, he flirts with the queen and has a creepy interest in Guinevere, who suspects him of stealing her aunt's livestock. It becomes more complicated-- Guinevere, a smart, lively young woman who is not interested in marrying even though a prophecy at her birth has indicated she will be the wife of the most powerful man in the land, finds out that she is being guarded by the Old Ones because they believe this prophecy to be true. Luckily, the help her thwart Sir Darric, whose evil plans are more involved than even Guinevere suspects. This was fun to read, and I am looking forward to reading Guinevere's Gamble.

Oh, what hopes I had for Josh Lieb's I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President. Loved the title, and thought the idea was good. Oliver has convinced all of his teachers that he is stupid, but in reality he is a genius with a huge fortune, a staff of spies and "motivators", and plush lairs from which he can spy electronically on his nemeses. One thing he is lacking is his father's approval, so Oliver uses his influence to be allowed to run for class president. Not content to run unopposed, he has his forces groom another candidate, and the race is on, with evil machinations galore.

See that nose wrinkle on the cover? That's the face my 8th grade son had after he returned this to me. He said he liked the book but was vastly disappointed in the ending. What I didn't like is that Oliver was a horrible and disgusting person. I didn't like him, I didn't like what he did, and he was so out there that I couldn't work up any sympathy for him. I had the same reaction to Artemis Fowl, but the students don't share my opinion.

Normally, I would have written my distaste off to the fact that I am a girl, and bought this right away, since we need so many funny books for boys. But that nose wrinkle on my son, who delights in snarky, goofy, fart-laced evilness-- I'm not sold. Everyone else is, so I'm going to field test this on some students. I'm very conflicted. This would circulate, but is this really what I want my kids to read? And I'm not an elitist or supporter of any high moral ground. There's even a movie coming out.

Note on 2/26-- The young male teacher to whom I gave this was greatly amused by it all, so I will buy a copy. At least I know when my girly teacherness keeps me from liking a book and I obtain outside help!

Positive reviews of this include:

School Library Journal
Wellington City Libraries

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Judy Blume

Several students have asked me if I had Judy Blume's Forever because a classmate was passing around a copy.

I calmly said "Why, no, we don't have that, but here are her other books. Why don't you look at those?"

All the while, my inner 7th grader is saying "No! You'll get her in trouble! You're not supposed to be reading that!"

So I had to pick up Jennifer O'Connell's Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume. It's an excellent read for young adult librarians for several reasons: it reminds us of how powerful books can be for children, it reminds us of books we read, and all of the essays are curiously lacking in any presence of a librarian! There are some instances of teachers or adults recommending books, but most often, Blume's books were recommended by friends. Interesting.

Blume's books have fallen out of favor in my library, but many of her titles are being rereleased in paperback this spring. Most of the books were written 30-40 years ago. Even I wasn't reading books written in the 1930s when I was a teenager.

I would have died a thousand deaths before asking my librarian for Forever. I got a copy the way perhaps everyone should-- with the cover ripped off and the "good parts" highlighted. It was all the more interesting because it was something that was forbidden.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Drugs and Sugar

Every February, the students want books on drugs and child abuse, so I will read anything I can find. Very little of it is appropriate.

Allison Van Diepen's Street Pharm was oddly enthralling, and I would buy several copies in a heartbeat if it didn't drop the f-bomb right and left. Realistic, yes; appropriate for middle school; no. Tyrone is running his father's drug empire while his father is in jail. He has no patience for school, because it is not helpful to him in his business. He devotes a lot of time to working. He doesn't take drugs, he is careful about the people he hires, and he tries to make good decisions. He's a smart kid, and fairly successful in school when he goes, mainly to impress a girl. Soon, however, there are troubles with work, and he stops going to school to deal with these. I loved how Ty really thought he knew how to work the system, and how he thought that dealing drugs really was a successful way to make a living, until everything fell apart. I knew I wasn't going to buy this, but I couldn't put it down because of the suspense.

On the other hand, Louanne Johnson's Muchacho wasn't very interesting. It started out with excessive description of a teacher, and the juxtaposition of her very formal and erudite speech against Eddie's street vernacular was jarring. There was also something very didactic about the anecdotal chapters that was off-putting. If the language were cleaner, this would be one to consider, since Eddie is a "secret reader" and eventually comes to the conclusion that he should better himself, but I wasn't intrigued.

I have a weird ambivalence about Heather Vogel Frederick's The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. If you would like a review and plot summary, here are several good ones:
Booking Mama
Books, Movies, Chinese Food
Kiss the Book
Mother Daughter Book Club

On the positive side, I think these are the absolute best covers I have ever seen. Even the spine view is pretty. The connection to classic books is great, and the portrayal of girls with diverse interests in a book club is intriguing. However, I don't really enjoy reading these. The chapters that alternate view points are slightly confusing, the depiction of the mothers is somehow flat and annoying, and so many things go on in the books that I get lost. Yet I buy them, and they circulate occasionally. This volume in particular has some interesting information on the Jean Webster, but perhaps the connection to the uber-creepy Daddy Long-Legs is what left a bad taste in my mouth. I really want to like these!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kisses, etc.

Someone recommended Donna Guthrie's Frankie Murphy's Kiss List (1993) as a good romance book for boys, and it had its moments, although it is out of print. Travis is tired of listening to Frankie brag about everything, so challenges him to make good on one of his statements-- if he has kissed 500 girls in his life, can he kiss every girl in their class before the end of school? A thoughtful book about friendship and acceptable behavior, but also has plenty of funny moments. Slightly young for middle school, but if you are lucky enough to have a copy, dust it off.

In Sarwat Chadda's Devil's Kiss, Billie is not thrilled with being a knight templar or battling evil all the time, so she's really peeved when an attractive guy she likes turns out to be the Angel of Death and is about to unleash a curse that will kill all of the first born children in London. This has some potential, as it has plenty of gruesome scenes with violence and swords, but it definitely has more of a paranormal romance focus to it.

The cover of Glenda Millard's A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is great, and the story sounds promising; during a huge war, an odd group of people band together to settle in an amusement park but find it hard to stay away from the fighting entirely. Unfortunately, the beginning of this dragged and dragged for me; anything with a skull on the cover is going to attract a group of readers that one gruesome right away. Perhaps the Australian factor is working against this one.

And for more paranormal romance, there is Laurie Stolarz's Deadly Little Lies. Camelia, who makes pottery, has an odd relationship with Ben. Ben has the power of psychometry, and can read emotions by touching people and objects. Unfortunately, he also has a past that includes being involved in the murder of his girlfriend. This author also did Project 17, which I bought only because several students requested it. This seems to be the first book in a series. Again, I will have to consider this.

Coleen Murtagh Paratore's The Funeral Director's Son and Kip Campbell's Gift were fun to read. Kip's family has a funeral home, so he works there even though his classmates give him problems. His "gift" is that the dead talk to him and ask him to do favors for them so that they can rest in peace. Good family relationships and strong community ties make these interesting reads, but very tiny (5"x7"), and combined with the cartoon cover might be a hard sell to boys in middle school.

The same author has another series, Sunny Holiday and Sweet and Sunny that are very reminiscent of Sharon Draper's Sassy, but like that title, a bit young for middle school. Reminded me rather strongly of Haywood's Betsy series: I would have loved these in the first or second grade. (They are about a fourth grader.)

The one truly confusing book of the weekend was Baggott's The Prince of Fenway Park. The book itself wasn't confusing; the fact that it (correction) was on the Cybil Awards shortlist was. Yes, I liked the fact that Oscar has to deal not only with the fact that he is biracial but also with the fact that his stepfather is mixed, too-- half human and half fairy. We have a nice baseball curse. But the mix of baseball and fantasy is not one that ever circulates-- I've been thinking about deaccessioning Michael Chabon's Summerland. While I liked this, my fantasy readers tend to steer very far from sports, and my baseball readers are not going to want fantasy. Sigh. Most people liked it. For positive reviews, go to:
Rhapsody in Books
Reading Rumpus

Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology and MY Library: It's about cost effectiveness

Thanks to Jen Robinson, I found out about Cushing Academy, and their decision to get rid of ALL of their library books.

As someone who once, in desperation, photocopied an entire Lenora Mattingly Weber book because I thought I would never get to read it again, I must admit that format does not matter to me. I love that my MP3 player replaces 100 pounds of records. A two pound e book reader would be easier to take traveling. But how would getting rid of all the books work in my library?

All 620 students in my school need to have something to read with them at all times. I keep my own paperbacks, so children who have overdue or lost books can borrow something to read. No child EVER leaves my library with nothing to read. Thus, every child in my school would have to have a laptop, a Kindle, or an iPod touch with a Kindle or Nook application.

I can't even download free audio books from The Ohio E Book Project because we are running Windows 2000. Cushing Academy is spending $500,000 on their renovation, including $50,000 on a coffee bar. That coffee bar allotment is what is being spent on the entire redo of my library to replace worn, forty year old carpet, shelving and furniture.

Cost. That's what it comes down to. Paper books are more cost effective. Yesterday I put a mylar cover on a 1963 edition of Sister of the Bride. It checked out immediately. For an initial investment of $3.95 ($27.77 in 2010 dollars), we have gotten 40 years of use out of a book. The platform didn't become obsolete, no updates (other than the mylar) were required, no batteries replaced. If someone loses this book, I can replace it for about $15.

There are 11,598 books in my library. Some will get peed on by cats, chewed on by dogs, or run over by lawn mowers. They will have milk, perfume and crayon shavings spilled on them. They will get shoved at the bottom of backpacks, lockers, and closets. They will be held together with glue, tape, and hope. Some will fall out of favor; others will fall apart. The collection will change, but one thing will remain: my students will be reading.

The only way that I see, right now, to get them the number of books they need for a price that the tax payers in my district can afford is to buy paper books. It is not because I am resistant to technology; it is because I am a realist.

As for Cushing Academy; wow. I hope that they have donated their books to local libraries that will appreciate them, so that they can drink in their new coffee bar without feeling too much guilt.

More paranormal romance

I loved all of Rachel Hawthorne's "pink" novels, which is why I bought her Dark Guardian novels without reading them. Despite the puffy lipped, pouting models on the covers. At $12.87 each in prebind, they were money well spent, since they have been flying off the shelves to readers of Twilight.

It's best to stop now. Can't say anything nice, and all that. I'll buy the fourth book, Shadow of the Moon, but these were personally painful for me to read. The very first page had this rumination: "Was I ready for this? Was I ready for a kiss that would change my life? I knew that if he kissed me I'd never be the same again. That we would never be the same. That our relationship would shift--"

Vampires, werewolves, whatever. All I could think was sweetie, your big romance is still going to end with you folding socks in the laundry room. Get over him.

All descriptions from the publisher and found on Titlewave.

Moonlight: While working as a wilderness guide in the national forest where her parents were killed twelve years earlier, seventeen-year-old Kayla is powerfully drawn to Lucas, who she learns is her appointed guardian--and much more--as she discovers her true identity and destiny.

Full Moon: As the time for her werewolf transformation draws near and a deadly threat to the Dark Guardians escalates, Lindsey finds herself increasingly captivated by Rafe despite her long-standing commitment to Connor.

Dark of the Moon:Seventeen-year-old Brittany was born into a secret community of werewolves, but when she fails to transform at her apppointed time, she fears that she will never truly belong.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

After Ever After

I am a huge Jordan Sonnenblick fan, so I was prepared to like After Ever After, the sequel to Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. But not this much.

First, the things that the students will love. Jeffrey, a cancer survivor, is heading into the 8th grade with flawed self-esteem, troubles processing math and walking because of the cancer treatments, a growing interest in a hot, new girl from California, and a best friend, Tad, who gives him endless grief. This hits so many of the issues that students find intriguing. Jeffrey ends up struggling with state tests, which kids today know far too much about, lies to his parents, and has difficulties with his relationship with Tad, because of challenges that Tad has to face. As with all Sonnenblick, I am tempted to quote half the book here, because his turns of phrase are just superb, and even though this is an essentially sad book, it has so many funny moments. Best of all, Jeffrey is not whiny or courageous or somehow perfect because of his battle with cancer.

What adults will like, and why this should win a Newbery Award (and I don't say that in my usual tone; I might again have faith in the Newbery if this won): someone dies, and there is a fair amount of introspective navel-gazing. But in Sonnenblick's hands, it works. It's not sappy and sentimental, but rather real and completely disarming. I cried at the end; the last book that made me cry was Townley's The Great Good Thing.

While this could be read without reading the first book, it's better to know the background. If your library doesn't have any books by this author, put DGADP, Notes from the Midnight Driver, and Zen and the Art of Faking It on your to-purchase lists immediately. Order two copies of each.

Sorry. Got a little excited. Probably should have given more of a plot summary. Check out the following:
Ink Splot 26
School Library Journal
The Reading Zone

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Various reading

Brenda Woods' A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a slim book, but packed with lots of drama. A tenth grade writing class is given the assignment of describing how they would earn a star, and alternating chapters tell the stories of nine inner city Los Angeles students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Emako Blue is popular with my students, and this will be, too.

Alan Lawrence Sitomer's The Hoopster series is greatly loved by some of my students, so I read The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez again, hoping that I was wrong the first time about the maturity level of the content. Enthralling, but the story of a Latina girl struggling to make it in high school despite her needy family that includes a stoner brother, drunk uncle, and pregnant mother is definitely more of a high school story.

Leah, student library helper and fellow blogger, loaned me her copy of Rachel Robert's Circles in the Stream. Emily has moved from Colorado to Pennsylvania and hasn't yet met friends because she is busy helping her mother in their new veterinary clinic. After a large cat is brought to them terribly burnt, Emily meets Adrianne and... a talking ferret creature. The writing in this was easy to read and compelling, and the story was an interesting mix of fantasy and animals. Fans of Erin Hunter's Warriors series would probably like this, but talking animals... always my least favorite thing. This reminded me oddly of a fantasy series I purchased when I was in middle school-- all I can remember is that it had really cool font on the front cover and dealt with elves.

Don't know how I missed Meg Cabot's Mediator series, but picked up book 6 at the thrift store and think that I will get the rest, unfortunately in prebind, because everything else is out of print. Not having read the first five books made this volume confusing, but recently I've had a lot of eighth grade girls liking ghost stories like Jenkin's Beating Heart and Bunting's The Presence, and this has the same older, romantic ghost story feel to it. Always can use more mysteries.

Brennans' The Shadow Project was very difficult for me to get into, but I think students who like Alex Rider, Thieves Like Us, Devil's Breath, etc. will love it. Danny is a petty thief who happens upon a secret project when trying to steal from an abandoned house, and finds himself recruited into an organization that has children using astral projection to spy. This was fast-paced, believably written, and generally fine, but it took me the better part of a week to get through it.  I will go ahead and purchase it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Earth has hurtled away from the sun!

It will never be spring again. Snowday today, even though our weather is not as bad as the East Coast's. (Pictured is the front of my house. I can't remember having this much standing snow around for this long in Westerville.)
Fortunately, I have a nice pile of books; unfortunately, they are not shaping up to be what I want.

Emerson, Kevin. Carlos is Gonna Get It. LOVED Emerson's vampire series, so I was sad I didn't like this, but this book was just filled with unrelentingly mean children, and Carlos was irritating enough that he seemed to deserve the meanness.

Fawcett, Katie Pickard. To Come and Go Like Magic. This is my first Newbery contender. From publisher "In the 1970s, Chili Sue Mahoney longs to escape her tiny Kentucky hometown and see the world, but she also learns to recognize the beauty of the people and places around her." If you or your students like the whole quirky Southern thing, this is the novel.

Goldman, Steven. Two Parties, One Tux and a Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath. While I found Mitchell's voice very amusing ("At 17, your mother can no longer choose you deordorant for you. I make my stand in the personal care aisle at Walgreens, ready to decide what kind of male I really am."), too much of the content was for older students. My son is currently reading this.

Hershenhorn, Esther. The Confessions and Secrets of Howard J. Fingerhut. What I wanted: a funny books for boys. Why this didn't work: Too young, cartoony cover and print much too big. Delighful for a third grader.

Lloyd, Alison. Year of the Tiger. From the publisher "In ancient China, two boys forge an unlikely alliance in an effort to become expert archers and save their city from invading barbarians." Very nicely done historical fiction, but I have a ton on the ancient Orient, and few readers who are interested.

Reed, Dallas. Shimmer. The blurb makes it sound really spooky and horror filled, but the first 50 pages are devoted to a boy planning a beer bash while his parents are away. Once I got to the marijuana smoking, I gave up. Drat, I need more horror books.

Suma, Nova Ren. Dani Noir. What I wanted: A mystery. Why this didn't work: Too much discussion of old movies and blended family difficulties.My mystery readers lose patience with books that don't seem like mysteries right from the start.

Summy, Barrie. I So Don't Do Mysteries. This would be good for "pink" book lovers who have to read a mystery for class, but the name dropping got to me. I didn't like Sherry, the main character, either.

Trueit, Trudi. Julep O'Toole: Confessions of a Middle Child. Almost like Wimpy Kid for younger girls. Again, Julep got on my nerves. I'll pitch this and see what Picky Reader thinks. A bit young for middle school.

Friday, February 12, 2010

THIS is what I'm talking about!

David Elzey has articles on "Building Better Books for Boys" that are insightful and worth a look. Mark Fink's The Summer I Got a Life has all of the elements that Mr. Elzey suggests contribute to books that are successful with boys.

Andy's parents are going on a business trip, and instead of leaving Andy and his older brother alone, the two are sent to rural Wisconsin to stay with their slightly nutty aunt and uncle. Andy is not happy at first, but then meets Laura, who is an excellent pianist who happens to be in a wheel chair. The two hit it off, which gives Andy something to do for two weeks other than fight with his brother.

The plot of this one is a bit thin, but it was EXACTLY the sort of book I've been looking for. While neither cover is spectacular, the size is right, and Andy is delightful. The book starts on the last day of school, and Andy's description of the levels of popularity are spot on. It was the writing and the anecdotes that really made this. When Andy's brother runs away, Andy and his uncle enlist the help of a trucker with a load of chickens to pick him up. A pig gets loose in a Victoria's Secret Store. Laura is an absolute delight, and her budding relationship with Andy is perfect. The only real problem I had was with the "hippie" aunt and uncle. The aunt has a 50th birthday party, so she was born in 1960. She's about my age, and no one I grew up with lived in a commune. The uncle served in Vietnam. How much older is he than the aunt? Still, this is a frequent complaint of mine, and I loved this book so much that I am purchasing this author's Stepping Up without reading it. It's about basketball. It will get read.

Jessica Wollman's Second Skin was great! I must get beyond the prejudice that books published only in paperback must be second rate. (Think Linda Gerber's Death By series.) Samantha is obsessed by the popular crowd, especially Kylie Frank, who is beautiful and has the best boyfriends. When Kylie moves next door to Sam, Sam hopes that she can use the proximity to get into the popular crowd. Kylie has no interest in Sam, until Sam happens upon her secret-- Kylie is only popular because of a magic "skin" that was left with her. When Sam steals the skin, she becomes popular, but, of course, at the expense of her old friends. The great part about this book is that addresses an issue that is of great important to middle school girls (like Steele's The Market), but is actually a fantasy! When teachers assign fantasy books to entire classes, this will be wonderful to hand to girls who refuse to read anything having to do with dragons on Harry Potter-esque magic! I'm going to be daring and purchase Wollman's Switched as well!

Thanks to the Cuyahoga Falls Public Library (once again) for my treat of the evening: Kitty Burns Florey's Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. I had recently read this author's Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, which was interesting, but since I had never diagrammed sentences, it didn't mean much to me. Handwriting, however, is something I think is important, and I was surprised that I knew as much as I did, including the 1987 Wendell Berry essay "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer". This is a lovely book, filled with samples of the author's own handwriting as well as historical scripts, brimming with interesting facts, and filled with longing for things that we still have, but are quickly passing. I know that I will be glancing at the fingers of my students today, to see if they still have the bump from holding a writing implement on their middle fingers. While this book is not of interest to my students, there are many librarians who will enjoy it.

Ah, so much better to have an evening of good books than of painful ones. My mood is better. This makes me even more determined to get enjoyable books to my students today!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Wonderland

We didn't have school on Tuesday or Wednesday because of about a foot of snow. The worst part? I was stuck with nothing to read but the very end of my TBR pile, which I really never wanted to read. This included Westerfeld's Pretties, Specials, and Extras as well as too many D.J. MacHale Bobby Pendragon books, numbers 4 through 9, I think. The good news is that I got them all read; the bad news is that I didn't enjoy them and can't remember much about them, other than that the language in the Westerfeld got to be sick-making after a while. The ever fabulous Rick Riordan recently said that five books was good for a series. So right.

Glad to be back at school, and a little alarmed that all I can think is "This is snow? You haven't seen anything. Why, I remember the winter of '78, when we were only in school for three days that January and the snow fence that Father put up in the front yard was completely buried!" If you remember The Winter of '78, try saying that phrase a couple of times and see how old it makes you feel. I wanted to scan the great picture of my father standing next to our mailbox in his groovy, all-polyester fisherman's sweater, the one that highlighted his neato sideburns, but the best I could do was this picture from If this hadn't been credited to Greg Carbin and shown Barnard, VT, I would have thought this was my mother. She had that jacket.

Oh, and you have to love the Boys Rule! Boys Read take on the Fabulous Sugar Doll Blogger award. Check out their revised version:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Love Puppies, Lunch, and Languishing Books

R.W. Krech's Love Puppies and Corner Kicks has a great cover and was very fun. Andrea's family moves to Scotland for a year while her parents are doing a teacher exchange. Things don't start out well-- the family has to live briefly with the principal of the school, she has trouble with the bus, she's stressed out and her stutter returns. Luckily, one of the teachers finds out she likes soccer, and gets her involved with the group playing at recess. Things improve even more when she makes friends and a boy starts to like her. The information about living in Scotland is especially interesting.

But Bob, Bob, Bob. You can hide under your initials, but I still know that you did the fabulous Rebound which is falling apart from use in my library. I know that authors can choose whatever voice and characters they want, but this would have been great and a little unusual had the main character been a BOY. I would probably have bought two copies. Boys don't see to get as many travel books. As it is, I'm debating purchasing, because the number of girls who want soccer books is very small. The humor was good in this, and it would have been perfect... if the main character had been a boy. *Sigh*

Krosoczka's Lunch Lady books are funny, but I'm starting to wonder about what horrible thing happened in his past to turn him against librarians, and now authors. After a cranky author visits, the school gym teacher goes missing, and Lunch Lady discovers that the author has kidnapped gym teachers from around the country, hypnotized them, and has them working in his mansion. Kids will love it.

Picked up a horrible old and unattractive copy of Norma Klein's Taking Sides (1974), and when I realized that the main character was named Nell, I thought I could get Picky Reader to read it, since that is her name. No luck. Nell's parents are divorced, and she lives with her father in NYC, spending time with her mother, who lives with her friend Greta out in the country. Adjustment is difficult, especially when her father starts dating. This was probably edgy at one time, since it mentions periods and alludes to parents spending weekends with members of the opposite sex, but it just felt old and tired. I kept waiting to find out that Nell's mother and Greta were an item. This author, who died in 1989, wrote a huge number of books for young people, including Mom, The Wolfman and Me and Sunshine, which I remember from Prose and Poetry speech competitions. The question of the day: If a book was made into an After School Special or a Movie of the Week with Kristy McNicol, can it still be relevant?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Problem boys, problem parents

Rosalind Wiseman's Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials struck me as a bit didactic at first, but the depiction of the intricacies of high school in a middle school friendly way makes this book worth the purchase. Charlie open enrolls in a neighboring school in order to escape some toxic friendships, but doesn't get far-- another girl from her old school open enrolls, and the two have to repair their relationship. Charlie also renews her acquaintance with Will, a childhood friend, and makes friends with Sydney. Add to the mix a romantic interest in Tyler, who is cute but jerky, some newspaper writing and an evil lacrosse team, and this adds up to an interesting book, especially for 8th graders who are looking forward to moving into a larger world. Not surprisingly, Ms. Wiseman's other books have been nonfiction on bullying and mean girls, so the instructional tone is to be expected. Would have given this to my high school daughter, but she need to read Gone With the Wind.

I was a little leery of another new Cooney title, since If the Witness Lied was a disappointment, but They Never Came Back was excellent. I read it before I even read the Sunday paper. Cathy Ferris is taking summer school Latin at a neighboring school, and a boy in another class thinks that she is his cousin. The problem? His aunt and uncle defrauded a huge number of people and then left the country, leaving behind his cousin and a mess for his parents to clean up. Murielle ends up in the foster care system, and her mother and father never return. Is it possible that five years later, Murielle turns up posing as someone else? Yes. Early on we learn that Cathy is indeed Murielle, but the FBI doesn't care-- they want to use the resemblance to try to lure the parents back from Europe. Cathy sees the devastation her parents have left, and just wants to see them again-- but does she want them punished? This was a riveting and nuanced novel, and even the Latin class is handled as well as can be expected. Referencing Wheelock and getting the Latin right was a big plus. Good to see that there are more intriguing Cooney stories coming.

Read Dandi Daley Mackall's My Boyfriends' Dogs, which was very fun, but also a high school book because of the main characters concentration on not losing her virginity to boyfriend number one. Also read Ann Pearlman's The Christmas Cookie Club-- as a treat, since I rarely read adult fiction-- and it was hugely depressing! How many ways can people mess up their own lives? Looked nice and fluffy, but was really descriptions of how over a dozen women goofed up and made themselves miserable. Back to YA for me!

Friday, February 05, 2010

War Games

Audrey and Akila Couloumbis' War Games describes a facet of World War II that has not been covered well enough (with the exception of Nicholas Gage's Eleni); the German occupation of Greece and the tremendous dedication of the Greek resistance. Petros and his older brother Zola are not much affected by the war, but once the Germans invade, they start to distribute flyers about what is going on. When a Nazi colonel is billeted in their house, they realize what danger they are in, especially since their brother, who fought in the resistance, is being hidden in the well.

While this is lacking the sort of battle front action that boys seem to prefer, this book (like Westall's The Machine Gunners) is rich in details about what it was like to be a teen boy in a war zone. Hearing about the deprivation, sacrifices, and fear of having one's home under attack is an equally important to boys. Making this more poignant is that this is based on the experiences of Akila Couloumbis, who, sadly, passed away about a year ago. How fortunate we are that his story was told before it was too late.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Because we all need a little congratulations

Kelly at The Cazzy Files awarded me a Fabulous Sugar Doll Blogger Award. There are some stipulations to "spread the joy", which I'm happy to follow:
Thank the person who gave this to you.
• Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
• Link the person who nominated you.
• Name seven things about yourself that no one would really know.
• Nominate ten “Sugar Dolls.”
• Post links to the ten blogs you nominate.
• Leave a comment on each letting them know you nominated them.

I try to visit a variety of blogs, but the ones below are the ones I end up visiting most often and amuse me the most. Given the agressive pinkness of this logo, I have to nominate some "guy" blogs!

Carl, Darth Bill and Jedi Zack at Boys Rule Boys Read!
Bibliovore at Confessions of a Bibliovore
Everyone at The Brown Bookshelf
Karen and Bill at Literate Lives
Adam Selzer at Adam Selzer
David at The Excelsior File
Mr. H at SMS Guys Read
Everyone at Color Online
Mr. K at Mister K Reads
Jim at TeacherNinjas

Ten facts about me? Does anyone care?
  1. I ride my bike to work.
  2. I can sew, knit and quilt.
  3. I read three hours a night.
  4. Worked as a giant chicken for Chick-fil-A.
  5. All my clothes come from the thrift store.
  6. My dog treats me better than my children do.
  7. Have a hopeless addiction to Barry's Irish tea.
  8. Feel bad about spending 8 cents a tea bag for said tea.
  9. Have read almost all the books in my middle school library.
  10. Am very uncomfortable starting too many sentences with "I"!

Magic Under Glass

Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass was one of the better light fantasies for girls that I have read recently. I appreciated especially that we were just dropped into the quasi-Victorian world of Lorinar without maps and detailed explanation, and were left to imagine details while the story unfolded. Nimira has left her home country and position as the daughter of favored members of the royal court and is working as an exotic dancer and singer. When the wealthy and handsome sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing with an automaton that he has found, she leaves her impoverished life to live at his estate. Other singers have left because they think the automaton is haunter; Nimira pays closer attention, learns to communicate with Erris, who turns out to be a fairy prince who was enchanted by enemies in a war. Can Nimira figure out a way to free him from his fate of being an automaton?

This book was pleasantly well-written and pretty. Certainly, there was some suspense about getting Erris freed, but I knew it would end well. Nice, light romance. Very fun.

This book has caused a lot of controversy about the cover, not because the picture of Nimira has her violating school cleavage dress codes, but because of the color of her skin. Bloomsbury has had to stop supplying books with this cover while they have a new one made. I must say, however, that while reading the book, I did not think that Nimira was African American, which I was lead to believe by this controversy being linked to the one with Liar. I really felt that Nimira was more-- middle eastern, probably. The image of her as a "trouser dancer" conjured images of Arabian Nights to me, and I envisioned her more like one of my daughter's friends who is Moroccan and looks, well, a bit like this cover picture. The UK cover, while prettier, does make it look like Nimira has blonde hair, and that is clearly wrong.

Still, this was an excellent book, and if the controversy translates into more sales for Ms. Dolamore (who seems like a kindred spirit to me-- she likes thrift stores, vintage dresses and L.M. Montgomery!), it's all to the good.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Loser's Guide to Life and Love

When I saw that The Loser's Guide to Life and Love was by A.E. Cannon, it took me a few minutes to come up with The Shadow Brothers (1990) which is one of those great titles with bad covers. I liked the new book so much (after I wrested in from my son) that I have the older one on my desk to fling at someone today!

Ed is working at Reel Life,a movie rental store. He's not wild about the uniform (which includes bow tie and cummerbund), but he loves movies and enjoys working with his friend Scout. He also meets Ellie there, and strikes up a relationship with her-- but not as his boring, old Ed-self. No, because he has been forced to wear a name tag that reads "Sergio", he remakes himself as a suave Brazilian. (Hey, Dav Pilkey spells his name the way he does because of a Pizza Hut name tag, so it's not impossible.) Chapters are narrated by these three characters, as well as Ed's friend and neighbor Quark, and complicated romances arise between the four. Funny lines abound, and the brilliant thing is that much of the book centers on personal identity and reinventing oneself, which teenagers adore, and which doesn't get as much attention as it should. There is also a Midsummer's Night's Dream tie in that some people will like.

My only complaint is that I would have enjoyed the book more if it were only from Ed's point of view, but my son disagreed. That, and why has Ms. Cannon not written more funny boy books? She has five sons, she knows the ground. This is exactly the sort of book I've been looking for over the past month.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Fluffy versus Scary

After reading a ton of "boy" books, I very much enjoyed Kristina Springer's The Espressologist. Jane, who has finished most of her high school courses but art and is taking two classes at the local community college, is made assistant manager at the Wired Joe's coffee shop where she works. While there, she keeps notes on the personality traits that she associates with certain types of coffee. When it occurs to her that two of her regulars would be compatible, she starts to pair other people up according to their favorite drinks. Her boss thinks this is a great way for their branch to earn more money, gives Jane Friday night matchmaking sessions, to which the news eventually comes. But how well can Jane match herself up?

This has all the nutritive value of a low fat, no sugar decaf latte, but has all the fun of a triple chocolate mochachino with caramel syrup. And I'm a tea drinker, so these things may not exist! My only complaints-- Jane doesn't pay enough attention to school, which is a bit disturbing, as is the somewhat creepy cover with the face-- I can only imagine that Starbucks complained about the pretty yellow and pink cover, which I like much better. Sure, this book takes a certain suspension of disbelief, but it's a great romance book.

Neal Shusterman's Creeping Darkness: Twenty Twisted Tales was a great collection of psychological horror that will still go out to the kids who think horror is only blood and gore because of the creepy cover. I especially liked the short explanation of the genesis of each story, and the tale of the evil quilt really creeped me out. My only disappointment is that there are apparently several other short story collections that I have missed (MindBenders, MindStorms, MindQuakes and MindTwisters) which are mostly out of print. Darn. 

Monday, February 01, 2010

Assorted Reading

The books I buy are very dependent on the readers that I have. Last year, I would have purchased Batson's The Curse of the Spider King, because it's basically the "oddball children save the world from encroaching evil" sort of book, so complicated that a huge dictionary of characters is needed at the begining. However, this year what I need are more romantic fantasies for girls who like Twilight, so instead, I will purchase Once A Witch.

Tamsin's family all have Talents (magical powers), but she doesn't. When a professor shows up at her family's bookstore and mistakes Tamsin for her older sister Rowena, she agrees to help him find a lost family clock. Along with her friend Gabriel, who can travel through time, and her school roommate Agatha, she uncovers mysteries about her family and herself and is able to use powers she didn't know about to save the people she loves. Students who like City of Bones or Wings will like this one. I ended up liking this one a lot!

Flynn's Out of His League is a slightly older title, but I think that I will purchase it even though there is more beer drinking than I can normally stand. 18-year-old Ozzie is being courted by football teams (Rugby?) in Australia, but decides to spend a year in an exchange program in a Texas town where American Football is the most important thing. He gives it a try and is fairly successful, making friends in his new school and navigating his way through the vagaries of American life. There are enough play-by-plays to make this interesting to readers who want a sports story, and the problems are different enough that it will be a good addition.

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written an astounding 136 books during her career, and her topics are wide ranging. Faith, Hope and Ivy June returns to the land of Shiloh. Ivy June is from a small mountain community; Catherine is from Lexington. The two are involved in an exchange program to help students understand the differences between the two communities and to help dispel stereotypes. Ivy June spends two weeks in Lexington, marveling at the ease of life and trying not to feel bad about her older clothes and lack of experience in the larger world, and then Catherine visits Ivy June's Kentucky coal mining town, where she has to wash up in the kitchen sink and do without a phone of any kind. While Catherine is there, her mother ends up in the hospital and there is a crisis at the coal mine. These things bring the girls closer and show them that they are far more alike than dissimilar. I normally hate quirky Southern tales, but this one was highly readable and quite enjoyable.

On the "not quite right" list: Carey's The Unknowns, which had its moments but also was set in a trailer park (Note to Higher Power of Lucky fans-- I've never had a child ask for something set in a trailer park!) and involved a lot of math equations; Ehrenhaft's Dirty Laundry, which would be a fine mystery for high schools; and Carrie Jones' Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape, which has a great title and cover, but is also a high school book because of content.