Friday, December 31, 2010

Birth of a Killer

Shan, Darren. The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Birth of a Killer.
At a point in the past where child labor was the norm, Larten and his cousin Vur are sent to labor endlessly in a silk factory under the eye of the evil Traz. When Vur is killed by Traz, Larten is enraged and kills the man in retribution. Knowing he cannot return home, he tries to spend the night in a crypt, where he meets Sepa, a vampire. He apprentices himself to the vampire, because he sees no other option for his life and is intrigued by the power he might one day obtain. The two go about their vampire business, going ot councils at Vampire Mountain, and also pick up Wester, a boy who is orphaned when a vampaneze kills his entire family. The sequel to this back story of Cirque du Freak, Oceans of Blood, comes out in the spring.

Strengths: Shan's writing is oddly enthralling. I don't normally like creepy stuff, but after several Cirque du Freak books, I had to read them all, and this is an interesting approach to continue the series even after it has been concluded. If Shan's books are popular at your library, this book is a MUST.

Weaknesses: Some of the premises seem forced; Larten's orange hair being caused by a foreman at the factory using dye, for example. Students will probably not notice this.

Girl Books

Murdock Catherine Gilbert. Dairy Queen.(2006)
Reading this on vacation, I enjoyed it very much, but I think I was right not to buy it originally-- it's more of a high school book. Not that there is anything inappropriate; it's just more introspective and philosophical.However, it ended up on the Battle of the Books list, so I had to buy a copy. D.J. is working hard on the farm since her two oldest brothers are away at college, her younger brother is busy with sports, her father has been injured, and her mother is working two jobs. A friend and coach of a rival football team sends one of his players, Brian, to help out and also to train with D.J., since she helped train her brothers. Things get complicated when D.J. not only decides she likes Brian, but she wants to play high school football. A secondary story about her best friend who turns out to be gay was rather interesting, but in general, I don't see many of my students picking this book up.

Nelson, Jandy. The Sky is Everywhere.
Then there's this one, that I picked up at a book look and made the mistake of processing before readiing it. Sigh. Off to the high school it goes, for multiple f-bombs, teen drinking, and general, erm, friskiness. A shame, really, because it was a very good book. Lennie's sister Bailey dies suddenly, leaving her bereft. She takes comfort in the presence of Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, but also has a growing interest in the new clarinet player, Joe. The feeling of loss throughout the book is palpable-- Lennie's mother ran off when she was very young, and the girls were being raised by their grandmother. Did very much enjoy the depiction of Lennie falling in love, but this is definitely a book for grades nine and up.

Ostow, Michol and Harlan, Noah. Up Over Down Under.
The Students Across the Seven Seas books are always such fun, and this is two stories in one-- Eliza goes from the US to Australia to live with Bailey's family. Bailey goes to the US to stay with Eliza's, and both are working on environmental internships. Eliza went just to get away from the shadow of her father, who is with the EPA, but Bailey wants to make a real change in the world. Of course, both find romance and get to experience life in another country. For US students who have never been to DC, this is a great book because it describes two different places to travel.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flurry of Nonfiction

Got a book order in at 2:30 on the Friday before break, so hauled a huge number of them home. Probably will not place another order with the company; they've stopped offering the processing for free, which was the main reason I used them. That saved a dollar per book, which is significant, but they give no idea on their web site on the status of one's orders, so I will go back to Follett, which really is the best jobber but, of course, also the most expensive!

Mattern, James and Joanne. Great Moments at the Olympics.
Trying to update my sports books, and also beef up the readable nonfiction. Had great success with some of my runners and Boston Marathon. This was another good one, just 64 pages, and filled with short snippets of information about a variety of interesting events throughout the history of the Olympics. Jesse Owens, Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz and Keri Strug all earn a mention. There are pictures, boxes with fun facts, and Olympic trivia at the end. The only weakness in this book is the incredibly small print. This matters a great deal to readers and would be easy to remedy.

Franklin Watts 24/7 series.
The War in Iraq: From the Front Lines to the Home Front
Gettysburg: The Bloodiest Battle in the Civil War.
Other titles in this series (such as Vietnam: The Bloodbath on Hamburger Hill) have gotten quite a lot of wear in my library. They are formatted in a very graphic way, with good pictures, diagrams, maps and other information. Making them especially effective is the use of eyewitness accounts, whether done from interviews or taken from historical sources. The only downside is how quickly these are read, returned and checked out again!

These two Abdo titles by Nancy Tumminelly are well-designed, with two page spreads that show the ingredients and instructions very clearly. They include notes on kitchen safety and techniques, and have very fun recipes. My only objection was that each should have had more projects; they were all so fun that eight just was too few! (Especially at $17.95 for each book. Sigh.)

Jablonski, Carla and Purvis, Leland. Resistance: Book 1
Paul and Marie feel removed from World War II while living in Vichy, France, until their friend Henri's parents go missing and they become involved in the French Resistance. Their schemes and adventures are relayed in graphic novel format. I was concerned that the format would not convey the emotion and the deeper concerns of the rounding up of the Jewish people, but somehow, this captured everything. This is the first book of a trilogy;
comes out in July 2011. Since Maus is a bit too graphic for middle school, this will be a perfect addition to our canon of Holocaust books for the 8th grade unit. Of course, I only have the one copy and ALL of the 8th graders will want it!

Venditti, Robert. (Adaptor) The Lightning Thief Graphic Novel.
Hopefully, Rick Riordan is well aware of how strong his following is, but this certainly is yet more proof. Graphic novel versions of regular novels are great for enticing struggling readers to pick up Stormbreaker or Coraline, so this is a welcome addition. (Unlike the graphic novel of Redwall, which I have but do not understand!) The pictures in this aren't bad (although a little dark), it follows the plot closely enough, and is generally okay. Of course, the BEST thing about Riordan's writing for me are the clever turns of phrases and the rich language, which is of course missing entirely. We don't even get the clever chapter titles. Still, every middle school library needs a copy.

The Cybils chat went well in the end-- technology is great when it works and the whole concept of a chat room was fascinating to see at work. We got our books all shortlisted with a minimum of bloodshed and hurt feelings (I hope!). I think the finalists are listed on January 1st or so, with the winners being announced on Valentine's Day. It has been absolutely fascinating to be part of this process, and I can't wait to see who wins in all of the categories.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Brain Jack

Falkner, Brian. Brain Jack.
Ha, ha! I checked this book out of the public library, so the warnings at the front of the book about how hackers can find out everything about me in ten minutes from my purchase of the book and get into my computer are groundless. Well, until now, since I've posted this. And since I spent Christmas morning removing a "Security Sheild" virus from my computer, I'm willing to take this chilling tale to heart!
Sam spends a little too much time on computers, and draws the attention of the Homeland Security Cyber Defense Division after some spectacular hacking. At first, he thinks he is being thrown into jail, but when he manages to break out, he is recruited for the division. Neuro-headset technology is the newest thing, but the effects are omninous-- now hackers can get into people's brains, and the headsets work to create a huge network that starts attacking the defense division-- and pretty much everything else. With pulse-pounding urgency, Sam and the defense division try to stop the network, nicknamed Ursula, but are thwarted by people who are wired into the neuro-headsets and brainwashed into attacking those who are against the headsets. Will Sam and his friends manage to save the world?
Strengths: Really, very edge-of-the-seat stuff, and the cover is distractingly shiny as well! I had to put this book down several times because it was just so intense. I didn't understand half of the computer references, but it didn't really matter. I wanted to put together a whole list of books about computers, but I can't think of any I have-- what a great subject for boys! It was a good choice for older students without being inappropriate for younger ones. Awesome book, but definitely explains a little about why I think Facebook is just creepy.

Weaknesses: The detailed computer descriptions make this a difficult choice for struggling readers.

Garretson, Dee. Wildfire Run.
Yet another tale that I had to put down because of its intensity! The president's son, Luke and his friends Theo and Callie are caught at Camp David after an earthquake sets off wildfires around them. They try to escape but run into one obstacle after another. Security guards are injured and they try to rescue them, the gates short circuit and won't let them out of the compound, and the trio's ingenuity is the only thing that saves the day. The Camp David setting is an unusual one, and the historic notes at the end are appreciated. Definitely good use of golf carts and very imaginative electrical skills are out to use. For students who like books packed with action and adventure, this is a great choice! Good length, good cover, good print size for reluctant readers.

Prelutsky, Jack. My Dog May be a Genius.
Ah, Prelutsky. It's like methadone for children who were introduced to Shel Silverstein in the third grade and won't read anything else. Follett lists this as for grade K-3 or 2-5, but that's ridiculous. Unlike most collections listed for students in this range, this is a significant collection filled with amusing poems, many of which are over 40 words long, so perfect for that memorization assignment. I especially appreciated the poem "I'm Going to the Library". Don't worry, Mr. Prelutsky; if a student was bringing back a book that was four years overdue, I would just be glad! This will be very popular with my students.
Birnbach, Lisa and Kidd, Chip. True Prep.
I buy very few books for myself, something which was a problem when it came to Cybils reading-- I should have been much quicker to purchase a couple of titles! But somehow, back in 1981, I got myself to a bookstore and spent $3.95 of my hard earned babysitting money on The Official Preppy Handbook. No idea where I even heard of it, but I was fascinated by it for years and still own my copy. Wow. On, copies start at about $40! Oh, well. I colored in one of the pages with pink and green, so mine is worth less. It's not Christmas at my house without at least one book for me to read, and this was the one I got. Still oddly fascinating, True Prep is actually more informative than its predecessor, filled with all sorts of quirky facts about prepdom. I still like the clothes in the 1981 version better, however.

Gross, Kim Johnson. What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style.
This was another book under the tree, and quite fascinating, if not entirely useful. I find it very difficult to dress myself, especially since I am always so cold that I live in a turtleneck from October to May. Have even been thinking about adding a silk underwear layer, which makes it really difficult to dress in an age-appropriate but sexy manner. And really, how much cleavage do middle schoolers really want to see on their librarian?! This book did make me feel better in some ways; my closet is uber-organized, and everything in it fits and is comfortable. I frequently weed, repair and reorganize. I have interesting accessories-- my daughter firmly believes that I was behind the new trend of dangly owl necklaces, since I've been collecting and wearing them for ten years! Not everything fits quite properly-- being on the short side and shopping exclusively at the thrift store means that a lot of my clothes are a little large, but since I am breaking multiple style rules by wearing skirts a lot longer than knee length and swathing myself in boxy layers of wool, I don't think it's really going to matter!
Hope everyone is warm and curled up with some good books!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Attack Ninjas and Kites

Vernon, Ursula. Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs.
Nominated for the Cybils by Debbie Nance

Danny is appalled when his best friend Wendell loans the Japanese exchange student his comic book-- she's a GIRL and they could both get cooties! And what if Wendell sits on the bus or eats lunch with Suki instead of him? Once Danny finds out that Suki is being followed and attack by Ninja frogs, however, his tune changes and the trio head to Mythical Japan on the bus to consult Danny's great grandfather about how to stop the Spurtongue clan from kidnapping Suki and making her their queen. To do this, they must enlist the help of the Geckos of the Golden Chysanthemum, fling themselves into volcanoes, and get help from a crane that they had previously rescued. Then, of course, they have to go back to school, safe in the knowledge that Suki does not have to be a ninja queen, but can become a veterinarian.

Strengths: Nose snorting laughter on every other page. While this book, which is heavy on the pictures, flits back and forth across the Pilkey Line (the divider between elementary and middle school goofy humor), it has many, many adult moments as well. For instance, Danny assumes that since Suki is a girl, she is interested only in ponies and unicorns. When he asks her if she likes unicorns, she replies " 'I've never met one... Given that they're imaginary and all.' ...Danny had met one once-- she'd come to his second cousin's wedding and had a trained helper monkey that fed her canapes." (page 17) Just goofy and wonderful, and oddly enough, Danny does grow as a person, er, dragon.

Weaknesses: I need to go back to number one to read about the boys' nemesis the potato salad!

Messer, Stephen. Windblowne.
Nominated for the Cybils by B. Wells

Oliver can't fly a kite without crashing it, whcih is a problem in his kite obsessed village, especially with the annual festival approaching. His remote parents tell him to consult his great uncle, who was a master kitesmith before becoming a strange recluse. When Oliver does seek out his relative, he finds that there is just not ONE Windblowne-- there are a number of alternate worlds. In one, he finds a duplicate of himself, as well as a duplicate of his uncle. This man is trying to build a machine to facilitate travel between worlds, and is also draining the giant oaks of their power to run his machines. He hopes to hook up conduits to get the power from the other worlds as well, not believing that the oaks are dying in every world. Oliver has managed to travel between the worlds by means of a kite, which is much safer, and he tries to stop the evil Gilbert from taking over the various worlds.

Strengths: Nicely formatted book with coherent, nicely paced plot. Imaginative setting and time travel/ alternate dimension mechanics.

Weaknesses: A lot of information about kites, kite building and kite flying that broke up the action. Also, I never got a good feel for Oliver; he's portrayed as rather a sad sack in the beginning and even though he saves the world, I didn't feel that he became any more interesting. Since I didn't care for any of the other characters, either, this made it hard to get invested in the story.

Invisible Fiends: Mr. Mumbles

Hutchinson, Barry. Invisible Fiends: Mr. Mumbles
Nominated for the Cybils by Dan Green.

We start this book with Armageddon. Remember John Wilson's dictum that books for boys should have an explosion early on? The end of the world works, too.

So what's going on with Kyle? He's spending Christmas with his single mother and grandmother, but when he goes to his room, he hears a horrible scratching on the ceiling. Nothing but mice, right? Wrong. It's Mr. Mumbles, his imaginary friend, who is back and not happy. In between spine chilling descriptions of feeling watched and stalked and pulse pounding chase scenes, we find out that Mr. Mumbles, the once benign friend who helped Kyle work through some speech problems, has morphed into a huge, angry demon with sewn-shut, festing mouth and the taste for blood. Whew. Should not have read this just before bed. With the help of the enigmatic Ameena, Kyle destroys Mr. Mumbles, but his allies from the Darkest Corners are slathering at the threshold, waiting to attack in book two, Raggy Maggie.

Strengths: Perfect for my middle schoolers who want scary books. Right up there with Richardson's The Devil's Footsteps and Yancey's The Monstrumologist. I've tried to write scary scenes of people being chased, and it's not easy. This was a taut novel that also included intriguing mysteries. Is Kyle's father really his mother's imaginary friend? I want to know. Sadly...

Weaknesses: Not available in the US!!!!! HarperCollins, what are you thinking? Yes, it's possible to obtain UK published books for my library, but usually cost prohibitive. This series is not even available through Baker and Taylor, which has carried more Joe Craig, Cathy Cassidy, and Robert Muchamore than Follettt. Drat.

Also, while this book was truly awesome for my readers who like scary stories, I don't know that I will short list it for the Cybils. Had quite the mental debate with myself over this one. There was some indefinable deeper message missing, and yes, for an award I want it to be something my students WANT to read, but also something that is, on some level, good for them. Still, this one definitely should be published in the US.

Many, many thanks to Charlotte, of Charlotte's Library, who not only obtained this UK published book but was kind enough to send it on to me with an ARC of Carrie Jones' Captivate, which my 17-year-old promptly ran off with, amidst squeals of utter delight.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High School Girls

My library skews heavily towards middle grade; other middle schools have a lot of YA. It just depends on what students are reading the most. I do occasionally find myself with an 8th graders for whom everything seems too young. Here are two YA titles.

Sales, Leila. Mostly Good Girls.
Violet is struggling enough at her prestigious private school; classes are difficult, she has an unrequited crush on a boy, and her wealthy, priveleged friend Katie is just being stupid. She's dating a guy who works at Starbucks, lives in squalor, and is tatooed and unkempt, and straying further and further away from Violet. In an attempt to win her back, Violet writes a mean satire about their school with Katie and allows it to be published in the school newspaper, of which she is editor.
Strengths: This was a pleasant enough read, and good for high school libraries in need of realistic fiction
Weaknesses: Many of the topics are of little concern to middle schoolers, such as all of the emphasis on getting into college. Also, the cover really has nothing to do with the story.
Schrefer, Eliot. The Deadly Sister.
This was also a bit more for high school students BUT it was a riveting mystery, and I'm always short on mysteries for our 8th grade unit. Abby has always taken care of her younger sister, Maya, despite the fact that Maya is a complete and utter goof. She runs away from home, is constantly high, doesn't do well in school, and may have killed her tutor, a popular boy in their town. Maya finds the body, thinks her sister did it, and tries to clean up her sister's trail and keep her out of trouble. Or does she? There is a lot of drug use, none of it glamorized, some mentions of sex, but the huge twist at the end of this makes it worthwhile. This author's The School for Dangerous Girls has been popular in my library, so I will go ahead and order this one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Trip to the public library!

Badoe, Adwoa. Between Sisters.
Gloria Bampo is in trouble. Her mother is sick, her father is unemployed, and she has failed her school exams. In Ghana, this means that it is unlikely she will become a fashion designer. Instead, she is sent to watch a cousin's toddler in a neighboring city. There are many temptations-- cool clothes, television programs, and older men who treat her nicely. Her cousin gives her every advantage, and Gloria makes friends, but she knows that eventually she must come up with a plan to secure different employment if she doesn't want to be sucked down into the cycle of poverty.

Strengths: This was a great look at every day life in another country. I have had several students whose families are from Ghana, and this will give students who have never thought about what life is like for people in other countries much to think about.

Weaknesses: Not a weakness, just something that may cause me not to buy it for my library-- Gloria is 16, and she becomes sexually involved with a much older doctor who is using her. I'm still thinking about this-- nothing is graphic, and the lessons learned are important. For high school I would definitely buy this.

Schroder, Monica. Saraswati's Way.
Like Sheth's Boys without Names, this is a riveting but sad window into how desperate young people's lives can be in other countries. Akash's mother died when he was young, so when his father also passes away, Akash's grandmother decides that instead of fulfilling his dreams of studying math in secondary school, he will be sold to work in a stone quarry to pay off the family debts. Akash quickly figures out that no matter how lon ghe works, the debt will never go away, so he runs away to the city. There, he befriends some street boys and learns how to eke out a living collecting plastic bottles. He also catches the eye of a news stand owner, Ramesh, and impresses the man with his drive to earn money to be tutored to pass an exam and hopefully get into a school. Since Akash does not sniff glue, steal, or deal drugs (except once at the urging of one of his friends), Ramesh helps him in his struggle out of poverty.

Strengths: "What is it like?" "What?" "Reading." "It's like going to different places without leaving where you are." (Page 63). Again, a brilliantly descriptive book that clearly draws on Ms. Schroder's experiences living in India. The plight of children who struggle even to get an education is something that ALL of my students need to read. I am definitely going to suggest that this be used during one of our multicultural units.

Weaknesses: Again, not really a weakness. The ending is a happy one, and while it is not necessarily realistic, I understand why Ms. Schroder felt it necessary for Akash's story to turn out that way.

Durst, Susan Beth. Enchanted Ivy.
Loved this author's Into the Wild and Out of the Wild so much that I felt bad about not being as thrilled with Ice, but even with as much fantasy as I have read lately, this was an awesome book which I will definitely be considering nominating for the YA Cybils next year! Lily's grandfather wants her to get into Princeton, so takes her along for an alumni weekend. She is offered a chance at easy admission-- her grandfather's dining club wants her to find the Ivy key, and if she does, she's in. She has no more clue than that, and a strange boy who helps her, but finds quickly that Princeton is a portal for a magical world of creatures, and she herself is a key. While her grandfather's friends appear helpful at first, she finds out many mysteries about her family and realizes that all is not as black and white as the people in our Princeton would like her to believe.

Strengths: Very intriguing magical world, strong sense of place at Princeton, cool magical people. Good mysteries, lots of actions, likeable characters. Shades of gray. Gave this one immediately to older daughter.

Weaknesses: Hmmm. Bad gargoyle on cover art? It is a little more high school, but still perfectly appropriate for middle school.

Almond, David. The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon.
Nominated for the Cybils.

This is probably the last review I write for Cybils' nominees, because we've gotten to the bottom of this particular barrel, and most of the books are falling under the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say it" category, with the notable exception of Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath: The Attack of the Ninja Frogs, which I adored, but which I also read standing in the aisle of the Meijers on Saturday, so don't have the greatest comprehension of it.

Paul wants to go to the moon, so he starts to the top of his apartment building where, with his parents, he meets a cast of weird characters who help him in his attempt to prove that the moon is just a hole in the sky. The text is accompanied by bright, cartoony illustrations which make the pervasive anti-war sentiment seem a little strange.

Strengths: Would be good for young readers who want a challenge of a higher reading level but not a long book.
Weaknesses: I'm not an Almond fan at all, and didn't like this. It was just odd and vaguely disturbing. Reviews likening it to The Little Prince didn't make it any better for me.

Vacation Disclaimer: I HATE being on the computer at home, and I'm off work for two weeks. I don't want to check face book or e mail or ANYTHING. I have a huge pile of books to read, and no longer have the excuse of hamster-powered internet to avoid blogging, but I'd almost rather clean out the basement than get on the computer. Almost. Guess what I'm off to do now!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Middle School Reviews

Want to see what our students are reading? Check out the new blog,

Teen Picks

Mr. Buxton of Buxton's Blog O'Books ( posting these student reviews!

I'm back

Kehret, Peg. Ghost Dog Secrets.
When Rusty sees a German shepherd chained out in the rain with no food or water, he worries about it, but when his teacher goads the class into action about "somebody should do something" and the class starts to collect money and supplies for a local animal shelter, he knows that he is the one who must do something. He tries going through all of the official channels, going so far as to start documenting the neglect when he can't get help, and then with his friend Andrew decides to take the dog, whom they name Ra, and hide him in their club house. They still try to get help, but things get bad when the dog's owner finds out the boys took him and start menacing them. Will they ever be able to take care of the dog AND not be stalked by a drug-crazed maniac?

Strengths: As always, Kehret delivers a top-shelf mystery and suspense novel. The relationships between Rusty and Ra, and Rusty and Andrew, are realistic and endearing. The class's social activism is a good example.

Weaknesses: This is a little heavy on the message, and the interpolation of a ghost dog that leads Rusty at various points is just unnecessary. The finding of the meth lab, and the abrupt dealing with the classmate whose father is implicated in running it, is a bit strange. While these things made the book seem slightly off to me, I don't think students will notice.

Ignatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers.
5th graders Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang want to be popular, so they keep a journal (complete with pictures) chronicling what the popular students do and their own attempts to repeat these things. Sometimes this ends badly, such as when Lydia tries to bleach her hair, but often leads them in new paths, as when Julie gets on the field hockey team and also likes a boy in their class. They get in trouble several times, and their friendship goes through a rocky patch, but everything works out, even if they don't suddenly become popular.

Strengths: For girls who like Wimpy Kid or Marissa Moss' work , this will be a big hit. I was enthralled by how they were able to show blue ballpoint pen so clearly on the page. I liked how the differences in families and individuals were shown and celebrated to a certain degree, but did not become the whole thrust of the story. (Julie has two dads, for example, but Lydia is being raised by a single mother.)

Weaknesses: Horrible binding, this time by Amulet/Abrams. Wasn't exactly my cup of tea, with the pictures and the hand writing, but there is an undeniable appeal, and I liked it better than The Dork Diaries.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Girls and Boys

Clark, Catherine. Meanicures.
Madison, Olivia and Taylor used to be friends with Kayley, Cassidy, and Alexis. The latter group becomes popular and starts being mean to the former, sabotaging their morning announcements, making fun of their clothes and disinviting them to parties. When Madison's group decides to burn all of their memorabilia in a "ritual", Kayley's groups starts to suffer, and Madison's group starts to be just as mean to them. In the end, all of the girls get together for a Girls' Night Out at a local beauty salon and make amends.

Strengths: Friendships change so radically in middle school, and this is a very realistic description of what happens when they do. However, the social hierarchy and meanness is dealt with in a more constructive way than something like The Clique.

Weaknesses: It was hard to keep so many characters straight. I would have preferred a group of three friends who isolated one girl.

Lynch, Chris. Hothouse.
D.J. and Russell's firefighter fathers were both killed in a horrific fire that left a former school teacher surviving but hospitalized. The town honors the men as heroes and treats the families well... until it is discovered that both men had high levels of drugs in their systems. The town turns, and the boys must make peace with the loss of their fathers again.

Strengths: For high school students, this would be a great book. It examines the relationship of fathers and sons, expectations that families have, and the grieving process. Lynch can write convincingly on a variety of levels, from Cyberia to Slot Machine to novels like this.

Weaknesses: Too slow and introspective for my age group, and too much beer is consumed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekend reading in the snow

Winter is upon us here in Ohio, which means no bike riding to work. Since I also have to get a crock pot full of bean dip and two bags of chips to work for tomorrow, my back pack was full of chips and I don't have the books I read with me. We'll go with two line reviews today.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Ten-Year Nap. Adult. At-home mothers whine. Suck it up or get jobs! I took nine years off.

Auch, M.J. Guitar Boy. Appalachian boy kicked out by father wants to play guitar. Decent but a bit quirky Southern.

Peck, Richard. Three-Quarters Dead. Girl's popular friends die and then haunt her. Glad to see Peck return to scary books.

Giles, Gail. Dark Song. Girl's family loses home, she takes up with abusive older boy. High school but good.

Barnes, Derrick. We Could Be Brothers. Two disparate inner-city boys realize they aren't that different.

Sullivan, James. Jeans : a cultural history of an American icon. Good, but needs more pictures.

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. They called themselves the K.K.K. : the birth of an American terrorist group. Very well done, as is all of her work.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Call

Grant, Michael. The Call (The Magnificent 12)
Nominated for the Cybils by Ben. Review copy provided by publisher.

Mack is an ordinary boy who ends up befriending one of the many bullies, Stefan, at his school. This is a good thing, because a weird, moldy man named Grimluk shows up to tell Mack that he is one of 12 children(Magnifica) who is able to defend the world from the evil Pale Queen, who has her sites set on destroying human kind and has been imprisoned for the last three thousand years. We find out this story in flashback chapters involving Grimluk's initial involvement with the Magnifica's fight against the queen all those years ago. Mack and Stefan get help along the way, travel to Ayers Rock, almost get sucked out of an airplane, and avert disaster... for now. There are sequels in the offing.

Strengths: This book has some great action scenes and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a good length for elementary students who like fantasy, and Mack and Stefan's new relationship is an interesting one. Ben, who nominated it, writes a great review and clearly enjoyed this book a lot.

Weaknesses: This fell on the wrong side of the Pilkey Line for middle school students. Not that it was overly goofy, but there was an irritating dumbed-down feeling to it. Grant, who did the hard hitting Gone, is a good writer, but the prose in this is rather clunky and overly precious. (Page 162: "One of the rules of Great Literature is : show, don't tell. But one of the other rules of Great Literature is: Don't go on and on with boring scenes where nothing happens but a lot of talking.") The humor hit me the same way-- an adult trying to make things funny for kids. Mack is described as being afraid of everything, but good use is not made of this. I think I was put off at the very beginning by the descriptions of the different camps of bullies who pick on different types of students.

Obviously, actual children like this book, but I wish Grant had taken lessons from his wife, K.A. Applegate, on writing for younger audiences. My children adored Animorphs, which were action packed and concerned with topics that could have become goofy but somehow didn't.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Nonfiction by peple named Tanya

Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie.

This was an excellent book about the impact of Barbie on society. Certainly a lot of history and information about Ruth Handler, who developed the doll and was the force behind Mattel, but the difference in this book is that Stone looked carefully at the perceptions of Barbie, and why people either love her or hate her. I played with Barbie a lot, because I sewed clothing for her, but wasn't wild about giving my own daughters the doll, which was fine because they weren't all that interested. I am still contemplating buying this one, because the chapter on mutilating Barbie and the role that Barbie can play in exploring sexuality is a bit much for middle school. If you are at all interested in Barbie, though, this was very well done! Loved the forward by Meg Cabot.

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd.The Blue Jean Book.

Have had this one in the library for a while, and it is a good overview of the development of the industry and fashion of the blue jean. It also covers the politics of the manufacturing of the jeans now. Lots of interesting facts, well-written, and a great book for the 8th grade nonfiction project that we have going on right now.

What I would like to see now is a book that is more concerned with the changes in fashion of jeans over the decades. Just jeans. We were not allowed to wear jeans to school until 1977!

Palmer, Robin. Sealed with a Kiss.
Sequel to Girl Vs. Superstar

Loved the first book, but the second just didn't do much for me. I was really looking forward to reading it, too!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Curse of the Wendigo

Yancey, Rick. The Curse of the Wendigo.
In this sequel to the fabulous Monstrumologist, Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop are back. This time, they travel into the Canadian wilderness to find Warthrop's friend and colleague, John Chanler, another Monstrumologist who has gone to study the wendigo and is reported missing by his wife, who is a former love of Warthrop's. Chanler is found, but he is very ill, and bringing him back is fraught with travail. Still ailing, the entire group goes off to a conference in New York City, where Chanler does not improve. His incessant hunger, as well as his anger, are clearly evident but ignored, with horrible and gruesome implications.

Strengths: Beautifully written, with gorgeous language. This makes the scenes even more grotesque. Will Henry, Warthrop, and even Chanler are complicated but sympathetic characters, and I watched their progress with horror.

Weaknesses: This was also a rather gross book, and I'm a little leery of handing it to students. In the first, we had great monsters that would brutally murder people; in this one, it's almost human monsters who peel the faces off of people and are motivated by love gone wrong. Why does this human element make the horror more objectionable? The anthropophagi tearing peoples innards out was okay, but not the slow torture that the monsterized remains of Chanler inflicts on people he knows.

I'm also irritated in the change in covers. The new one is nice, but doesn't match the original. Sort of like how Artemis Fowl has reissued all the covers, so now all of mine match but number 7. This is just a cruel thing to do to librarians, who tend to be slightly anal retentive about this sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Payback Time

Deuker, Carl. Payback Time.
Dan "Mitch" (as in Michelin Man) True is getting by. Life is full of little disappointments-- he isn't made newspaper editor, he's overweight, and girls aren't interested in him. But it's okay, because he has plans. He throws himself into his assignment as a sports reporter for the school paper, especially when it means spending a lot of time with Kimi, who does photography and is determined to get into an Ivy League college. When the two uncover a possible big story about a new football player, they hope that breaking the story will help them with their college plans. But what will the effect be on the new player? This story will keep readers guessing until the end.

Strengths: Once again, Deuker slam dunks a novel. Mitch is a realistic and likable character, the football play-by-plays are enough to keep sports fans reading about a news reporter, and the mystery was top notch. Deuker is just one of the best yound adult novelists out there, and the best part of his work is that it is geared to older students without being in any way inappropriate for younger ones. Brilliant work. I'm glad he takes his time crafting superb novels-- I'll be waiting avidly for Swagger, the basketball novel he's writing now.

Weaknesses: None that I can see!

Wiles, Deborah. Countdown.
Franny has lots to worry about in 1962-- her uncle is trying to dig up the front yard for a bomb shelter, and occasionally shows up in his WWI gear; her sister is sneaking off; her mother is preoccupied; and the Cubans have missiles. Every time there is an air raid drill, it might be the end. A lot on your plate when you are 11. This highly atmospheric novel is accompanied by pictures, quotes, and vintage illustrations, which lend a scrap book feel to the story, which makes the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis a lot more accessible to students than a history book. This is the first in a trilogy.

Strengths: This made me feel like I lived through this time period; obviously, Wiles is drawing heavily on her personal experience.

Weaknesses: Might be a hard sell. I've been pitching history hard this year, and students are just not as interested in it as they should be.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Monday, Monday

It snowed, which meant a walk into work this morning, and I haven't come up with a lesson for my 24 SSR classes this week. Since I have about two minutes to talk, it's difficult. Let's do... bias of sources. That was a difficult one for the 6th graders when we did the TRAILS Assessment.

So I did read this weekend, but my brain is frozen, so bear with my brief recaps.

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Raised by Wolves.
Bryn has been raised by a werewolf pack ever since a rabid stray werewolf killed her parents, but finds it difficult to deal with the pack once a cute human, Chase, who has been attacked but survived, shows up and seems like a likely source to help her figure out the origin of the attack that fated her to a life on the periphery of a werewolf pack. Awesome!!! Really good stuff, and essential if you have a subset of students who like werewolf books rather than vampires. I adore this author (who also did Tattoo, Fate, Perfect Cover, and Killer Spirit ), but have found it hard to obtain some of her other titles, like Golden.

Frederick, Heather Vogel. Pies and Prejudice.
I have long had an ambivalence towards these books (The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne, Dear Pen Pal) but found this one easier to follow and more likable. Emma heads off to England with her family for a year, Megan starts a blog, Cassidy plays a lot of hockey, and Jess is worried about her singing group at school. Romances develop. The girls who are left in Concord are worried about Emma so have a prolonged bake sale to bring her home for spring break (hence the pies). There's a lot going on, but this time I was able to keep everyone straight and enjoyed it.

Solow, Jennifer. The Aristobrats. Review copy provided by Sourcebooks.
From the publisher: "Parker Bell and her three best friends face a decline in their popularity at Wallingford Academy when they are assigned to produce a less-than-cool webcast and try to salvage what is left of their Facebook Friend count and their friendships with each other. "

If Harrison's The Clique books are constantly checked out of your library, go ahead and get this one. Having taught at a private school, I do not understand either of these books, and can't imagine the girls at my school paying this much attention to their clothing. Perhaps this sort of social rivalry occurs outside of Ohio and I just don't understand.

Connor, Ray. The Interdimensional Dumpster.
Nominated for the Cybils by Noreen Vigneault

Willie Ford was adopted after his father found him in a dumpster while chasing a criminal. Years later, Willie goes back through the dumpster and ends up in the kingdom of Placidia, which he recognizes from the video games that he likes to play. He and his friends must work to defeat an evil king with nefarious intentions.
Strengths: This will be an easy fantasy for struggling readers, and does not fall on the wrong side of the Pilkey line for middle school students. Easy to follow plot, likable characters, fun gimmick for interdimensional travel with the dumpster.

Weaknesses: This may prove difficult to find, and was not well edited. There were several grammar and punctuation errors, which students will not catch.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Shiny green books

Nation, Kaleb. Bran Hambric and the Specter Key.
Nominated for the Cybils by Zane. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Bran is still trying to find out more information about his mother, and when cleaning out safe deposit boxes at the bank, he finds one with her name on it. He takes it to a safe location to open it, because magic is illegal in the town of Dunce, and he is a mage. While he can't open the box, it leads him to a hotel where he finds a fairy named Nim who leads him to his father... who turns out to be very evil. His friend Astara is killed, or perhaps just stolen by the Specters. The box continues to be a problem, since it holds a key an evil mage really wants. In the end, everything works out, and it looks like there may be another sequel. (This is book 2.)

Strengths: Even though it had some of the goofy names that make me wince, this kept me reading. There's a fair amount of action, intriguing characters, and an easy-to-follow plot.

Weaknesses: Definitely not a stand alone. I had only read the first couple of chapters of Bran Hambric and the Farfield Curse, so I didn't understand a lot of the setting or characters. This was especially jarring when there were lengthy descriptions of things like Fridd's Day celebrations.

Westerfeld, Scott. Behemoth.
Nominated for the Cybils by Melissa Baldwin

Did read this, and thought I could put together a review, but everything has tefloned right out of my brain. This was a very well-written book, and a physically beautiful one at that. I think I am going to have to add "Steampunk" to "talking animals" and "quirky Southern navel-gazing" to lists of things that are never going to be successful for me personally. Will students like this? Well, Leviathan has been a hard sell, but students who liked Reeves' Hungry City Chronicles and Oppel's Airborn series will enjoy these.

Here are some much more complete opinions!

Bart's Bookshelf
Boing Boing
The Book Nerd
The Book Smugglers
Booked Up

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Guy and his Dog

So, do boys not have dogs anymore? Is it just younger boys who are so pleased to have a pet? I don't have middle school boys asking for books about dogs frequently, but it seems like at one point, this was a big theme. There's Old Yeller, Sounder, Where the Red Fern Grows, Shiloh and Lassie, but when I was looking for updated stories, there weren't a lot. I've starred the three that were the newest choices.

Anyone have any other title recommendations, or is this a moribund genre? This is what I thought until I brought home the following last night.....

Corriveau, Art. How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog)

Nicky's mother is starting over without his father... a new life, a new job, a little too much wine, and a new dog for Nicky, who's not all that interested in having to get up in the morning and take the dog for a walk. He's got other things to worry about, like his new school. It's scarier than his old one, what with the metal detectors and the tough kids, and not as academically challenging. Then there's Rita, who wants to hang out with him. He starts to enjoy having a dog a little bit when he takes Reggie to the park, where the dog is recognized as the guide dog of Art, a blind Korean war veteran. Nicky starts hanging out in Art's neighborhood and leading people to believe that he is Art's grandson, in order to find out more about why Reggie ended up at the pound. This slightly humorous and well-paced story uncovers several mysteries about the twists and turns that life can take with delightful realism.

Strengths: This is one of those rare books that both students AND teachers would like. Therefore, it should win the Newbery, but it won't because it is too good. Nicky is such a great character, the descriptions of place (near Boston) add a lot to the story, and the dynamics between the various characters, including Reggie, are painfully true. I just wish I had read this before the book fair, because I would have made sure we sold out of the copies!

Weaknesses: Slightly long for the target audience, and the print was a bit small. Seems silly, but this is a HUGE deal for boys this age who want funny books.

So here's the dog list. Behrens' book has a similar "let's stick the camera up the dog's nose" cover.

*Behrens, Andy. The Fast and the Furriest.
The overweight and unathletic son of a famous former football star discovers that his equally fat and lazy dog is unexpectedly--and obsessively--interested in competing in dog agility contests.

Cleary, Beverly. Henry Huggins.
When Henry adopts Ribsy, a dog of no particular breed, humorous adventures follow.

Cleary, Beverly. Strider.
In a series of diary entries, Leigh tells how he comes to terms with his parents' divorce, acquires joint custody of an abandoned dog, and joins the track team at school.

Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Phineas L. MacGuire-- blasts off!
Hoping to earn money to attend Space Camp, fourth-grade science whiz Phineas MacGuire gets a job as a dog walker, then enlists the aid of his friends Ben and Aretha to help with experiments using the dog's "slobber."

Jacques, Brian. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman.
In 1620, a boy and his dog are rescued from the doomed ship, Flying Dutchman, by an angel who guides them in travelling the world, eternally helping those in great need.

*Kehret, Peg. Ghost Dog Secrets.
Sixth-grader Rusty, determined to help an injured dog that is chained outdoors in frigid weather, calls animal control then takes matters into his own hands, aided by his best friend and a ghost collie that leads Rusty to an even deeper secret. Includes instructions for knitting cat blankets.

Kjelgaard, Jim. Stormy
A large black retriever and young Allan Marley become close companions and join forces against their common enemies.

*Lee, Ingrid. Dog Lost
After living happily in a warm home with an eleven-year-old boy, a pit bull terrier loses his owner and is forced to survive on the streets, where its brave deeds surprise many residents who dislike or fear pit bulls.

Lynch, Chris. Cyberia.
In a future where electronic surveillance has replaced love, a veterinarian is putting computer chips in animals and these creatures choose Zane, who understands their speech, to release them and bring them to a technology-free safety zone.

Mazer, Harry. The Dog in the Freezer.
Each of these 3 novellas looks at the relationship between a boy and a dog in a very different and unusual way.

Paulsen, Gary. Dogsong.
A fourteen-year-old Eskimo boy who feels assailed by the modernity of his life takes a 1400-mile journey by dog sled across ice, tundra, and mountains seeking his own "song" of himself.

Shusterman. The Schwa was Here.
A Brooklyn eighth-grader nicknamed Antsy befriends the Schwa, an "invisible-ish" boy who is tired of blending into his surroundings and going unnoticed by nearly everyone.
Stolz, Mary. A Dog on Barkham Street
Edward dearly wants a dog, and he and his friend Rod survive various adventures before the right dog arrives permanently.

Thomas, Jane Resh. The Comeback Dog
Daniel, a Midwestern farm boy, finds a battered dog in a ditch and nurses it back to health, but is disappointed when the dog doesn't immediately respond to his gestures of affection.

Toft, Di. Wolven
Twelve-year-old Nat, with help from family, friends, and his "pet" Woody, a wolf that turns into a boy, must face werewolves that have been altered as part of a dastardly plan.

Wallace, Bill. A Dog Called Kitty
Afraid of dogs since he was attacked by one that was rabid, Ricky resists taking in a homeless pup that shows up at the farm.

Disparate titles

Greenwald, Lisa. Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes.
Olivia, Georgia and Kate are excited about having a rare snow day in New York City, but upset that it occurs on Valentine's Day. Now they will never know if their crushes would have brought them Valentines! They spend their day making fortune cookie's at Georgia's parents' restaurant on the ground floor of their building, and get to know their neighbors by delivering the treats. The friends have their problems; Olivia's obsession with a boy irritates the other two, Kate is starting to become too trendy and popular, and Georgia has kept her crush secret from the other two. As the day wears on, tempers flare a bit, but in the end, everything works out.

Strengths: This is very realistic in its portrayal of middle school drama, and the city setting will seem exotic to my suburban students. Very, very fun, and the cover is sparkly! My copy of My Life in Pink in Green will soon be in tatters! Can't wait to see what this author puts out next.

Weaknesses: I did want to slap Olivia, and perhaps even her crush "PBJ", but since her friends do, too, it's okay!

Dunkle, Clare. The House of Dead Maids.
Nominated for the Cybils by Kristen Harvey

Tabby is sent from the orphanage to work in the creepy Seldom House on the Yorkshire Moors. She's not quite sure of her role, even when she is introduced to her charge, the "heathen git" boy who is apparently the master of the place. When the ghost of a dead maid starts stalking her and the boy, an evil plot to keep the luck of the estate is uncovered, and Tabby and the boy are both in danger. The boy turns out to be Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, and his experiences in this book are what doom him in that story.

Strengths: Very creepy and scary. The description of the ghost and the legions of dead maids were very chilling.

Weaknesses: I'm trying to determine if children will read this without knowing anything at all about Wuthering Heights. My readers of scary stories seem to fall on the weaker end of the reading spectrum, and the book is rather short for Bronte fans. The mix is a bit odd.