Monday, January 31, 2011

Choldenko's No Passengers Beyond This Point

Choldenko, Gennifer. No Passengers Beyond This Point.
ARC received from publicist. Release date 8 February 2011.

Finn and his older sister India and younger sister Mouse are horrified when they find out that not only has their mother lost their home, but they will be moving from California to Colorado to live with their uncle the next day. All of the children are worried and angry at their mother, apprehensive about the move, and irritated by the presence of each other. When the plane lands mysteriously and abruptly, they find themselves in a Falling Bird, place of opposites-- they first arrive at magnificent houses, but are soon ripped away from them. They are given everything, and then must fight for the smallest thing. Memories of their past come to haunt them... their father's death, fights with friends, and unrealized dreams from their life in California form their journey in Falling Bird. They are all fighting a clock, and must complete certain tasks and decide the route that each of them will take before it runs down. In the end, they all decide that family, no matter how irritating, is more important than individual wishes. The ending is a huge surprise, and I don't want to spoil it.

Strengths: The story is mysterious and intriguing, the dialogue snappy, and the characters individualistic while still being likable. Fantasy fans will like the advantages and challenges of Falling Bird.

Weaknesses: This gets off to a bit of a slow start, and the world of Falling Bird is a bit confusing. We don't find out what is going on until the very last few pages, and some readers may give up before them. All along, I felt like I was not making some connection between the emotional turmoil of the realistic world and the purpose of the children being in Falling Bird. Not to ruin it, but the story is, in a way, a reimagining of the Wizard of Oz story.

I was hoping to be part of Charlotte's Library's "Timeslip Tuesday" with this, but it's not really time travel!

Cutting Edge Teen Literature

They were. Well, back in the early 1970s they were cutting edge. In honor of my weeding efforts on Friday, here are two books that were getting old even when I was in middle school, yet somehow still reside on my library shelves.

Zindel, Paul. My Darling, My Hamburger. (1969)
This is still in print; in fact, you can buy study packets so this can be taught in the classroom! Seniors Liz and Sean have a physical relationship that ends with Liz becoming pregnant. At first, Sean promises to marry her, but after talking to his judgmental father, decides not to. Maggie, Liz's friend, takes her to have an abortion. Nothing is explained in detail, but this would have been groundbreaking stuff. Maggie is interested in a rather depressed boy named Dennis. Also unusual is the inclusion of handwritten notes and language arts papers, although that reminded me a bit of Up the Down Staircase. None of the characters are very likable, and almost more jarring than Liz being pregnant is her smoking! I may pull this one for lack of interest.

Klein, Norma. Mom, The Wolf Man and Me. (1972)
Brett's mother has never been married, has a career as a photographer, wears jeans a lot, has a boyfriend who brings movies over for Brett to watch, gets another boyfriend who occasionally spends the night, and fixes steak tartar for dinner. With raw egg on top.

So many scandalous things, and thirty years later all we can think is "The mother let the girl eat RAW HAMBURGER???" It seems somewhat odd to me that in the 1970s, when relatively fewer parents were divorced and dating, that there were so many books about children dealing with those issues. Now, when it is more common, there are not as many. I really should pull this one, but the description of Brett and her mother at a peace march in Washington wearing dresses "so people don't think only hippies protest", puts this so squarely in the realm of historical fiction that I may keep it. I didn't realize that Norma Klein died back in 1989, at the age of 51. Most of her books included controversial topics, and she also wrote Sunshine, about a young mother dying of cancer. That was my speech for Prose and Poetry my sophomore year. This should go, but I'll probably keep it.

Another series that really needs to go is Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al. (1969) I loved this one, but no one has read it, or the several sequels, in the entire time I have been at Blendon. So why am I sad that I never got to read Al's Blind Date?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Library Day in the Life-- Day #4

Really, it's pretty much the same thing every day in my library. Check in, check out, monitor students. But there's a lot more I need to do that's hard to get to.

Here’s what I would be doing if I had no students for the day.

  • Planning some library lessons ahead.
  • Developing projects with teachers on various topics. Anyone have anything good on “the legacy of Rome”?
  • Cleaning the back room. After our major renovation and moving this summer, there are a few things missing, and I have learned my lesson about cleaning out. Need to look for my three hole punch and think about getting rid of some tape recorders.
  • Shelf reading and weeding. Where is Bad Girls in Love? Probably in the nonfiction. And how have I been here for 15 years without realizing that my Dracula book is not about the movie, but rather a bad novelization of it? As with cleaning out, this is a continual project.
  • Talking with teachers to assess their equipment needs. The district purchased LCD projectors for each room, leaving me with about 15 television/DVD/VCR combinations on carts. Some of those, as well as any overheads that are not working properly, can go to auction.
  • Taking down the huge and mainly inoperable Media Retrieval System whose vast metal cabinet takes up half of my back room. Can’t really do this, but I would love to.
  • Cleaning and repairing equipment. Also barcoding things for easier check out.
  • Filing my purchase order paper work. From the last, um, nine years.

Obviously, these are not hugely important things, but they must be done every soften. This is why I close for five days at the end of the year. I open the very first day, and come in a lot in the summer, but some projects require a significant amount of time sitting on the floor in the dust, so they are hard to do in the morning, and impossible to do during the day.

Guy Friday- Paul Zindel

I am finally up to the Z's in reading my way through the library and thought that Paul Zindel (1936-2003) would make a good subject for Guy Friday.

Language Arts teachers love The Pigman, and Zindel was a well-respected and much lauded writer for his plays, such as The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. My Darling, My Hamburger was supposedly very racy and cutting edge, and since I can't remember it, that may well be what I read tonight.

In my library, however, Mr. Zindel is read for his bunch of monster horror books, which I usually list in one breath as RatsRaptorReefofDeathDoomstoneLochNightoftheBat. I'd never read one all the way through, since Reef of Death was just too scary for me. That's all I had to say to students and they would pick it up! The only downside to these titles is that many of them are, sadly, out of print.

Zindel, Paul. Rats.
Sarah and her brother Michael live on Staten Island near a huge landfill, where their father works. Their mother was killed in a car accident, so they often have to take care of themselves and their pet rat, Surfer. When mutant rats escape the landfill and start coming up through people's toilets and threatening any human they find, the children and their pet must try to stay safe and save the area from these vicious rodents.

Strengths: Nonstop action and lots of gore. Usually, the people killed are the more unsavory characters in the book, but this is very graphic. My boys love these.

Weaknesses: The gore. A Begonia for Miss Applebaum this is not!

Zindel, Paul. Raptor.
Zack's father is a paleontologist working in the Southwest. He is brutally injured in an accident that is assumed to be a landslide but is in fact a raptor attack. Zack tries to find out more about what happened to his father and finds a raptor egg that hatches. The trouble begins when the raptor mommy comes looking for her baby, which Zack doesn't want to give up, since he thinks it will help his father become famous. Another paleontologist has the same idea, so Zack and his friend Uta must try to protect the raptor baby while keeping the area safe from the adult raptors.

Strengths: Again, fast-paced, with a nice sense of place. I also enjoyed how the girls in both books have strong roles in saving the world, something I never would have guessed was in the books.

Weaknesses: Again, the gore. Yuck!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Library Day in the Life #3- Wednesday

Just unusual things and amusing recommendations today! Same amount of SSR classes as Tuesday. Worked on book orders on and off all day, checking shelves, lost books, making sure I didn’t have duplicates between two vendors.

1st period:

  • Wiping down four books which seem to have been dropped in the mud.
  • Putting together a “quick” teacher collection on planets
  • Scary book for which I had four copies: R.L. Stine’s Broken Date.
  • Finding a book “about drugs” with two copies for readers of Beauty Queen: Answer: Go Ask Alice.

2nd period

A 7th grade language arts teacher and I have been working on a nonfiction book project. Many of her children are in changing out their nonfiction books.

  • “Do you have any books about real werewolves?”
  • “Do you have a nonfiction chapter book?” Why, yes! Why don’t you try Behind Enemy Lines?” “But I don’t want anything that really happened.”
  • Had several students pay fines. Threats are working.

3rd period

  • Do you have any wrestling books? (Takedown, Wrestling Sturbridge, Wrestling with Honor. All I have. Can’t find anything more but Martino’s Pinned, which is more of a high school book. )
  • Do you have any skateboarding books? Skate Freak, Fakie, Skater Stunt Boys, some Matt Christopher.)
  • Trying to fix the hydraulics on my new desk chair, which goes down five inches on a whim. Duct tape is the answer. Working well so far.

4th period

  • Language arts students in researching family names and creating documents with pictures as a watermarked background.
  • “Any problem novel as long as it’s short”: Lipsyte’s Yellow Flag. (“I love Nascar! How did you know? “The race car on your t shirt.”)
  • Visiting students during lunch to remind them about overdues.

5th period

  • “Do you have a book on planets?” “Did Mr. B. tell you he had all my books?” “Yes, but I thought you might have some.” Luckily, I kept the encyclopedias.
  • Working with students to find the addresses of authors for another language arts project.
  • New high school helper in for training.

6th period

  • “Do you have any books that are funny, action/adventure, AR and really, really short?” (Maybe not. My brain overloaded at one point. But I did.)
  • Fixed two library shelves that tipped over, dumping entire contents on floor.

7th period

Oddly quiet, which allows me to regroup for tomorrow. Language Arts students are typing fractured fairy tales. Try to help student find “fairy tale sound effects” for presentation. Alternate assessment for some of our students in the multiple handicapped unit.

The vast majority of my day is spent with students who come up to me and say forlornly that they need a book and they don’t know what they want. They usually leave with something that’s not too painful!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not-What-I-Wanted Wednesday

I predicate my purchases on what students request, hoping to find the very best examples of, say, football or skateboarding books. My reading, however, doesn't always match up with the needs of my students. Do I buy things that aren't necessarily asked for? Absolutely. But it has to be something I really like for me to sell it.

It amazes me how many books I miss. Maybe one of these is exactly what someone else is looking for!

Goodman, Shawn. Something Like Hope.
From Publisher: "Shavonne, a fierce, desperate seventeen-year-old in juvenile lockup, wants to turn her life around before her eighteenth birthday, but corrupt guards, out-of-control girls, and shadows from her past make her task seem impossible."
What I Wanted: Something like Sharon Draper: gut wrenching and powerful book about a young girl trying to overcome the odds of being raised in the inner city.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: The f-bomb on page two. This is clearly aimed at a high school audience. A shame, since the cover is very nice.

Chow, Cara. Bitter Melon.
From publisher: "Frances, a Chinese-American student in a competitive school in San Francisco in the 1980s, begins to question her mother's insistence that she becomes a doctor when she accidentally enrolls in a speech class and discovers a hidden talent."
What I Wanted: Multicultural book, and in the wake of the whole Tiger Mother thing, this was a very interesting read that I personally enjoyed very much.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: I can't get anyone to check out Paula Yoo's Good Enough, which is similar, so I won't buy this.Too old for my readers, just from an interest standpoint.

Zucker, Naomi. Callie's Rules.
From publisher: "Eleven-year-old Callie Jones tries to keep track of all the rules for fitting in that other middle school students seem to know, but when the town decides to replace Halloween with an Autumn Festival, Callie leads her large family in an unusual protest. "
What I Wanted: Fun, light realistic fiction for girls.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: Too quirky. Large family with weird names, and what 6th grade teacher assigns Lorna Doone? Of course, Callie prefers Jane Eyre and holds all of the other girls in disdain because they care about things like clothes. On the topic of Halloween-as-evil, I already have Stephanie Tolan's Save Halloween, which doesn't circulate much.

Boyd, Maria. Will
From publisher: "Seventeen-year-old Will's behavior has been getting him in trouble at his all-boys school in Sydney, Australia, but his latest punishment, playing in the band for a musical production, gives him new insights into his fellow students and helps him cope with an incident he has tried to forget. "
What I Wanted: Any book about musicians that didn't also include numerous sex and drug references.
Why It Didn't Work For Me: This may be that, but I couldn't get past the very Australian vibes.

Neighbors of various kinds

Springstubb, Tricia. What Happened on Fox Street
Mo Wren loves her neighborhood that backs up to a wooded area. Since she knows everyone, she can keep an eye on her younger sister Dottie when her somewhat unorganized father has to go to work, run around the neighborhood, and still feel safe. It has everything she needs, including a friend who visits for the summer, shops, neighbors who keep her in line, and memories of her deceased mother. When all of the neighbors get letters from a man trying to buy up and redevelop the neighborhood, Mo is worried that her ideal life may come to an end, especially when she finds out her friend may no longer visit for the summer. Things come to a head when Dottie runs off during a storm, secrets are revealed, and Mo finds out whether or not she will get to stay on Fox Street.

Strengths: This has a good sense of place, supportive adults, interesting problems and an appealing cover.

Weaknesses: Not a whole lot happened, and there were many elements that made this seem like the sort of story teachers love to read to a class, but classes don't much care for.

Cook, Kacy. Nuts.
When Nell finds two baby squirrels in the yard that have fallen out of their nest, she researches the best way to care for them on line. She chooses to ignore the most important bit of advice-- turn them over to an animal rehabilitator. Instead, she enlists her parents and two brothers into caring for the animals, getting advice from the woman who posted the information by telling her that she is older than 11 and too far from a rehabilitator. Since the children are homeschooled, they do a lot of research into wildlife habits and are able to spend time caring for the animals. One meets a tragic end, but the other, Mantha, prospers to the point where it is necessary to release her into the wild. Nell is reluctant to do this, but finally realizes it is necessary.

Strengths: Wow. I know more about raising squirrels than I could ever use. The research in this book is very apparent, but the cautions are very clear as well. Again, appealing characters and supportive adults make this interesting.

Weaknesses: I don't have a lot of students who are that interested in animals, so I'm unsure whether or not I will purchase this.

Kephart, Beth. Dangerous Neighbors.
From the publisher: "Set against the backdrop of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Katherine cannot forgive herself when her beloved twin sister dies, and she feels that her only course of action is to follow suit."

I picked this up because I am always intrigued by World's Fair type exhibitions, but this is much more about Katherine's fragile mental state. It is a very lyrical, probing book, but very slow. It is listed as grades 8-12, and I think that is definitely the case. It moved very slowly.

Booking Mama, Caribou's Mom, There's a Book and Word Lily all liked this very much.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Library Day in the Life #2: Tuesday

Visit the main site for Library Day in the Life, Round 6

5:00 am.: Polishing coffee pots, cleaning chaos in back room, scouring counter and sink.
Preparing work for volunteers, including spending a long time trying to get bar code lables to print.
5:30: Checking e mail, blogging, routing new magazines, making actual notes for library lesson to keep on file. This week: Why Ms. Yingling will creepily stalk you if you have an overdue book! (Answer: Because you probably need something new to read.)
6:30: Visiting other blogs for suggestions, working on final book orders for March.
7:45: Library opens
8:00: SSR1
9:06: SSR2
9:40: SSR3
9:56 SSR4
11:16: SSR5
12:12 p.m.: SSR6
12:30-1:00. Lunch. Bug 8th graders about overdues on way.
1:12: SSR8 and my own SSR of 10 students assigned to library.
1:58: Nothing scheduled. Study hall students a bit later. Just containing chaos and getting ready for the next day.
3:00: Faculty meeting
4:00 : Head home
7:00-9:00 Read

After all SSRs, study hall students and students from other groups come in for books and use the computers for projects and research. I figure 25 for each SSR (except 6th period, which is always 30+) and another 25-30 from other groups. Most of the students want help in picking out or finding books, so I frequently am running around the library with lines of children behind me. I feel so loved.

My goal at the end of each period is to have checked in all books, filed all cards and answered all e mails. This rarely happens on Tuesday. I had one parent volunteer in the morning to shelve and weed, and one in the afternoon to shelve and glue books back together!

And yes, the cards are necessary. The Destiny circulation system combined with student helpers and busy days means that a lot of books do NOT get checked out on the computer. When books are about two weeks overdue, I go through the cards to make sure they were actually on the computer, and have to explain to children about why I didn't send them an overdue slip.

Found Middle Grade Book Challenge at Cindy's Love of Books. She only had six people entered, and I know that many of you out there are up for this one! Hop over and take a look!

Library Day in the Life #1: Monday

I've never caught this before, but thanks to Holly Hibner's blog (that I got to through Awful Library Books!) I found Round 6 of the Library Day in the Life Project! This was started by Bobbi Newman of Librarian by Day. It's meant to show the public how hard working and useful librarians are, and the first day was yesterday! I will post one week (five days) just for fun.

I am at a suburban middle school library in Ohio, USA.

Monday, January 24
5:00 a.m. At desk, running overdue slips, attempting to blog weekend reading
5:30 a.m. Filling coffee pots for Bulldog Breakfast, helping with set up.
6:30: Bulldog Breakfast
7:30: Cleaning up from Bulldog Breakfast
7:45: Library open, flurry of renewals
8:00: Fix teacher's DVD player
8:05: Study hall students, check in books, file cards. There is only one scheduled class on Monday, but each period of the day sees about 30 visits from various classes.
8:54: Study hall students, a stray language arts class; check in, file, work on book order for five minutes. Instruct student helpers to shelve, dust.
9:48: Study hall, stray social studies class to use the computer; check in, file, spend ten minutes trying to do some purchasing paperwork.
10:38: 6th grade lunch. Hunt down students with overdues, call a few homes. Fix programming glitch with printer. Student helpers attend to study hall students.
11:36: 7th grade lunch. Repeat. Work out payment plan with two students and also contact their former schools to check on whether their textbooks were turned in. Try to finish blog.
12:30: 8th grade lunch. When I normally take lunch, but there is a Battle of the Books meeting and several students serving lunch detentions for books due in October. No student helper, so I pop up to check out books.
1:00: Run to office to retrieve mail, turn in paperwork, pick up books from Library Link. I have eight students assigned to me for Sustained Silent Reading.
1:12-1:25: SSR group (30 students); deliver lesson on WHY we bug them about overdue books; get books to students. Three library helpers at the desk.
1:25-1:40: SSR group(30 students) that missed Friday.
1:40-1:54: Study hall students that need books.
1:58: Dump coffee from breakfast, fling pots in back room. Check in 100 books, file cards (a really, really necessary part of my library, due to students and parents not quite believing the computer), work with student to push in chairs, straighten shelves, repair chaos of day.
3:10: Head home.

Also included in there somewhere: answering about ten e mails an hour from teachers and parents, helping students reserve books from public library, adding books to order lists.

At home: Only spend about an hour and a half reading.


Fritz, Jean. Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider
Wow. Ms. Fritz is about 95 years old. As with Milton Meltzer's Tough Times, I could not say anything bad about this new book even if there was cause, which there was not. This 132 page treatment of Hamilton's life is fast paced and very readable, with plentiful and appropriate illustrations. It follows his life from birth and childhood in the West Indies (under less than ideal conditions) to his foolish death at the age of 49 in the duel with Aaron Burr. You'd have thought that after his 19-year-old son died in a duel, he would have sworn off them! The most interesting aspect of this book was that we see pivotal American history unfolding from the perspective of how it affected just one person. Even though I have a good biography collection, this is worth adding, because it was the sort of book that I kept shouting sentences from it to my children. ("Did you know...?")

Jones, Carrie. Entice.
ARC received from the very kind Charlotte at Charlotte's Library.
Zara is still upset that her boyfriend, Nick, has been killed, even though he is apparently in Valhalla. She's also upset that she's been turned into a pixie by Astley, who wants her to be his queen, and the fact that local teens are under constant attack by evil blue pixies, and she can't be everywhere to fight them off. 'Cause she has GOT to find Nick. 'Cause she looooooves him.

Okay, this is where my 17-year-old daughter asks me when my soul died. This is a fine addition to the series (Need and Captivate). There's a lot of pixie fighting, traveling to Iceland, community pulling together to fight off pixies and keep Zara from hurting herself even more than she does. There's even a frisson of attraction between Zara and Astley. However, I am too old. I know that if Zara gets Nick back from Valhalla, he will probably dump her after three months for some cute were, probably right before prom. After she's bought her dress. Also, I find the cover vaguely disturbing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Short Take on Sequels

Dowswell, Paul. Prison Ship.
Sam manages to get work on another ship after his adventures in Powder Monkey, but soon is framed for cowardice along with his friend Richard. They are sentenced to hang, but manage to get that commuted to being transported to Australia. They are lucky to get on a decent ship, and are befriended by a young doctor, who helps them once they get to Australia. They get work at a shipyard, but make some poor choices and end up being put to work on a farm where the owner is excessively cruel. They take off through the outback and barely survive, but once they make it back to civilization, their previous contacts help get them out of trouble.

Dowswell, Paul. Battle Fleet.
While Richard decides to go back to the US, Paul signs up with the navy, but this time as a midshipman. He ends up on the HMS Victory and is involved with the battle of Trafalgar.

Strengths (of series): These were very well done, with fights interspersed with intrigue and details of every day life. I found myself liking these way more than I thought I would.
Weaknesses: It's hard to believe that all of these things would happen to one boy, but I don't think the students will mind!

Beil, Michael. The Vanishing Violin.

This sequel to The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour finds the girls hired by one of the sisters in their school to find out who is sneaking in, cleaning and improving the school. This takes a back seat, however, when Margaret recieves a very good violin bow, and the girls have to solve a 50 year old mystery. Like the first, this involves clues and puzzles, helpful adults, and a little romance.

Strengths: These are fabulous mysteries, and the New York setting and local detail are thrilling to students in Ohio.
Weaknesses: While there are four main characters, I had trouble telling them apart. It was sort of Margaret and SophieLeighAnnRebecca. Small complaint for a book that starts out "Like a plaid-skirted Jedi Knight..."

Byng, Georgia. Molly Moon and the Morphing Mystery.
When Molly and Mickey's new tutor, Ms. Hunroe, whisks them off to London, they find that she is not what she seems-- she wants them to steal a second book of magic from a Mr. Black. The two children read some of the book and are able to morph into ladybugs in order to escape. They then change into people and other animals, but only Ms. Hunroe seems to know the secret how to "meego" and return to themselves. Ms. Hunroe and her associates don't want to share this secret until they get their way, and Molly finds that Mr. Black is not as evil as he seems. After surviving a trip to the Andes and solving the immediate problems, Molly and Mickey, along with Petula, return home.
Strengths: Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure gave me a headache (from too much thinking!), but I found this one rather enjoyable, with all the morphing into different animals. For a fifth book in the series, this one still had a lot of interest.
Weaknesses: I was inordinately bothered by an Asian character named Miss Teriyaki, and found that all of Ms. Hunroe's accomplices were slightly annoying. They were evil, so I suppose that's all right!

Mebus, Scott. The Sorcerer's Secret.
Sequel to Gods of Manhattan and Spirits in the Park.
Final book in series dealing with historical figures from New York City's past reinvented as gods. Found out another weakness of mine from this-- mention more than four characters on a page, page after page, and my interest starts to flag and my comprehension to droop dramatically.

Perez, Marlene. Dead is Just a Rumor.
Sequel to Dead is the New Black, Dead is So Last Year, Dead is a State of Mind. Dead is Not an Option comes out on May 2nd. My students are loving these, because they have witches AND werewolves AND vampires. I kept picking this one up at times when I couldn't concentrate on it so don't feel I can give a plot summary and do it any justice.

Survived the Bulldog Breakfast this morning, but my daughter came to school, threw up, resisted going home, and finally went. I have a headache. I NEVER get headaches. This bodeth ill.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Laundry or Reading?

Balog, Cyn. Sleepless.
Julia is trying to recover from the death of her smart aleck boyfriend, Griffin. Eron is finishing up his hundred year stint as a Sleepbringer, recently assigned to Julia, and will be able to return to being human after Griffin replaces him. The bad news? Griffin isn't as accepting of his death and new job as a Sandman as Eron was, and he is trying to stay with Julia in any way he can. Julia continues to go to work, practice for her driver's license test, and hangs out with Bret, Griffin's best friend who is a little too interested in her. When Eron becomes human for limited amounts of time, he seeks out Julia, which angers Griffin and jeopardizes Eron's chances at becoming human. Will Julia be able to understand who Eron has been, and will Griffin be able to let her go?

Strengths: Balog's work is very readable, which surprises me since I have slogged through so many paranormal romances. Like this author's Fairy Tale, this is a nice twist on the genre, and adds the realistic note of people moving on from their "one true love". Fairy Tale has circulated nicely, and I'll be purchasing Starstruck when it comes out in July.

Weaknesses: This is almost too old for middle school, but luckily Balog doesn't throw the characters in bed together. I guess it was all the talk of the sandmen "seducing" the women to sleep that just made me worry that something would be coming that never did.

Langan, Paul. Brothers in Arms.
Martin Luna is not keen on school, so when his mother moves from their old neighborhood after Martin's 8-year-old brother is killed, he's not wild about going to Bluford High. Still grieving, he has little patience for putting up with a snotty football player, turning in his English assignments, or making it to detention. He's rather run back to his old neighborhood and hang out with his friend, Frankie, who has vowed to find the people who shot Martin's brother. After a while, however, Martin begins to realize that the way he is living is probably what caused his brother's death, and he decides to accept the help from the people in his life who care.

Strengths: The Bluford books are short and simple, and some of my students love them. I appreciate that the characters change, but it's not depicted as something easy.

Weaknesses: Since these are short, there's not a lot of depth in secondary characters.

Guy Friday: The Young Boy and the Sea

Because Westervillle City Schools has a snow day, I wish I had Northrup's Trapped to read, but I was thinking about swash-buckling sea stories. This is not something a lot of boys ask for, but I'll have one or two every year who can't get enough. I didn't include the many older titles like Treasure Island; 100 years ago, sea stories were the big thing. I also didn't include the girls-at-sea books like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Dowswell, Paul. Powder Monkey.
This first book in a trilogy finds young Sam Witchall leaving his family to go to sea in 1800. Things are going well until he is pressed into joining the British Royal Navy and finds himself assigned to the worst job-- bringing gun powder to the ships' guns. There's certainly a lot of other work, which is vividly portrayed, and many battles to fight in, since the British are at war with France and Spain. Sam would love to try to escape from service, but knows that his chances are slim. He is helped by a colorful cast of shipmates, only some of whom are deliciously dastardly. After Sam's ship goes down after a battle with the Spanish, he and a few shipmates make their way to a small village along the coast and have to decide whether to run away or return to the navy.

Strengths: The descriptions of everyday life on a ship at this time are well done. We find out about food, hygiene, work, and how ships were run. Since Sam is the age of my readers, I am sure this makes it easier for them to insert themselves into this adventure and bewail the fact that they are stuck in the middle of Ohio!

Weaknesses: There was a lot of turnovers in characters, and I would have liked to see some of the ones who were killed developed more, but that is also true to life. People died more frequently than we are used to today.

I am excited to see that Dowswell's newest book, Auslander, about a boy living in Berlin during World War II, is being published in the US in August.

Avast, me hearties! Here are some other good tales of the sea!

Avi. Beyond the Western Sea.
Cadnum, Michael. Ship of Fire
Cadnum, Michael. Peril on the Sea
Hawes, Charles Boardman. The Dark Frigate
Hesse, Karen. The Stowaway.
Hobbs, Will. Leaving Protection
Jacques, Brian. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman.
Lawrence, Ian. The Castaways (et alia)
O'Dell, Scott. The Black Pearl
Paulsen, Voyage of the Frog
Somper, Justin. Vampirates

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Assorted Reading

Magoon, Kekla. Camo Girl.
Ella's life is difficult enough-- her father has died of cancer, her mother is gone half the week for work, and she is in middle school. She has always been friends with Z, but as they have gotten older, Z's behavior is seen as stranger and stranger. Her other friend, Millie, has distanced herself from Ella because she doesn't want to hang around Z, but Ella feels responsible for Z's well-being, especially since his father left and he and his mother are living at WalMart, where his mother works. When another black student, Bailey, comes to school and takes an interest in Ella, she is thrilled that she might finally have some other friends, but her relationship with Bailey annoys Z. Ella tries to balance all of the facets of her life, but things become difficult when Z runs off to Las Vegas and she and Bailey go to find him.

Strengths: This was a very moving story of friendship and protrays accurately how difficult middle school is for anyone, especially for those who are different. I loved all of the characters, and the story had enough action that students will not think it is too slow.

Weaknesses: While I figured that Ella suffered from vitiligo (hence the title), and Z was probably on the autism spectrum, this was not clearly explained. I think it would have been helpful for my students to know the underlying cause of the challendes with which the two main characters are dealing.

Spradlin, Michael. Orphan of Destiny.
(Sequel to Keeper of the Grail and Trail of Fate.)
Tristan is back. He, along with Robard and Maryam, needs to get the grail to a safe place, but Sir Hugh is hot on his trail and killing as many of Tristan's cohorts as possible. To make matters worse, Tristan has angered Eleanor of Aquitaine, who tells him he will never take the throne, which gives him a pretty good idea of the secret that everyone has been hiding from him. Even when all of the obstacles are overcome, the grail is safe and things are quiet, I think that this may continue, because the body of Sir Hugh was never found...

Strengths: This series is hugely popular in my library! It is fast-paced, related to the curriculum, and has appealing characters. Even the books are beautifully formatted.
Weaknesses: Only mine-- I am having trouble keeping up with series! It was hard for me to remember what Tristan had been up to previously, which is why this sounds like anemic praise.

Ames, Ruth. This Totally Bites.
Emma-Rose has always felt different from her family. They are sunny and upbeat, she is pale and loves black. When her great-aunt Margo comes to town to help her mother with a museum exhibit about bats, Emma-Rose realizes why she is so different-- she takes after Margo, who is most likely a vampire! There are other problems to worry about, though. Emma-Rose is in charge of the school dance, and it falls on the same night of her mother's exhibit opening. With the help of Henry, a boy she has been crushing on, Emma-Rose manages to organize the dance, find out the secrets of her past, and realize that being who she is is just perfect.

Strengths: These books (Poison Apple series by Scholastic) are just perfect for my 6th grade girls who want to read Twilight but just can't.
Weaknesses: This would have been more successful for me if Margo hadn't turned out to be a real vampire, but my girls will still be pleased. At least Emma-Rose is not one. (It skips generations!)

Garza, Mario. Stuff on My Mutt.
This one is not my fault! One of our teachers is working on her MLS and needed this for a class, and once I requested it from Interlibrary Loan for her, I had to read it. To my dog, of course, who now wants me to knit her some legwarmers. This tiny, paperbound bit of fluff from Chronicle Books is not something that I will buy for my library, but it would certainly circulate it if I had it! The book consists mainly of pictures people have taken of their dogs, with stuff on them. Check out the web site.

Boynton, Sandra. Amazing Cows.
Well, again, not quality literature, but I did think that perhaps I could pass this off as a nonfiction book about cows. Can't really, but it was fun to read! Love the cow knock knock jokes, the story involving 80 cows named Tino, and, well... all of it. Can I justify purchasing it? No. Darn. I wish that there were some middle grade fiction ala Wimpy Kid done by Boynton. Ooh. Maybe I can justify buying Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (1982). But it's out of print!

Daly, Cathleen. Flirt Club.
From the publisher: "Through notes and journal entries, best friends and self-proclaimed "drama geeks" Cisco (Izzy) and the Bean (Annie) write of the trials of middle school, as well as their efforts to attract boys by forming a Flirt Club. "
Strengths: Girls who are big fans of Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson will find the rambling notes and journal entries a treat!
Weaknesses: I couldn't finish this one because of the rambling journal entries. Also, I kept getting the feeling that it was set in the 1970s, even though there were no indications that this was the case. I'll fling this at some random readers today to get their take on it, but I'm just not sure.

Library Notes

This is for Jim at TeacherNinja, who requested more information about day-to-day library operations.

Library Helpers. Oh, how all of the students want to be library helpers. Unfortunately, this does not mean they all want to shelve books. No, they want to stand at the only computer within 20 feet of the circ desk. This is fine when we have classes and I am roaming around helping students get books, but after I've taken care of the class, and the study hall students, and have checked in all of the books (something only I do, after being challenged by parents!) and filed the circ cards, sometimes I have five minutes to do something frivolous like, oh, check work e mail or look for new releases of YA fiction. This is hard to do with two sixth graders standing at my elbow.

I finally hired a full complement of workers. At least two every period of the day. I take applications. If a student does not fill it out completely (I do need to know what period your study hall is!), or if they answer that they want to be a helper because they hate study hall, they are not hired. Also not hired are students who are struggling with grades, have chronic overdue problems, or cannot behave themselves in the library. I switch out most of my helpers on a quarterly basis so that many students get a chance.

The jobs that the helpers are supposed to do (and which are posted for them to see) are:
Put books in alphabetical order on carts
Sharpen pencils
Dust shelves
Dust backs of chairs in computer lab
Push chairs in
Pick up stray paper
Straighten computer lab
Scrub pencil marks off tables
Sensitize books and pile up
Make the library a better place to be!!

This isn't that exciting, I know, but I remember spending a lot of time in my 4th grade library bundling up Campbell's soup labels. Try enough student helpers and you will find some that work really well. You will also find some students that don't do a lot of work, but need to be near you. School work always comes first for my students, and some of my students are "supervisors" who spend most of their time doing homework, which is fine!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Not-What-I-Wanted Wednesday

These were all perfectly fine books, just not what I was looking for to give to my students.

Grimes, Nikki. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel.
Dyamonde is unhappy that she and her mother had to move away from her old school and her friends when her parents divorce, especially since she no longer has her own bedroom. She is doing okay in school until Free shows up and is cranky all the time. Dyamonde finds out that Free also had to move because his father lost his job, but she convinces him that he should make the best of the situation, and the two become friends.
What I Wanted: A more upbeat realistic fiction book than Bronx Masquerade by this author about an African American main character.
Why it didn't work for me: A very good book, but for the I Can Read Crowd.
Positive Review at The Happy Nappy Book Seller.

Farrar, Josh. Rules to Rock By.
Annabelle, age 12, is upset because her indie rocker parents have moved her from New York to Rhode Island, away from her grandmother and her rock band, Egg Mountain, so that they can work on their own record. Fitting in to her new middle school is hard, and putting together another rock band is even harder. With the help of an understanding English teacher who encourages her to keep writing song lyric, Annabelle starts to think the move might not be totally tragic.
What I Wanted: Honestly, a book for boys. They are usually the ones who want books about rock bands.
Why This Didn't Work For Me: This was very heavy on cultural references that will become quickly dated, and Annabelle whined just a bit much for me. Just not a boy book.
Positive reviews at Story Snoops, All Consuming Books, Mary Brebner (in comment in All Consuming), Girlie Action. (Aha!)

Couvillon, Jacques. The Chicken Dance.
Stanley "Don" has a tough life on his family's chicken farm in the 1970s. His mother is unhappy being away from the city, his older sister died when he was a baby and his parents still favor her, and his parents fight frequently. To cope, he starts to take an interest in the family chickens, but this leads to a revelation about his family situation.
What I Wanted: A funny book for boys.
Why it didn't work for me: The quirky/Southern thing is a killer for me, and a mention of menstruation at the beginning of chapter three really was unnecessary. Loved the cover, liked the idea, but it would be a hard sell. I did keep reading to find out the mystery.
Positive reviews at Another Book Read, The Bookbag, Bookwitch, Sarah's Book Review, Teen Reads

Campbell, Chelsea. The Rise of Renegade X.
Damien Locke is the son of the Mistress of Mayhem, and when he has his 16th birthday and his burgeoning villainous powers are supposed to manifest themselves in his thumbprint turning to a "v", he is surprised to see that he instead gets an "x", which means that his absent father must be a super HERO. Indeed, this is the case, and after some investigation, he finds that his mother had a liaison with The Crimson Flash. Damien goes to live with the Flash's family, and his father hopes that by exposing him to heroes he will turn that way, but instead Damien is bound to stay true to his villainous heritage.
What I Wanted: Michael Carrol's Quantum Prophecy (more serious) series or Boniface's The Hero Revealed (funnier).
Why This Didn't Work For Me: This is definitely more of a high school book, with snarky humor and a lot of mentions of sex and some drinking. I was given a copy of this by my very generous former principal, but I think I may send it to the high school, where it would be widely read, since the action is fast-paced and the fantasy world well-developed.
Positive reviews at:The Book Cellar, Frenetic Reader, Janicu's Reviews, Karin's Book Nook,
Why I Feel Especially Bad About Not Wanting This in My Library: Ms. Campbell is a fellow Latin and Ancient Greek major, so I read the book hoping for some correct Latin to be flung about! And she's even a fellow knitter. I do wish her all the success in the world, but still feel the content is more appropriate to high school. Drat.

de Quidt, Jeremy. The Toymaker.
Disclaimer: I only read about 50 pages of this. Mathias is working with a traveling circus, where all of the people seem to be fairly mean. Even his grandfather, Gustav the conjuror, abuses him. Then Gustav dies, Mathias is taken by Lieter, and things become even more grim. I did not make it far enough to find out about the toymaker who invents a knife so sharp and slim that it can take the heart out of a bird without the bird knowing, and insert the heart into a toy.
What I Wanted: Something a little grim, but a bit amusing, like Mass' The Candymakers (with less repetition).
Why This Didn't Work For Me: This was just so unrelentingly sad, and not in a Snicketesque kind of way. Children who pick up books about toy makers are probably expecting something happier.
Positive reviews at: Fantasy Book Critic, Searching for a Good Book, Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, Vulpes Libres,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TIM: Defender of the Earth

Enthoven, Sam. TIM: Defender of the Earth (2008)
This is a book I hadn't heard of until I picked it up in Half Price Books' clearance aisle, and it took me a while to read it. To add to the confusion, it's listed on Titlewave as an adult title. What a shame! Like Cole's Z Rex, this was a fabulous smash-em-up science fiction book!

TIM is a genetically engineered, indestructible tyrannosaur developed by the British government. He's been happy living underneath Trafalgar Square in a lab, until they try to kill him. Chris is a hapless teen who is given a strange bracelet by a guard at the British Museum. Anna is the daughter of Professor Mallahide, who has unleashed his cloud of nanobots of the world and is attempting to absorb every living thing into it. Obviously, this is really bad news for England, especially when all the countries in the world decide that the obly way to contain the nanobots is to bomb England into oblivion! Together, TIM, Chris and Anna must find a way to save the world, no matter what the cost.

Strengths: Wow! The dedication page explains a lot: "To Gamera, Godzilla, Kong, and the rest, with love and bellowing." Most of London is laid waste by one force or another, with descriptive explosions, chases, and general mayhem. The London Eye is put to good use, as is Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament are pretty much wiped out. Still, there is a moral: scientific discoveries should be used for good and not for evil.

Weaknesses: It's not explained too clearly why TIM, a government project, becomes a defender of earth, and his conversation with his predecessor, the Kraken, is a little confusing. I am just sad that Crawlers ("They will do anything for their queen, and soon, so will you!") has not been released in the US. How can I not love an author who claims on the back flap of the book that this is "phase two of my sinister master plan to conquer the universe"? Every day should have an evil master plan! It's one of those phrases that I find my students quoting.

Did not read a lot of young adult books this weekend. Read Hal Herzog's Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:why it's so hard to think straight about animals , which was interesting, and a scholarly biography of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Making Time. Wow, we should all be able to work until we are 90! What an amazing woman.

Also found an excellent use for the Kindle. I paid a whopping 89 cents to obtain the e version of Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (1919), the sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, which I am almost ashamed to say I have in my school library. It was good! Since it is about an antiquarian bookseller, many books and authors are mentioned, and I was able to download samples of the works mentioned! It was a bit distracting, but since most of the titles are ones no longer held by circulating libraries, it was awesome to be able to read them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: The Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science.
Who knew that sugar had such a storied history? Both authors discovered that their families had ties to different areas of sugar production and set out to discover more about this history, resulting in a book that takes us from honey used by the ancient Greeks, to sugar cane in Indian and its dissemination to other parts of the world, to Europe and the development of beet sugar. This well-formatted book has good maps and illustrations, and its length (126 pages without the notes) is a good one for middle school.

Strengths: Very complete, and interesting as well. I was drawn in by the authors' connections. My family discussed this at dinner, causing several other members to pick it up. Not at all surprised that this was mentioned for some awards.

Weaknesses: This will be a hard sell, but this is the rare book that I will buy because of its quality even if it does not see much circulation.

Schroder, Monika. The Dog in the Wood.
I was so impressed by this author's Saraswati's Way that I had to read her other work. Her first novel is set in Germany at the conclusion of World War II, and is based on the experiences of her father, who was a boy when the Russia's took over the area where he lived. This is a slim volume, but a powerful one. Fritz loves to garden, and is happy living with his mother, sister and grandparents. When the Nazis are defeated, his grandfather (who had been a Nazi sympathizer) commits suicide with Fritz's grandmother rather than have to face to communist regime. Indeed, things are difficult; Russians steal livestock and valuables from the farm, and Russians are billeted in the house. Eventually, the land is taken to be distributed to citizens more supportive of the communists. The family, along with Lech, a Polish farm worker who has stayed loyally by the family, move in with another grandmother, only to have the mother sent to a work camp. Fritz tries to see the best in the situations, although he longs for the way things used to be.

Strengths: A different and very vivid account of Europe after the war. I hope that the 8th grade teachers will allow this to be included in the Holocaust novel unit, since it adds a new view of the time.

Weaknesses: Even though Fritz is ten, I would be leery of giving this to younger students, because of the hopelessness and suicide.

Mills, Claudia. One Square Inch.
Cooper tries to keep his mother and sister functioning in Colorado without the help of his grandfather, but it's difficult. His mother will stay in bed for days on end, and then jump into a million projects even if more pressing ones are not finished. Then she'll return to sleeping all the time. Since Cooper has started middle school, he has problems of his own, fitting in. Also, his sister Carly is obsessed with deeds to one square inch of land in Alaska that the grandfather has given the children. Things escalate, and it becomes clear that Cooper's mother is not able to cope alone, and Carly is affected by her dysfunction as well.

Strengths: This is a good portrayal of a family's struggles with bipolar disorder. I liked how Cooper tried to keep things together by himself but eventually calls in trusted adults to help him.

Weaknesses: There were too many things going on. I did not care for the portion of the story with Carly and "Inchland". Smacked a bit of Bridge to Terebithia and didn't add much to the story. Mills' forte is realistic fiction and school stories. I intend to hand this to Picky Reader and see what she thinks.

Many thanks to the TONS of people who commented on Friday! I'd answer more of the comments, but it's freezing at my computer at home! My middle schoolers are ages 11-14, for the reader in Australia. And as for my district having a lot of money-- we are much more fortunate than many districts, but the reason I am able to buy so many books is that I spend every cent of my budget on new books. No tape, paper, supplies, videos, software, online databases, nothing. I figure if the students read the books, that's where the money should go. Our district provides $8-10 per child per year, and I stretch it as far as I can, making lots of my own purchases.

It looks like I'll stay here at Blogger, with this name, but I MIGHT change the yellow to a more pleasing color!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Random Musing on a Teacher Workday

We won't even begin to discuss the things that are wrong with this picture from a multicultural perspective. Let's just say that, like the vocabulary choices in Mark Twain, this was a product of its time. We are looking at yours truly in 1971. The headdress was for my first grade reading class; for every book we read aloud to our parents, we got a feather. I read 109 books. I'm surprised my parents didn't abandoned me at the side of the highway half way through the month. I just like the picture because I remember feeling VERY proud of myself. It proves that I have been reading insanely for a long time.

Anyway, after processing new books, weeding books that smelled (that's how well I have done at weeding recently!), labeling accelerated reader books, dusting shelves (Black shelves. GREAT idea!), doing a ton of purchasing paperwork, cleaning out the back room and spending an inordinate amount of time checking Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Random House, and the other libraries in my district for ANY possible football, basketball or war book I could have missed (=none, sadly), I got to thinking about The Blog.

Feel free to comment on the following questions. Or not.

1. Should I switch to Wordpress so I could have separate pages for lists and things?
2. Should I change the name of the blog to more adequately reflect content and/or sound cooler?
3. The background? Is it working?
4. Anything I should change about the format/content?
5. Does anybody care?

I'd like to make it to 100 followers by my Fifth Blogiversary, which is coming up on February 16th. No idea why. Just one of those things to shoot for, like 109 construction paper feathers on an oak tag headband!