Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guy Friday- SPIES!!!

When I started at the Blendon library in 2002, I don't know that we had any spy books. I was even reluctant to buy Stormbreaker; now we have 13 copies. Clearly, spy fiction is appealing to both boys and girls, and great new titles are being written all the time. We'll start with this list for now!

If You Liked Stormbreaker

Becker, Tom. Darkside. (Series-2)

Jonathan stumbles upon Darkside, a terrifying and hidden part of London ruled by the descendents of Jack the Ripper, where Jonathan is in mortal danger if he cannot find the way out.

Butcher. Spy High (series-4)

The members of the Bond team at Deveraux Academy, a special high school that trains students to be secret agents, try to save the world from threats.

Carroll. Quantum Prophecy (series-3)

Ten years after the disappearance of superhumans--two boys begin to develop super powers, making them the object of much unwanted attention.

Carter. I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. (series-4)

As a sophomore at a secret spy school and the daughter of a former CIA operative, Cammie meets a local boy while on a class surveillance mission.

Colfer. Artemis Fowl (Series-5) NEW! Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox

Artemis kidnaps a fairy, he discovers they're armed and dangerous. His adventure is full of twists and turns in a world of magic, mystery and humor.

Craig. Jimmy Coates: Assassin. (series-2 in the US; 6 in UK)

While escaping from the strange men that are after him in London, Jimmy discovers he possesses many unusual talents for an eleven-year-old boy.

Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye Mystery.

When Salim disappears from the London Eye ferris wheel, two siblings must work together--Ted with his brain that is "wired differently" and impatient Kat--to solve the mystery of what happened to him.

Gilman, David. The Devil’s Breath.

When his father goes missing and he is almost killed at his boarding school in England, Max travels to the wilderness of Namibia to try to find him where he soon learns about his father's work to stop Shaka Chang and his evil plot for ecological destruction.

Gordon, Roderick and Brian Williams. Tunnels. (Series-4)

When Will tries to find his father, he is led to a world underneath London, full of sinister inhabitants with evil intentions toward "Topsoilers".

Higson. Silverfin. (Series-5) NEW! Double or Die.

Young James Bond must battle against an insane arms dealer who is attempting to create a race of indestructible soldiers .

Higgins. Sure Fire.(Series-3)

Rich and Jade have problems when their father is kidnapped and their attempts to rescue him involve them in a dangerous international plot to control the world's oil.

Horowitz. Stormbreaker. (series-8)

After the death of his guardian, 14-year-old Alex Rider is coerced to continue his uncle's dangerous work for Britain's intelligence agency, M16.

Jinks. Evil Genius

Child prodigy Cadel Piggot, an antisocial computer hacker, discovers his true identity when he enrolls as a first-year student at an advanced crime academy.

Lorey, Dean. Nightmare Academy:Book I

Charlie enrolls in the Nightmare Academy to learn to control his powers; but a powerful creature kidnaps his parents, and he must find a way to save them.

McNab. Traitor, Payback, Avenger

A boy thinks his grandfather to be a traitor, a spy who turned against England and then disappeared, but tracks down his grandfather and finds out the truth.

Muchamore. The Recruit. C.H.E.R.U.B. (series-6)

James, the newest CHERUB recruit, has finished his anti-terrorist and anti-narcotic training, but his mission has barely begun.

Patterson. Maximum Ride. (Series-4)

"Birdkids," who are the result of genetic experimentation, take off in pursuit and find themselves struggling to understand their own origins and purpose.

Pearson, Ridley. Steel Trapp: The Challenge

On a trip to the National Science Competition in D.C., "Steel" Trapp becomes embroiled in an international plot of kidnapping and bribery that may have links to terrorists.

Rose. Framed! (Luke Harding, Forensic Investigator series-6)

Sixteen-year-old Luke Harding is the youngest person to qualify for forensic investigator, and it will take all his skills to unravel the murder of a student.

Simmons. The Rise of Lubchenko. (series-2)

Suspecting his father’s business partner , Evan Macalister travels to France with his friends to search for the elusive spymaster Lubchenko.

Spradlin. Live and Let Shop. (Spy Goddess series-2)

A teen gets in trouble with the law and winds up Blackthorn Academy in Pennsylvania, where she uncovers secrets about the school and becomes entangled in a case of international espionage.

Walden. H.I.V.E.

A boy with a special talent for villainy is kidnapped and taken to the remote Higher Institute of Villainous Education, or H.I.V.E., where he is enrolled and begins formulating a plan to escape.

Young, E.L. STORM: The Infinity Code (Series-3)

The teenaged geniuses of STORM, uncover plans for a deadly weapon and race to find and dismantle it, then confront the scientist behind the scheme. (More books available in the UK! I HATE when this happens!)

Swallows and Amazons (plus a small rant)

Ransome, Arthur. Swallows and Amazons. (1931)
If it had not been for Fuse Eight's poll of The Top 100 Children's Novels, I would not have picked up this nice story of children being allowed to run amok on an island near their English home. It was perfectly nice, reminiscent of The Boxcar Children (1942) in that much time was spent on aligning provisions. If this is not in your library collection, you won't be adding a copy, because I can't see how this story of Roger, John, Susan and Titty alternatively sailing about and making tea over an open fire will resonate with today's children. The only slightly alarming thing is a storm on their last night on the island; Mother clearly is not going to let them get into trouble. As I said, pleasant enough, and now I have read the whole list!

Cantor, Jillian. The Life of Glass.
From the author of The September Sisters, this is another very sad tale. Melissa's father has died of lung cancer, and to deal with missing him, she is reading journals and writing that he has left behind. She is amazed that she is able to go on with her life while he is not there, and is slightly resentful that everyone else, including her beautiful sister and her mother, are able to as well. It's a beautifully written book, but the introspective tone suits this more to the high school level. This is similar to Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever, and that's my slowest moving Dessen book. Seventh graders like sad, but not this to-the-bone grief.

Johnson, Marilyn. This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can SAVE US ALL.
*Sigh.* This book made me sad. Rest assured, I will apparently not be saving anyone at all, because I am, in fact, your grandmother's librarian.

Ms. Johnson makes many eloquent cases for the continued relevance of the librarian in the digital age. Certainly, the librarians who help people with the internet, who find databases, and who guide patrons through mountains of information are ubiquitous. However, aside from a love letter to archivists, very little is said about librarians and BOOKS.

I don't deal much with computers. There is certainly research that goes on in my school, but the main reason I am here is to get children books to read for pleasure. Perhaps this is a bigger luxury than I know. My thought is that these children will spend so much time dealing with computers and the internet in high school, college and working life that now they need someone to tout the virtues of a Good Book. My blog is also predominately concerned with books. Libri. I am a Librarian. Not a Media Specialist, not a Cybrarian, not an Information Technologist or Information Analyst or ProInfoCyberGuru or whatever title they will throw our way in five years. Librarian.

Ms. Johnson has written an entertaining and valuable book. It just doesn't pertain to my life. Also, we know my aversion to hip, tattooed librarians. Really, people. Comb your hair, remove some of the metal from your face, and go buy a cardigan. Stand up straight while you're at it. It's possible to have a dynamic library program and to get children excited about reading books while looking and acting like a responsible adult. I think, perhaps, that the children actually prefer it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Multicultural, with Murky Covers

Quintero, Sofia. Efrain's Secret.
Efrain has worked very hard to do well in school and on his SAT's so that he can go to an Ivy League College, hopefully Harvard, because he wants to escape the life of poverty he lives with his single mother and younger sister. He's on track to be valedictorian and is pursuing all possibles avenues of financial aid, but he knows it won't be enough. When an old friend gives him the opportunity to make some easy cash running drugs, it seems like a good idea, but leads to all manner of complications. This is a great book for high school students, and perfectly clean enough for middle school, but it is so heavily concentrated on college that middle school students might not be as interested. I would like to see a middle grade novel by Quintero, though.

Brown, Linda Beatrice. Black Angels.
During the Civil War, three children take off on their own for various reasons-- Luke and Daylily are runaway slaves, and Caswell's mother was killed when his house burned. The three join forces and try to survive. They eventually meet up with Betty Strong Foot, who takes them in and cares for them for some time, but the main thrust of this book is the terrible privations and dangers that the children face at all points during the war, and even after, when Caswell's father joins the Klan. This was a riveting survival story, but was slightly confusing at times, between the dialect and the children's view point. Still, a different point of view for a Civil War collection.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Rotten Life

Lubar, David. My Rotten Life.
Nathan is the second skinniest kid in the fifth grade and hangs out with a group of "second-besters" including his friend Mookie, the second fattest kid. When his feelings are squelched repeatedly during one day (girl he likes points out he's not invited to her party, he does poorly in gym, etc.), he is glad to be a subject of his friend Abigail's uncle's experiment with Hurt-Be-Gone. Suddenly, he doesn't mind the indignities piled upon him-- or the fork that gets stuck in his face. Unable to digest food, apt to lose body parts, and desperate to find the uncle before his numbness and lethargy become permanent, he works with his friends to put the ingredients together for a cure. A sequel is surely forthcoming. This was amusing in a ten-year-old boy way, which will appeal to some of my sixth grade boys. Still, a very good zombie book, and fans of Kevin Emerson's Oliver Nocturne series will like it, but fans of Daniel Water's Generation Dead , Adam Selzer's I Kissed A Zombie and I liked It, or Brian Jame's Zombie Blondes will find this too young.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sweet 15

Adler, Emily and Alex Echevarria. Sweet 15.
Destiny Lozado would rather be skateboarding than helping her mother plan her quinceanera, but her mother feels that this traditional Puerto Rican birthday celebration is essential, even though the family doesn't have the money for it. Destiny's sister, America, complicates matters by politicizing the entire event-- it's oppressing women, especially having a male escort. Not having an escort would be okay with Destiny-- until she falls for fellow skateboarder Nicholas... and starts to feel that her longtime friend Omar might also be boyfriend material. Despite all the family drama, Destiny manages to put together a celebration that makes both her family and herself happy. A good addition to a multicultural collection that also include Osa's Cuba 15 (2003) and Chamber's QuinceaƱera Means Sweet 15 (2001).

Larson, Hope. Mercury.
Tara's house has burned down, so she is living with friends in her home town while her mother is off trying to find work. Tara finds an old amulet that helps her find things. In easy-to-follow flashbacks, the story of this amulet is revealed-- 150 years in the past, an ancestor of Tara's, Josey, receives it from a gold prospector named Asa, who woos her. The two historical periods are easy to tell apart, because the modern day pages are white bordered, and the historical bordered in black. This is a graphic novel, and one of the best I've read. It helps that the physical book is novel sized and the pictures are an integral part of the story, showing the emotions of the characters well. If all graphic novels were like this one, librarians would not hesitate for a moment to include them in collections.

Also looked at Horvath's Northward to the Moon, which is a sequel to My One Hundred Adventures, which I don't have. As with Everything on a Waffle and The Trolls, this book was quirky and slow moving. The Horvath books I have never leave the shelf, so I'll pass.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Philosophical (not Guy) Friday

This is what I did yesterday. Well, in addition to checking out 100 books, reprogramming 20-odd wall mounted televisions, and cleaning out the back store room. I feel a need to apologize for recent lackluster blog posts-- the upcoming library renovation has me distractedly delving through dusty cabinets, determined to oust the last vestige of things like page reinforcement boxes marked "Unidentified Keys- 8/02". The drawer pictured at left is all that remains in the main part of the library from TWO desks and the circulation desk. Everything else has been secured in the back storage area. WHY was there still a button proclaiming "I'm a Happy Booker" in my desk? Just how long has that been there? 1971?

I will endeavor to be better about having focused book reviews next week.

Did borrow Steven Layne's Igniting a Passion for Reading for Mr. Buxton of Buxtolicious Blog O'Books. It was aimed predominately at teachers, with ways to engage students in reading, but did have a few helpful things for librarians as well, especially the interest inventories in the chapter entitled Coaches Who Know Their Players Win More Games. He also points out that students are more interested in a particular book (and he references WELL WEEDED libraries!) and in your recommendations in general if you hand them books and say "I read this and thought of you." This really is huge. I have students fill out interest inventories every fall and hand them in. I take several cross country meets to read and comment on all of them, and the students do like this.

This made me revisit my own middle school library experience. I read tons, and was a student helper. I was the child who needed to hang out in the library every single morning. Oddly, I don't remember the librarian's name (although I was ever so fond of the assistant, a lovely woman named Mrs. Greer whom I understand still volunteers at Boardman Center Middle School), because she was always sequestered in a back room. (Note: I am sure there is a new librarian now. I haven't been to the school since 1979.) Other than using magazines for science reports, I don't recall coming with any classes or learning any library skills. No one EVER recommended a book to me.

My philosophical thought then became: Do I recommend too many books? Are students too dependent upon my advice? My lesson next week will be "Book Shopping". Pick a section. Crane head and read spines until something looks appealing. Pull it off and look at cover. If that looks good, read the summary. Repeat as needed. While I love to recommend books, the students need to be able to make choices without me around. Serendipitous discoveries can be amusing.

Ah, Boardman Center. The library had the most gorgeous blonde Danish Modern style circulation desk from the 1950s, and dark wood double doors at the entrance. Wooden tables and chairs. Windows with those school curtains in weird 1960s prints. *Sigh* Do you think that the architects would be able to work any of those features into my new library? Will students thirty years from now wax nostalgic about whatever Starbuck-esque decor they do use?

Opine: What are your memories of YOUR middle school library?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Missing in Action by Dean Hughes

Hughes, Dean. Missing in Action.
Jay's half Native American father is in the navy during World War II, but his ship has been sunk, and all the crew listed as Missing In Action. He and his mother move from Salt Lake City to a small town to be with his grandparents, and he falls in with a group of boys who play baseball. Jay is not quite comfortable with them, because they refer to him as "chief" and he feels that they think less of him because of his father's heritage. When Jay has to work on his grandfather's farm with Ken, who is interned at the Topaz Japanese relocation center, he learns the importance of judging people by who they are and what they do, and not by their ethnicity. While not as front lines as Search and Destroy or Soldier Boys, this is an excellent that made even my most action-hungry WWII reader happy, and there were some moments that just sent chills down my spine. I loved how Hughes made the Japanese relocation movement seem very personal.

Frank, Lucy. The Homeschool Liberation League.
Katya (formerly Kaitlyn) decides not to go back to public middle school after a summer of nature study, in part because she doesn't want to face her former boyfriend, but also because she's tired of sitting in classrooms and being dictated to. She approaches her parents about homeschooling, and they agree, even though it will be difficult for them. Homeschooling is not what Katya wants-- her mother hunts down a curriculum, has Katya spending time in her hair salon in order to free up time for her to work with Katya, and puts a damper on the idea that homeschooling means NO schooling. I loved that the parents, neither of whom went to college, worked so hard to comply with the homeschooling requirements and made personal sacrifices so that Katya could be happy with her learning experience, but Katya was such a complete brat that I wanted to slap her. I got this copy at a Book Look, and it's gone out a couple of times. I just wish that at the end, Katya was a nicer person.

Erskine, Kathryn. Mockingbird.
Caitlin, who has Aspberger's syndrome, is reeling from the death of her brother in a school shooting, and having trouble dealing with her father, who is also suffering greatly. She decides that she needs closure so that she no longer feels so bad, but isn't quite sure how to obtain it. Caitlin's perspective is very apparent in the book, and we get many glimpses of her chewing on her shirt sleeve, trying to put emotions with facial expressions, etc. This was a sad book, and I am not quite sure what readers would like this. Baskin's Anything But Typical and Dowd's The London Eye Mystery deal with Asperger's with a little more humor and understanding, and are better choices for both students who want to see themselves reflected in the literature and for students who are trying to understand classmates who face this challenge.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Survive Middle School...books

Gephart, Donna. How to Survive Middle School.
This realistic fiction title is worth buying for the cover alone, but it is also a rare story of a BOY having problems fitting in to middle school and arguing with friends. There's plenty of gross moments (the number of bacteria in an armpit) to keep the boys reading this tale of David's troubled entry into middle school, complete with dress code violations, food fights, and the fact that his mother has left his father to live on a farm in Maine. The viral video of Hammy the Hamster and David's subsequent local notoriety stretch credibility a bit, but this will be enjoyed by younger students. All in all, a good read, and a GREAT cover.

Ingold, Jeannette. Paper Daughter.
I love this author's Hitch, and she clearly excels at historical fiction. This book goes back and forth between a young Chinese immigrant in the 1930s, and the modern day story of a high school journalist whose father is killed in a drive-by accident. The story of the young immigrant, who comes with his sister on forged papers, is riveting, and could easily have held the story on its own. The mystery surrounding the father's death adds too much information to an already full story, and there are some questions that remain unanswered. I liked this book, and will probably buy it for the information about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but I would have liked it better if it had been set firmly in the 1930s.

Hoxter, Holly Nicole. The Snowball Effect.
This was a good example of a book more suited to high school: "Having lost her stepfather, grandmother, and mother in the span of a year, seventeen-year-old Lainey unexpectedly reconnects with long-lost relatives, copes with her brother's behavioral problems, and endangers her long-term romance when drawn to a young man with an unexpected connection to her mother." The mother's death is a suicide, and the story is very sad in an introspective way that may not resonate with my students.

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Last Night I Sang to the Monster.
Always on the lookout for drug/alcohol/gang books, and they are so rarely appropriate. " Eighteen-year-old Zach does not remember how he came to be in a treatment center for alcoholics, but through therapy and caring friends, his amnesia fades and he learns to face his past while working toward a better future." This is another lyrical, introspective book; however, my students who want to read about such topics are looking for spare prose and a little more action.

Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Falling In.
I'm a big fan of this author's realistic fiction (The Secret Language of Girls, the Phineas L. MacGuire books, Where I'd Like to Be), but this fantasy book didn't quite do it for me ("Middle-schooler Isabelle Bean follows a mouse's squeak into a closet and falls into a parallel universe where the children believe she is the witch they have feared for years, finally come to devour them.") It had an odd tone to it that I disliked-- a smirky, overpresent narrator that was distracting to me. Isabelle was also a quirky character whom I wanted to smack. I think that this title might be more successful with younger students-- it wasn't bad, I just couldn't think of any particular students who would want this. (Maybe readers of Buckley's Fairy Tale Detectives?)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Testing, Day One

Would just like to say that while proctoring the OAA Reading Test, I scanned the room at the end of every page and walked about every chapter. Still, it's a lot of time.

Tooke, Wes. Lucky: Maris, Mantle and My Best Summer Ever.
Louis is a horrible stick ball player, but he knows more about baseball statistics than any of his friends in White Plains, New York, or his stepbrother. When this knowledge gets him a position as bat boy for the 1961 New York Yankees, he gets to know the men who were previously just statistics to him, and goes to great lengths to do his job well despite his shaky family situation. This had a lot of classic baseball and statistics, and so far has been popular in my library.

Shearer, Alex. Canned.
I wasn't going to buy this rather quirky tale until one of my reluctant readers told me I had to because it was his favorite book ever. It certainly has some gross, Roald Dahl appeal to it. Fergal collects unlabeled tins (this is a British book) from the grocery store; his parents think it makes him look smart. When he has to open some tins before he is allowed to buy more, he finds first an earring and then a finger in one of the cans. He then meets Charlotte, who has also found odd things in cans, and the two try to find the source of these macabre items, which gets them into trouble.

Higgins, Jack and Justin Richards. Sharp Shot (#3)
Jade and Rich Chance are just settling into a routine in their Cotswold cottage while their father is once again traveling, but their peace is shattered when an old coworker of their father shows up on their doorstep followed by men who are trying to kill them. Lots of running and smashing up cars ensues, as well as a very thrilling chase at an amusement park, after which Jade is in the clutches of a man aligned with a middle eastern dictatorship who is determined to blow up the president of the US. As always, this is a fast-paced spy romp that will go down easily with lovers of Alex Rider. The hand of Richards is clearly evident in this book-- I wish we had more of his solo work available in the US. (The Death Collector and The Chaos Code are both very good.)

Jinks, Catherine. Living Hell.
Cheney is a resident of Plexus, a space ship that is traveling the galaxy searching for an appropriate planet. Since Cheney, and many of the children his age, were born on the space ship, they don't know any other kind of life but one confined to the ship. When they pass through a band of radiation, though, the ship starts to treat all of its passengers as parasites. Systems malfunction and hunt people down, carts careen out of control, and Cheney and his family and friends struggle to survive the onslaught. I wish the title were different-- it sounds like demon-type horror book--and I always hate sci fi names like Caromy, Zennor, Tuddor, etc., but given the lack of good sci fi for teens, this is a great book. My favorite Jinks' title is still Pagan's Crusade, and the Evil Genius series does well, so I am impressed with Jinks ability to write in a variety of genres.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eli the Good

House, Silas. Eli the Good.
There is a lot going on in ten-year-old Eli's world in the summer of 1976. His father is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after having been in Vietnam; his aunt, a war protester, has moved in with his family because she has breast cancer; his friend Edie's parents are divorcing; his sister is fighting with his mother. The background to all of this activity is the American Bicentennial, an event which today's children can't begin to fathom-- it permeated everything that summer. This is a lyrical story of a particular moment in history, and Eli's dealings with the myriad trauma in his life is interesting.

That said, if I were to hand this book to a 12-year-old interested in Vietnam, I don't think he's be happy. Booklist gives the recommended grades for this as 9-12, and for good reason. Not much is happening. The detached tone of a forty-something father looking back at his tenth summer gives this a slow, introspective plot. House does a great job, especially since he was only 6 in 1976. Since I was 11 that year, I can vouch for his historical authenticity. This just isn't a middle school book.

Of course, I'm often wrong about these things. Appelt's The Underneath was actually nominated for the Buckeye Book Award, and I still think it is possibly the worst book I have ever read, and my students so far have concurred. It doesn't circulate unless I push it, and then the students bring it back and are disappointed in me. That's why there are all sorts of different books. I won't be buying Eli the Good, but it would be a good addition to a high school collection.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots.

Guy Friday will return next week after I get all the core novels moved out of the library! Renovation preparations are going well, but it's very time consuming.

When Jenna has the choice of either going to spend the summer with her injured grandmother or head to her godmother Susie's in Canada, she figures that Canada will be less painful. Parts of it are-- the wilderness is lovely, she adores her godmother, and she manages to find a group of guys to hang out with. There are problems, too-- the town is infinitesimal, she has to room with a very unhappy girl, and the guys don't understand her interest in environmental issues. On top of that, her best friends from home aren't communicating with her, one of the guys comes out to her as gay, and her godmother is setting up a bed and breakfast and struggling financially. Her parents also might get divorced. A lot going on, but the best part of the whole book was the clandestine romance between Jenna and Reeve. *Sigh* Right up there with Girlfriend Material, Along for the Ride and Fifteen as one of the best romance books. Liked the insight into environmental issues, the fact that Jenna was willing to try white water rafting and rock climbing, and just...well, everything!

The lesson this week was a refresher about genres, and a challenge to the students to read something they normally wouldn't read. I asked all the classes what MY favorite genre was ("pink" books), and they didn't know-- most answered with their own favorite genre, which was interesting!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gateway by Sharon Shinn

Shinn, Sharon. Gateway.
Daiyu, Having been adopted from China as an infant, is happy with her family, job and friends in St. Louis. After going to a fair, she is attracted to a black jade ring, and goes back to buy it. When she puts it on and travels under the St. Louis Arch, she is transported to another world where most people are Chinese. She has been brought to the dimension to remove the evil prime minister, Chenglei, who is oddly charismatic. While learning how to be a lady so that she can attend a ball and dance with Chenglei, she falls in love with Kalen, a poor young worker. There's intrigue and adventure aplenty, good dollops of romance, and a satisfying ending where things work out for Daiyu back in St. Louis, even though she doesn't remember anything of her adventure.

Moved almost all of the 7th grade language arts books out of the library, made a good start on 6th grade, and will work on the 8th grade later. Slowly but surely getting ready for the big renovation that starts in (gulp) two months!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knightley Academy

Haberdasher, Violet. Knightley Academy.
Henry Grim, a servant at Midsummer School in a circa-1900s, alternative England, studies with one of the teachers when he can steal the time. When the prestigious Knightley Academy (where the elite are trained to serve as knights) agrees that any boy resident in the school can sit for the entrance exam, Henry does, and becomes the first boy from the school in five years to pass. The teacher with whom he has worked gets offered a job at the school tutoring Headmaster Winter's irrepressible daughter Frankie, and the two set off. Henry is not the only "commoner" who gets into the school now that the rules are relaxed; Adam, who is Jewish, and Rohan, who is Indian, are also accepted.

The three are bullied, especially by Valmont, the nephew of a teacher, and become the butt of missing fencing foils, cheating frame ups, and most dastardly, an episode when a stolen artifact is planted in Rohan's things, leading to his expulsion. When Henry finds out a secret about a rival school in the warlike Nordlands, he tries to figure out why he is a target so that he can clear his name and help Knightley.

This was quite a good mystery and adventure tale, and I'm sure that there are lengthy sequels in the offing. (This clocks in at 480 pages.) I liked Henry's forthright effort, his attempts to reconcile with his tormentors, and his relationships with the adults in his world. The book is well-paced and interesting.

What I really, really disliked about this book was the hype. Why use an overly twee pseudonym like "Violet Haberdasher" when your picture is on the back flap? (And then post on another site your real identity, Robyn Scheider?)Simon and Schuster also put a lot of effort into the web site; this effort would have been better spent on a decent cover. I also didn't get the description from Tamora Pierce of this book as "Steam-punky". Leviathan, yes. But this didn't have any of the requisite gadgets that I associate with Steampunk. I really cannot think of another book whose hype almost caused me not to pick it up. Don't let this be the case with you; even though this is not really a fantasy book, students who liked Groosham Grange will find this appealing.

Other reviews of this title are at:
Book Aunt
Brooke's Box of Books

Monday, April 12, 2010

Leslie Connor's Crunch

Connor, Leslie. Crunch.
Of all the things I read over break, this was my favorite. Dewey's father is a trucker, and his mother goes once a year with him to celebrate their anniversary, leaving Dewey and his two older and two younger brothers and sisters on their own. The family also runs a bike repair business. When there is suddenly no fuel available anywhere, the mother and father get stuck in Canada, and the bike repair business really takes off. With the help of caring neighbors and friends, as well as a young man Dewey befriends, the children manage to take care of matters at home, run a hugely successful bike business, and even manage to solve the mystery of a rash of small thefts. This was fun in the way that The Boxcar Children was fun-- there seems to be more scope for adventure when parents are not in the picture. I liked this especially because I already ride my bike everywhere, so I am READY!

Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies:
Hapka, Katherine. The Twelve Dates of Christmas.
Lexi has dated Cameron for a long time, but doesn't see their relationship lasting. She doesn't want to dump him, so she arranges for him to date another girl... but is not happy when he seems to really like her. She then schemes to get him back. Even Picky Reader liked this one!

Ostow, Michol. Crush Du Jour.
Laine teaches a cooking class for chidlren at the local community center and falls for cute Seth. When she goes to work for his father's restaurant, complications ensue because her mother is a food critic, another waitress seems interested in Seth, and Laine is a horrible waitress.

Ponti, Jamie. Animal Attraction.
Jane is disappointed that she can't work as a swimmer in the local theme park, but has to instead parade about as a giant beaver. She's trying to earn money for college, gets interested in a couple of boys-- good summer fun. I love these comedies.

Johnson, Maureen. Scarlett Fever.
Sequel to Suite Scarlett. Scarlett is now working for the Amy Amberson agency and working with clients, while her family is still dealing with the long term results of her sister's cancer, running a small, decrepit hotel, and trying to get her brother launched into an acting career. This was okay, but not my favorite Johnson book.

Runholt, Susan. Rescuing Seneca Crane.
Sequel to Mystery of the Third Lucretia. Kari is traveling to Scotland this time with her journalist mother and best friend Lucas. This time, they get involved in the disappearance of a pianist their age and uncover a conspiracy. Best part-- traveling around Scotland with no parents!

Gray, Amy. How to be a Vampire. I should buy it, because it would fly off the shelf, but it was just too goofy. Just look at the cover. Had a good sense of humor about it, but I just can't.

Summers, Tamara. Never Bite a Boy on the First Date.
Better than you'd think. Kira, a new vampire, is suspected of a recent murder of a football star at her new school. She knows she didn't do it, but who did? My expectations for this were low, but it was rather fun.

Trivas, Tracy. The Wish Stealers.
Griffin is given a box with old pennies by a nasty elderly woman; it turns out that the pennies represent stolen wishes, and Griffin needs to give the wishes back or give them to people who have the same desires or her wishes will stop coming true. This was an interesting fantasy concept, but it did skew a little young in my mind, what with a science fair and fund raiser to save the earth. It will be one of my book talks this week.

Limb, Sue. Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl.
From the author of Girl, 15, Charming but Insane. Fun, British romantic comedy that was somewhat uncomfortable to read because Zoe and Chloe keep doing the stupidest things imaginable.

Liu, Cynthea. Paris Pan takes the Dare.
Paris' family moves to a small town so that her father can build houses; turns out that the property has bought was the residence of a girl who was killed twenty years ago. Because there are so few girls in her grade, Paris ends up hanging around with some who want to "take the dare" i.e. spend the night in the woods. Paris doesn't want to, and tries to solve the mystery of what happened to the other girl. Some interesting family dynamics portrayed with Chinese parents who want their children to be over achievers.

Venkatesh, Sudhir. Gang Leader for a Day.
Adult nonfiction, not really appropriate for middle school because of the language and portrayals of drug use and prostitution, but VERY interesting. Venkatesh was a sociology grad student in the 1980s who managed to befriend a drug runner in the Chicago projects and study life there. Intriguing insights into how people in these projects live.

Whew. Must say that one of the things I will be doing for the next nine weeks is getting the library ready for the major overhaul that happens this summer; I'll try to keep on task and keep reading, but now I have to go schlep core novels around. Welcome back!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hamster Powered Internet

Ms. Yingling will return on Monday, 12 April!

Spring Break is this week, and it takes five minutes just to log into Blogger. During the summer, I jog to school and post, but school is closed, and the library is two miles away and I'm just not that fast yet! So, I'm taking a little hiatus, during which I may look into ISPs for something high speed.

Also, this will give me an opportunity to read something different-- like Isabel Gillies Happens Every Day, which was a little whiny (Gee, darn. Sorry that while you were living in Oberlin you didn't have a nanny and staff.) but had the best description of trying to get tenure track academic professorships I've seen, and Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, which was an interesting snapshot of Ireland and Brooklyn in the 1950s. Have a TBR pile heavy on chick lit and travel books. Did, however, read:

Williams, Maiya. The Fizzy Whiz Kid.
Mitch moves frequently with his bug-studying father and mother, this time ending up in LA in a school that caters to the children of the rich and powerful Hollywood types. He has some trouble fitting in (especially after a fiasco with his father's roaches), so tries out for a commercial for Fizzy Whiz soda-- which he gets. The commercial is successful, and soon he's having to miss school to shoot, and going to parties with other Hollywood types. The details of every day existence in such a situation is interesting, and since Williams produced television shows, they ring true. A quick, fun read. Enough action and goofiness that boys will like it.

Calonita, Jen. Secrets of My Hollywood Life: Broadway Princess.
Kaitlyn Burke is still mourning the loss of her long-running television show, Family Affair, and still having to deal with celebutantes Ava and Lauren's sniping. Luckily, she has a two month gig in New York on Broadway; unluckily, one of her costars is mad that she is replacing the original actress. Sky, her nemesis from Family Affair, is in New Tork as well, but the two are getting along, banding together against Lauren and Ava. Throw in complications with a long-term relationship with her boyfriend Austin, New York life, and this is a decent celebrity fiction book. This was, for me, also the shark jumper. There is one more book planned, and I'll certainly read it, but Kaitlyn was pretty whiny in this one, and I don't think I can take many more books. I do like Calonita's writing, and had this been the final volume, I would have been much happier. Rick Riordan has the right idea-- five volumes is a good length for a series. Leaves the readers satisfied but wanting a little more.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Baseball Books for Guy Friday

Nicholas D. Kristof has chimed in on the problem with boys and reading, cites the Guys Read web site, and recommends the Hardy Boys books to get boys more interested in reading. All excellent ideas. This article did offer me one epiphany, however-- when I was growing up, I was still being told that girls couldn't do certain stuff. It made me mad. There is a certain vehemence to one's achievement if one is an underdog. Do boys need to harness this? Girls spent thousands of years being told they were inferior. I don't recommend doing this to boys, but will we perhaps see men going into education more to support boys' success? Food for thought, indeed.

For more on the topic of boys' lack of success in school, look into Richard Whitmire's Why Boys Fail feature at Education Week.

On to the lists! I don't have as many boys who like baseball books as there are boys who like football or basketball books, but the following is loyal and determined, at times, to read nothing else. Here is a list of just about every baseball book in my entire library, with the exception of a huge number of Matt Christopher titles. They are very worthwhile, but a better list exists at

Baseball Fiction

Brooks, Bruce. Throwing Smoke

When his teammates on the baseball team continue to lose , Whiz uses an unusual printing press to create several star players in hopes of winning a game.

Cohen, Barbara. Thank you, Jackie Robinson.

A boy who loves the Brooklyn Dodgers and first baseman, Jackie Robinson, takes a ball autographed by Jackie to his friend's death bed.

Corbett, Sue. Free Baseball.

Felix takes advantage of an opportunity to become bat boy for a minor league baseball team, hoping to someday be like his father, a famous Cuban outfielder.

Cox, William Robert. Battery Mates

Two members of a baseball team deal with hostilities from their own teammates, interschool rivalries, romance, and the tensions prior to a championship game.

Deuker, Carl. High Heat

When Shane's father is arrested for money laundering at his Lexus dealership, the star pitcher's life of affluence and private school begins to fall apart.

Deuker, Carl. Painting the Black.

When star athlete Josh moves in across the street, Ryan doesn't realize how much his life will change during his senior year in high school.

Dygard, Thomas. The Rookie Arrives

Ted Bell goes from high school to playing in the major leagues and finds that he has a lot to learn before becoming the world's greatest third baseman.

Farrell, Mame. Bradley and the Billboard

When 13 year old Brad, a baseball hero, gets a job as a fashion model, he must come to terms with his ideas of what it is to be a real guy.

Gault, William Campbell. Trouble at Second.

A young team captain determines that his team will have a championship season despite the problems caused by the new hot-headed rookie.

Gutman, Dan. Honus and Me

Joey, who loves baseball but is not very good at it, finds a valuable 1909 Honus Wagner card and travels back in time to meet Honus.

Green, Tim. Baseball Great.

All Josh wants to do is play baseball but when his father, a minor league pitcher, signs him up for a youth championship team, Josh finds himself embroiled in a situation with potentially illegal consequences.

Lipsyte, Robert. Jock and Jill

Jack Ryder, aspiring baseball star, meets Jillian, a girl who makes him reevaluate all his priorities.

Lord, Bette. In the year of the boar and Jackie Robinson

In 1947, a Chinese child comes to Brooklyn where she becomes Americanized at school, in her apartment building, and by her love for baseball.

Lupica, Mike. Heat

Michael is on the run from social services after being banned from playing baseball because rival coaches doubt he is only twelve and he has no proof.

Lupica, Mike. The Big Field.

When Hutch feels threatened by the arrival of a new teammate named Darryl, he tries to work through his insecurities about both Darryl and his remote and silent father, who was once a great ballplayer too.

Lynch, Chris. Gold Dust

Richard befriends a Caribbean newcomer to his school, hoping that he will learn to love baseball and win acceptance in the racially polarized Boston school.

Mercado, Nancy. Baseball Crazy

Stories about the love of baseball, fear of baseball, and everything in between.

Patneaude, David. Haunting at Third.

After hearing that their baseball field is haunted, Nelson and his teammates start finding messages written in the dirt.

Rallison, Jannette. Playing the Field

McKay tries to keep up his algebra grade to stay on the baseball team, while dealing with his attraction to a girl named Serena.

Ritter, John H. The Boy Who Saved Baseball

The owner of a good part of Dillontown and its baseball field decides to sell.

Rud, Jeff. High and Inside.

Twelve-year-old Matt must learn to face a high and inside pitch while dealing with allegiances to friends and doing the right thing.

Slote, Alfred. Hang Tough, Paul Mather

A baseball pitcher with an incurable blood disease is determined to get in as much time on the mound as possible.

Smith, Robert Kimmel. Bobby Baseball

Bobby wants to pitch, but his coach puts him on second base instead.

Stolz, Mary. Coco Grimes.

Thomas talks his grandfather into driving to meet Coco Grimes, who remembers Negro League baseball, but the actual encounter proves to be bittersweet.

Tooke, Wes. Lucky

Louis sees his opportunity to be bat boy for the 1961 Yankees team as the perfect way to escape the problems of his father's remarriage and moving to the suburbs.

Tunis, John. World Series

Roy Tucker joins the rest of his Dodger teammates in a come-from-behind battle for the series title.

Wallace, Rich. Southpaw.

After moving following his parents' divorce, Jimmy Fleming tries out for the baseball team while also trying cope with his new life and dealing with his father.

Weaver, Will. Striking Out

Since the death of his brother Billy Baggs has had a distant relationship with his father, but life on their farm in begins to change when he starts to play baseball.

Zinnen, Linda. Holding At Third

When Matt's brother moves to a different hospital to receive cancer treatment, Matt tries to adjust to a new home, school, and new baseball team.

Zirpoli, Jane. Roots in the Outfield

Criticized by his baseball teammates for being afraid of the ball, Josh goes to live with his father in Milwaukee where he becomes entangled in a mystery.