Monday, October 10, 2011

Various Weekend Reads

Howe, James. Addie on the Inside.
Nominated for the Cybils by Tasha Saecker

Companion to The Misfits. Addie doesn't fit the mold in her middle school-- she's outspoken and embraces views others don't necessarily accept, in part due to her family influence, especially that of her grandmother( a former hippie), who is visiting for a length of time. Addie has a boyfriend, but she can't really see why he likes her. Addie's friends are mainly boys, which also causes her some grief. Addie tries to support her friends in the best way she can, even if she gets in trouble for observing a day of silence on behalf of GLSEN, and tries to remain true to her own beliefs even when it is difficult.
Strengths: For a novel in verse (a form which I usually dislike), this is fairly well done. I can see the reasons for using this format, but would have found Addie's story more compelling in prose.
Weaknesses: I cringed when Addie made her life more difficult than it needed to be, but that is a daily occurrence for most middle schoolers, and is therefore true to life.

Schroeder, Lisa. Sprinkles and Secrets.
Nominated for the Cybils by Kristen Harvey

Sophie is thrilled when she gets an audition for a role in a television commercial-- the summer camp has paid off, and maybe she can use the money she earns to get more training. The problem? The role is in a commercial for Beatrice's Brownies, the chain that is threatening the It's Raining Cupcakes shop of her best friend, Isabel. Instead of coming clean to her friend, Sophie lies and says the commercial is for bran cereal, but when Isabel comes back from New York (after winning a baking competition) and finds out, how can Sophie repair their relationship?
Strengths: Cupcakes and acting. The stuff of tween girl fantasies. This was even better than the first book, which has been widely read in my library. Friendship issues are always something girls want to read about, and this was a nice twist.
Weaknesses: A national commercial and winning a baking competition? Stretches the bounds of my credibility, but students shouldn't mind.

Dionne, Erin. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jason Walters

Elsie wants to follow in her father and grandfather's footsteps and become a professional French horn player. In order to do this, she wants to get into the Shining Waters music camp, but because of family scheduling problems, the only music group she can get into her freshman year is marching band. It's bad enough that she has to put down her French horn for the mellophone, but even worse that band keeps her so busy that it is hard to practice for the Shining Waters audition. Elsie feels that her father doesn't believe she is a good player, so their once close relationship is now strained. Once she gets used to the people in the band, Elsie starts to form close relationships with them and to realize that while she is serious about music, she is also enjoying the fun and companionship of marching band.
Strengths: This is a great book for any student wanting the dirt on what marching band is really like. Clearly, Dionne spent a lot of time with one-- the details are tremendous. The light romance is a nice touch as well.
Weaknesses: I wanted to encourage Elsie to find another career choice. Like teaching Latin, I would think that wanting to be a professional musician in today's economy would be a very bad choice!

Haworth, Danette. Me and Jack.
Nominated for the Cybils by Joan Carr.

Joshua is used to moving around for his father's job as an Army recruiter during the height of the Vietnam conflict. When the two get a house away from a base, his father wants Joshua to have a dog. The dog they pick up from the pound is a bit odd, and turns out to be a rare breed. The dog is not terribly well-behaved, and when trash cans are knocked over and other mischief is done, neighbors start to blame Jack. It doesn't help that anti-military feelings in the town are running high after a local boy is MIA. Joshua tries to find out what animal is causing the problems, a task that becomes even more important after a valuable horse is savaged.
Strengths: This was an interesting way to approach the political feelings of this era, and boy-and-dog tales are something we need more of.
Weaknesses: I was distracted by the anachronisms. In the late 60s, dogs would have had dog names-- there would have been lots of people named Jack. At one point, Jack knocks over garbage cans with diapers in them-- disposables were available then, but rather rare. There is also some channel flipping on tv, pizza, and a dollar for a lost tooth. Students will not notice this, but historical fiction, especially when it involves recent history, needs to be accurate.

Atinuke. Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus.

Anna is leaving her close family in Africa to go visit her grandmother in Canada. She is accompanied on the plane by a family friend who helps her understand some of the differences she will face, but when she gets to Canada she is surprised by the cold, the different food, and the fact that her grandmother keeps a dog in the house. The two spend lots of time bonding, and Anna meets another girl who is going to go visit her father in Africa. This is the fourth book in the series, and I would have sworn it was nominated for the Cybils. Maybe it was moved to early chapter books.
Strengths: A good look at another culture in a way that even younger students can understand. Does not favor one culture over another but presents both as equal.
Weaknesses: I fell that I need to read the others in the series to get a good feel for the character's family in Africa.

Carman, Patrick. Floors.

Leo and his father live in the basement of the Whippet Hotel, where they work as janitors and help the quirky residents with the unusual rooms. The owner has gone missing, and boxes start appearing that instruct Leo to investigate certain clues. With the help of Remi and Blop, a robot, (as well as some of the ducks that live in the hotel), Leo works his way through the clues. There are people interested in the property, and someone is sabotaging the hotel, where things are breaking down more quickly than Leo and his father can fix them, so it is important that Leo figure out the mystery of the boxes, and the disappearance of the owner, as quickly as possible.
Strengths: Well written and engaging. Saw this compared to Ellen Raskin and definitely have to agree there. This may appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket as well.
Weaknesses: This must have been moved to middle grade fantasy. It's hard to tell-- aside from the talking robot, it could have been realistic fiction, but it also had a definite Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vibe to it.

Priestly, Chris. Mister Creecher.
Billy is a pick pocket who falls on hard times and is rescued by a tall, scary man, Mister Creecher. Creecher takes care of him while he is recuperating from a fever, and helps him gain some economic stability. Billy's job is to follow two men, Frankenstein and Clerval, and find out what they are doing. That's right-- Creecher is Frankenstein's creation, but he has run away. He has a deal with Frankenstein that a companion will be made for him, so follows the scientist to make sure this happens. Along the way, Billy and Creecher spend time in a freak show and help out an old man on his property, where Billy falls in love with a girl. Will the scientist keep his end of the bargain for the sad and lonely monster he has created?
Strengths: Along with Victorian London, Frankenstein seems to be a new trend, and this is an interesting twist on the tale, certainly much more readable for middle school students than Shelley's work.
Weaknesses: I was hoping this would be scarier. The cover is good and spooky, so maybe students will pick it up thinking that it is and gets sucked into the story. I will certainly look for this author's The Dead of Winter.

Also looked at Cohen's Leverage, which looked really good but was more of a high school book about steroids and bullying.

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