Thursday, July 29, 2010

They've Painted!!!

The good news is that a week after the renovation was supposed to be finished, they started to paint! The workmen were sweeping the floor when I was there today, hopefully in preparation for the World's Ugliest Carpet. (Below) While the paint looks a nice sunny yellow in the photo, it's sort of an orangish yellow, no doubt meant to match the carpet. It could have been worse-- it could have been orange or purple paint. This amuses me greatly; before the renovation, the Powers That Be made fun of my original 1969 decor, complete with orange shelving. The renovation was supposed to take us OUT of "the Brady Bunch era". Not sure that we are going to accomplish this goal.

Oh, well. As long as there is flooring on the first day, and we get all the boxes moved back into the library and the security gates up, I can open. If they are building shelves, I don't know if I can have classes, and obviously computer use depends upon actually having computers. If study halls are scheduled in the library during lunch, it might be easier to have tables and chairs, but I'm sure the children will enjoy sitting on the floor!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Emma and the Vampires

Josephson, Wayne. Emma and the Vampires. (Release date: August 10, 2010)
Copy recieved from Liz Kelsch at Sourcebooks.

This is a reimagining of the Jane Austen title with the addition of vampires. Emma lives with her frail father. Since her tutor has left to marry (a vampire), she has cultured the friendship of the beautiful but poor Harriet Smith, for whom she is trying to arrange a marriage to Mr. Elton, the vicar (and a vampire). Unfortunately, Harriet tends to draw ragged, feral vampires every time she sets foot outside, so both Emma and Harriet travel with wooden stakes tie to their thighs with silk ribbons. Emma is interested in Mr. Knightly (a vampire), but gets involved with other gentlemen as well, in her attempts to fix up various friends and relatives, which cause social consternation, but all end with marriages being made satisfactorily. The language, settings, and plot of the original Emma are all preserved well, although the language is made much easier to read by Mr. Josephson, who originally rewrote this title for his daughter, who suggested that he add the vampires. There are some rollicking vampire slaying scenes. This will probably draw readers who like Austen, and introduce her work to readers who pick this up because of the inclusion on the ever popular vampire.

This book reflects a new fad for "mash up" literature; Sourcebooks also publishes Lydia Dare's A Certain Wolfish Charm and sequels that involve werewolves in Regency England. Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride Prejudice and Zombies was popular enough that it is being made into a movie. These books have not aroused any interest in my students at all, and I must say that I do not understand them in the least. I do think that Mr. Josphson's rewriting of titles such as Moby Dick and Jane Eyre for modern readers holds much more interest for me, and I will certainly look them up. Emma and the Vampires struck me as more of a high school title, which would explain why it did not appeal to me personally.

Abrahams, Peter. Bullet Point.
Wyatt is a great baseball player, but because of budget cuts and a violent stepfather, he chooses to move several hours a way to live at the house of a friend's aunt. He still can't play ball for a year, but he meets an interesting girl and, after making contact with the father he has never met who is incarcerated for murder in a nearby prison, tries to find out what really happened and clear his father's name. I am going to recommend this title to our high school librarian, because it was tremendously intriguing. but the language and the situations make this too mature for my students. (I stopped reading after Wyatt hops into bed with the girl. Sigh.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One for boys, one for girls

Wallace, Rich. Sports Camp.
Riley is the smallest and youngest person at summer camp, and since the whole purpose of the camp is a variety of sports competitions, he's a little nervous. He is trying to improve, but the other boys are bigger and not all that nice. Not only that, but there are a lot of creepy stories floating around the camp about evil turtles, boys that drowned, etc., that bother Riley a little more than he would like to admit. As the sports competition heats up, the stories get more and more outrageous, and Riley has to determine the best way to succeed at camp.

I'm a huge Wallace fan for my lower level readers who love sports fiction, and especially like his One Good Punch for older readers. Boys will like this one, but it left me a little cold because of the constant sports, including news letters with statistics. That's just me.

Le Vann, Kate. Things I know About Love.
Livia is excited to visit her brother who is studying in the United States, especially since she's spent the past couple of years dealing with leukemia, and her mother has become too concerned about her. A break is good, especially since it includes a lot of hot new American boys, and a chance to reconnect with her brother. Livia decides to keep a blog of her new experiences, the best of which is meeting up with Adam, a friend of her brothers who she had met previously back home in Manchester and definitely "fanicies". The good news is that he fancies her, too-- a lot. (STOP READING-- SPOILER ALERT.)

This is a fairly pleasant and predictable romance until the end, when it took a completely unexpected and rather Lurlene McDaniel-esque turn. Wow. Did not see that coming. I wasn't wild about the "blog" format, since it really isn't that different from a regular diary format, and the ending just gobsmacked me. I'm not sure about this one-- would I recommend it to people who wanted a happy book or a sad one? Maybe it's more for high school, since the brother is in college.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend Reading

Mull, Brandon. The Keys to the Demon Prison. (Fablehaven #5)

It's funny when you read the publishers description of a book (here: "Kendra, Seth, and the Knights of the Dawn race against time and face dangers as they try to stop the leader of the Society of the Evening Star from possessing the final artifact needed to release evil from the great demon prison.") and you think "Yeah, but what is the book about?" Unfortunately, I won't be the one to tell you, because while I enjoyed this tremendously, I finally surrendered to the wave of details and just floated along the current of the prose. There are so many magical minutiae, adventures, schemes, and back history that I didn't try to keep everything straight. Students who can tell me what color socks each character had on in chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Interminable Sequel and the significance of each of these colors will be able to keep the details straight. Any middle school library that doesn't have these books is missing out. Mull's pacing and sense of humor (the satyrs are encouraged to fight against the demon uprising so that they can continue to enjoy their newly found favorite snack food from Hostess and Frito Lay) is wonderful, and I respect how he has brought the series to an end. The afterword of this book hints at a sequel to The Candy Shop War, which I found to be the creepiest book ever-- children taking candy from strangers to control their parents' minds!!! And I'll quote my favorite bit, from the Reading Guide, in case you don't get that far: "13 Who's the coolest author ever? Is it the guy who wrote Fablehaven If not, what's the matter with you? Explain." Enough said!

Senzai, N.H. Shooting Kabul.
Fadi's family decides to leave their home in Afghanistan when his father realizes he can't cooperate with the Taliban. Luckily, the family is able to leave in time, but the in the crush of people, Fadi's six-year-old sister Mariam is left behind. Fadi thinks it is his fault because he let go of her hand. The family decides to continue on their journey, knowing they won't make it out of the coutry otherwise. They hire detectives to try to find Mariam. Once in the US, it's difficult for Fadi to settle in. His mother is ill and depressed, his older sister too quick to adopt the ways of her new country, and his father must drive a taxi. There is a good deal of family support, but times are difficult. Fadi, who loves photography, wants to join the photography club and enter a competition for which the prize is airline tickets to India. He thinks if he wins, he can have a chance at finding his sister. Then September 11th occurs, and things become even more difficult for the family. Fadi is bullied, and chances of finding Mariam fade.
This was an important descriptive work about the immigrant experience. If we ever want the wars to end, we need to have our students read about people in other parts of the world. I will recommend this to the teacher who does the unit with Ellis' The Breadwinner, and any students who read Clements' Extra Credit.
McGhee, Alison. Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing.
Even though I could tell right away that this book was too young for my students (Julia is nine, and a young nine at that), I kept reading. The mixture of the Drazen Kozjan illustrations (reminiscent of... the Krushes mixed with Hilary Knight?) and the quirky character kept me intrigued, and Picky Reader would have loved this at age 7, but it's just too young for her now. That said, I really, really want to read Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy.
Bateson, Catherine. Magenta McPhee.
Magenta is worried about her divorced, unemployed father. Her mother is getting married soon, but she thinks that her father is slipping further and further into depression. With the help of a quirky friend, she creates an online dating profile for her father and corresponds with a woman who has a teen son. In the end, she is found out and made to apologize to the woman, even though she and her father become friends, and the two families go camping together. Once her father develops an interest in another woman, however, Magenta realizes that trying to fix her father up was not a good idea. Other complications keep this book moving along. Perfectly fine book, even though the subject has been covered before, but I do not know what they were thinking with the cover art. It looks dated already, and may very well prevent me from buying the book, and the audience for this particular type of realistic fiction care deeply about what the book looks like.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Body Thief

Giles, Stephen M. The Body Thief (The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom) ARC provided by Sourcebooks.

The youngest generation of Winterbottoms have it tough: Adele's mother lost all of the family money when she was sued by the family of her lab assistant who was killed by mutated birds who attacked him; Isabelle's father is a thief who encourages her to befriend rich girls at her school and steal from them; Milo's parents were killed by a volcano, and he lives with his impoverished musician grandfather. When all three receive an invitation from their Uncle Silas to visit his island, and a check for $10,000 to help defray their expenses, they each decide that the visit might help them become heirs to Silas' enormous fortune. Not only is Silas rich, but he's dying, and he's a creepy guy on top of it. Their are shady retainers, a pet alligator, and a doctor with a plan to save Silas-- at the expense of his young relatives! In great Gothic style, the children scheme with and against each other, especially when they find that Silas hasn't invited them to be his heirs... at least not of his money!

Look for this title when it is released on August 1st. It will be a great book for fans of mystery stories with evil relatives, especially for students who like Barbara Brooks Wallace's Victorian books. The cover strikes a good balance-- younger students usually like this genre more than older ones, and the cover is creepy without being overly cartoonish (although I rather prefer the Australian version, with its red and black). The writing is facile and a pleasure to read-- perhaps it's the effects of summer, but I've been losing patience with books that don't engage me. Even though the children weren't the most pleasant, I liked them Milo and Adele, and Isabelle and Silas were evil enough that I could root against them. There were twists and turns in the plot that I didn't quite see coming. All in all, a great first effort.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Michael Cadnum's Flash

Cadnum, Michael. Flash.
Brothers Bruce and Michael have too much time on their hands, and decide to channel their antisocial rage into plotting a bank robbery. Nina is worried about her father's money problems, but also concerned about her brother, Carraway, who is back from serving in Iraq, where he was badly injured. Legally blind Terrence, Nina's boyfriend, is contemplating surgery that will restore some of his sight, although he has a decent job recording bird sounds for films. Bruce and Michael put their inept plan into action, and we witness to the brothers trying to hide the ink-stained cash that is their only haul from the robbery. Nina has seen them running from the bank with a bag, and Terrence heard the robbery take place, so along with Carraway (who has problems of his own), the robbers, witnesses and eventually, law enforcement officers, all converge with explosive results!

This was a great page-turner with an immensely appealing cover. It can't be classed as a mystery, because we see each step of the events as they occur. It is suspense, in the way that Terri Fields Holdup is. While it's clear that the brothers are going to rob a bank, I wanted to know what horrible thing was going to happen. Combine this with brief but realistic descriptions of Nina's financial worries and excellent details of what life is like serving in the military in Iraq, and this becomes a book that will appeal to a lot of middle school students. In fact, I know the very first student to whom I will recommend this in the fall-- he tends to read only books about war, and this has just enough of that to encourage him to read the book while stretching a bit.

Some of the reviews list this as grades 9 and up, but there is nothing that makes this inappropriate for middle school. The appearance of guns is realistic, but does not encourage having them about. While it is good to see Cadnum pick up contemporary fiction again (Taking It (1995) and Zero at the Bone (1996) are excellent titles), his historical fiction is also top rate, and his Book of the Lion and Ship of Fire have taught many of my boys that history doesn't have to be boring. Always glad to see something new from this author!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chasing Orion

Lasky, Kathryn. Chasing Orion.
Georgie is not having a good summer in 1952. Her family has just moved to a brand-new neighborhood where there are no trees and she has no friends, and she is not allowed to go to the pool, movies, or parties because of the polio epidemic. Because of this, she has become obsessed, in the way that 11-year-olds do, with polio news. When she finds out her next-door neighbor, an attractive teenaged girl, is in an iron lung due to complications with polio, she is interested in meeting Phyllis. Once she gets to know her, she is glad to have an older girl in which to confide, but Georgie soon finds that Phyllis is not as accepting of her circumstances as she leads everyone around her to believe. Phyllis is using her romance with Georgie's socially inept brother Emmett for her own purposes, and Georgie seems to be the only person to realize this.

There seem to be a few fiction books about polio around, like Iain Lawrence's The Giant Slayer, but I would prefer this one. Lasky's details of the time period are very rich, and her concentration on the feelings of Georgie make it accessible to children who might not be as interested in polio. I am curious now to read Peg Kehret's The Year I Got Polio (2006) and George Harrar's The Wonder Kid (2006), since a story from the point of view from a child who got polio would be interesting.

Picked up a number of things from the new book shelf at the library that weren't quite what I needed.
Richards, Jame. Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood. From varying points of view, this novel in verse tells the story of the 1889 flood. Maybe for older students, or for students who study this historical event.

Napoli, Donna Jo. The Wager. I adore Napoli's retelling of fairy tales, but this retelling of the story of Don Giovanni might be a hard sell. 

Auseon, Andrew. Freak Magnet. STB did not care for this quirky story of a girl who attracts guys she thinks are freaks, and one of the freaks. Older due to introspective qualities. Much different from this author's Alienated.

Service, Pamela. Alien Encounter. This is book four in the series, and it was a good read, but a bit young. It's the computer drawn interior illustrations, I think-- it's hard to get those to circulate. For middle school, an excellent choice is Service's Stinker from Space-- it's so popular that I got a second copy.

Falls, Kat. Dark Life. STB read and seemed to like, but I couldn't get further than the first chapter. Just overdosed on futuristic dystopias, I think.

Baggott, Julianna. The EverBreath. Blame my inability to pick this one up on too many fantasy books. From the publisher "Twins Truman and Camille, spending winter break with their paternal grandmother, follow a secret passageway to the Breath World, where all creatures of magic dwell, to find the Ever Breath, a magical stone that maintains balance between worlds."

Have the fifth Fablehaven book now, and I almost hate to read it because I know it's the last one in the series!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Time Pirate

Bell, Ted. The Time Pirate.
This sequel to Nick of Time finds Nick McIver saving the day again-- and in several different time periods. We start out in 1940 in the British Channel islands. Nick has found a Sopwith Camel his father flew back from WWI in a barn, and with the help of Gunner, he restores it. And just in time. The Nazis are invading the islands, and Nick manages to take out most of their planes and a munition dump with homemade bombs in a harrowing bombing mission that ultimately destroys the plane. When Nick gets back home, he finds out that Billy Blood has traveled in time and kidnapped Nick's feisty sister Kate, hoping to lure Nick and steal his time travel machine. Nick is, of course, too clever for this, and not only rescues his sister but finds out about Blood's plan of gathering an army of pirates and interfering in the Revolutionary War. Since this interference leads to the British winning the war and the US not coming into existence, and since Nick knows that the US aid helps the British during WWII, he travels back in time to visit George Washington and helps General LaFayette foil Blood's plans, even though he feels traitorous in doing so. Since it is still only 1940, I'm sure there will be several sequels on their way. After all, they were foolish enough not to kill Blood while they could!

This took me several days to read, since it is a whopping 454 pages. Still, the writing was sharp enough that I was able to recall the plot clearly, and students will adore the fact that Nick, at age 12, is the one repeatedly saving the day with his heroic derring-do. The back cover recommends this for fans of Harry Potter, which is not the students to whom I would hand this-- it's clearly more for fans of war fiction. That said, Nick of Time has been most popular with students who like war books AND fantasy. It's difficult enough that it requires a strong reader, but once students finish this, they may be persuaded to try Treasure Island.

I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, and am almost tempted to try Mr. Bell's adult novels to see if they might be appropriate for middle schoolers. Warlord looks interesting. "Verve and swashbuckling panache"! I need to work that phrase into some conversation!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jekel Loves Hyde; Wild Card

Fantaskey, Beth. Jekel Loves Hyde.

Jill Jekel has problems. Her scientist father has recently been murdered, and the police don't seem to care. Her mother isn't doing well, especially since Jill's father emptied their bank accounts before his death. Jill escapes into her "good girl" image and pours herself into her school work until Tristen Hyde, the one person who was able to comfort her at her father's funeral, wants to work on a science competition with her which could result in enough money for her to attend college. The catch? Tristen believes that Jill's father's notes replicating the literary Mr. Jekyll's experiments that result in the creation of the evil Dr. Hyde will help him overcome his family curse-- being the offspring of the evil doctor and given to murderous rages and blackouts. The experiments seem successful, but when Tristen drinks the potion that removes the evil from his character, it also removes his artistic ability at playing the piano. His father, who also suffers from these rages to the extent that he killed Tristen's mother, thinks that Tristen will drink the potion again in order to regain his talents. When Jill also gets a taste of the potion, things get more and more complicated.
I loved Ms. Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, because it was a good twist on the vampire genre, and I had great hopes for this story. However, I found it a bit hard to get into, as well as confusing at certain points. Combine this with Tristen's predilection for dropping the f-bomb and the rather disturbing sexuality (dating violence) that emerges, and this becomes a high school book. Since just this morning I read the Columbus Dispatch article on obscenity, I am almost ready to throw up my hands and just ignore bad words, but still come down on the "if you can get suspended for saying it, the library books shouldn't have it" side.

Barber, Tiki and Ronde with Paul Mantell. Wild Card.

This is the third in a series; I picked it up at a book look. Kickoff and Go Long are the other books.

8th graders Tiki and Ronde play for the Eagles, Their team is fairly successful until their best player, Adam, fails several classes and is ineligible to play. He obtains a tutor, but still can't pass the make up tests. He also feels that the team hates him. Tiki and Ronde are unsure what to do until they are prompted by their mother to contact Adam and help him study for his classes. There are a lot of play-by-plays in this book, and the "problem" is dealt with lightly and realistically. Mantell has done a lot of books for the Matt Christoper sports series, and this is another solid and appealing sports book. My only objection is that the covers make the boys appear about ten, and are certainly too cartoonish for my 8th graders too pick up willingly. For readers of Wallace's Winning Season books, these will be a sure hit.

See what I mean about the covers, though? The Wild Card cover would be more appealing to 3rd or 4th graders, even though it is a perfect book for older readers who struggle a bit. Those readers are also usually sensitive to their abilities and do not want to be caught with anything that looks the least bit babyish.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Cardturner/ Incarceron

Sachar, Louis. The Cardturner.

Alton has always been told that his great-uncle Lester is his "favorite uncle", because the family hopes to get some of Lester's vast fortune when he dies. When Alton gets a job helping his newly blind uncle play bridge, the family interest in the money increases, but Alton finds himself more interested in his uncle, the game, and a "crazy" cousin Toni his own age. Lester's dream is to win a big tournament, something he would have been able to do if it hadn't been for complicated family issues back in the 1960s. Alton and Toni both try to help with this despite new complications.

It is admirable that Sachar is trying to bring bridge to a new generation, but I found the long descriptions of game strategies and plays very tedious. If the book were rounded out by more action elsewhere, this might have been forgivable, but the family problems also are more philosophical. The addition of a supernatural element at the end doesn't help. I know that everyone will feel compelled to buy this one because Holes was so popular, but it's not the sort of book that my students will ask for, and not the sort of book that would have been published if it weren't for Sachar's past glory. For some reason, this reminded me of Paul Zindel's The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman; good author, good premise, but a book no longer popular.

Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron.
Claudia's father is the Warden of Incarceron, a prison that people outside of it deem Utopian. This is far from the truth-- Finn is a resident, and has to put up with brutality from every angle. When both characters find crystal keys, they are able to communicate and learn about the other's world. Claudia is trying to escape an arranged marriage to the brother of Giles, whom she was supposed to marry, but who died under suspicious circumstances. She suspects that Finn, who can't remember anything that didn't take place in the prison, is really Giles. There are evil doers on both sides, lots of intrigue, and many unique fantastical elements. I also wonder if there will be a series.

Picked this up at a book look because one of my teacher's had heard that this was "the new Harry Potter". While this had a slight Steampunk ring to it (the prison is "alive" and people and animals are created with some mechanical parts), this futuristic dystopian novel is dense enough that readers will need to be hard core fantasy fans to get into it.  I kept comparing it to The Hunger Games, which had dystopia, brutality, and evil characters. Somehow, The Hunger Games had more likable characters and a sense of hope that this title lacked. Still, worth buying.

Nothing has been done on the library renovation at all, and last night I had a nightmare about it. There was no tile, just light beige carpet; the circ desk in the middle of the room; a fireplace complete with tools (like those wouldn't become weapons in the hands of 6th grade boys); and bibelots. Seriously. I dreamed that word. It was a pristine, breakable library totally unsuitable for a middle school setting.

Of course, when I open the first day with a scanner attached to a netbook working from boxes of books in the center of the carpeted but unshelved library, this may sound good! At least my wonderful custodian has alerted the proper authorities to the lack of progress!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure

When Kathleen Barnes from Choose Your Own Adventure books offered to send me one of the new books, I knew I had to take a look! It's been years since I have read one, and I spent many an hour going through all the possible combinations of stories with him. How else can you read these books?

McMurty, Ken. Zombie Penpal.
This is an all-new title, and draws on hurricane Katrina to work the increasingly popular idea of zombies into the story, which I thought was fun. There are 16 different endings, so I am not sure how to describe the story! The pen pal shows up in several, but some of the plots involve a teacher who is resurrecting the dead and having them do his bidding. The CYOA web site recommends these for rainy days at summer camp, and that's actually a great idea, since the book can be read so many times with so many different twists.

The new interior artwork is a VAST improvement over the old, and the covers are more appealing as well. The books seem to be available mainly in paperback, but I would have sworn mine were hardbacks without dust jackets. Perma-Bound has the older titles available, so be careful if you order so that you get the updated versions, which really are superior. They are also available in Follett Bound.

Montgomery, R.A. House of Danger.
This title was originally published in 1982, and the revised edition I have is from 2005. You can see the difference in the covers. The darker cover will be more enticing to students. The interior illustration are not as appealing, but I think this will be a big hit because the "you" who is the main character is an adult who can drive. The plot is more diverse than the previous book, at times involving evil monkeys, at other times aliens.

While Choose Your Own Adventures have gone out of favor a bit at my library, I'll definitely be brushing some of them off when I unpack books in August. I was very impressed with the company web site, which categorizes books by genre and also by reading level. There is a Dragonlarks series for ages 5-8, and I was intrigued by the Fabulous Terrible title that is listed for ages 12+. The girls who want to read Twilight and other paranormal books would probably find the cover and plot of this appealing. It was a good decision to label this one "The Adventures of You" instead of Choose Your Own Adventure, since in general these books appeal to slightly younger students. I would say that these are best for ages 6-12; I can't quite see my 8th graders reading them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Time and the Reading is Easy

Kitanidis, Phoebe. Whisper.

Joy Hears voices. Her dysfunctional sister, Icka (Jessica-- loved that!) and overly involved mother do, too. It's not easy to Hear everyone's wishes and desires, but Joy has always tried to please everyone around her and do what she can to help her friends get what they want. Things have changed, though-- she is hearing more and more negative thoughts that disturb her, getting headaches, and trying to save her self-destructive sister, to whom she used to be very close. When Icka runs off, Joy starts to Hear her sister, even though she is miles away, and knows that she is in desperate trouble. With the help of James, a boy who is in constant trouble because he can feel what people are feeling all the time, she has to locate her sister before she comes to grief, and has to deal with her growing powers as well. Excellent portrayal of friendships, and how they change once Joy knows what her friends are thinking about her. This type of book is really a mystery, too, and I have to start remembering to recommend these for the mystery units.

Must say that I wasn't looking forward to another paranormal romance with a dark, vaguely misty cover, but I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed this. Warning: Liberal use of the f word, so more of a high school title. Elder daughter picked this up right away.

Jocelyn, Marthe. Folly.

Told from two viewpoints, this follows the story of Mary Finn, a girl who goes into a servant's position in London, and James, a boy who goes from his foster home to the Foundling Hospital in London. Mary's story starts in 1876, and James in 1884, and the historical details of this period are wonderful. We find how hard it was for Mary to work as a servant, and also how much harder her life becomes when her romance with a soldier comes to a bad end. We also get a very detailed view of life in the Foundling Home. It is not immediately apparent how these two narratives will converge, but they do in a very interesting fashion which I don't want to give away. Mary's romance makes this more appropriate for high school students, but it is a great choice for anyone wanting to know about this time period. Jocelyn also wrote Would You, which I could not buy because the main character who is in a coma was named Claire (elder daughter's name); oddly enough, Jocelyn's daughter shares a name with Picky Reader-- Nell!

Palmer, Robin. Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker: Girl vs. Superstar.

I was so happy to pick this one up at the library-- I was enjoying Palmer's YA novels Geek Charming and Cindy Ella, but Lucy is going into 7th grade. Perfect! Picky Reader is looking at this right now, since it reminded me a bit of Myracle's Winnie Years Series. Lucy has typical 7th grade concerns--she's trying to avoid letting her mother force her into a bra, worried about getting her period, and recovering from a hideous haircut. If that weren't bad enough, her divorced mother is dating, and not just anyone-- the father of Laurel Moses, a Miley Cyrus type superstar. Lucy, who favors stained jeans, t shirts, and hats to cover her bad haircut, is intimidated by Laurel, but comes to find out that the star is not as self-confident as she thought. When it becomes apparent that Lucy's mother and Laurel's father are going to get married, the two girls try to make their peace and deal with the changes that the marriage will bring. There is a sequel coming out in November.

This was fun stuff, and fast-paced like all of Palmer's work. My only concern is that there are so many cultural references to fashions and brands that this might be dated very quickly. (What the heck is H&M? Not even Picky Reader knows!) This book is dedicated to Judy Blume, who was sparing in her use of these references and is still read, even though most of the books are at least 30 years old. It's a difficult balance.

Ehrenhaft, Daniel. That's Life, Samara Brooks.

Apparently, I'm not liking Mr. Ehrenhaft this week. I do feel bad. I read about half of this book and was somewhat intrigued, but then I started thinking about students to whom I would hand it, and I just couldn't come up with anyone. It's quite quirky. I also found Samara slightly irritating. Will look at this again in a couple of weeks. From the publisher:
"When thirteen-year-old Samara devises a genetics experiment to cover up her involvement in a middle school gambling scheme, she and two classmates make a discovery that causes them to question their beliefs about God, aliens, or "Whoever-you-Are."
I'm not finding a lot of blog reviews, so I'll be interested to see if this gets more mention.
Mrs. Ashby is Reading

Friday, July 09, 2010

Too hot to do anything but read!

McNees, Kelly O'Connor. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.
How did Alcott write romances if she didn't experience any herself? This question was the impetus for this excellent fictional account of a summer in Alcott's life. When her family moves to a house in the country because they can't afford anywhere else, Louisa is reluctant to stay. She would rather run off to Boston, where she plans to get a place to live and sell her stories. Once she meets Joseph Singer (not a real person) and realizes that he finds independent women not only laudable but attractive, she briefly reconsiders her idea of not marrying. Circumstances, of course, prevent them from being together, but this book offers a well researched and plausible romance for a woman who did buck the mores of her times and never married. As for the question of how she could write romances-- she could probably have written happier ones if she did not in fact have any real romances! This would be appropriate for grades 7 and up if you have a strong Alcott fan base. I unfortunately have not been able to revive an interest in this author at my school, but as a huge Alcott fan myself (my elder daughter's middle name is Louisa), I enjoyed this tremendously.

Flood, Nancy Bo. Warriors in the Crossfire.
Definitely add this to the list of Books About War for another unique perspective on World War II. Joseph and his cousin Kento are trying to survive on the island of Saipan. The Japanese have been occupying the island for a number of years, which has caused problems between the boys, since Joseph is a native, and Kento has a Japanese father. When the US troops arrive and fighting commences, the two don't know whom to trust, but do their best to protect their families. After Joseph's father is killed, he gets his family to a cave and does his best to keep them safe and fed, but as the fighting escalates, this becomes much more difficult. The end of the book becomes even more harrowing-- based on historical events, Flood depicts the scene of the Japanese inhabitants of the island throwing themselves off a cliff into the sea rather than being taken prisoner. This book is a good length, well-researched, and balances the adventure and suspense of war (that the boys want) with a clear understanding of the futility of war (that I like to see). My only complaint is that some of the language is overly poetic and philosophical, which is something that the population that will read this book is not quite looking for. That, and I found myself turning to the back to look for a map that was not there. Still, this will be a popular choice and well as a good addition to a collection of World War II fiction.

Jones, Traci L. Finding My Place.
This author's Standing Against the Wind is a popular choice with my students. In fact, I am surprised that in 2007 I questioned whether there would be an audience for it-- multicultural books, and especially books with African American characters, have been circulating very well, possibly because I have been trying to show them cover out.

Finding My Place takes us back to 1975, where Tiphanie (Tiffany, just spelled like Stephanie) and her parents move from inner city Denver, Colorado to the suburbs because her parents jobs have made them more affluent. The problem? Tiphanie is only the second Black person in the school. While many students don't want anything to do with her, Jackie Sue befriends her, addressing a wide variety of racial concerns with refreshing honesty. While Tiphanie struggles with teacher and parent expectations, loneliness, and racial tensions, Jackie Sue struggles with an alcoholic mother, and the two help each other out as best they can. As hard as it is for me to admit, this is a historical novel. I strongly suspect that this book reflects, in part, Jones' own experiences in high school. I am looking forward to having my students read this, because it does show that there have been some advances in racial harmony! The community where I teach is similar to the one where I grew up-- but when I grew up (shortly after this book is set), there were very few African American students in the school (5 out of a class of 501. The overwhelming preponderence of white faces in my year book seemed odd to me given the make up of the school now!) I enjoyed the characters, the setting-- a really great book! And the cover is fun as well.

My only complaint? Would a 14 year old in 1975 have been born on a commune and named Lovelystar? The most exotic name I encountered in my years in school was Dawn, and her parents were much younger than most! That's just my ongoing complaint that hippies in literature seem to have a much wider time frame than they did in real life and does not really detract from the book at all.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Scott, Kieran. She's So Dead To Us.

Ally was enjoying her priveleged life in an upscale neighborhood in Orchard Hills until her father's investments tanked-- not only for their family but for many of their neighbors and friends. After a year and a half away, Ally's mother has decided to return to the area. Ally is not accepted back into the group, but is instantly attracted to Jake, who has moved into her family's house. She struggles through finding a new place within the school social strata, makes some new friends and even more enemies. Old friends have different reactions, and for different reasons. Shannen is determined to get back at Ally because of her interest in Jake, Chloe is hurt because Ally didn't reply to an invitation, and Faith is bitter about the money and is keeping a secret. All pretty usual high school drama, but done realistically. The wealth is apparent but designer names are mercifully kept to a minimum; this is really more about the interpersonal drama than the wealth, and the open ending makes it seem like a sequel might be in the offing.

Love so many of Scott's books-- Jingle Boy, Nonblonde Cheerleader, (and as Kate Brian) Lucky T, The Princess and the Pauper-- just about everything but her Private series, which is more for high school. As is this title-- the story is told in chapters alternating between Jake and Ally, and when Jake starts narrating, he jumps right into the profanity pool and keeps swimming for the whole book. Booklist described this as "nongratuitous", but I thought it was extremely gratuitous. Is such word use "realistic"? Absolutely. Which is why it is all the more important it NOT be used in books. I have enough of a battle with my children's word choice without them getting the idea that it is okay to use because books do. I can't buy this one for the middle school, and it does make me sad. For a similar book, try Vail's Lucky instead.

Gal, Susan. Please Take Me For a Walk.
I don't blog picture books as a rule, but this was so absolutely charming that I had to mention it. This simple story lists all the reasons that the dog likes to go for walks ("to keep the squirrels high up in the trees", "I want to feel the wind lift my ears and the sun warm my belly") interspersed with increasingly sad pleas of "please take me for a walk". The eyes on the dog are so expressive. This author has another title, Night Lights, with another dog. May have to venture into the picture book section to get this one as well.
After all, aside from going for walks, the thing that my dog Sylvie likes best is to sit on the porch and read!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Gardener

Bodeen, S.A. The Gardener.
Life is not easy for Mason. He was attacked by a dog and disfigured at an early age, his father is not in the picture, and his mother works very hard at a local nursing home but unfortunately copes with her distress by drinking. She is adamantly opposed to TroDyn, a local scientific corporation that runs much of the town but represents Mason's best chances at college. Things take an even stranger turn when Mason visits the nursing home at which his mother works and meets a catatonic young girl who is awakened by a videotape of Mason's father reading Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny. Laila is desperate to escape the nursing home but freaked out by anything that has to do with TroDyn-- for good reason. Without spoiling the suspense, suffice it to say that TroDyn is pursuing an ultimate good by means of a horrible evil, and Mason's entire existence is tightly wrapped up in the fortunes of the company.

Like Bodeen's The Compound, (which has been HUGELY popular in my library) this is an innovative and compelling science fiction thriller with a dash of mystery. The reviews for this book do not treat the writing kindly, but I didn't have a problem with it. For students who need or want science fiction, I think this will be a popular choice. It could also be tied in to a science unit on autotrophic organisms.

And if you want to make a children's librarian creeped out, quoting The Runaway Bunny in such an evil context is a good way to do it!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


I love work. I love school. I love getting up at obscenely early hours and going to my library to read book reviews, work on book orders, etc. Summer is always hard for me, because I am at home most of the time, where I feel compelled to clean things. (Today was the computer desk. Math Blaster floppy from 1989, anyone?)

This is what my library looks like right now.

Looking toward the cafeteria, where all of my books are piled in boxes. The circulation desk used to be on the left.

It echoes.

It is immeasurably sad.

It will be lovely when it is all done.

Looking toward the back of the library, where the mini computer lab is going to be. They have taken down the magazine rack, the entire glass wall, and even the light switch. There is nothing in the library. Not a shelf, not tile, not carpeting, not a stick of furniture. Nothing. It is a bare, empty, soulless space that makes me weep.

These pictures were taken last Thursday, so I am hoping that there is at least some painting going on when I check tomorrow.

It will be lovely when it is all done.

Friend is Not a Verb

Ehrenhaft, Daniel. Friend is Not A Verb

Loved this author's Tell It To Naomi and Drawing a Blank which are, sadly, out of print. I wasn't as keen about his other titles, but I was looking forward to this because it was a boy romance book. Hen has been dumped both as bass player and boyfriend by Petra, and is disconsolate. His sister, who has been missing for a year because of something vague and illegal returns. His long time friend, Emma, starts to have romantic appeal, but this budding relationship is compromised when Petra asks him to be in the band again.

Other people liked it more than I did. Maybe I really am 105 and grumpy!
Coffee Books and Laundry
The Book Smugglers
The Unread Reader

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Drowned Maiden's Hair

Schiltz, Laura Amy. A Drowned Maiden's Hair (2006)
Picked this book up at Half Price Books because... well, it was $2. Wasn't sure about the cover, which is a bit dark, or the whole 1909 setting, or the orphaned main character. If you're going to read about an orphan at this time period, read Anne of Green Gables, right?

Not quite. I got about two chapters in when Picky Reader demanded something to read. Since the book was fast-paced, involved problems, and has a Snicketesque vibe to it, I gave her the book, which she proceeded to polish off all 389 pages in less than 24 hours. Declaring it the best thing she had read in the longest time, she requested that she keep the copy. Also helping-- there was a character named Eleanor whose nickname was Nell!

So. Maud Flynn is an orphan at the Barbary Asylum when Hyacinth Hawthorne and her sister Judith come looking for a little girl to adopt. Captivated by her singing and spirit, the two override the opinion of the headmistress and take Maud home. They give her books and clothing and a nice room... on the condition that she be able to keep their secrets. These are deliciously vague for a while (Are they white slavers? Do they kill their boarders?) until we find that Maud acts as a medium and defrauds bereaved relatives of huge sums of money in return for "speaking" to their deceased relatives. When one mother offers $5,000 to be reunited with her young daughter who drowned, Maud is brought into the plot. The group moves to the seaside, and Maud gets a small taste of life outside the home, and begins to realize that Hyacinth doesn't care as much about her as she had believed. There is a great relationship with the deaf and mute housekeeper, Anna; a horrible tragedy; and a story book ending for all concerned.

Definitely, fans of Victorian Gothic stories like Wallace's Peppermints in the Parlor, will adore this one. Picky Reader had heard a little about the Spiritulist movement in the early twentieth century, but had not read much about it, and Schlitz gives it a very thorough and delighful treatment in this book. I don't know how I missed this one, but I will definitely get one for my library.

Also reading this week: the new Brian Jacques title, The Sable Quean. Evil animals capture young Redwall denizens. Lots of food is consumed. Lots of hedgehogs talk in Liverpudlian accents. *Sigh* Not my favorite, but there will be die hard fans wanting this book when school starts in August.

Which may be interesting since there is no carpet, shelving, furniture or even light switches in my library right now! Shouldn't it at least be painted?