Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Now is the Time for MORE BOY BOOKS!

Williams, Michael. Now Is The Time For Running.
Deo and his brother Innocent do their best to enjoy life in their Zimbabwean village even though war rages around them and they are constantly hungry. When the soldiers come and demand food from an American shipment that has not arrived, Innocent, who is mentally challenged, gets upset and runs off. When the brothers return to the village, their family and many of their neighbors have been killed. They take off to seek the help of their mother's friend, but are told that they will need to go to South Africa in order to be safe. After a harrowing trip across a wild animal preserve, they make it to South Africa, where they are glad to get low paying jobs on a tomato farm. When the locals start harassing them for being foreign, they go to the big city and find a community under a bridge, where they set up residence, and Deo is able to play soccer again. There is still a lot of prejudice and hatred against foreigners, and Deo is not able to keep Innocent safe.

Strengths: Like Perkins' Bamboo People, this is a harrowing account of a place in the world with which many students will not be familiar. While we have not had any students from Zimbabwe, we have many from Ghana and Somalia, and this might help students understand why so many family flee their own countries and come to the United States. Boys will like this because of the difficulties faced by Deo. There's definitely an adrenaline rush in both the descriptions of fighting and soccer.
Weaknesses: This might be too violent for 5th and 6th graders, but is certainly something that older students should read.

Hays, Anna. Portia's Exclusive and Confidential Rules on True Friendship.
Sequel to Portia's Ultra Mysterious Double Life

Portia lives with her mother who runs an organic vegetarian restaurant and frequently makes Portia eat her odd experiments. A new girl who is very fond of animals of all kinds, Misty, who enlists Portia's help with all manner of bug and critter related tasks and mysteries. A budding detective, Portia is also trying to find her father, not alienate her best friend, Amy, and keep up with her school work.
Strengths: The girls love the Aladdin Mix books and will often read one a night. Anything dealing with friendship is an easy sell in middle school.
Weaknesses: This was published in 2009 and already is technologically dated, since Portia relies heavily on her PDA. Now she would just have an iPhone. On a personal pet peeve level, I didn't like the goofy names, like Portia Avatar or Mr. Scuzzy, the teacher.

Alert reader Alex at The Children's War sent the following link to an excellent article by Robert Lipsyte about boys and reading: "Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?" (The illustration by Ed Nacional at left is from that article.) I talked to several parents at Curriculum Night last night about how difficult it can be to keep 8th grade boys reading. Given the list of Most Popular YA Books I posted yesterday, this quote rings especially true: "But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires. "

Amen! And what my boys really want are funny books about school situations, action books, and a little romance. Yes, romance, just from a boy perspective.

And skateboarding. I actually e mailed Mr. Lipsyte and asked that he write a skateboarding book. He said if he did, he would name a character after me. I'm still waiting!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

100 Most Popular YA Books

Found this list at Helen's BookBlog via Headful of Books via Rather Barefoot Than Bookless, which mentions finding the list on a Swedish site! This list is VERY heavy on paranormal romance and fantasy, and almost entirely devoid of realistic fiction for boys. Hmmm. This is what I've been saying all along-- teachers, librarians and bloggers are predominately women and the books available reflect that. Sigh.

For what it's worth, here is the list. The books highlighted are ones I have read:

1. Alex Finn – Beastly

2. Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones

3. Ally Carter – Callagher Girls (1, 2, 3, 4)

4. Ally Condie - Matched

5. Alyson Noel – The Immortals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

6. Anastasia Hopcus – Shadow Hills

7. Angie Sage – Septimus Heap (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

8. Ann Brashares – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1, 2, 3, 4)

9. Anna Godbersen – Luxe (1, 2, 3, 4)

10. Anthony Horowitz – Alex Rider (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

11. Aprilynne Pike – Wings (1, 2, 3)

12. Becca Fitzpatrick – Hush, Hush (1, 2)

13. Brandon Mull – Fablehaven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

14. Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret

15. Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments (1, 2, 3, 4)

16. Carrie Jones – Need (1, 2, 3)

17. Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (1, 2, 3, 4)

18. Christopher Paolini – Inheritance (1, 2, 3, 4)

19. Cinda Williams Chima – The Heir Chronicles (1, 2, 3)

20. Colleen Houck – Tigers Saga (1, 2)

21. Cornelia Funke - Inheart (1, 2, 3)

22. Ellen Hopkins – Impulse

23. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

24. Faraaz Kazi – Truly, Madly, Deeply

25. Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars (1, 2, 3)

26. Gabrielle Zevin – Elsewhere

27. Gail Carson Levine – Fairest

28. Holly Black – Tithe (1, 2, 3)

29. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

30. James Dashner – The Maze Runner (1, 2)

31. James Patterson – Maximum Ride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

32. Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why

33. Jeanne DuPrau – Books of Ember (1, 2, 3, 4)

34. Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

35. John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

36. John Green – An Abundance of Katherines

37. John Green – Looking for Alaska

38. John Green – Paper Towns

39. Jonathan Stroud – Bartimaeus (1, 2, 3, 4)

40. Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – Caster Chronicles (1, 2)

41. Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers (1, 2, 3)

42. Kristin Cashore – The Seven Kingdoms (1, 2)

43. Lauren Kate - Fallen (1, 2, 3)

44. Lemony Snicket – Series of Unfortunate Events (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

45. Libba Bray – Gemma Doyle (1, 2, 3)

46. Lisa McMann – Dream Catcher (1, 2, 3)

47. Louise Rennison – Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

48. M.T. Anderson – Feed

49. Maggie Stiefvater - The Wolves of Mercy Falls (1, 2, 3)

50. Margaret Peterson Haddix – Shadow Children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

51. Maria V. Snyder – Study (1, 2, 3)

52. Markus Zusak – The Book Thief

53. Markus Zusak – I am the Messenger

54. Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

55. Mary Ting – Crossroads

56. Maureen Johnson – Little Blue Envelope (1, 2)

57. Meg Cabot – All-American Girl (1, 2)

58. Meg Cabot – The Mediator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

59. Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

60. Meg Rosoff – How I live now

61. Megan McCafferty – Jessica Darling (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

62. Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen’s Thief (1, 2, 3, 4)

63. Melina Marchetta – On the Jellicoe Road

64. Melissa de la Cruz – Blue Bloods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

65. Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

66. Michael Grant – Gone (1, 2, 3, 4)

67. Nancy Farmer – The House of the Scorpion

68. Neal Shusterman – Unwind

69. Neil Gaiman – Coraline

70. Neil Gaiman – Stardust

71. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book

72. P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast – House of Night (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 )

73. Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials (1, 2, 3)

74. Rachel Caine – The Morganville Vampires (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

75. Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

76. Richelle Mead – Vampire Academy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

77. Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson and the Olympians (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

78. Rom LcO’Feer – Somewhere carnal over 40 winks

79. S.L. Naeole – Grace (1, 2, 3, 4)

80. Sabrina Bryan and Julia DeVillers – Princess of Gossip

81. Sarah Dessen – Along for the Ride

82. Sarah Dessen – Lock and Key

83. Sarah Dessen – The Truth about Forever

84. Sara Shepard – Pretty Little Liars (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

85. Scott Westerfeld – Leviathan (1, 2)

86. Scott Westerfeld – Uglies (1, 2, 3)

87. Shannon Hale – Books of a Thousand Days

88. Shannon Hale – Princess Academy

89. Shannon Hale – The Books of Bayern (1, 2, 3, 4)

90. Sherman Alexie & Ellen Forney – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

91. Simone Elkeles – Perfect Chemistry (1, 2, 3)

92. Stephanie Meyer – The Host

93. Stephanie Meyer – Twilight Saga (1, 2, 3, 4)

94. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees

95. Susan Beth Pfeffer – Last Survivors (1, 2, 3)

96. Suzanne Collins - Hunger Games (1, 2, 3)

97. Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

98. Terry Pratchett – Tiffany Aching (1, 2, 3, 4)

99. Tonya Hurley – Ghost Girl (1, 2, 3)

100. Wendelin Van Draanen – Flipped

Monday, August 29, 2011

In My Mailbox

Saunders, Stephanie. Villain School: Good Curses Evil.
ARC received from contest at Project Mayhem.

Rune Drexler is a vampire at the School for Wayward Villians because he isn't evil enough. When the headmaster (his father!) thinks he can be more evil, he is assigned a Plot: he must kidnap a princess and a baby, find a henchman, and overthrow a kingdom. Rune has two conspirators, Wolf and Jezebel, the daughter of Dracula. Rune's father tells Chad, Rune's half-brother, to sabotage Rune's attempts. Rune overhears this and is surprised to learn that Chad is his half brother. The group sets off through the Forgotten Forest, fight dragons, sprites, and ogres. They are helped by a band of fairies who also give them a foundling baby. They meet the Princess Ileana and rescue her by kidnapping her from the Resistance. They find Ileana's parents, who are fighting to get their kingdom back, and run into Chad's mother, the evil Muma Padurii. Rune is able to defeat her, complete his tasks and move up a rank, while finding out more information about how the "villains" that he fights are linked to the school.
Strengths: This is a good fantasy/quest book for younger students who are interested in monsters. It might also assuage the withdrawal pains of Lemony Snicket fans.
Weaknesses: This is slightly young; I can see my 6th graders who love Michael Buckley reading it, but not my 8th graders.

Brown, Tami Lewis. The Map of Me.
ARC recieved from Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media.

When her mother, who loves to collect chickens, leaves a note on the refrigerator that she is leaving, Margie and her sister peep try to contact their father at his job selling tires, but he is too busy to talk to them. Sure that her mother has gone to the International Poultry Hall of Fame, Margie and peep take off in their father's car to find her. After an eventful trip, they end up at the Hall of Fame only to realize that it is a gift shop and that their mother is not going to be there. With the support of the woman who runs the shop, they are reunited with their father and start to move on with their lives minus their mother.
Strengths: The new cover is much better than the one on the ARC. For fans of Weeks' So B. It or other quirky problem novels, this will be a good choice.
Weaknesses: Again, a bit younger than my students like, and on a personal level, a little too quirky/Southern. Most people seem to like that, but I don't.

Webster, Travis. Sally Forth, Vile Curmudgeon.
"Dead tree version" received from author.

Sal and his father Hal run a bakery in Gordonsburg. They find a free trained bear, Gorgenschtein, who helps them in the bakery but turns out to be a minion of the evil Vincent Con Vinnevigne who helps kidnap the father. The police and anothering bear named Automne help find the father, who has been zombified in the same way as the trained bear.. Vincent has taken the father because he somehow got the baking talent (via potion) that was meant for Vincent. Hal has sold the bakery to Vincent because of various money problems. Sal also has to deal with the mayor, who is taxing the bakery heavily to help fund his yearly ball. Automne seems to be helping Sal but injects him with the same serum that turned him into a super smart bear. Automne also "fixes" Hal, turning him super smart, but compelling him to want to take over the world. Vincent blows Hal and the trained bears up, and the mayor uses this as an excuse to arrest Sal and Automne for the explosion, levying another huge fine against them. To work this off, the two are engaged in a baking contest against Vincent. Vincent wins, but Sal finds out that his deceased father has left him the means and a plan to survive.
Strengths: Lots of goofiness and funny turns of phrase. Inventive situations and slap stick humor make this something that readers of Dav Pilkey type books will enjoy.
Weaknesses: Again, on the young side. The title is slightly unfortunate, since my entire family asked why I had a Sally Forth (as in the comic strip) book on the counter after it arrived. While the goofiness is amusing, it wears a bit and made the plot a tiny bit confusing.

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday was started by Anastasia Suen. The Round Up today is at Capstone Connect. It's also Middle Grade Monday over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. I'm going to save In My Mailbox Monday (hosted by The Story Siren) for tomorrow. Whew. Too many things for this early in the week!

Shepard, Alan and Slayton, Deke with Barbree, Jay. Moon Shot. (1994)
Enhanced iPad version sent by Open Road Media

Since I barely remember the first man walking on the moon (I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime-- I was four!), this was an interesting look into the minutiae of planning and executing this land mark feat. Even more interesting to me was learning that Barbree had been a news correspondent covering NASA for 53 years! That's some dedication! Barbree was no doubt the main writer on this, with information provided by the two astronauts. The enhanced iPad version has short (minute and a half) video clips interspersed throughout, which is a nice touch.
Strengths: This reads more like a novel than a nonfiction book, so it might be easier to get kids pulled in. There are a few mild swear words, but nothing too bad. I fear that this may be out of print in "dead tree version". I have no way to circulate an enhanced version.
Weaknesses: An enhanced version could have been so much more. A nonfiction book with more pictures and side bars would have lent itself more readily to this platform. Since this read more like a novel, the videos, while interesting, seemed like more of an interpolation.

Latimer, Clay. VIP Pass to a Pro Basketball Game Day.
This is part of a Capstone series that includes baseball, hockey and football. These short (32 pages), well-illustrated books offer an interesting peak behind the scenes at how the players spend their time while not visible to the public as well as information about others such as trainers and organizers at different venues. Who knew that basketball players had such nice airplanes to travel in?
Strengths: Well laid out, with sidebars, a glossary, and an index. This will not take long for my students to read, but they will be picked up frequently.
Weaknesses: I would have liked a longer version with more information.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Because I'm just that behind.

So, at the beginning of every year I have the new 6th grade students fill out interest inventories, which I then annotate with comments and recommendations. This year we have about 260 new 6th graders, most of whom would be perfectly happy with nothing but J.K.Rowling, Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins, Lemony Snicket and Erin Hunter. Seriously, I want Scholastic to handle MY publicity.

With annotating those and cross country practice, not to mention the sheer exhaustion of the first two weeks of school (have to remember that my feet DO stop feeling sore!), I am woefully behind on my reading. So I'm having Elder Daughter be a guest blogger!

My question to her was this: What is your favorite book? This is her answer:
My favorite? That's a hard question. I love Snowfall by Peyton, the Calling on Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede, The Good Dog by Avi (one of my very favorite when I was in elementary school, I must have checked it out of our schools library at least twenty times in the three years I was there), Watership Down by Adams, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, Where the Red Fern Grows by Rawls and many, many others. I would have to say my favorite book I've read so far would have to be Snowfall.

My second question was: But what would you memorize? (Ala Fahrenheit 451)
That was an even tougher question. Snowfall, while it is a wonderful book, would one, take too long to memorize, and two, is not well known or loved by many of my peers. I could tell them I knew the whole book by heart and they would probably just look at me like I was crazy. My first thought would be to memorize Charlotte's Web. It's a classic book as far as I'm concerned, and a wonderful story. However, as my mother pointed out, many people know and love it, so there would be no lack of people to memorize it.

My thoughts then wandered to The Great Good Thing by Townley. The only problem with this being that it is not a stand-alone book, it is part of a series, and really, would I want to spend the rest of my life having to be around the people who memorized Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie? While these are both worthy books, there is no assurance that I would enjoy the people who memorized them, and there is a large chance that I would always have to be in close proximity to them on the shelf, as series books usually are. And imagine being in a larger series, such as the Harry Potter books. If I'm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, who says I want to put up with The Deathly Hallows? You know being made into two movies went to his head. Or imagine all the people who would have memorized the books of the Bible! There's over fifty of them! bet Exodus and Leviticus would fight all the time. All things considered, I would much rather memorize a stand-alone book.

And yet the question still remains, which book? Its a difficult thing to decide, which book is good enough, worthy enough to be committed to memory. After running through Tuck Everlasting, Winnie the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and many other wonderful, heartfelt classics, it came to me. I would memorize a rather old, rather obscure book called Children of Time by Deborah Moulton. It was published in 1989 in Canada by Dial Books, a division of Penguin. I first ran across it in the Westerville Public Library when I was about ten. My mother checked it out for me and I read all 198 pages of it in about two hours. Something about the book enthralled me, and over the next few years I would check it out again and again. I loved it so much that, upon finding that the library had discontinued the copy of theirs, I had my mother buy me my own.

True, the story itself is not that amazing, and certainly other things of higher quality have been written since. But this was the thought that came to my mind to solidify my decision: I would be the only one. Tons of other people have heard of Charlotte's Web or Tuck Everlasting. But I would bet very few people out there have read, or even heard of Children of Time. And out of those people that actually read it, how many people would like it enough to commit it to memory? The chance that I would be the only one who had chosen to memorize this book is a fairly good one, and I enjoy that fact. To be the lone guardian of a piece of wonderful literature has such an appeal. Its a great responsibility, and one I'm sure I would enjoy.

Have a great weekend. I'm off to stand in a field for a couple of hours, do laundry, and hopefully get caught up on my reading.

Lower Level Books

Sometimes other people choose books for my library. This is very hard for me when things like High School Musical novels are purchased, but I try to be grateful. These were purchased for the Summer Reading Intervention program, so I needed to read them.

Venezia, Mike. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak: Geek Heroes Who Put the Personal in Computers.
Mr. Jobs has just resigned from Apple yet again; I wish him the best. These two computer innovators are interesting guys, and this short Scholastic biography about them is not a bad introduction to the two. It is more about computers than their lives, centering on how computers moved from being huge pieces of office equipment to smaller ones for home use, something today's students might not fully understand.
Strengths: Good overview with plenty of facts.
Weaknesses: The comic style illustrations didn't add anything to the story for me. I would rather have had photographs. Am I the only one who finds Steve Jobs oddly attractive?

Berne, Emma Carlson. Ballet Bullies.
Marissa loves to dance and has always been good at it, but when she returns to classes after the summer, she is uncomfortable because she has gotten taller and "bigger" than all the other girls. When she is chosen for the lead role, she is worried because two other girls are making fun of her size, and she is afraid to wear the costume because it will make her look bigger.
Strengths: Girls certainly are self-conscious about their appearance, so this rings true. I love that Marissa is clearly African-American, but nothing is mentioned about this fact in the text.
Weaknesses: The resolution is a little too weak and tidy. Also, while the great Tuesday Mourning illustrations show Marissa as tall, she certainly doesn't look very "big" to me. I would have liked to have seen her as heavier.

Remond, Ronda. Cheer Challenge.
Amanda loves being on the cheer squad, but when she is chosen as the captain, she worries that she won't do a good job. She tries very hard to motivate her teammates, and suggests that they sign up for a competition. They work hard at it, but her best friend Rachel makes the decision to skip a practice, asking Amanda to lie for her. Amanda won't, so the group goes to competition without her.
Strengths: There are not many books on cheerleading, and again, there are quite a few pictures of the clearly African-American Amanda, and this fact does not come into the plot at all.
Weaknesses: Another too tidy resolution and very quick plot (recitals and competitions after a month of practice?), but this does keep things moving along.

The Jake Maddox sports books from Capstone are great for reluctant readers. There are so many different activities-- there is even one on Geo caching! I would buy every single book AND the Accelerated Reader test for them if I had the money. At $18 each, though, I am circumspect about the titles that I buy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill

Brewer, Heather. The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill
Release date 20 September 2011

This book recounts the story of Joss, Vladimir Todd's archnemesis. Joss has an okay life-- he's invisible at school, but loves his family, especially his little sister. When she is killed by a vampire whom only Joss sees, his parents detach from him, making him invisible at home, too. Joss' uncle Abraham, however, knows that Joss must be a Slayer and needs to be trained. He's not thrilled, because he doesn't think Joss has the chops to actually kill vampires. After moving around and training for three years (which is not described in the book), Joss goes to a Slayer training area in the woods. Abraham continues to put obstacles in Joss' way, but another trainer, Sirus, tries to make things easier. Also making things easier is Sirus' daughter, Kat, to whom Joss starts to form an attraction. The training, and dealing with family, are tough, but not as tough as living with the death of his sister and realizing that in order to avenge her death, he will need to become a killer. But how close is the danger? Even those close to Joss are not without danger!

Strengths: I am reviewing this early because all five of the Eighth Grade Bites books are checked out, and I'm going to have an essay contest to win this ARC before the book comes out. It will be very popular.
Weaknesses: This was surprising. There was some action, but it came very late in the book and was not very graphic. This is fine with me, but the fans of Shan's Lord Loss do like their gore. Joss was rather... namby pamby. There was one interaction with Kat when the two of them squee about collecting bugs. Um... geek much? I was expecting something more like Henderson's Alex Van Helsing. Alex would mop the floor with Joss. I was hoping that this series would put readers in the akward position of liking both the vampires and the Slayers, realizing that things can be more gray than black and white. This didn't happen. Again, students won't mind, but I was kerflummoxed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Timeslip Tuesday

Timeslip Tuesday is the brain child of Charlotte at Charlotte's Library.

Bush, Penelope. Alice in Time.
Alice is tired of having to take care of her demanding brother, Rory. Her mother works hard, but there's little money because her parents are divorced and her mother has just remarried. When things also go badly at school with a catty girl and a boy that she likes, Alice finds herself on a playground where a trip on the merry-go-round causes her to bump her head and travel back to when she is seven. It's hard to settle back into her former self, but once she does, Alice determines that she will try to right some wrongs in her past-- keep her parents from divorcing, her cat from being hit by a car, and make life "hell" for the catty girl. Alice gains a lot of perspective into what her life was life at seven and learns things that she didn't know. When she makes as many changes as she thinks she can, she travels back to the present via merry-go-round to see what things are like now.

Strengths: All the reviews paint Alice as particularly bratty, but seeing what things she was dealing with makes her behavior seem excusable to a certain point. Her mother's post natal depression and her father's affair are hard even for a 14-year-old to handle, so I think that her behavior was realistic. The time travel is handled believably, and it's a strongly British book. Picky Reader, who loved Page's Rewind, is reading this now.
Weaknesses: The ending was a little too neat, even though it was fun!

Philosophical Question of the Day:
If you could go back to any day in time and start over, what day would it be? What things would you change?

I would go back to 9 July 1977, my twelfth birthday. I would start running, so I could be on the very first girls' cross country team at my high school. Instead of Latin, I would take Spanish, and I'd try to muster the strength to major in nursing rather than Latin in college. Of course, that would change everything else in my life, but it would keep unemployment at bay! Unfortunately, my phone will only let me go back to 1 January 1980, and I haven't paid for the unlimited time travel plan, so I will have to do my best without time traveling!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Die For Me

Plum, Amy. Die For Me.
Kate and her sister Georgia move to Paris following the death of their parents. Living with her grandparents in a city she loves should be enjoyable, but she is homesick and can't snap out of it. Finally pushing herself, she sets out to read in a sidewalk cafe and sees an attractive boy, who keeps showing up. It is Vincent, and the two start hanging out, but Kate soon discovers alarming things about him that make her think he might be dangerous. He is, but he is also good-- he is a revenant, someone who died sacrificing himself for someone else, and now he is immortal. He and his "family" all try to save other people, but they are dormant three days a month, and if they die trying to save someone (which is something of a compulsion), they go back to being the age they were when they died. This complicates the budding romance between Vincent and Kate, especially when evil forces who are working against the revenants come in to play.
Strengths: Honestly, my tolerance for paranormal romances has reached extreme nose wrinkle proportions, but I really enjoyed this one! It was original and not as hand-wringingly fraught as most of them. Sure, there's some sacrifice in the romance (Vincent wouldn't be able to save people and he would then age along with Kate,but she would die and he wouldn't), but it seems more palatable than most. Loved the cover, don't mind reading a sequel. (Oh! Until I Die, due May 2012 or so!) I'm thinking that the grandparents know more than we think they do!
Weaknesses: While the sexual urges in this book are handled very delicately, things could get out of hand as the series progresses.

Sheinmel, Courtney. All The Things You Are.
Carly has a good life; although her father died when she was quite young, she is fond of her stepfather, whom she calls "faux pa", and her step siblings. She has good friends at her prestigious private school. When her mother is accused of embezzling from the soap opera on which she is a stylist, however, everything starts to fall apart. Her mother is actually guilty of using the show credit card to buy things for herself, and she is eventually sent to jail. Carly has to deal with the changes this brings-- her friends don't understand, and she has to deal with many ordinary issues without the support of her mother.
Strengths: This is a good problem novel that brings in several different issues-- there is also a grandmother with Alzheimers, a friend whose mother is alcoholic, and problems with family finances. Carly is a likable character who does the best she can in the circumstances. I actually had a friend in middle school whose father was indicted on tax fraud charges, so things of this nature do occur.
Weaknesses: Don't like the cover, and the tone of this was slightly odd. Perhaps Carly was too mature? Not mature enough? I still think it will be popular and will buy it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Banjo of Destiny

Fagan, Cary. Banjo of Destiny.
Jeremiah's parents have risen from humble beginnings to being the owners of a hugely profitable dental floss dispenser company, and are trying to afford Jeremiah all the advantages their wealth can provide. He goes to an elite private school, and takes lessons on etiquette and classical music so that he can fit in with the well-to-do. He is allowed to hang around with his friend, who is a scholarship student, but is given very little choice in the rest of his life. When he hears a man playing the banjo, he decides to build his own instrument, since his parents consider the mastery of this instrument déclassé. Building and studying the instrument despite their objections, he gets to be rather good and decides to participate in the school talent show.

Strengths: It has a lot of tips on how to build your own banjo, and for younger students (this is a tiny book) might be inspirational on how to effectively make your own choices.
Weaknesses: Not much happened. This has been described almost everywhere as "gentle", and if there is anything that students don't ask for, it would be gentle reads!

GUY FRIDAY ANNOUNCEMENT: I've finally gotten the pages filled in with reading lists. I will be updating the humor list, but the other ones will hopefully be helpful. Please e mail if there is a list you would like to see posted.

Random Blather: Open letter to authors of middle grade fiction everywhere: Yesterday, a 6th grader brought up a Lucy B. Parker book up to me with a very red face and said "Ms. Yingling, I really don't think this book is appropriate for me." "No problem," I replied. "Just return it." "But I thought you should know it had this..." she said, as she turned the page and pointed to a word.

It was "boobs".

How do you think this child would have reacted to the f-bomb?

So it's not just me. Publishers, if you want to increase your sales, think about language and content. There are a lot of YA books that would be great for 6th graders if they just had one or two words and a small situation removed. I personally don't have a problem with the word "boobs", not that it's something I use in everyday conversation. Or the boy's physical reaction in Sidekicks, since it is delicately described. But few adults are going to hand an eleven year old a book rife with foul language and teens having sex or using alcohol and drugs. Call us crazy, but I don't think I'm alone here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A True Princess

Zahler, Diane. A True Princess.
Lilia has been fairly happy being raised by a kind farmer who found her floating in the creek, and is great friends with his children, Kai and Karina, but when the farmer's new wife wants to sell her to a cruel man, Lilia runs away. The other two join her, and they take off to the North, where Lilia believes she was born. They meet a kind lord who loans them a sword to get through an enchanted wood, but it's not enough to save Kai from being enraptured by the Elf-Lord's daughter. Lilia makes a bargain with the Elf-Lord that she will get the clasp of Odin, which is in the castle of Dalir, for his daughter, in exchange for Kai and all of the changling children he has stolen. The girls get work as maids in the castle, where the king and queen are holding a competition to find a bride for Prince Tycho. Loosely based on Andersen's The Princess and the Pea, this retelling adds a few interesting twists.

Strengths: Have to admit that the cover, like The Thirteenth Princess, was what caused me to pick this up, even though I wasn't wild to read the story. I did get drawn in, though, and really enjoyed it. It would be very good for a fairy tale unit, although I'm never sure how teachers handle Andersen's stories.
Weaknesses: The beginning needed a bit more oomph, somehow, although with this cover, I doubt that many boys will pick this up and demand explosions!

Also read a young adult book that was so packed with descriptions of a girl dying her hair and wearing weird clothing that I just couldn't get through it. It was like Vampire Kisses but without the vaguely interesting vampire parts. I can't think of anything redeeming, so I won't mention it by name. Any book with very specific fashion description can become dated so quickly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First Day

I checked out exactly 400 books. This was actually a lower amount than in years past. Not even a book a minute. Geez. Must be slacking.

This was the check out line. Faces are blurred so specific students can't be identified.

The sticky note system worked pretty well!

Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith

Smith, Alexander Gordon. Death Sentence.
Alex has been gravely injured in his escape attempt in Solitary (if you haven't read that and don't want spoilers, stop. But this is the third book, so yes, he did make it out). The warden is "saving" him by painful surgery and drugs, both of which are turning Alex into a blackshirt and making him forget who he is. The warden also tries to desensitze him to violence, having him kill rats and trying to get him to kill people. He refuses, however, and eventually assembles a group of inmates and encourages them to attempt another escape, especially when he convinces them that while he looks like a blackshirt, he is really one of them. We find out that the chemicals used on Alex were created during World War II with considerable Nazi influence, and that's almost a hundred years in the past. More information about the nefarious activities of the Furnace come out, and there are epic battles galore.
Strengths: It occurred to me that for a gory novel, this is packed with description and philosophy! The first part of the book is really only about the medical procedures and Alex's struggle between having been weak and being made strong, but the descriptions are so graphic that it will keep the boys reading. And they are not overly graphic, and the violence is not gratuitous. Must say that this was absolutely not the sort of book I personally wanted to read, but I had to admire the strength of the writing and the cleverness of sugarcoating the great philosophy with gore. Even more interesting is setting this book against the class struggles currently going on in the UK. Is Smith all that far off in his vision for the future?
Weaknesses: I can see parents and librarians being warying of this because of the violence, but put into context it does make a thought provoking book. I just really needed to read some Beverly Cleary after it!

Personality Leakage and Library Tips:
Did not pick Death Sentence on purpose to post for the first day of school-- I have a heavily "girl" pile of books at home and wanted to post at least one "boy" book this week!

Today should be interesting. I will see all 260 6th graders today, 70 of them during one 30 minute period. HOWEVER, I finally came up with a brilliant plan-- I will give the teachers sticky notes and have the children sign the circulation cards and put a sticky note with their name and homeroom on the cover of the book at leave the books on a cart at the circulation desk. After school (no cross country practice, whew!), I can check all of the books out on the computer and deliver them to home rooms. I can get books to 70 students in 30 minutes, I just lack the celerity to get them checked out on the computer that quickly. After the ten 6th grade classes are through, I will try to get books to 8th graders in study hall because tomorrow and Friday during 6th period I will have 90 students in a thirty minute period. Activate Amazing Super Powers!

My guess: 400 books checked out today, 1,200 by week's end! I love the beginning of school!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Bradbury, Jennifer. Wrapped.
Agnes is an unusual girl for 1815. She speaks ten languages, has a curious mind, and is not all that thrilled about making her debut in London society. She is even less thrilled about Lord Showalter, the dashing young, wealthy man to whom her mother hopes she will become engaged. While attending a mummy unwrapping party at Lord Showalter's house, Agnes finds a small metal figure, and takes it home without being noticed. After this party, the attendees are systematically attacked, and Agnes approaches Caedmon, a young clerk at the British Museum who was working at the party, to help find out why. Their sleuthing quickly takes them in to dangerous territory, both in terms of a plot by Napoleon to harness ancient Egyptian magic to win the war against England, and in terms of a thrilling but forbidden romance.

Strengths: ***SIGH*** This was fabulous! While many historical fiction books that insert strong female characters into periods when this sort of personality was frowned upon, Bradbury makes Agnes reluctant enough to be believable. The language also was appropriate-- not overly formal and Jane Austen-esque (although the author is frequently cited), but without slips into modern colloquialism that are jarring. This put me in mind a bit of the Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series.
Weaknesses: Bradbury's Shift is so popular with the boys that I had hoped for another such book from her. That, and I could tell early on about the brewing romance. There HAS to be a sequel to this one!!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Miles from Ordinary

Williams, Carol Lynch. Miles From Ordinary.

Lacey's mother has always hallucinated and had trouble dealing with life, but Lacey hopes that her own new job at the local library and her mother's job at the Winn-Dixie will help put everything back on track. Instead, it sends her mother off wandering. A cute boy Lacey has had her eye on helps her look for her mother, and during the course of the search we find out more about Lacey's life-- her grandfather's suicide, her Aunt Linda's decision to leave, and other family secrets that have contributed to or been caused by her mother's imbalance. Lacey must hold things together in order to help her mother, and in order to do this she must ask for help.

Strengths: A great problem novel about a girl coping with a dysfunctional and somewhat abusive family life. Every Februrary, my 7th grade girls want this kind of book. I handed it immediately to Picky Reader. Also popular by this author is The True Colors of Caitlyn Jackson.

Weaknesses: At first, I thought this was a book about sexual abuse because of the portrayal of the grandfather as stalking the daughter and granddaughter. It was a little confusing, but then, so was the mother's mind.

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Incredibly Alice.

From the publisher: "Maryland teenager Alice McKinley spends her last semester of high school performing in the school play, working on the student paper, worrying about being away from her boyfriend, who will be studying in Spain, and anticipating her future in college."

This is book 26 in the series, and there are two more to be published in 2012 and 2013. This one, as many of the recent books are, is more suited to high school students. I would have bought this one, even with the implausible scenario of one girl who gets pregnant on purpose so that her boyfriend's parents allow them to get married, if it hadn't been for the odd inclusion of a discussion about genital plastic surgery. I have long appreciated these books for their frank discussion of 8th grade health class issues handled in a very informative and not titillating way, but this book read more like one of my teen novels from the 1950s, where the young couple has to get married. I don't think that pregnant teens plan big weddings now. I will let students get this title from the public library.