Friday, May 28, 2010

Guy Friday-- Science Fiction

There are so many dystopian science fiction books that have come out lately that things are not quite as bad for middle school boys who want to move beyond Star Wars novelizations, but there is still a lack of FUN science fiction. You know, aliens, laser battles and robots that clean your room. Obviously, society has moved far beyond The Jetsons and My Favorite Martin, and our view of "the future" is now pretty grim. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, we all thought that by the year 2000 we would all have hover cars, wardrobes full of spandex jumpsuits, and phones that could transmit pictures. Oh, wait-- we have that last one. Thank goodness the jumpsuits didn't come to pass!

Science Fiction
Seconds before Earth is demolished, two friends begin hitchhiking through space to try to discover all of life's mysteries and along the way they meet an assortment of characters.
Auseon, Andrew. Alienated
Gene and Vince try to become famous and popular by publishing a free tabloid about real aliens, which lands them in the middle of an intergalactic conflict, as well.
Bachorz, Pam. Candor
Oscar Banks has been secretly sabotaging the subliminal messages that program the behavior of the residents of Candor, Florida, until his attraction to a rebellious new girl threatens to expose his subterfuge.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451
In this world books are for burning and the fireman enjoys his job until he meets a girl, and another world, in which people think for themselves and read books.
Butts, Nancy. The Door in the Lake
After vanishing during a camping trip, a 12 year old boy reappears 2 years later showing no signs of having aged and carrying memories of a strange light in the sky.
Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game (series)
Aliens have attacked Earth and almost destroyed the human species. To win the next encounter, the government has taken to breeding training military geniuses in the arts of war.
Carroll, Michael. The Awakening. (series)
Ten years after the disappearance of superhumans--both heroes and villains— Danny and Colin begin to develop super powers, making them the object of much unwanted attention.
Christopher, John. THE WHITE MOUNTAINS (Series)
A boy makes a perilous journey toward an outpost of freedom where they hope to escape from the ruling Tripods, who capture human beings and make them into servants.
Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Series)
When a monolith is found buried on the moon, scientists are amazed to discover that it's at least 3 million years old and is releasing a powerful signal aimed at Saturn.
Clements, Andrew. Things Not Seen
When fifteen-year-old Bobby wakes up and finds himself invisible, he and his parents and his new blind friend Alicia try to find out what caused his condition and how to reverse it.
Cole, Stephen. Z. Rex. (series)
From New Mexico, to Scotland, Adam Adlar must elude police while being hunted by a dinosaur from a virtual reality game invented by his father, who is missing.
Colfer, Eoin. The Supernaturalists.
Cosmo Hill escapes from an abusive orphanage and teams up with three other people who share his unusual ability to see supernatural creatures, and together they determine the nature and purpose of the swarming blue Parasites that are invisible to most humans.
Collins, Susanne. Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen accidentally becomes a contender in the annual Hunger Games, a grave competition hosted by the Capitol where young boys and girls are pitted against one another in a televised fight to the death.
Coville, Bruce
Aliens Ate My Homework—Rod is surprised when a spaceship lands in his science project and reveals five tiny aliens, who ask his help in apprehending an interstellar criminal.
Eason, Althea. Hungry.
Deborah develops a crush on her best friend Willy, but she is not happy when her alien parents tell her she must eat him for dinner.
Daley, Michael. Shaghaied to the Moon
Desperate to become a space pilot like his mother, despite his father's opposition, Stewart meets an old spacer who offers him the chance to learn AstroNav during a flight to the moon in the year 2065--and reveals some family secrets along the way.
Goldman, E.M.The Night Room
A group of students use a computer program which simulates their 10th high school reunion and get an unsettling look at their futures.
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Found.
When two adopted children learn they were discovered on a plane that appeared out of nowhere they realize that they have uncovered a mystery involving time travel and two opposing forces.
Hobbs, Will. Go Big or Go Home.
Brady and his cousin Quinn love extreme sports, but nothing could prepare them for the aftermath of Brady's close encounter with a meteorite after it crashes into his Black Hills, South Dakota, bedroom.
Hughes, Monica. Invitation to the game
Unemployed after high school in a highly robotic society, Lisse and seven friends resign themselves to boredom until the Government invites them to play The Game.
Jinks, Catherine. Living Hell
When his spaceship turns into a living organism, Cheney leads the hundreds of inhabitants in a fight for survival while machines turn on them, treating all humans as parasites.
Klass, David. Stuck on Earth.
On a secret mission to evaluate whether the human race should be annihilated, a space alien inhabits the body of a bullied fourteen-year-old boy.
Lasky, Kathryn. Star Split
In 3038, 13 year old Darci uncovers an underground movement to save the human race from genetic enhancement technology.
Logue, Mary.Dancing with an alien
A teenage boy from outer space travels to earth on a mission to help save his planet, and ultimately he falls in love, causing his mission to fail.
Lynch, Chris. Cyberia. (series)
In a future, a veterinarian is putting computer chips in animals who creatures choose Zane, who understands their speech, to save them and bring them to a technology-free safety zone.
Mackel, Kathy. Alien in a bottle
With the help of a classmate and an assortment of aliens from outer space, Sean tries to convince his parents to let him pursue his dream of becoming a glass blower.
Malley, Gemma. The Declaration.(series)
In 2140 England, where drugs enable people to live forever and children are illegal, an obedient "Surplus", discovers that her birth parents are trying to find her.
Meyer, Stephenie. The Host.
Melanie, whose mind has been taken over by an alien, convinces the alien to search for her lost lover, who fled the extraterrestrial invasion.
McKissack, Patricia. Clone Codes
On the run , Leanna learns amazing truths about herself and her family as she is forced to consider the value of freedom and what it really means to be human .
Nelson, O.T. The Girl who owned a city
When a plague sweeps over the earth killing everyone except children under twelve, ten-year-old Lisa organizes a group to rebuild a new way of life.
Pearson, Mary. The Adoration of Jenna Fox.
A girl, recovering from a serious accident and suffering from memory lapses, learns a startling secret about her existence.
Reeve, Philip. Mortal Engines.(series)
Tom has many dangerous adventures after being pushed off London by Thaddeus Valentine, a historian who is trying to resurrect an ancient atomic weapon.
Pratchett, Terry. Only You Can Save Mankind.(Series)
Johnny endures tensions between his parents and plays a computer game called Only You Can Save Mankind, in which he is increasingly drawn into the reality of the alien.
Reismand, Michael. Simon Bloom, Gravity Keeper (Series)
Sixth-grader Simon Bloom finds a book that enables him to control the laws of physics; but when two thugs come after him, he needs the formulas in the book to save himself.
O'Brien, Robert C. Z FOR ZACHARIAH
Seemingly the only person left alive after a war, a young girl is relieved to see a man arrive into her valley until she realizes that he is a tyrant and she must somehow escape.
Paton Walsh, Jill. The Green Book
As their small stock of essential supplies dwindles, a group of refugees from earth struggle to make their strange new planet provide life's necessities.
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Life as we Knew It.
Through journal entries Miranda describes her family's struggle to survive after a meteor hits the moon, causing worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
Schanback, Mindy. Princess From Another Planet.
Fourteen-year-old Gracie Quicksilver escapes her impoverished life by impersonating her rich cousin, until a series of events convinces her that her mother's delusions about being the deposed queen of a distant planet just might be true.
Shusterman, Neal. Dark Side of Nowhere
Jason faces an identity crisis after discovering that he is the son of aliens who stayed on earth following a botched invasion mission.
Shusterman, Neal. Unwind.
Three teens embark upon a cross-country journey in order to escape from a society that salvages body parts from children ages thirteen to eighteen.
Teague, Mark. The Doom Machine.
When a spaceship lands in a small town, Jack and Isadora form an unexpected alliance as they try to keep a group of extraterrestrials from stealing a space travel machine.
Waugh, Sylvia. Space Race
When he learns that he and his father must soon leave Earth, eleven-year-old Thomas Derwent is upset, but a terrible accident that separates the two of them makes Thomas's situation much worse. Also, Earthborn and Who Goes Home?
Werlin, Nancy. Double Helix
Eli discovers a shocking secret about his life and his family while working for a Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose specialty is genetic engineering.
Weyn, Susanne. The BarCode Tattoo
Kayla is ostracized at school because she refused to get the required tattooed bar code and now she and her family must run to avoid the dangers threats against them.
Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies.
Tally is faced with a difficult choice when her new friend Shay decides to risk life on the outside rather than submit to the forced operation that turns sixteen year old girls into gorgeous beauties, and realizes that there is a whole new side to the pretty world that she doesn't like.
Westerfeld, Scott. Leviathan
In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts.

Faces on covers

It's funny how a randomly picked pile of books sometimes has similarities!

Springer, Nancy. Possessing Jessie.
Finally, a book of interest to older middle school school students that is not 300+ pages long. Like this author's Somebody, this is a brief (88 pages) but well-done book that will appeal to the more reluctant reader. Jessie is devastated by the death of her brother Jason, even though he was quite nasty and caused his own demise. She starts to dress and act like her brother in order to make her mother feel better, and starts to take on more and more of his characteristics. Creepy and atmospheric, this is more along the lines of a ghost story, but could be used for a mystery unit as well. Blood Trail is another intriguing one by this author, and her Enola Holmes mysteries are always good.

Stratton, Alan. Borderline.
Sami struggles with his identity as a Muslim, and even though he has two good friends who are not Muslim, he never feels that he fits in anywhere. His father, a highly respected scientist, is very controlling and exacting. When the father cancels a trip to Canada which he had promised Sami, Sami investigates and thinks that his father is having an affair. Something suspicious is going on, and when the FBI arrests his father on charges of terrorism, Sami has to investigate and try to determine what is really going on in order to clear his family's name. This is an excellent depiction of racial profiling and racial bullying, but am I the only one who thinks that the cover doesn't accurately depict Sami? His family is Iranian. This did have some mature language, so I'm still debating it for the middle school, but it is something that is perfect for high school collections.

Taylor, Lani. Lips Touch Three Times.
I've read so much about this that I had to pick it up, even though it is clearly grades 9 and up. My 16-year-old daughter had read it and liked it; it's heavy-duty paranormal romance. We have werewolves and vampire romances galore, but not much with goblins. I didn't read the whole thing, but had to mention the book because the cover really, really creeped me out. There are some covers that are kind of bland, but considering that the interior illustrations (by the same illustrator) are really quite nice, I was even more disturbed by the bad 80s quality of the cover. High school libraries will want to buy this, but I'll pass.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Dark Hills Divide; Clean Kill

Carman, Patrick. The Dark Hills Divide.
Alexa chafes at being kept in her walled community-- even the roads between big towns are walled. Even though this has been done within recent memory (the book opens with the death of the instigator, Warvold), no one seems to remember why there are walls, except that the surrounding forest and neighboring community are evil. Alexa finds a key in Warvold's locket when he dies, and it leads her out of the community into a strange world of animals whose speech she can understand, former criminals, and others who have a vested interest in seeing the walls come down. There's the requisite traitor who must be found and brought to justice, and clues for Alexa to pick up to help save her community from war.

Several students recommended that I purchase this; it comes in a horrible Scholastic hard cover without the dust jacket. I liked Carman's Atherton series better, but then, it didn't have talking animals!

Coughlin, Jack and Donald A. David. Clean Kill: A Sniper Novel.
From publisher: "Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Swanson is recalled from Pakistan to take control when a peace negotiation between Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Israeli foreign minister is disrupted by a missile strike, but his arrival on the scene creates even more chaos when it brings Swanson's dangerous enemy Juba out of hiding."

A student asked me to read this to see if he thought I would like it. He had seen mention of it on The History Channel or somewhere similar. It is an adult novel, and while this student might enjoy it (he has a strong interest in the military), it is not quite suitable for a middle school collection. Not only are there frequent uses of foul language, but the characters and plot are very convoluted. My biggest objection to the book, however, was the completely heartless killing that goes on. Foreign soldiers blithely slitting people's throats? Good excuse for military personnel to swoop down and kill them.

I must be wearying a bit of YA-- I also read Patrick Taylor's An Irish Country Christmas. It was rather a treat, and I would like to pick up the first two books in the series over the summer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Split; Miracle on Maple Hill

Avasthi, Swati. Split.
High school junior Jace finally leaves his abusive father, leaving his mother behind, and seeks out his older brother, Christian, who left the family years earlier, also due to abuse. Christian is now a medical resident and takes Jace in, but the two have a rocky road to travel. Christian's girlfriend, Mirriam, who is a teacher, tries to help the two, but they are both uncommunicative and not forthcoming with the truth. Jace tries to settle in to his new school, and hopes that his mother will soon leave his father and join them.

This is a well-researched book, and very effective. The pain the two men feel is palpable, and their struggles realistic and heart wrenching. This is, however, more of a high school book. Not only because of the frequent use of the f-word (and again, I was raised at a time when this word was NEVER, EVER to be uttered under any circumstances), but because of the ways the boys cope with their abuse. They try to be self-reliant, and middle school students identify more with books where the abused children seek help from other adults. Excellent novel for high school.

Sorenson, Virginia. Miracles on Maple Hill. (1957)
I've had a hankering for reading some older books for no apparent reason, and have a copy of this title at home. *Sigh*. Marly and her family move from Pittsburgh to a run-down family house in the country in Pennsylvania because her father has an unspecified illness that makes him tired and cranky. Their neighbors, the Mr. Chris and Chrissie, farm and make maple syrup. Marly enjoys being able to run around outside, and her father's health slowly improves. There is a crisis, of course, but the family and neighbors all pull together and weather it.

There is very little that happens in this book, and it's a difficult one to get children to read now, but I do love it, and it has stood the test of time well. With the exception of one brief reference to riding the street cars, it is not dated at all. There were so many memoirs written during the 1950s about people moving to the country and living on farms that it is not a surprise that this one won a Newbery. If all books weren't overdue, I would try to get someone to read this.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Which I Become Overly Philosophical

About once quarterly, I doubt my methods of picking out books and agonize. This latest installment of worry can be attributed to Valerie Hobbs' comment yesterday. Are books just to entertain? Shouldn't I be giving my students more Serious Literature?

The whole point behind reading every book before I buy it is to identify students to whom I would give a particular title. My students are very good about articulating their desires, and I try to listen carefully. While I purchase books that I like personally, I don't purchase them unless I can also come up with a list of students who would like them. I also buy things I don't like that students do. (Warriors. Bleah!) Out of the 932 books that I purchased this year, there was only one that I bought because I liked it so much. (Flightsend by Linda Newbery) and the first girl who checked it out didn't like it. Sigh. If students won't pick up a book even when I recommend it, or worse, get into the first chapter and bring the book back, why did I spend money on it?

My blog policy is to write short reviews that are fairly neutral about a book but which indicate a possible audience; I then chime in on my personal feelings. Unless something is truly wretched, I try to be kind, because books that don't work for my library might be a great success somewhere else. Today I will give publishers descriptions and opine a more on why or why not I think the books would work IN MY LIBRARY.

Soup, Cuthbert. A Whole Nother Story.
"Ethan Cheeseman and his children hope to settle in a nice small town, at least long enough to complete work on a time machine, but spies and government agents have been pursuing them for two years and are about to catch up."

Most of this book made me want to bang it against my forehead until I lost consciousness. But I will buy it. Why? This is methadone for Lemony Snicket addicts, and there are still many 6th graders I have not managed to wean. Luckily, A Whole Nother Story is more cleverly written, and despite having the Snicketesque quirkiness, it lacks the condescending tone. Loved the title, found the sock puppet, the psychic dog, and the "relatively odor-free children" amusing. The book moved quickly, had a good amount of action and suspense, and generally was written in a cohesive, intelligent way. Will my 8th graders read it? No. Will 6th graders bring their friends to check it out? Every time it returns.

Leavitt, Lindsay. Princess for Hire.
"Desi Bascomb, who longs for something more glamorous than her life in Idaho, is approached by a woman named Meredith who explains that Desi can use an Egyptian formula called "Royal Rouge" to temporarily change herself into a look-alike of any princess, and as Desi gets involved in various royal fiascos, she realizes that the job is harder than it first seemed."

Two things move this right up to the top of my purchase list-- the cover, which my insatiable girl readers will adore, and the fact that it is a girly fantasy which will be great when a language arts requires a class to read a fantasy, and there are girls that don't want to stop reading a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy every day. That, and the word "floccinaucinihilipilification", which is always great to see in a book. I thought that the author did a great job at the suspension of disbelief that is so tricky with fantasies-- the appearance of Meredith in a bubble, and the transformation into someone else is briefly explained, and then they never look back. That's the way to do it. There is also a lot of clever turns of phrase. My reservations with this book come from the fact that it is so packed with things that it veers toward disorganization, which is a quick way to lose readers. Desi takes a range of multicultural jobs, including an Amazon rain forest princess, which seemed a stretch to me. All of the princesses have problems, which Desi works to solve, and she has her own problems on top of it. It got to be a bit much. Still, VERY promising author, and I will definitely read her Sean Griswold's Head when it comes out.

Mass, Wendy. Finally.
"After her twelfth birthday, Rory checks off a list of things she is finally allowed to do, but unexpected consequences interfere with her involvement in the movie being shot at her school, while a weird prediction starts to make sense."

Even though I usually cringe when I see a new title by Wendy Mass, (I always want to like her books, like Every Soul a Star and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, and never do), I bought this at Barnes and Noble for my daughter's 12th birthday, mainly because of the cover. Very unusual move. Even more unusual-- Picky Reader LIKED it.

This book also suffered from too much going on, and I started to weary of the string of small catastrophes that plague Rory (a makeover gives her a rash, her pierced ear gets infected, she scratches her cornea trying a contact lens AND her pet bunny tries to suffocate her at night, and that's just the beginning), but the brilliant thing about the book was that it addressed concerns that 12 year olds have but haven't made their way into books yet. What's it like to ride in the front seat of a car? Can I shave my legs? (Although really, shouldn't Rory's mother have paid attention before Rory shredded herself?) Will I be scared if I stay home alone? What happens if I drink too much coffee? Or lose my brand new cell phone? This reads in part like a protracted Embarrassing Moments magazine column, which is why tween girls will love this. These things aren't happening to them. The overly contrived ending bothered me a bit. This is the least literary of Mass' books, but I will buy one for my library, because the girls will read it.

Are these books serious? No. Are they entertaining? Yes. Middle School is a dangerous age. It is so easy to lose them as readers. There are many demands on their time, language arts teachers are assigning things like Of Mice and Men and The Pigman, and if I start handing out slow-paced Very Special Stories on a regular basis, many of them would stop reading. Many of them will anyway, when they are forced to read Gone With the Wind and The Tale of Two Cities in high school, but I try to prolong the inevitable for as long as possible. And what do most adults read? I think sales of Nora Roberts and John Grisham are higher than of serious, literary authors.

Enough philosophy. Back to short reviews tomorrow, I promise!

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Holocaust Books

Greif, Jean-Jacques. The Fighter.
Moshe has a difficult childhood in Warsaw and then Paris-- he is small and weak, and the children bully him because of this and also because he is Jewish. He learns to box, which helps things a little. Unfortunately, after he grows up, marries, and has a child, he is deported from Paris and sent to Auschwitz, where his toughness helps him survive. The beginning of this covers a lot of ground, but time slows down when Moshe is sent to the camps. Based on interviews with Holocaust survivors, this is an excellent addition to a Holocaust collection,and one of my reluctant readers said it was the best book ever. This was translated from the French by the author himself; I would love to see more of his titles in English.

Chapman, Fern. Is It Night or Day?
This is also based on interviews with survivors, this time the author's grandmother. I was not aware that before the war, over 1,000 German Jewish children were sent to the US, sponsored by various relatives and citizens. This is the story of Edith, who comes to live with an uncle and join her older sister. Adjusting to hew new life is difficult, and not made easier when she is identified as an "enemy alien". While the war and Holocaust are covered, this is more a story of a girl's adjustment to a new life. Like Lasky's Ashes, it is a facet of the war previously unknown to me.

Hobbs, Valerie. The Last Best Days of Summer.
Lucy, who is worried about entering middle school, looks forward all year to spending a week with her grandmother at the lake. When she gets there, she finds that her grandmother's memory is failing quickly. On top of that, Eddie, a boy with special needs to whom she is paid to be a companion, runs away from home and shows up at the lake house. Knowing this will be the last week with her grandmother, Lucy struggles to make the best of the situation. While I enjoyed this, it had a distinct 80s feel to it, from the cover to the serious writing. I'll see what Picky Reader thinks, but I'm not sure who the readers for this one are.

Later: Ms. Hobbs was kind enough to comment on this post: "Just curious: when did we stop writing "seriously"? Or about "serious" topics? Are we only entertaining our readers now?" This is a fair question. I think that there are many books on serious topics that also entertain readers. Jordan Sonnenblick's After Ever After is an excellent example. Students do like to be entertained when they pick up books for pleasure reading; to me, The Last Best Days of Summer reads more like something that a teacher would assign because of the number of problems that Lucy is facing and the manner in which they are worked out. It's a hard balance to strike, I know. Perhaps this is for a slightly younger audience, which I find harder to gauge.

Books at which I looked, but which weren't quite right for my collection: Scaletta's Mudville, Kephart's The Heart is not a Size, and McMullan's Sources of Light.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Guy Friday versus The End of the Year

I never count down the days until the end of school because I would far rather be here cleaning than at home. However, someone pointed out that we have just 12 days left in the year.

Anyone have a paper bag into which I can breathe?

Library renovation begins soon and the architects have not met with us, there are still 50 lost books I need to track down, I don't have orders in place for August, equipment needs to be inventoried, shelves mapped for the move, parents called about lost books, Summer Intervention books pulled, etc. etc. And then I need to pack up everything and move it into the cafeteria.

I think Guy Friday might because DYI Friday or something. Anyone but me care about my library renovation?

Oh, and so everyone knows, I think Betty White is stalking me:

I missed the episode of The Middle where she plays a librarian, but I swear she's wearing one of my cardigans, and I also refer to the library books as "my babies"!

It's going to get worse before it gets better, but I WILL continue posting a book or two every week day!

Different Facets of War

Morpurgo, Michael. The Mozart Question.
A young reporter is sent to interview a famous violinist on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, and is instructed NOT to ask "the Mozart question". Not knowing what this is, she blurts out that she is not to ask it, and the violinist gives her the entire story. As a young boy living in Venice, he finds his father's violin and starts to play it with the help of a street fiddler. Eventually, he discovers that the fiddler knew his parents when they were all in an internment camp during World War II. Their survival depended on their skills in a prisoner orchestra-- which was instructed to play Mozart to distract new arrivals from the dire fate that awaited them. This is a small but powerful book, short (70 pages), with illustrations, but I will buy a copy because it will be good for reluctant readers when the 8th grade studies the Holocaust.

Khan, Rukhsana. Wanting Mor.
Jameela's life is difficult not only because of the war in her native Afghanistan, but because her mother (mor) has died, she has a cleft lip, and her father moves her to the big city, where he marries and then abandons Jameela in the market. A kindly butcher takes her to an orphanage, where she gets schooling and better care than she has known. She helps with the younger students, has surgery to correct her lip, and makes an uneasy peace with her family and her fate. The details of daily life in regards to food, religion and customs are wonderfully done, and the inclusion of native vocabulary, with glossary in the back, lends immediacy to the story.Our sixth grade reads Deborah Ellis' The Breadwinner, and this is an excellent accompaniment to that title. Staples' Under the Persimmon Tree and Clements' Extra Credit also cover life in Afghanistan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Viking Aliens Go Hunting

Jennewein, Jim and Tom S. Parker. RuneWarriors: The Sword of Doom.
Sequel to Runewarriors: Shield of Odin (Which had a WAY better cover.)
In a mysterical, quasi-Viking world (there are Norse gods and creatures, but the language is very modern) Dane is back, and this time he is is equipped with the magical sword of his father's, which he needs when his mother is kidnapped and he sets off with his ill-prepared band of goofy comrades to rescue her. The plot on this is predictable, and the language walks the line of appropriateness, but that is exactly why middle school boys love this series. Armpit lice, vomiting, and a romance with a kick-butt maiden warrior all make this a book that will keep boys going through the 413 pages.

Klass, David. Stuck on Earth.
Fun science fiction! Ketchvar comes to earth and takes over the body of the ill-fated Tom Filber-- by crawling through his nose and implanting himself in Tom's brain. Ketchvar can access Tom' thoughts if he needs them while he is evaluating whether or not the earth should be destroyed, but does act and talk in decidedly alien ways while he isn't. Tom wasn't a good choice for a host-- his family life is impossible, and he is a target of bullies in his school. Ketchvar reports back to his planet, hiding his files under names no human would take the trouble to decode-- How to Saute a Skunk, Old Hip-Hop Songs That Sucked-- and comes to the eventual conclusion, helped along by his budding relationship with the pretty Melissa, that the inhabitants of Earth should not be destroyed. Klass already has big hits at my library with You Don't Know Me(2002), Danger Zone(1996) and Wrestling With Honor (1990), and I would LOVE to see him do more humorous books. This was great, and the cover is shiny and much more attractive in person.

Willis, Cynthia Chapman. Buck Fever.
When Joey turns 12, his father is very pleased that he will continue the family tradition of going deer hunting, and hopes that Joey (clad is his father's old, stinky hunting clothes) will shoot a buck. When he gets the chance, however, he freezes, misses, and enrages his father. The trouble is that Joey doesn't want to kill the deer; he wants to draw them. His father, one of the most annoying and dysfunctional father's in teen literature, is bent out of shape because Joey's mother is traveling for her job, and he has to take care of the children, cook AND do laundry. It's too much! Luckily, Joey's sister (who has cross country practice in December for some inexplicable reason) and neighbor are supportive, encouraging him to enter an art competition and helping his father understand (after Joey sneaks off to hunt and shoots himself in the foot) that hunting isn't the only masculine pursuit.

This was very well written and atmospheric, but I had two problems with it. One, Joey's father needs to suck it up. I could see a father having this much trouble taking care of children in a book written in the 1980s, but not now. Two, boys who want to read about hunting don't want to read a book about a boy who does not want to hunt, and boys who don't want to hunt certainly don't want to read about it. Thanks to the Toledo Lucas County Public Library for sending this one through SearchOhio for me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Horses and Unicorns

Morpurgo, Michael. War Horse.
Albert's horse Joey is the delight of his life, so when his drunken father sells Joey to the army to help in World War I, Albert vows to find his friend. Joey travels widely-- he is sent to France to the front lines, where he befriends another horse and manages to survive many of his riders. He spends some time with a French family, hauls wagons for the Germans, and eventually ends up with an English unit again.

There are few books written about WWI, which always surprises me, since it was such a pivotal war from the point of view of weaponry, and was so devastating. This book is a good balance between descriptions of fighting, which the boys want to read, and details of how harrowing the every day life was and how difficult fighting in a battle really is. I was afraid that a book from the horse's point of view would be difficult to read ( like Kadohata's Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam), but Joey's perspectives are largely human. The scene where a German and English soldier flip a coin to see who gets Joey sent chills down my spine, and I must admit that I cried at the end (which was happier than one would suspect). I have this author's Private Peaceful, and do so wish that more of his titles made it to the US.

McKenzie, Nancy. Guinevere's Gamble. (Sequel to Guinevere's Gift)
Guinevere is still more interested in riding horses and meeting with Llyr, her guardian from the old ones, than she is in being a lady or marrying well, although her cousin Elaine is distraught at the marriage of King Arthur. When the two get a chance to visit the king, they're thrilled, but the king's sister, Morgan, takes a dislike to Gwen and makes things difficult for Llyr. Royal politics, intrigue abound in this excellent twist on Arthurian legend. One confusing point-- Guenwyvar of Ifray, the bride of Arthur, whom I do not remember from The Once and Future King. Gwen also marries Arthur, as a nice note in the back points out, and there are two more books coming in this series.

Coville, Bruce. Dark Whispers. (The Unicorn Chronicles, Book 3)
Warning: It helps to reread Song of the Wanderer (1999) and Into the Land of the Unicorns (1994) to get up to speed. Considering that I read both of those almost 3,500 books ago, most of my time was spent figuring out the characters and different worlds. This will not matter to students, who will also be eager for the conclusion to the series, The Last Hunt, due out 1 June 2010.

Beloved is still hunting unicorns because she thinks one killed her father, but Ian, Cara's father, has decided the unicorns are not evil and is trying to find Cara and free his wife from the Rainbow Prison, where Beloved has imprisoned her. Beloved is also trying to take over Luster, the land where the unicorns live. This is high fantasy, and very intense, but can't be beat for the unicorn lore.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Emperors, Queens and Pharaohs!

Korman, Gordon. The Emperor's Code (Book 8, The 39 Clues)
Dan and Amy are in China for this latest installment, hunting around the Forbidden City for clues as to whether or not they really ARE from the evil Madrigal Branch. Dan finds an important clue about uniting the branches, but is then kidnapped. When he escapes, he stays for a while with his Wizard cousins because he can't find Amy. Amy is torn-- does she look for her brother, or for the next clue? These are always good fun, and the students will be more apt to pay attention for clues to the circled words in the text than I was. Interesting that Dan has a little more 'oomph' in this one-- I guess Korman is fonder of him than other authors are!

Meyer, Carolyn. The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoniette.
This is a lengthy book (420 pages), and I wasn't sure that I would like it, even though the other Young Royals books were very good. This turned out to be a fascinating look at a young woman who, because of her circumstances, became an evil and entitled villain. Betrothed at a young age to a man whom she at first dislikes, she is swept up in the glamorous life of the French court. Because her husband does not pay enough attention to her, she is unable to fulfill her most important role-- giving birth to an heir. The discussions of this are very discreet, but some might want to save this for high school. Because of these frustrations, and the strictures placed on her, she starts to spend money and act in ways that infuriate the impoverished French people, bringing about her own eventual demise. Learned a lot from this book, and enjoyed every minute.

LaFevers, R. L. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus.
Just feel compelled to point out that Theodosia was dealing with Egyptian magic far before Rick Riordan picked it up with The Red Pyramid, not that there can really be too many books on the subject! Could it be that authors are looking at the middle school curriculum and actually writing books we NEED? Doesn't matter; I love Theodosia. As the only one in her family who can detect and remove curses from Egyptian artifacts, Theodosia is perpetually rolling her eyes at the clueless adults around her and then saving their necks. This time, several sets of evil doers are stalking Theodosia in order to get the Emerald Tablet from her, and she must stealthily remove curses, protect her brother, perform Egyptian burial rites on poor Tetley, and in general, keep things going, since her parents are so distracted by work that they can't even get dinner on the table. I enjoyed her grandmother stepping away from her imperious, disapproving role, and am looking forward to a trip to Egypt that must now occur.

If you haven't already purchased them, definitely pick up Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (2007) and Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris (2008). They will be widely read. I would love to see LaFevers do a similar series with Greek or Roman archaeologists, perhaps concerned more with the digs than the magic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My weekend with the Kindle

Two of our teachers wrote a grant to buy an Amazon Kindle, primarily to use the text-to-speech capacity with struggling readers. They were kind enough to let me borrow it for the weekend.

I do not buy books for myself. I check them out of the library to read before purchasing for my school library, and occasionally pick up books at the thrift store for a quarter, so a Kindle would make little sense for me personally. Since there is no way we're purchasing the $259 unit for general use, this was an exercise in the abstract.

The temptation is there. Being able to download sample chapters of books while sitting in my easy chair was awesome. I was also hugely intrigued by the number of Horatio Alger and Eleanor Porter titles that were available, and managed to read a sample chapter of Morley's The Haunted Bookshop, a paper copy of which I cannot locate (*sob*). I read quite a bit of Eight Cousins on the device, and was not bothered at all by the format. The big advantage of the Kindle over reading things off the computer is, no kidding, the easy chair!

There are some downsides. For example, the unit completely froze on me three times, and dropped the wireless connection frequently. This would not affect reading the books, but made looking in the Kindle store unwieldy, since I was always 56 pages into the 1,200 page listings of Children's Historical Fiction, and had to start over. I also had to call tech support just to find out how to see all of the books that were listed on my home page-- it was not readily apparent, and not written up in the paper instructions or the Kindle manual.

My biggest dislike was the Kindle store. The internet based version does not seem to be a vast improvement. Since I want text-to-speech enabled books, it would be helpful to see a listing of those and search for children's fiction among those titles. There may be a way, but I'm tired of spending time on it. That, and I think I accidentally purchased three books, for which I will need to make restitution. Drat.

The one compelling reason for me to buy a Kindle (or more likely, a Nook, which seems to be a little more user friendly)? If I could get just three major publishing houses to send me free copies of entire e books so that I could review them, I would purchase one. It would be cheaper for the publishers than sending ARCs, they wouldn't lose money because I would never normally buy an e book, and I could even sign an agreement to delete the title if they wanted.

Random House, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Farrar, Stauss and Giroux, Penguin Putnam or Little, Brown and Co. (I know, you're really Hachette Group now)-- are you interested in sending me free e books? I have had publishers send me PDF files of books, and this would be about the same, except I would be able to sit in my easy chair instead of at the computer, which is too much like work!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Guy Friday-- Horror!

There are never enough horror books for my students. I've tried to find them, but even when I hand students Darren Shan's Lord Loss, they seem to think it's not horrific enough. This disturbs me just a bit, but I figure that horror is to boys what problem novels are to girls. Unfortunately, I have a very short list of books that boys claim are "horrific enough".
Carter, Dean. Hand of the Devil.
Ferguson, Alane. The Christopher Killer.
Pike, Christopher. Master of Murder.
Richardson, E.E. The Devil's Footsteps.
Shan, Darren. Lord Lord (Demonata series)
Yancey, Rick. The Monstrumologist. (Thanks, Jennifer!)
Zindel, Paul. Rats, Raptor, Reef of Death, Doom Stone, Night of the Bat, Loch

One might hope that there would be a lot of web sites with lists of horror books; most have about as many as I have listed, some of which are deemed "not scary" by my students.

Monster Librarian (Best site!)
Hebdomeros (short list)
Cuyahoga Falls Library (where they have all the books in the world!)

So-- what's the general consensus? What do boys want in horror books, and what good books are out there? Take this three question survey if you have time!

Click Here to Take Survey

Klavan, Andrew. The Long Way Home.
In this sequel to The Last Thing I Remember, Charlie is still on the run from the Homelanders, a terrorist group that has framed him for the murder of his best friend. These terrorists are U.S. citizens who are recruited by "Islamists". While I appreciated the nonstop action (knife attacks in the library restroom, motorcycle chases, etc.), this got VERY preachy, to the point of being off-putting. I have a lot of students who are Muslims; how will they feel reading this? During the Cold War, there were a lot of spy novels with Communist bad guys; how many Russian immigrants did we have who were reading those? I don't remember the first book having so much emphasis on Charlie's Christian beliefs, and Klavan also loses points for the incredibly unflattering portrayal of librarian, ("She looked sort of bulky and shapeless in a dark flowery blouse. Her hair was short and dyed a kind of silvery blode. Her wrinkly features were kindly but distant, abstracted, as if she were far away inside her own mind. Page 21), that wasn't even clever-- if this librarian had sized up the situation and managed to fend off Charlie's attackers and let him escape, that would have been cool.

Kirkus reviews said "Skewed to an audience reading from the right side of the religio-political spectrum, it displays scant tolerance for nonbelievers. Even those comfortable with this viewpoint may well find themselves yawning as Charlie sludges on in his quest--suspended, of course, until the next book."

Book three is scheduled to come out 2 November 2010, and book four on 2 April 2011. I will probably buy them, if only so that Klavan doesn't accuse me of being a Leftist Librarian with An Agenda to Delude the Youth of the Nation. *Sigh* Why Thomas Nelson Publishing has chosen to put these in paper-over-board bindings is a mystery-- they will see hard use and not survive well.