Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Apparently, I've been nominated for the Salem Library Blog Awards in the School Library Blog division, along with the following great blogs:

The Unquiet Librarian
The Blue Skunk Blog
K-M The Librarian
Shelf Consumed

To be fair, they all cover much more about school libraries than I do. My blog is predominately about books, but there is not really a division for that!

Voting ends June 1st.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Krishnaswami, Uma. The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.
Dini and Maddie are huge fans of Bollywood Star Dolly Singh and are looking forward to going to dance camp in order to learn to dance like her, but their plans are scuttled when Dini's mother gets a job in a small Indian village, running a medical clinic. The family moves quickly, and Dini has a hard time adjusting to her new life. It helps that she makes a friend of Priya, the niece of a tea plantation owner, and finds out that Dolly is somewhere in the village! Dini attempts to find the actress, and uncovers a mystery involving her retirement from film! Can she, and the cast of international but interconnected characters, make everything right and convince Dolly to go back into films?
Strengths: This was a fun book, and Dini's machinations are amusing. The depictions of life in an Indian town are very interesting; who knew that monkeys could get into one's water tank? I have a copy of Naming Maya in my library, and I always like to recommend that one.
Weaknesses: Things coalesce with too much way too much coincidence-- the mail sorter who delivers Dini's first letter to Dolly ends up honeymooning in the small village?-- but I guess that mirrors the plot devices of Bollywood films. This might be slightly young for my students, but I have such a weakness for books set in India!

Landy, Derek. Dark Days. (Book 4)
Valkyrie is determined to get Skullguddery's skull back from the Sanctuary, believing it will open the portal and she will be able to rescue him from the Faceless Ones. In the meantime, various evil characters are trying to raise zombie armies and thwart the side of good. It's kind of hard to tell which that is-- Valkyrie wants to be a necromancer, which would seem evil. It's been a while since I read the other books, but a student came to me and begged me to pick up this UK edition at Half Price Books-- he'll be elated that I have it but crushed that Mortal Coil is not available anywhere.

Have a bit of a headache from shelf reading (only got through the D's, but was also putting numbers on books in series, as well as dunning children for overdues), so we'll go with the publisher's description, but the reason the children like these is that there are a huge variety of monsters, lots of action, adventure and fighting, a sense of humor, and a vague sense of who is good and who is evil. If I can find the next book, I'll buy it. ($18.95 at Book Depository: ouch!)

From HarperCollins UK: "Skulduggery Pleasant is gone, sucked into a parallel dimension overrun by the Faceless Ones. If his bones haven’t already been turned to dust, chances are he’s insane, driven out of his mind by the horror of the ancient gods. There is no official, Sanctuary-approved rescue mission. There is no official plan to save him. But Valkyrie's never had much time for plans. The problem is, even if she can get Skulduggery back, there might not be much left for him to return to. There’s a gang of villains bent on destroying the Sanctuary, there are some very powerful people who want Valkyrie dead, and as if all that wasn’t enough it looks very likely that a sorcerer named Darquesse is going to kill the world and everyone on it. Skulduggery is gone. All our hopes rest with Valkyrie. The world’s weight is on her shoulders, and its fate is in her hands. These are dark days indeed."

Where I Belong

Cross, Gillian. Where I Belong.
Khadija is lucky that her family has sent her from Somalia to London, even if she doesn't feel that way. She is living with Abdi's family, since his father has died and they need money. When she is seen by the famous designer, Sandy Dexter, and her daughter Freya, Khadija is given the opportunity to make money by modeling, money that she can use to bring her real family from Somalia. While Sandy is keeping Khadija's existence (and use in her Somalia-inspired collection) secret, someone finds out, kidnaps Kadija's brother from the refugee camp where he lives, and holds him for $10,000 in ransom.
When Sandy decides to have the show for her new collection IN Somalia, things become even more dire. Will the kidnappers be satisfied with getting the money, or do they want more from Sandy... and Khadija.

Strengths: The complicated immigrant experience is beautifully explained; even though Somalia is war-torn and impoverished, Khadija misses it and wants to go home. Also well described is the immigrant community in London. Unfortunately, there are not many (any?) books describing similar communities in Ohio or Minnesota. I really need those books.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters in this, and since chapters alternate narrators, it gets complicated.

I think I like the British cover (below the American one) better.

Stephens, John. The Emerald Atlas.
From time to time, there is a book that is everywhere on the blogosphere, and everyone adores it... except me. Sometimes I understand, like Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now. That's a great book for adults, but I can't see my students reading it. Then there is something like The Emerald Atlas, the the students will probably like, but I can't get through for the life of me.

I mention these books because they deserve to be mentioned. They are books that lots of people like, so librarians will want to look into getting them for their libraries and students will want to read them. I link to good reviews. But if there are other people out there who don't like the books... at least they don't feel alone!

From the Publisher: "Kate, Michael, and Emma have passed from one orphanage to another in the ten years since their parents disappeared to protect them, but now they learn that they have special powers--and a fearsome enemy--and embark on a prophesied quest to find a magical book. "

Just some of the people who thought it was really, really awesome:

The Book People Kids Blog
Booking Mama
Mundie Kids
The Overflowing Library
Roofbeam Reader
Stalking the Bookshelves

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Outside of a Horse

Rorby, Ginny. The Outside of a Horse.

Hannah is adjusting to her father being in Iraq and having to live with her stepmother and baby brother, but she thinks things will get better when he gets home. They don't; her father has lost a leg and is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. To escape her problems at home, Hannah volunteers at a local stable with Dillon, who rescues abused horses. In exchange for her work, Hannah gets one free lesson a month, and when her father's drinking and erratic behavior cause her stepmother to move out, Hannah starts to think that her father could benefit from being around the horses as well. Once he starts therapy, things improve a little, but matters are complicated when Hannah gets a horse who becomes injured.

Strengths: I'm not a horse person, but this was a compelling story that kept me reading. A students who REALLY likes horses saw this at the book fair, and I will order a copy for her to read next year. The tie-in with a returning war veteran will make this something that students interested in problem novels will enjoy as well.
Weaknesses: Hannah's horse losing a leg and getting a prosthesis seemed like a far-fetched coincidence, but I'm sure stranger things have happened.

Hershey Herself

Galante, Cecilia. Hershey Herself.
Hershey doesn't like her mother's boyfriend, Slade, with his inflexible rules about keeping the house clean and his violent temper that once resulted in her getting a sliver of glass in her eye. She plots to make him angry enough that her mother will leave, which she does; she, her mother, and her baby sister Ella all end up in a battered women's shelter, which is not exactly what Hershey had in mind. She has to leave her cat with her friend Phoebe, and isn't able to spend as much time with Phoebe practicing her juggling act for the town talent show. She also has to deal with a school bully as well as her mother's attempts to get their lives back on track.
Strengths: Picky Reader will no doubt like this realistically drawn problem novel that highlights the plight of children trying to flee abusive situations and start over. The supportive environment, as well as the women who are drawn to go back to the abusive relationships they fled, are well described.
Weaknesses: The talent show seems to be a bit far-fetched, and there are so many other things going on that it wasn't really necessary.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Heart to Heart

McDaniel, Lurlene. Heart to Heart.
Elowyn Eden and Kassey are best friends even though they come from different backgrounds; Elowyn's father is a doctor and her family is well-off, while Kassey's father left years ago, and she and her mother struggle. The two aren't quite as close when Elowyn starts to date Wyatt. After a fight with Wyatt, Elowyn is in a terrible car accident and dies. Her parents donate her organs.

Arabeth's family also struggles, because her father died in Afghanistan and she has had a faulty heart for years. She and her mother are relieved when she gets a new heart. Her strength improves and she feels better than she has in years, but she also has strange desires for Chunky Monkey ice cream and French decor. When the hospital arranges for her to meet Elowyn's parents, it's awkward, but she is oddly drawn to them, as well as Kassey and Wyatt. She wants to date Wyatt, but her mother doesn't want her to. She hangs out with Kassey for a bit, and sees the Edens until she accidentally takes cold medication and has a rejection episode. How will she move on with her life?
Strengths: McDaniel is always a fast-paced read, and students who would like to read Jodi Picoult (who uses too much foul language for middle school) like her. The books are always adorably small, as well.
Weaknesses: A bit unrealistic, although McDaniel does mention the controversy over "cellular memory": it does make for a good story, if far-fetched.

Little House ... Everywhere!

Yes, I was one of those little girls who loved Little House on the Prairie. I was fortunate enough to fall squarely in the demographic that could read the books and watch the television show simultaneously, and because of that, Melissa Gilbert and I grew up together. While I preferred the books, I also never missed the show. There were some sad and pathetic moments; I missed a skating party because it fell on a Monday evening, and once my friend Sally and I were supposed to do something and neither one of us wanted to because Laura's wedding was being rerun on television-- so we got together and watched it. It's hard for me that my students-- even my own daughters-- don't read the books. My family even traveled 100 miles out of the way to see a LHOTP site. So you can see why I read the following:

Gilbert, Melissa. A Prairie Tale.
Fine. Melissa Gilbert wasn't Laura. She wasn't even an ordinary girl like me. She was adopted and still questions her parentage, started into acting insanely early, had a successful early career, dated Rob Lowe for a long time, married that nice man from The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, made a lot of television movies (which I dutifully watched, no matter how bad they were), struggled with alcoholism, and is now doing okay.

All-in-all, not very exciting. Reading the book was kind of like having lunch with someone you went to high school with but haven't seen in thirty years. I'm glad I read it, but I don't feel compelled to get together with Melissa again any time soon. And has Michael Landon really been gone that long?

McClure, Wendy. The Wilde Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.

Ms. McClure must be roughly my age, judging from the set of LHOTP paperbacks that she had. She perfectly describes my own youthful obsession with the series, although I was much more an Anne of Green Gables girl as I got older. (Anne had more imagination.) Laura had a very poetic manner of looking through the world, and long dresses. (I still have one. I wore it in the Fourth of July parade last year.) While dragging my parents to DeSmet in 1977 was fun, and I've always wanted to visit the house in the Ozarks, I have no desire to see every LHOTP site that ever existed. I'm grateful for Ms. McClure for going, writing about it, and letting me go along vicariously. This is a funny book that any die-hard fan will enjoy. It's just fun. I love the cover-- it reminds me that after my elder daughter read Townley's The Great Good Thing and wanted to dream about a book character, she went to sleep with Little House in the Big Woods open on the pillow next to her and dreamt about Laura. Sadly, this is the only LH book she read, but it was still fairly powerful for her!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guy Friday- Funny Guys

Kowitt, Holly. The Loser List. (Scholastic)
When Danny runs afoul of class bully Chantal, he imperils his social standing, and that of his friend Jasper's, because she posts their names on the "loser list"... on the girls' bathroom wall. In a comedy of errors to remove it, Danny ends up in detention and starts running with low life Axl and his friends. At first, this improves Danny's image, which is all important in his quest to get Asia to like him, but when Axl steals a valuable comic strip from a store that Danny frequents, things get even worse. How can he and Jasper make things right AND not be considered losers?

Strengths: Another in a line of Wimpy Kid- type books, with illustrations and hand-written font. The story is a good one that really didn't need this artifice to attract readers.
Weaknesses: Bullying, incompetent teachers, graffiti on the walls-- it all makes for some fun stories, but it isn't the reality at my school. We have a really strict punishment for bullies at my school-- we bore them to death with lectures about bullying. I had this problem with The Fourth Stall, as well. Now if I could just remember who had the post on guys liking to razz each other, and how literature cleans this up too much.

Paulsen, Gary. Liar, Liar: the theory, practice, and destructive properties of deception.
Wow. Here I was hating on Gary Paulsen (The Island, The Crossing, Dancing Carl-- yick!) when he comes out with THIS, as well as the sequel, Flat Broke, coming out on 7/12/11. Kevin loves to lie, and it makes his life easier until he tells his social studies partner that he can't help with a project because of his illness, "relapsing-remitting inflammobetigoitis". He also manages to get his brother and sister in trouble, lies to a huge number of teachers at school to get out of classes to be closer to Tina, the object of his affection, and causes problems between his parents. In the end, he tries to change his ways, and finds out how difficult it is to undo a lie.

Strengths: Funny, funny writing. GREAT turns of phrase. I laughed out loud, and when I told Teen Daughter that I was reading Paulsen, she just didn't believe me. Kevin is a great character, who is flawed but well-meaning, and the situations are realistic but humorous. Covers are fabulous; bright, graphic, catchy.
Weaknesses: Will admit that some of the situations struck me as being not quite right. The teachers believed his that he was helping with the newspaper, etc.? He babysits with an attitude toward children like that? Why WOULD Tina find him attractive. But the very thing that keeps me a bit uncomfortable is probably what students will like the most. There's some inherent boy thing that I am not getting, that the boys will!

Patterson, James. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.
There is a free download of the first half of this book available; I think mine was through Amazon. Have only read that much. This comes out 6/27/11.

Rafe and his friends decide that in order to get through their horrible middle school (which is dumb, boring and has way too many rules), by devising a game that assigns points to each of the rules that they break. The result is a funny, sometimes gross novel that boys will love and bothered me in the same way that the above novels did. Still, I have been asking for this type of novel, so I can't complain too much. Well, I will just a little: why is more skateboarding not involved in these? I do love the collection of covers-- they will look great on display in the fall when they are new and shiny!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scholastic Titles

As if it weren't crazy enough, it's book fair week! There wasn't much that new looked and fabulous that I hadn't read, although I did take home these two titles.

Albee, Sarah. Poop Happened: A History of the World From the Bottom Up.
Wow. Ms. Albee has done some SERIOUS research in putting this book together. While clearly it is meant to amuse as well as inform, the information is very complete. Starting with why the mismanagement of poop can lead to disease, there are thorough discussions on sanitary measures from Egypt, Greece and Rome through medieval Europe ("The Age of Shovelry") and preindustrial London up through the present day. Famous people, awful jobs, and all the minutiae anyone might ever want to know about toilet practices is included here!
Strengths: The formatting of the book, with sidebars, highlighted information, and plentiful illustrations, makes it something that students will pick up to read. And seriously, Ms. Albee should be able to submit this as a PhD thesis.
Weaknesses: The Euro-centric nature of the information is explained; if a culture doesn't write about something, it's hard for researchers to uncover much about it. Also, Ms. Albee doesn't see to have a web site so I could contact her and tell her how much I loved this!

Abadzis, Nick. Laika.
Since this was in a box with The Clique graphic novel and a bunch of Batman books, I was not expecting this to be so gut-wrenchingly sad! This follows both the story of Korolev, a designer for Sputnik who had served time in the gulag, with a stray dog who gets picked up by the space program and trained to go up in space. The imagined life of the dog before coming into the care of Yelena is sad enough, but then we find out that most of the dogs used in the program die. While this had a lot of information on the Russian space program, too sad for middle school. Yelena's descent into alcoholism brought on by the abuse she must suffer upon the dog was just too sad, and Laika's forlorn look in all of the pictures will make my dog loving students, who will pick this up, cry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Fourth Stall

Rylander, Chris. The Fourth Stall.
Mac has a good system going. He has access to a little used restroom in his school where he can meet with students who need a service that he and his friend Vince can provide. It might be sneaking in to an R-rated movie, finding out information about someone, or in the case of third grader Fred, being kept safe from legendary bully Staples. Hunting Staples down takes a huge amount of Mac and Vince's resources; they were saving money to go to a Cubs' game, but have to pay off a lot of other kids to work on Fred's problem. They also have to call in a lot of favors as the situation worsens. Staples is not only running a betting operation out of Mac's school, but he targets Mac once Mac starts protecting Fred. Things get even worse when Mac finds out that Vince is skimming money from the operation. Is Vince also in cahoots with Staples?

Strengths: This was the very first book I picked up at a recent book look. I thought that everyone else would be sure to grab it! This cover is a vast improvement over the original one I saw, which was a little cartoonish. This will never make it to the shelves. Can all books for middle grade boys have some toilet paper on the front? I liked the friendship between the characters, and there were quite a few snort-out-loud lines. Looking forward to other books by this author.

Weakness: Bit of a slow start, and a tad confusing, with the number of characters and previous jobs that Mac had done. Most readers will not be bothered, but my really reluctant readers may be.

Library Note:
All of the books in my library are due on Friday. There are about 1,000 checked out. I wake up at 3:00 a.m. every morning in a mild panic about this, so it may affect my crankiness and coherency level in the coming days!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Timeslip Tuesday and random girl books

Yesterday was the only day all week that we don't have some meeting or picnic in the evening, so I read like mad; also had a few titles I'd read over the weekend.

Gier, Kersten. Ruby Red.
Timeslip Tuesday brought to you by Charlotte's Library.
Gwen has been raised knowing that her cousin Charlotte has the family time travel gene, so Charlotte has been extensively trained to prepare her for the day that her dizzy spells take her to the past. However, when Gwen starts to feel dizzy and is whisked back in time, her family is in an uproar. Gwen's mother lied about her birth date so that Gwen would not grow up with the pressure, hoping that she would not have the gene. Thrown into the intrigue of the family concern, Gwen is trained as much as possible and sent with her much-removed (and rather cute) cousin Gideon to deal with secret societies and another relative who has stolen a chronograph so that all 12 time travelers cannot be united.
Strengths: Liked the whole "time travel ability is genetic" twist to this, and also the fact that Gwen got specific clothing to travel to specific points in history. The translation is quite good; I haven't read the German, but there is nothing clunky about the prose. The cover is pretty and shiny. I am looking forward to the sequels, Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green.
Weaknesses: Didn't care much for Gideon, and at one or two points got confused about the time traveling logistics.

Day, Karen. A Million Miles from Boston.
Lucy loves spending every summer at a cottage in Maine with her widowed college professor father, because nothing ever changes. This year, it does. Her father has a girlfriend visit, and a classmate who has bedeviled her moves in, and his contractor father starts messing with the communal gathering place, which is showing years of wear. Lucy runs a child care camp for the area children but wishes she would be invited to hang out with the older kids instead.

Strengths: I really enjoyed this, and the story really sticks with me. Day is a great writer. It reads a lot like the books I read in middle school.
Weaknesses: A bit of a hard sell in my library. The cover is really awful, and there's not a lot that happens in the story. I'll have to think about it.

Harvey, Jacqueline. Alice-Miranda at School.
Alice-Miranda, a precocious 7-year-old, requests that she be sent to a boarding school. Once she arrives at the Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, she introduces herself to all of the staff and tries to improve their lives. This does not work with Miss Grimm, the headmistress, who proposes a series of tasks designed to get Alice-Miranda removed from the school.
Strengths: Very cute and fun. I would have loved this when I was in about second grade. A series is forthcoming.
Weaknesses: Too young for my students; for them, it would be twee.

Galante, Cecilia. The Summer of May.
May misses her mother dreadfully; even though she was often cranky because of her badly injured back, she was there, and May's life was better. Now, she is in an apartment in a run-down neighborhood with her father and her depressed grandmother. She's been acting out at school, and when she defaces Ms. Movado's classroom, she can either be expelled or retake English over the summer... with Ms. Movado. The lessons include not only writing, but life skills, and the two go on outings to restaurants and parks, and May learns that Ms. Movado has a connection to her family.
Strengths: Well-written and engaging. Galante has several books out that have come across my desk. The details are interesting, as is the twist at the end.
Weaknesses: More of a teacher book, like Because of Mr. Terupt. Most of my students don't want to read books about children who have to spend the summer with a teacher they don't like. I am looking for this one to win some awards, however!

Ostow, Michol. Family.
Oh, so wanted to like this one. Listen to the description: "In the 1960s, seventeen-year-old Melinda leaves an abusive home for San Francisco, meets the charismatic Henry, and follows him to his desert commune where sex and drugs are free, but soon his "family" becomes violent against rich and powerful people and she is compelled to join in. "

The problem? It's a novel in verse. I can't even get my students to pick up Helen Frost, and her novels in verse are brilliant. This was more prose-chopped-into-shorter lines, and was more high school as well. It has gotten a lot of good reviews, so take a look at it for high school. Just not going to work.

There are so many perfectly fine books that are just not going to work in my particular library. I've come to the come to the conclusion that there could be an entire huge library dedicated to nothing but paranormal romance for teen girls. An equally huge number of blogs are devoted to this kind of literature, so someone out there is reading it. Unfortunately, I only have about 5 of my 650 students who like this sort of book, and they are all very fond of the public library. I buy a few, but have far stronger needs for other types of literature.

Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia. All Just Glass.
Part of the Den of Shadows series, I did buy this because the earlier books in the series are popular with my students. I just can't offer a decent review, because I reached some sort of vampire saturation point upon reading this. If Demon in My View and Shattered Glass are popular in your library, definitely take a look at this one. And yes, Atwater-Rhodes predates Stephenie Meyer by five years.
"Turned into a vampire by the boy she thought she loved, seventeen-year-old Sarah, daughter of a powerful line of vampire-hunting witches, is now hunted by her older sister Adia, who has been given the assignment to kill Sarah. "

Rallison, Janette. My Unfair Godmother.
While we ADORE Rallison's realistic fiction books and have multiple copies of each title because students have donated the AR tests for all the books, I didn't purchase the first book to this, My Fair Godmother. Charlotte's Library really liked this one, but I just couldn't get into it. Fairy books are hard to sell anyway, and this is rather long (338 pages) and has tiny print. Drat.
"A fairy godmother-in-training is sent to help angry seventeen-year-old Tansy, who reluctantly is staying with her father and his new wife while her mother and sister are traveling, but the unfortunate result of this intended help is chaos and confusion. "

I wish I could buy everything, but there isn't enough shelf space or money!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nonfiction Monday (plus some vampires!)

Tunnell, Michael O. Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"

Nonfiction Monday Round-Up hosted today at Great Kid Books.

Following World War II, when Berlin was trying to recover from the devastation of the war, the US and the British decided to start delivering candy and food by airplane when the Russians blockaded Berlin. Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who was stationed at the Rhein-Main Airforce Base in West Germany, met a number of German children in his travels, and realized that they had not seen candy in a number of years. He decided to collect candy and drop it from his plane. This soon caught the attention of the international media, and donations poured in. Children wrote letters, and looked forward to seeing Halvorsen's plane "wiggling" its wings and dropping packages. This continued until May of 1949 when the Russians lifted the blockade.

Strengths: I love stories about WWII that I had never heard, and this is certainly one. I knew of the lack of food in war-torn countries, but not of this effort to alleviate it. This book is well-researched and nicely illustrated, and the inclusion of Lt. Halvorsen's activity after this time period is interesting as well. Very nice.
Weaknesses: The maps could have been slightly better, but the book is still excellent!

Hill, Will. Department 19.
When Jamie's father comes home in a panic one night, Jamie is completely unprepared for the devastation that occurs-- his father is killed, his mother is taken hostage, and he is whisked off to a super secret government department where several families, including his own, have been fighting vampires for a hundred years! With flashbacks, we see the start of the whole enterprise in the 1890s, then see the beginning of Jamie's family's involvement in the 1920s. With the help of his father's friend, Frankenstein, and an attractive vampire girl who may or may not be on the side of good, Jamie tries to find his mother and take down as many vampires as he can while doing it.

Strengths: Lots of action, good spin on existing vampire lore, interesting combination of vampire fighting and spy-type action. Darren Shan fans will ADORE this, even at 540 pages! Great cover, too!
Weaknesses: Very, very gory, in the manner of The Monstrumologist. This will make it all the more popular with the boys, but made it hard for me to get through. Lots of blood.

In non-book news, the Blendon Girls on the Run group ran in the Girls on the Run 5k on Sunday. It was a little warm (as opposed to the torrential rain we've had every day for the past three months!) but they did a super job. I felt pretty pleased with myself-- I had hoped to run a sub 45:00 minute race and came in at 35:02. Not fabulous, but a starting point!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Inner City Guys on Guy Friday

Korman, Susan. Bad Deal.

Fish doesn't like that his ADHD medication keeps him up at night, and he isn't overly concerned about his homework, since going to college seems like a waste of time to him. Since money has been tight since his father died, he agrees to sell some of his medicine to other students. Things become complicated when he runs out of medicine and contacts a shady doctor, but a girl at his school dies before he can purchase anything from the man, and Fish is scared off. He is interviewed by the police in connection with the case because his name has come up, but he denies everything. After a while, however, he is worried, and his mother accompanies him to the police station to come clean.

Strengths: This is a high interest, low level book put out by Lerner in their Surviving Southside series. Since many of my reluctant readers are themselves on ADHD medicine, and this gives a detailed description of how Fish is affected by the medication, I think this will be very popular. I will probably buy the whole series in the fall if I have the money.

Weaknesses: A little preachy, but I'll take that over rampant vulgarity any day!

I have also been thinking about Walter Dean Myers, who does a lot of popular urban titles. It must be very interesting to live inside his head. Game, The Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Bad Boy, and his war books are all constantly checked out. However, there are some titles that just make me shake my head. I didn't care at all for Cruisers, and the new Carmen is something I can't see any middle school student wanting to read (an urban retelling of the opera, complete with music). Still, Myers is definitely a writer who must constantly have some book idea percolating through his brain. I just will read all of his books before I buy them, because his core audience at my school really likes things like Monster, Slam and The Beast, but not so much for some of his other titles.

And here is a technological first for me-- I posted this from my laptop, after I used it to download some titles from Net Galley and The Ohio Ebook Project to my Nook. I'm not thrilled about any of this technology, but am trying to remain relevant. I also loaned a sample copy of The Throne of Fire to Picky Reader on her (grandparent provided!!!) iPod Touch. That seems to be the device of choice for middle school students, so I should figure out how to fix them up with books for it.

The Resisters

Nylund, Eric. The Resisters.
Ethan is a bright and athletic student. After a robotic-assisted soccer game, he is shanghaied by Madison and Felix and told that his entire life has been a lie-- he's been raised in a suburban "test tube" because the Ch'zar invaded Earth years ago and absorbed the minds of all of the adults into "the Collective" but realized that children need traditional upbringings to be productive workers. He runs away (after fighting animatronic bugs) from the two children only to be arrested and sent to Sterling Reform School because Felix and Madison are "resisters" who don't believe that the Ch'zar saved humanity from itself. Ethan escapes, finds Felix and Madison again, fights more giant bugs, and ends up in a hospital fun by scientists who were working in an underground seed bank bunker when the aliens took over everyone's minds and now form the core of the resistance. Ethan runs away again, this time to try to save his family, who are gone when he returns. He ends up in another fight, but returns to the seed bank, where he agrees to be trained as a fighter. Sequel probably in the offing.

Strengths: Lots of action, fairly engaging main character, who is described as being part Filipino and part Cherokee. The cover image supports that description.
Weaknesses: Nothing really new, and the book was rather confusing. Any time I have to take notes, I worry that my students who are drawn to fast-paced action will give up on a book because they can't follow it. I did not realize until this morning that Mr. Nylund is a game writer/developer who also pens novels based on an X-Box game, as well as other science fiction titles for TOR. I am not a fan of video games of any type, so I admit to a knee jerk reaction against the Halo books, but am all for anything that gets reluctant readers to pick up a book. I'm just not entirely convinced that The Resisters will be successful at that.

This just came out, so there are not many reviews yet, but reviewers who liked the book more than I did include:
Back Room Kids Book Club
The Artolater
Anderson Public Library Teen Scene Blog

My apologies for the dearth of reviews lately; with three children at this time of year, there is a meet, banquet, lesson or honors assembly every night of the week!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Horton Halfpott

Angleberger, Tom. Horton Halfpott, or The Fiedish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset.

Horton is a servant boy in the Victorian Luggertuck household. Usually, the household is a horrible place, with not enough food and constant mistreatment, but when Lady Luggertuck's corset is loosened, she is not nearly as crabby and the temperment of the household improves... temporarily. Then, the Lump, a large and ungainly but valuable diamond, is stolen, and other things go missing as well. Horton and the other servant boys, all with names like Bump, Blight and Blemish, start an investigation targeting the evil Luther (son of the household), and Horton embarks on a dalliance with the lovely and wealthy Celia Sylvan-Smythe. A plethora of goofy names, references to other odd, nonexistent stories (see "M'Lady Luggertuvck's Pariasian Shopping Spree"), and silly circumstances will delight addicts of Lemony Snicket.

Strengths: Like The Strange Caseof the Origami Yoda, this is a well-written, goofy, engaging book for younger students.
Weaknesses: Remember, I couldn't stand Snicket, so this was hard for me to get through. The names and Victorian setting, which may delight students, irritated me. I was so hoping for something more along the lines of Origami Yoda, because there is much more demand for funny, modern, realistic fiction in my library. I am alone in this opinion; every other review I've read was positively glowing in including:

Writing on the Sidewalk; The Happy Nappy Bookselller; Book Nook Club (or Ken Reads); Mackin Books in Bloom; Shelf-Employed and The Hate Mongering Tart (who has a nice interview).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with Claudia Gray

As part of Claudia Gray's Blog Tour, she has graciously answered some questions, even though she is tremendously busy with a real life tour as well!

Ms. Yingling: Were you a big reader as a teen? What kinds of books or what
authors did you like?

Ms. Gray: I was an avid reader from very, very early on. There was less
specifically YA literature out at that point, though of course I
devoured mostly everything by Judy Blume. The rest of what I read was a
truly mixed bag: I would go from reading adult literature (everything
from Steinbeck to GONE WITH THE WIND) to SWEET DREAMS romances, which
was a romance series specifically for teen girls. The romances were
pretty tame, and for the most part, the issues they dealt with were
kind of lame. (True plot of COVER GIRL: The heroine spent her summer
doing modeling work. But the new guy she's going out with hates girls
who wear makeup and fancy clothes. Will he still like her when he
learns she's -- gasp -- a model?? I WONDER.) But I devoured them.

Ms. Yingling: All writers come up with their own "rules" for vampires. What is
your favorite "rule" from traditional vampire lore? Least favorite?

Ms. Gray: My all time favorite is a Romanian legend, which says that if you
leave melons on the vine too long, they will eventually become vampire
melons. You don't have to worry too much about them -- they can only
roll after you, and they have no mouths -- but still, vampires.
Strangely enough, this has not made its way into the EVERNIGHT series.
My least favorite is the traditional legend that vampires have stinky,
stinky corpse breath. You just know Balthazar does not have that

Ms. Yingling: You write a fair number of convincing action scenes. Do you have
any tips for writing action, which is sometimes hard to do?

Ms. Gray: I feel like I am still figuring them out, honestly -- writing an
action scene always takes me two or three times longer than any other
sort of scene of a similar length. The main things I try to keep in
mind are (a) make sure there's an emotional hook to the action that
drives things on, (b) focus on a couple of vivid visual images instead
of describing every single thing, which will only slow you down, and
(c) keep it coherent. This last one is the hardest, I think.

Ms. Yingling: If you could have lunch with three fictional characters, who would
they be? In what fictional place might the lunch take place?

Ms. Gray: Hermione Granger, Melanie Wilkes and Han Solo. I have absolutely no
idea what we'd all discuss in common but it would be a thrill to meet
them! I'm assuming this is going to have to take place in the TARDIS,
so maybe I get the Doctor as a special bonus guest. Or as our waiter.
Either way.

Ms. Yingling: Will we be seeing more work from you? Any idea what types of books
you will write next?

My next book, FATEFUL, is the one about the werewolves on the Titanic
-- aka, "Yes, Actually, The Situation Can Get Worse." It's the story
of a young servant girl, Tess, who is ready to leave behind the heavy
drama of the cruel, over privileged, wealthy family she serves and
start a new life in America. On the voyage over, though, she meets
Alec -- who is mysterious, dangerous and on the run from a
supernatural secret destined to catch up with them both. It was
tremendous fun to write, and I hope you guys will enjoy -- it's
arriving in U.S. bookstores on September 13. After that is BALTHAZAR, about
the life, death and subsequent adventures of the title vampire; you
can expect that in March 2012. And I'm about to get started on the
SPELLCASTER trilogy, which is about witchcraft, demons,
fortune-telling and the intersection between love and sacrifice.

Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Gray, and I'm sure your readers are definitely looking forward to all of your new work. I'd love to be at that lunch-- what a mix of characters!

Afterlife by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Afterlife. (Book 4, Evernight Series)

Bianca and Lucas have been through a lot to be together, but now death threatens to separate them. Lucas has been turned into a vampire, but Bianca has become a wraith, and the two types don't mix. Lucas, whose Black Cross vampire hunting upbringing makes him struggle between his new blood hunger and his own self-hatred, returns to Evernight Academy to see the help of Ms. Bethany, who turns out to know more about his predicament than he expects. Bianca fears that her parents, who were traumatized by wraiths, will hate her, but she finds out a secret about her creation that makes it easier for her parents to deal with her fate. Lucas and Bianca struggle with their new forms and their impact on their relationship until the uncover an evil plot by Ms. Bethany that requires them to act together, with help from friends from human to Black Cross to vampires. Evernight Academy, as well as the two, will be changed forever.

Strengths: Lots of action and adventure at the end, and a good plot twist. The vampire lore is fresh, and the inclusion of wraiths is interesting. This is a good conclusion to the series, although it will continue in another direction with the publication of a prequel, Balthazar, mentioned in the back of Afterlife.
Weaknesses: A little too much yearning for what was at the beginning of the book, and a tiny bit too much sex for my liking. The second half of the book is stronger, with the dark humor I enjoyed in the other books.

On a personal note, I have to say that Picky Reader, my youngest child, turns 13 today! While it's been nice having my own personal guinea pigs for books in the house, I am not too worried about losing touch with middle grade readers. Just about losing touch with reality while I survive having three teenagers!

Monday, May 16, 2011


Riordan et al. Vespers Rising. (Book 11)
Is this the last book in the 39 Clues series or the first in another series? Hard to say. This starts as a prequel, going back to 1507 and describing the events befalling the family of Gideon Cahill that lead to their splitting up and the disappearance of a crucial ring. Damien Vespers is behind much of the grief that befalls them. Fast forward to 1942 with a teenaged Grace Cahill who also ends up involved in with the ring and the Vespers. We then jump ahead to Amy and Dan Cahill in the present, and although they think their life is calm now, they too are plunged into danger revolving around the ring and the Vespers who are still trying, after 500 years, to get back the ring and its attendant power. Cahills vs. Vespers seems to be the name of the new series.

Strengths: Again, multiple authors make this a fun series, and the action and adventure can't be beat. I just tire after about anything when there are this many books.
Weaknesses: The sections set in the 1500s had an odd ring to them; sometimes the dialogue tried to be historical, yet it wasn't all the time. I also didn't have as good a feel for Grace's character as I would have wished.

Various Authors. District 13 Series.
These high interest, low level sports books are from Saddleback Educational Publishing. The ones that I read covered more mature themes (a boy being asked to bring his grandfather's gun to a gang member, a boy not liking to be compared to his father) but were written in an extremely simple style. The reading level on these is listed as grade 1-2. The books are about 48 pages long, and available in paperback or Follett Bound Sewn. I will probably buy a number of these for my struggling readers, but the prose was so inelegant that it made me wince.

Sniegoski, Tom. Bone: Quest for the Spark.
From the Publisher: "Twelve-year-old Tom Elm, his raccoon friend Roderick, Percival, Abbey, and Barclay Bone, warrior-priest Randolf, and forest-woman Lorimar join in a quest to find the pieces of the Spark that can save Dreaming--and the Waking World--from a Darkness created by the Nacht."

This is a reversal from the usual procedure: graphic novel characters now appear in novel form! I didn't mind the original Bone: Out of Boneville, which had a fair amount of originality, but I was just sort of confused by this. Jeff Smith didn't write the story, although he provided the illustrations. The Bone books are so popular in my library that I will buy this new series, hoping to get the graphic novel readers ingesting more prose, but this didn't strike me as nearly as appealing or clever.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's that time of year.

Saw another version of this at a high school library.

No actual kittens are harmed in this or any other library.

But get your overdue books in anyway!

Found this picture at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More on eReaders

First of all, what is the official way to spell this? eBook? E-Book? E-ink? E-ARC? The Encyclopedia Britannica goes with e-book. Yesterday, I was able to loan my electronic Nook copy of The Harry Potter Cookbook to a student who had an iPhone. Worked like magic! Today, I was able to download Adobe Digital Editions to the school computer, so that I can now help students check out books from The Ohio eBook (sic) Project. It was necessary to follow the "trouble with installation" instructions; e-mail me if you are still stuck. Last night, instead of reading, I worked with the iPad to get the Overdrive Media Consol necessary to read my Ohio eBook Project books on that. The iPad also has the Nook and Kindle apps, and a student told me about iBooks, which is helpful because so many students have an iPod touch. This is about as many platforms as my brain can handle right now. My job this morning is to put together an instruction sheet for getting e-reading apps on various devices; instructions for downloading necessary software for Ohio eBook; and a list of free books that might interest students. As strange as it sounds, and with apologies to authors everywhere, I rarely pay money for books of my own. Sure, I spend thousands on books for the library, but spending $10.00 for a digital copy of Throne of Fire? Not going to happen. 98% of what I read is checked out of the library. If I weren't reading the newest middle grade and young adult fiction, I would read a lot of older titles, so getting free books for the various platforms was a thrill for me. Oooh! Grace Livingston Hill! Agatha Christie! E. Nesbit! However, most students want new books. This is going to be the balancing act. I am hoping that students who are avid enough readers that they have some sort of e-reader will be open to exploring some more vintage fiction. I'll post a list my recommended Classics in a bit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Berlin Boxing Club

Sharenow, Robert. The Berlin Boxing Club.
In 1930s Berlin, skinny teen Karl Stern does not consider himself Jewish. His father, who runs an art gallery, is falling on hard times, and trades a painting of Max Schmeling to the famous boxer in exchange for boxing lessons for Karl. After a lot of work, Karl becomes a decent boxer, but the rest of his world crumbles. His romance with a neighbor girl results in his family's eviction, so they live in the art gallery that is no longer bringing in any money. He is forced to leave school, and when his father is gravely injured and arrested after Kristallnacht, Karl enlists the aid of Schmeling to rescue his family.
Strengths: Like The Man From the Other Side, this is a compelling story of a boy whose religion does not mean much to him until the Nazis come to power. I'm sure there were many, many people who had similar stories. The inclusion of the art and boxing worlds is fascinating. Karl's family is interesting and complex.
Weaknesses: This is a title for older students. The inclusion of Karl's circumcision adds an element of realism to the story that will intrigue boys, and the matter of fact introduction of a character who is homosexual is true to Berlin at the time. There is also, given that this is about boxing and the Nazis, a fair amount of violence. However, all of these elements are well done.

Watchamacallit Reviews liked this very much as well.

Moss, Marissa. The Pharoah's Secret.
Talibah and Adom's father takes them to his native Egypt to do some historical research, and the two discover the story of Hatshepsut, a woman who became pharoah. When they travel to the Valley of the Kings, they deal with supernatural forces and try to ensure that Hatshepsut is not forgotten.

Strengths: We need more books about ancient Egypt.
Weaknesses: Only available in paperback, and it's really hard to sell a story about Hatshepsut, even with a unit on ancient Egypt in the 6th grade. This was a decent enough story, but I could never quite get into it.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Warren, Andrea. Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London.
E-ARC provided by Net Galley. Publication date 9/26/11

Part biography, part history book, this title is a great description of Dickens' life set against the reality of his times. We don't only find out that Dickens had to work in a blacking factory after his father was thrown into debtors' prison, we learn more about the plight of children who had to work, the difficulties families had staying out of debt, and the societal influences that both caused and tried to remedy these problems. Dickens' works, and the reasons behind them, are explained, as are the implications that his novels had on society during his time. Other benefactors of the poor, and their relationship to Dickens, are explored. This was a good sized (144 pages), well-illustrated discussion of a particular moment in history from the point of view of one individual greatly affected by it.

Strengths: Perfect for high school students who have to read Dickens. Factual without being boring, this provides a lot of insight into why Dickens wrote what he did.
Weaknesses: A bit too in-depth for middle school, but I would definitely get this for a high school collection.
Greenberg, Jerry. Sorry I Pooped in Your Shoe.(and other heartwarming letters from doggie).
E-Arc from Net Galley. Publication date 10/11/11

I need to go back and reread this for suitability for middle school. I was laughing too hard that first time I read it to make sure it didn't have inappropriate things in it. Since this was an E-Arc, the pictures weren't in color, but they were awfully cute. This is a series of short "notes" accompanied by pictures of adorable dogs-- why dogs are not that loud compared to people, why they don't need baths, why they need to chew things up.

Strengths: This would be fun to hand to students who need something to flip through just for the day; it's a quick read.
Weaknesses: Again, need to make sure it's appropriate for middle school.

Calonita, Jen. Reality Check.
Charlie is discovered by a reality television show executive and recruited to have her own show with her three friends. At first, this is an exciting prospect, but reality slowly encroaches. Social-climbing Brooke gets caught up with a popular girl who tries to highjack the show; Charlie's crush doesn't want to appear on air and so can't date her; the producers of the show lie to the girls to make things more exciting. Friendships are tested, and Charlie finds that fame and fortune aren't the most necessary things in life.

Strengths: Like Calonita's Hollywood Life series, this is readable with likable characters and gives a lot of detail about what it would be like to be in the public eye.
Weaknesses: A little predictable, and the cover may date quickly with the Bratz-like dolls.

Friday, May 06, 2011

6th Annual 48-Hour Reading Challenge

Run, don't walk, over to MotherReader to sign up for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge. Great fun, every year, and a wonderful excuse to do very little but READ!!!

One note: If you don't move around much, eat little, but drink a lot of tea, you will be woozy at the end of the time. I have even checked out some audio books so that I can get in a little exercise while still "reading".

Zombies and Weird Al

Ford, Michael Thomas. Z. Copy checked out from The Ohio E-Book Project. Josh's parents don't want him playing zombie hunting computer games, because his mother lost her family in the first big zombie plague. But since he excels at them, he is pleased when Charlie (who turns out to be a girl) invites him to play a laser tag-type version of the game with animatronic zombies. Charlie also gets Josh hooked on a drug called "z" that makes people feel like zombies; her reasoning is that it will make Josh a better zombie fighter, since he knows their thought processes. When Josh realizes that the man running the game is involved in keeping the zombie plague virus alive, and also recruiting kids to the game by getting them hooked on drugs, he tries to stop him before things get even further out of hand. Strengths: This is everything boys want in a zombie book-- flame throwers, zombie chases, lots of gore. It also has some philosophical issues, but they are interspersed with action. Weaknesses: For some reason, the drug addiction bothered me, but it shouldn't have. It was done very well. Higson, Charlie. The Dead. E-ARC provided by Net Galley. Publication date June 2011. A year after The Enemy takes place, we meet Jack and his friends who are trying to save their Rowhurst School from the teachers who have succumbed to the virus that turns the adults into zombies. They rescue Frederique, whose father taught at the school, and take off to London. They are saved from being eaten alive by Greg, who is taking his son Liam to Islington. No one knows why Greg hasn't gotten sick...yet. The group picks up more and more children on their way and has many gore-filled battles. They end up in a war museum, where survival revolves around finding food and not letting "sickos" in to attack them. When London starts to burn, however, it's necessary to take off. There is room for a sequel after this. Strengths: Lots of action and adventure mixed in with frightening zombies. Just doesn't get much better. This is much anticipated in my library. Weaknesses: A little on the long side, but that hasn't deterred students from The Enemy.
Weird Al Yankovic's first new album in almost five years, Alpocalypse, comes out on
June 21st. We are HUGE fans of Yankovic in my family. HUGE. We've been to three of his concerts, always wearing Hawaiian shirts.

Yankovic, Al. When I Grow Up. From the Publisher: "An exuberant eight-year-old details for his teacher and classmates the astonishing variety of inventive careers he is thinking of pursuing when he grows up." Strengths: Mr. Yankovic's humor is evident in the careers he envisions, giraffe milker and gorilla masseuse among them. The language and meter are up to my standards for this writer. Weaknesses: Sometimes the meter goes slightly awry. I am a stickler for this, and I think the problem arises because it's harder to fudge in prose that it is when the words are sung.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Apprentices

Flanagan, John. The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. (Book 10)
While learning battle strategies and trying to broker a treaty between the people of Toscana and the people of Arrida, Halt and Will and Alyss become concerned about the whereabouts of Horace and George, who have traveled to Nihon-Ja to studying Senshi fighting techniques. The two, who have befriended the emperor Shingeru, decide to stay and help him when other Senshei groups, headed by Arisaka, lead an uprising against the emperor because he is trying to make life better for the common folk. Evanlynn arrives with ships, and the Rangers take off to find Horace and help him. With the additional help of common citizens along the way, the group is able to settle themselves at a mountain fort and train in order to defeat Shingeru's enemies.

Strengths: My children, who are Risk players, love all of the military strategy in this. Toscana is a thinly veiled version of ancient Rome, and even I noticed some Roman fighting techniques. The conclusion of some of the romances is appreciated, as is the fact that Evanlyn and Alyss are the ones who kill the vicious snow tiger. What Ranger wouldn't want a girl like that to marry?
Weaknesses: While I liked this series very much, and have four books of most of the series, I am just as glad it's over. Any series beyond five books becomes a bit formulaic.

Delaney, Joseph. Rage of the Fallen. (Book 8)
John Gregory(the spook), Tom,and Alice make their weary way to Ireland in this latest adventure. While they are able to defeat magical creatures new to them (jibbers), they also run afoul of the local goat mages, are followed by Morrigan, and lose Alice to the Fiend's clutches. With the help of Grimalkin, John and Tom are able to bind the Fiend, but when they hear that the war in the County is over and head home, we get the feeling that there are still many more issues resolved.

Strengths: I always enjoy these. They are fast-paced, and the interworkings of good and evil are fascinating. Tom is still in danger, Alice slides a little more to the side of evil, and the spook backs off more and more to let Tom come into his own. Actually bought this one because I couldn't wait until August.
Weaknesses: The final battle with the Fiend was rather anti-climatic. This, of course, sets up a huge expectation for the next book.