Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Lee, Ingrid. Cat Found.
Feral cats are roaming around Billy's town and making everyone angry, expecially Billy's father, who seems angry at everything, including Billy's mother trying to earn a degree so she can get a better job. Billy is lonely and unhappy, so when he finds a stray kitten in bad shape, he nurses it back to health and comes to take great comfort in Conga's presence. When things in the town heat up and plans are made to kill the feral cats, Billy knows that he must take action. He hides the pregnant Conga in an abandoned church, but realizes he has put her right in the path of the town members who want to shoot the cats.
Strengths: Like Dog Lost, this delivers good messages about spaying and neutering animals and not thinking that all pit bulls or feral cats are bad. These books are both very short, but I have had a lot of my struggling readers wanting books about animals this year, which is a departure.
Weaknesses: This is not for the faint of heart, and I would be very careful about having it in an elementary school. There is one scene in particular where a pregnant cat is shot and dies in a gruesome way while giving birth that upset even me, and I think cats are kind of creepy.

Shreve, Steve. Stan and the Toilet Monster.
When I read the publisher's description to my daughter ("When Stan's pet chameleon, Fluffy, who was accidentally flushed down the toilet by Stan's dog, encounters a growth formula flushed by mad scientist Doctor Rrhea, disaster follows and only Stan, with his best friend Larry, can save the day."), she said "Do you want a sharp object to poke your eyes out with now?" This is yet another Wimpy Kid style novel-with-pictures, and it involves toilets, so no, this was not a book that I would want to read for myself. That said, it's a decent one. There is an evil professor, the gross out humor is not just throw-away, and the illustrations are clear, engaging, and do add to the story. *Sigh* We all need to order two copies. This isn't Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, but it isn't The Day My Butt Went Psycho, either.

"Perfect" Young Adult Books

Martino, Alfred C. Perfected by Girls.
Melinda is the only girl on her high school wrestling team. Her older brother is a captain, the coach isn't entirely supportive of her efforts, and to make matters worse, she's not wrestling well. Part of this might be because she is distracted by her new boyfriend, Stewart, and part might be that her grandmother, the driven president of a small business, wants Melinda to work with her instead of getting a fun job at the mall. Melinda is a dedicated wrestler who trains hard, but it doesn't seem to matter to some of the boys. After attending a wrestling camp for female wrestlers, Melinda is inspired to do better, but she is quoted saying unflattering things about her coach, who passes away shortly after that. The new coach wants Melinda to drop a weight class, something the previous coach never would let her do, and Melinda, spurred by guilt and anger, trains even harder to see if she can be the first girl to not only compete at a certain level but to win.
Strengths: Martino does the most awesome wrestling books EVER. (Sorry, Rich Wallace!) My daughter, who has been a wrestling stat for six years and has thought about wrestling herself, still talks about Pinned. The middle school wrestlers, many of whom ran for me, are usually big readers, and I just don't have enough books for them. However...
Weaknesses: Martino writes for high school. While there are great details about Melinda's wrestling meets, there are also far too many details about her encounters with her boyfriend for me to have this in the middle school. Sigh. I will definitely recommend this to the high school librarians and will probably donate a copy on behalf of my daughter.

Sales, Leila. Past Perfect.
Disclaimer: My parents were both teachers, and I spent WAY more time touring reconstructed villages than the average child, so the fact that Chelsea and her parents work in Essex, a colonial era village, amused me greatly. Chelsea has worked with her parents as long as she can remember, and she would much rather spend the summer working at a mall store with her friend Fiona. When Fiona decides to work at Essex, Chelsea is stuck, but at least gets to work at the graveyard instead of in her parents' silver smith shop with the annoying history geek Bryan. Across the street from Essex is Reenactmentland, a Civil War venture. The teens at both villages have an ongoing "war" where they sabotage each other. When she is "kidnapped" my Civil Warriors, Chelsea meets Dan and starts to think that he might be the key to getting over her ruined relationship with Ezra. Dan certainly is, but the two must meet clandestinely lest their camps find out about their forbidden love. When the "war" heats up, both do things they regret. How important is Essex to Chelsea, and can she and Dan overcome their differences?
Strengths: So much fun! It is hard to find romance books for middle school, and while there is lots of kissing in this one, clothes stay on. The whole angle of the reconstructed villages is wonderfully appealing!
Weaknesses: What's with the cover? This doesn't show any scene that I can think of in the book. In fact, I had a similar complaint about this author's Mostly Good Girls. I don't see how a cover designer could have avoided the colonial dress! (The Martino book, however, has an awesome cover. It's great because boys would not mind reading it.)

Final few Cybils books

There are maybe four books left that were nominated that I can't find a copy of. Eric Walters' End of Days, Jo Ann Yhard's Lost on Briar Island, Natalie Hyde's Saving Armpit, Trilby Kent's Stones for My Father and Michelle Khan's The Hijab Boutique could be the world's most fabulous books, but if we can't get copies to read, we can't really judge the books!

Neri, G. Ghetto Cowboy.
Nominated for the Cybils by Alison
Cole is constantly in trouble, so his mother takes him to live with the father he's never mer in Philadelphia. While leaving, his mother runs into a horse that comes out of nowhere, and has to be shot by Cole's father. It turns out that his father is involved with a group that purchases old racehorses and is raising them in an inner city neighborhood so that kids can ride them and have an activity that is safe from gang involvement. Cole is mad and wants to go home, but starts to enjoy the horses and get used to his father. When an inspections officer comes and threatens to take away the horses and tear down the facilities, the group mobilizes to try to save them at the same time that Cole's mother offers to take him back. When the horses are taken, Cole and his friends steal them back from the police stables with the idea of riding them to Brooklyn, but when Cole's father shows up, they decide to stage a protest. The media gets involved, and the group gets time to get the building up to code and raise the money to buy it from the city. Cole decides to spend the school year with his mother and his summers with his father, tending the horses.
Strengths: There are apparently horses being raised in some cities, and this inspired Neri. It is a unique story with appealing illustrations and gives a different view of inner city life. Distractingly nice paper.
Weaknesses: The nonstandard English style is not my favorite-- it's hard enough to break students of saying "we was" without them reading it!

Tak, Bibi Dumon. Soldier Bear.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lara Sissell
Polish soldiers escape from Russia during World War II and make their way to Iran. They trade food to a small boy for a bear cub, whom they name Voytek. He is cute and engaging, so they take him to Palestine with them. Voytek grows, gets into mischief, and doesn't get along well with Kaska, a monkey accompanying the group. The soldiers go to fight in Italy and take Voytek with them; he turns out to be surprisingly adept at bringing munitions to the soldiers during battle with the Germans. When the fighting is over in Italy, Poland is still in turmoil, so the group sail to Scotland. When they are demobbed, Voytek ends up in the Glasgow Zoo. Based on a true story and translated from the original.
Strengths: I've said I'm always looking for odd facets of WWII, and this certainly qualifies! There are maps included to show the soldiers' travels, and this does introduce readers to more areas of the world that were tangentially involved.
Weaknesses: The illustrations are oddly reminiscent of Paddington, which was somehow jarring. A review I read said that this would be a good read aloud for 3rd or 4th graders, since it talks about the war but doesn't get in to graphic detail. I'll have to see what my students think.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ice and Snow!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brain child of Shannon Whitney Messenger.

Papademetriou, Lisa. Ice Dreams.
Rosa is having a hard time adjusting to life in Chicago, where she has moved with her mother, a busy hair salon executive, her grandfather, and her younger sister Amelia. She signs up for ice skating classes right away and meets a good group of girls that go to her school. One of them is very competitive and not happy to see that Rosa is such a good skater. Rosa misses her best friend, who keeps promising to come visit but never quite makes it up from Miami. Rosa is also concerned that her mother is working too hard, has to deal with all of the girl drama surrounding the ice skating, and also has a big crush on one of the boys who skates.
Strengths: I love Papademetriou's work. She has an excellent balance of what a lot of girls want in a novel-- friend drama, a little romance, strong family support, and a main character with an interest in something other than friend drama, etc.
Weaknesses: While the Candy Apple books are great, their shelf life will not be, because they are in paperback/prebind. Sigh. Give Papademetriou another hard cover title!

Kinney, Jeff. Cabin Fever.
With Christmas approaching, Greg is even more concerned about his behavior. His mother has dusted off her creepy "Santa's Scout", which is creepily being moved around to follow Greg. Greg is also trying to earn money to fund his online "Kritterz" habit by shoveling snow, and he also tries to earn money by undercutting the price on chicken drummies that are usually sold at the school holiday bazaar. After he and Rowley hang up posters advertising this, the rain causes the marker to put marks on the school building. The school starts to investigate the vandalism, but a huge snowstorm strands everyone at home. Greg's father is at work, and the family starts to run out of food, the basement floods, and they lose power. Which is worse? Being stuck with his family or being caught for the vandalism?
Strengths: Greg had a few redeeming qualities in this book and was at least trying to do some things right. Did love the creepy Santa's Scout.
Weaknesses: This has a lotof anecdotes, and it took a while for a plot to emerge. I haven't felt this way in the past. Maybe in the next installment there will be plot and character development! I was also a bit disappointed that the whole "being stranded in the snow" episode didn't happen until very late in the book. I was expecting something like my favorite Carolyn Haywood book, Snowbound with Betsy.

This list of Middle Grade Monday contributors was cribbed from Joanne Fritz at My Brain on Books. Leave a comment if you have also posted and would like me to link to your site.

Shannon K. O'Donnell at Book Dreaming
Myrna Foster at The Night Writer
Sherrie Petersen at Write About Now
Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles
Brooke Favero at Somewhere in the Middle
Deb Marshall at Just Deb
Barbara Watson at her blog
Anita Laydon Miller at her middle grade blog
Michael G-G at Middle Grade Mafioso
Pam Torres at So I'm Fifty
Danika Dinsmore at The Accidental Novelist
Jennifer Rumberger at her blog
Akoss at Nye Louwon--My Spirit
Gabrielle Prendergast at angelhorn

Nonfiction Monday

The Nonfiction Monday Round-up is at A Curious Thing this week.

Kent, Deborah. The Vietnam War: From DaNang to Saigon
This is part of the Enslow Publishers' The United States at War series. Since the Vietnam Conflict (as it was known until at least 1995!) started before I was born and ended when I was in grade school, the details have always been foggy to me. I'm pretty sure it was not covered in my high school history class; I don't know that we even got to Korea. This is an excellent book that lays out the causes of unrest in this area of the world, the development of the US involvement, and the particulars of battles, conditions, and public opinion during that time. Well-illustrated with period photographs and supporting documentation, this will interest my students who have an insatiable need to read about war as well as those trying to understand this point in US history. I have a lot of students now whose grandfathers fought in Vietnam.

Samuels, Charlie. Propaganda. (World War II Sourcebook)
This Brown Bear Books series includes the titles Soldiers, Spying and Security, Home Front, and Life Under Occupation. These brief (48 pages) volumes do a nice job of breaking down specific areas of the war. The Propaganda volume was of especial interest to my 8th grade social studies and language arts teachers, since both have a unit on propaganda. With its period posters and descriptions of various information campaigns, this was a good book to share with classes to explain what was meant by "propaganda". The Soliders volume covered everything from volunteering or conscription to demobbing. The only thing that was a little odd was that a lot of British military information was included, and there is no mention anywhere in the book of a publisher's web site.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Orca Books

I'm a big fan of the Orca Sports books, so I was very glad to get a chance to see these Orca Young Reader books, sent by the publisher.

Ridge, Yolanda. Trouble in the Trees.
Nominated for the Cybils by Mandy.

Bree loves to climb trees and is determined to beat her neighbor Tyler at climbing every tree in their condo development. When another neighbor, Ethan, injures his elbow by falling out of a tree, his mother (who is president of the condo association) enacts a bylaw banning all tree climbing on the Cedar Grove property. Bree loves climbing too much to sit idly by, so she not only approaches the council, but comes up with a plan to teach the other children how to climb safely and to win over the adults in the complex.
Strengths: A solidly written novel with a lot of appeal. Good plot, character interaction, setting, cause. Very nice.
Weaknesses: Orca seems to be a big player in Canadian publishing, so why does everything seem to be published in paperback? And least the Orca Young Readers have more white space than the Orca Currents. Just odd.

Hyde, Natalie.I Owe You One
Nominated for the Cybils by Marina Cohen

After Wes gets into a couple of muddy scrapes and is saved by his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Minton, his friend Zach says that he "owes her". When the boys accidentally blow up the local television tower and endanger Mrs. Minton's chances of seeing a relative ride in a horse race, Wes tries to get the tower repaired. Things don't go smoothly, but he works hard to try to make things right for Mrs. Minton, especially when she has surgery and is doing poorly.
Strengths: Another solid middle grade novel with good amounts of derring- do. Wes's character development is strong, and his desire to live up to his deceased father's standards is well-handled.
Weakness: Blowing up a television tower? Isn't everything mainly underground now, or through satellite? I don't know, but this part seemed odd. They could take out a whole neighborhood?

Mulder, Michelle. Out of the Box.
Nominated for the Cybils by E. Kristin Anderson (whose Hatemongering Tart website caused my internet exporer to crash)

Ellie Saunders goes to spend the summer with her aunt, who is struggling with the death of her long time companion and feels a need to clean out her crowded basement, but needs moral support to do so. Ellie is glad to gets away from her parents' odd moods, but finds that being separated from them makes her worry more about their relationship and her mother's mental health. Still, she is able to make friends with children in her aunt's neighborhood and uncovers a mystery surrounding a bandoneon, a musical instrument that was in her aunt's basement that is tied to a man whose parents were killed during the military dictatorship in Argentina.
Strengths: Good and unusual mystery, with historical notes that help a lot. Good sense of place, and nice friendships. I was amused-- my daughter's name is Eleanor Saunders!!!
Weaknesses: With so much going on, the mother's mental illness seemed a bit much. Mental illness is a hard topic for students to understand, and in a book this short, I don't know that it was able to be given justice, although the attempt was good.

Home for the Holidays

Frederick, Heather Vogel. Home for the Holidays.
In this fifth installment of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the girls prepare for Christmas while reading the Maud Hart Lovelace Betsy-Tacy books. While they would all like to recreate the warm family environment of the books, all of the girls have some unheaval in their lives. Cassidy's family may move to California. Megan's British boyfriend breaks up with her. Becca's father is out of work. Jess suffers an injury that prevents her from going on a ski trip. Emma is busy, and all of the girls come to blows over Secret Santa presents that they find to be insulting. In end, the girls work it out, and the New Year finds everyone able to celebrate.
Strengths: The covers on these are gorgeous. Shiny, too! I got both of my Heavens to Betsy books checked out yesterday, so maybe there is hope. As much as I don't see girls today getting as involved with the characters as the Mother-Daughter Book Club girls do, I certainly did!
Weaknesses: Still have trouble keeping the girls straight. I know they all have distinct personalities, but I have to take notes on which girl has which parents, boyfriends, activities, etc. It was nice that the one father was out of work, but a little hard (for some odd reason) to believe the other families would put together such a support package.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Cybils Books

Snyder, Zilpha Keatley. William's Midsummer Dreams.
Nominated for the Cybils by Elizabeth.

In 1938, William is glad to be living with his aunt, who adopted him and a couple of siblings after his mother's death. His father and six half siblings, the Baggetts, were all evil and nasty, but the aunt (who is a school teacher) encourages William's interest in school and the theater. William has a chance to a summer theater camp and gets the role of Puck in a production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream. Someone doesn't want William to succeed, however, and starts to sabotage him. He also runs in to some problems with the Baggetts. All stage productions are fraught with mishaps-- how will William's first attempt end up?
Strengths: A lot of information about putting on a Shakespeare play, and a little bit of suspense. The summer theater camp idea is fun-- I feel a need to watch Marjorie Morningstar now!
Weaknesses: The use of an ornate font for any Shakespeare title or quote was somehow annoying, and I often felt that explanations of certain things came too late. Why were the Baggetts so bad? Why was William going to this camp? Waiting for the reasons was oddly distracting. That said, I still have a ragged copy of Snyder's The Velvet Room that I just can't part with!

Strathy, Glen C. Dancing on the Inside.
Nominated for the Cybils by Glen C. Strathy. (Copy received from author.)

Jenny is very interested in ballet and is thrilled when she moves to a new community and is able to take lessons. The only problem is that she is too afraid to dance in front of others, so she forges a note from her mother and lies to get out of dancing. Her mother is obviously irritated by this and cancels her lessons, but Jenny has made one good friend and was learning a lot by taking notes in class and practicing on her own, so she asks to be a volunteer at the school, helping with younger students in exchange for some private lessons. Jenny comes up with an idea for a ballet and works with some of the other students to choreograph and stage the play. She is able to overcome her social anxiety enough to make sure that the ballet is a success.
Strengths: There are very few books that have a lot of details about ballet, and this was very well researched. The dance teachers and students seemed realistically portrayed.
Weaknesses: I would have liked this better had it been about ballet without the addition of Jenny's anxiety. This seemed more like performance anxiety rather than social anxiety, so I was confused by the many reviews that talk about Jenny's "painful shyness". I've had students who couldn't look at me or talk to me, but Jenny was able to boldly lie to her teacher. Just a little confusing.

J-Boys: Kazuo's World, Tokyo, 1965

Oketani, Shogo. J-Boys: Kazuo's World, Tokyo, 1965
Translated from the Japanese by Avery Fisher Udagawa.
Nominated for the Cybils, copy received from Stone Bridge Books.

Kazuo and his younger brother have all sorts of ordinary adventures in Tokyo. They have to buy tofu from the vendor who still cooks it over a wood fire, they try to befriend wild dogs because they want one so much, they get to go out to eat occasionally and try Western food that they have seen on television, and go to the public baths by themselves. But Tokyo is changing and growing, and all sorts of influences are changing Kazuo's world. He finds out that one of his classmates is ridiculed because his family is from Korea, and he also has to deal with the impact of WWII, which is still felt in his family and community.
Strengths: I learned more about every day life in Japan in this! Several years ago, we hosted a Japanese exchange student, and this was the sort of book I was looking for. Details, like cooking rice and sleeping on futons in very small living quarters, were fascinating. I would love to see Mr. Oketani write novels for Stone Bridge about what life is like in Japan today. The vintage pictures accompanying things like the description of students being forced to drink powered milk, were wonderful!
Weaknesses: This is more of a memoir, with not a lot of plot.

Scholastic Canada

All nominated for the Cybils, review copies all from Scholastic Canada because for some reason they are not available in the US through most major jobbers.

Wilson, John. Shot at Dawn: World War I. Allan McBride, France, 1917
Allan decides to join up to follow in the footsteps of a childhood friend, Ken, who is serving in France. The training that the Canadian troops go through is especially brutal, to the point where a deserter and organizer tries to get the men to rebel, which they do after a soldier is beaten by the military police. Once the troops start to see action, it's even worse. Remember, WWI had trench war fare and poison gas, and the toll of the troops was horrendous. When Allan thinks that he sees Ken die, and feels responsible for the death of another comrade, he wanders off to find help back in Canada, since he is so shell shocked. When he finally returns to his unit, he is tried as a deserter, hence the title.
Strengths: No one writes war fiction like Wilson. No one. I am glad that this was nominated so I could get a copy. He has the perfect blend of action and adventure, but with the horrible consequences that something like Lynch's I Pledge Allegiance didn't really show.
Weaknesses: Limited availability through Follett and Baker and Taylor make this hard to acquire. See previous post: I'm trying to cut down on the amount of books I buy with my own money.

Brewster, Hugh. Deadly Voyage: Jamie Laidlaw, Crossing the Atlantic 1912.
Jamie's family has been living in England for his father's banking job but is heading home to Canada. Jamie and a few shipboard friends get into all sorts of trouble, climbing around the ship, and enjoy the fancy surroundings. Jamie meets a man going to Ireland to become a priest; this man takes a lot of pictures of the interior of the ship, which are some of the few to survive. Of course, before long the ship hits the iceberg and starts to sink. Details of how life boats were filled, of how men were left behind, and of how Jamie manages to get into a life boat, survive the bitter cold, get rescued, and make it home from New York City to Canada after the death of his father make up the last part of the book.
Strengths: There are a ton of Titanic books coming out, and this is my favorite so far. It was easier to follow one main character (based on a real person!) and the details about after being rescued were something I hadn't really read.
Weakness: I'd love to see all of Brewster's work; he has some war books that look really good, like at Vimy Ridge and Dieppe: Canada's Darkest Day of WWII, but I can't get them easily. Sigh.

Ellis, Sarah. That Fatal Night: The Titani Diary of Dorothy Wilson: Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1912.
Dorothy has survived the Titanic and is back home, and she really doesn't want to talk about it. She's gotten suspended from school because of an incident at school and is being tutored at home. She feels that the death of the woman accompanying her home from her grandparents in England is somehow her fault, and she is tired of being asked about her experiences and hates to hear about the funerals of all of the people who died. To try to deal with her emotions over this traumatic experience, she writes small plays that detail what she went through.
Strengths: A lot of good information about daily life in 1912, and an interesting twist on the Titanic experience.
Weaknesses: Like most of the Dear America diaries, this one is somewhat whiny. The diary format often seems to concentrate on how the girls feel instead of descriptions of the historic time period, and I find this slightly wearying.

VanSickle, Vikki. Love is a Four-Letter Word.
Clarissa is crushed when she doesn't get a part in the school play but her best friend Benji does, and she also has to deal with her mother, who not only is going through treatment for cancer and is not yet in remission, but is also dating her personal trainer. Clarissa's love life has some bright moments; she goes out with Josh, but one of her friends may be dating him, and other friends think that Benji may be interested in her. Clarissa has a nice group of friends, and the town they live in is small enough for them to walk around and go out to a lot of places.
Strengths: Just a fun, upbeat story of middle school and all the permutations of personal relationships. Very reminiscent of Ellen Conford, whom I adore.
Weaknesses: Could be a bit more cohesive plot, but maybe I missed something not having read the first book, Words That Start With B.

Nonfiction Monday

Rumor has it that the new state standards for language arts will require that 60% of the literature children read be nonfiction. This is a bit of a departure; think core novels and literature based education. I've done what I can, but I don't know how that state has chosen to change this when most of the schools in Columbus Public don't have librarians. We will see how many librarians we have in my district next year, and if we have any money to buy the needed nonfiction. Not that I'm feeling bitter or anything this morning.

Malam, John. Pompeii and Other Lost Cities
This is a great book to hand to students after they have read about Pompeii in social studies class. It gives a brief description of what a "lost city" is, and then proceeds to give examples of "lost" and "found" cities including Pompeii, Amarna, Skara Brae, Machu Picchu and Akrotiri. (I was there! it was really cool.) The text is accompanied by a map, pictures of artifacts, and drawings of purported reconstructions.
Strengths: Just the right amount of information for casual reading, and the accompanying visuals make this an intriguing beginning source for these areas of the world.
Weaknesses: This does not have enough information for a research project, if students were doing a report on Pompeii, etc.

Cohen, Robert Z. Transylvania: Birthplace of Vampires.
This is part of a Rosen series that also includes Dracula: The Life of Vlad the Impaler, Vampires in Film and Television, Vampires in Literature and Vampires in mythology. This gives an overview of the history of the area, a description of indigenous vampire lore, examples of vampire-like behavior from historical characters, a description of how Transylvania became so firmly linked with vampire legends, and information about modern Romania.
Strengths: Great book lay out, excellent information, and good additional resources at the back of the book. This will be picked up frequently.
Weaknesses: This might be more information about Transylvania than most readers really want, but I thought it was interesting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Janitors by Tyler Whitesides

Whitesides, Tyler. Janitors.
After an encounter with what he thinks is soap, Spencer starts seeing creepy creatures roaming the halls of his middle school. He enlists the help of a classmate, Daisy, to help him figure out what is going on and uncovers a long standing problem-- since the beginning of public schools, buildings have been infected with Toxites, creatures who strip children of their intelligence for their own evil purposes. After being tricked by a janitorial manager, the two find out the real story and work against the side of evil to keep their school safe. (Don't want to spoil the good twists in this.) In the end, the immediate crisis is averted, but expect the two back in the upcoming Secrets of New Forest Academy.)

Strengths: I have a lot of students ask for modern fantasy books, and this fresh take on school life, monsters, and somewhat creepy grown ups will be just what I need. It put me in mind of Mull's The Candy Shop War, so I was surprised when I noticed that the cover blurb was from Mull!
Weaknesses: The exposition about the history of the Toxites, as well as the name, bothered me vaguely, but won't bother students. Perhaps if it had been incorporated more slowly into the narrative. Also could have worked in a dig against standardized achievement testing-- Mr. Whiteside, please talk to Jordan Sonnenblick about this while working on the next book!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guy Friday-- Guy Giveaway!

Sadly, I'm not legally allowed to give away actual guys (although I have some annoying ones if anyone is interested), but I have three awesome books provided by Big Honcho Media! All three are part of the This is Teen initiative, and I am excited that they are all pitched at BOYS!

If you would like to enter to win, comment by Wednesday, November 23 and make sure that you provide an e mail address if your comment doesn't link to a way to contact you. Winner will be decided by my first period library helpers. (That's about as random as it gets!)

Brooks, Kevin. iBoy.
Trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH5iHzTEkNE&feature=youtu.be
Tom is eking out an existence in a drug addled London housing project when an iPhone is thrown from a 30th floor of his building, hitting him on the head and embedding fragments in his brain. The same people who threw the phone are also responsible for the gang rape of his friend, Lucy. His whole being is now hooked up to the internet, and he is able to shock people just by touching them. Feeling that his powers may not last long, he attempts to find out who attacked Lucy and bring them to justice, a quest that takes him all the way to the very dangerous drug overlord of the area who has a horrifying connection to Tom's family.
Strengths: Brooks is a phenomenal writer who can make the gritty realities of life more vivid than anyone I know. The combination of inner city gang wars and technology were riveting. 
Weaknesses: F-bombs all over the place, so not for middle school, especially with the rape of the friend. I was somewhat surprised; one of the things I liked best about Candy was that the language and situations were circumspectly covered.

Hirsch, Jeff. Eleventh Plague.
Trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__f4S0hv1EI&feature=youtu.be
Stephen and his father are barely surviving as salvagers years after a plague has killed off enough people to pitch the entire US into survival mode, and when they are almost captured by slavers, the two lose their meager possessions and the father is gravely injured. Luckily, Stephen meets up with people from Settler's Landing, a small community that has banded together against marauders and are trying to live a structured life. While his father is being cared for, Stephen gets a chance to go to school, have a crush on a girl, and not live in constant fear that he won't have enough to eat. This doesn't last long; the town leaders run afoul of trouble makers, and Stephen's quiet life proves to be as precarious as he felt it was!

Strengths: A more realistic dystopian novel than many, and rather reminiscent of my middle school favorite, O'Brien's Z for Zachariah. Great cover; we sold a lot of these at the book fair, and I'm hearing positive things from the students.

Weaknesses: While I can understand Stephen's reluctance to trust in a calm environment, I had trouble believing that he didn't like it. I think this just shows an age bias; my students won't pick up on this.

Zusak, Markus. Underdogs
I didn't read this whole book, since skimming the beginning led me to think it was more suited to high school. Still, there is so little realistic fiction for high school boys that this is a welcome addition for them.

From the publisher: Before The Book Thief, Markus Zusak wrote a trilogy of novels about the Wolfe brothers: The Underdogs, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl. Cameron and Ruben Wolfe are champions at getting into fights, coming up with half-baked schemes, and generally disappointing girls, their parents, and their much more motivated older siblings. They’re intensely loyal to each other, brothers at their best and at their very worst. But when Cameron falls head over heels for Ruben’s girlfriend, the strength of their bond is tested to its breaking point.

Comment, and you may be a winner of all three books sent to you directly from Big Honcho Media!

Some history and some randomness

Bunting, Eve. The Pirate Captain's Daughter.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lois Hume, copy provided by Sleeping Bear Press
Catherine knows that her father is no longer a naval captain, but her ailing mother does not know that he is now a pirate. When her mother dies, 15-year-old Catherine convinces her father that she should sail with him instead of staying behind under the care of her music teacher. Cutting her hair and wearing a loose shirt, she is introduced to the pirate crew as Charlie and put to work playing flute with the rag tag crew band. William, a cabin boy, soon finds out her secret, which she does not hide well, and since women on ships spell disaster, he says he will not tell. Others find out, however, and things end badly, with her father's death and with William and Catherine being put off the ship onto a deserted island.
Strengths: Bunting is always a good story teller, and this is a decent tale of the high seas.
Weaknesses: This feels very derivative and lacking in the dash of so many other women-as-pirate adventures, of which there are so many! Catherine is rather wimpy, and not a good pirate at all.

Lynch, Chris. Vietnam: I Pledge Allegiance.
Morris and his friends Rudi, Ivan and Beck make a pact that if one of them must serve in Vietnam, they will all go. Morris is scared that they will all die, but when older Rudi is drafted, he signs up for the navy. All four boys are not overly keen on fighting, but up for the adventure and more supportive of their country's involvement in this conflict than many at the time were. Morris finds life in the Navy gritty, and finds a surprising affinity for shooting and killing. No information on the series, but I imagine that the other books will outline the other friends' experiences.
Strengths: Unlike most war books, that tell how horrible war is, this one seems to embrace it. From page 142: "The thing, finally, that makes shooting at a person feel right? It's shooting at them. Shooting a gun is the thing that convinces you of the rightness of shooting. Because it works. It solves problems, after all, right? I can feel it right this second, as the repeating action of the machine gun shakes my hands to a state of absolute numbness... I am not, for the moment, afraid."
Weaknesses: This is just what the war-mongering boys want, and exactly why I don't really want them to read it. I vastly prefer the "war is horrible" stance, but that's not really the value of our society as a whole, is it?

Barber, Ronde and Tiki, with Paul Mantell. Red Zone.
Ronde and Tiki are all set to play in the championships for their middle school team, but an epidemic of chicken pox is taking down most of the team. One after the other of the players comes down with it, including the Barber boys, who try to hide the fact and be allowed to play. In the end, a postponement makes it possible for the team to rally enough players to win. The fourth in the series. Goal Line, the fifth, is also out.
Strengths: The boys adore this series. Really, why is Paul Mantell not writing under his own name?
Weaknesses: I couldn't believe the chicken pox epidemic. It probably really happened, but in ten years, I don't think I've had a single student come down with chicken pox. If this is based on something that happened to the Barbers 20 years ago, okay, but I just couldn't get into the book because that distracted me.

Griffiths, Andy. Just Shocking and Just Stupid.
File these under things I don't understand, but The Day My Butt Went Psycho is one that the boys will check out if only for giggling over, so I got the prebinds of these. Just goofy stories and jokes, with margins cluttered with gofy illustrations. Right after I got the order in, students saw these on the catalog and wanted them. I may have to do a post on Wimpy Kid type books, even though the students who check out nine of these a day are slowly driving me mad.

Two titles that intrigued me but I just couldn't get into. Maybe they are what you need.

Towell, Katy. Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow.
Thought this would be methadone for Snicket addicts, but I just could not get into this one. Maybe it was the misspelling in the title, or the illustrations, or the similarity to Potter's The Kneebone Boy which has not done well in my library. There are certainly others who like this.
Hippies, Beauty and Books. Oh, My!,
Rising Shadow,
Book Trends
My Book Journey

Halpern, Julie. Don't Stop Now.
From the publisher: "Recent high school graduates Lil and Josh leave Illinois for Oregon seeking Lil's sort-of friend Penny, who faked her own kidnapping to escape problems at home and an abusive boyfriend, but Lil also wants to find out if she and Josh are meant to be more than friends. "

Honestly, I think the big thing that made me stop reading were the repeated descriptions of Josh's poor hygiene and the overly morose demeanor of Penny. Middle schoolers who want romance want something a little lighter. People who liked this included:

Secrets and Sharing Soda, The Book Scoop, GreenBean TeenQueen, and Girls in the Stacks.

And I have to laugh. Inside Out and Back Again won the National Book Award. My comment was that since none of my students would ask for something like that, it would win the Newbery. There's still time. ***Sigh***

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street

Rocklin, Joanne. One Day and One Amazing Morning On Orange Street.

Nominated for the Cybils by Katie Ahearn

Orange Street was so named because years ago the site was an orange grove, but now it is a small housing development with a variety of people living there. Only one tree remains in a vacant lot, and it is in danger of being cut down. Mrs. Snoops (aka Ethel Finneymaker) is an older woman who has lived there since childhood but who is sinking into dementia. Ali is a young girl interested in the history of the neighborhood who is struggling with her brother Edgar's illness, which requires him to have Manny, a nanny. Leandra is upset that her parents are having another baby, even though it means that her grandparents have moved in with the family. Robert, a budding magician, likes Ali. Everyone in the neighborhood is upset when a mysterious stranger, who turns out to have grown up in the neighborhood and is behind the threats to the tree. The story takes place during a little over a day, and is told from alternating viewpoints of everyone in the neighborhood, including the tree, a dog, and a cat.
Strengths: I liked that the children all got to hang out and have adventures, digging things up in the vacant lot. Readers who enjoyed It Happened on Fox Street will enjoy another strong neighborhood.

Weaknesses: While this is very well written and intriguing, the plot is weak compared to the character development. Nothing major happens, which is always a big complaint in middle school. Adults will love this one.

Rud, Jeff. Paralyzed.

Reggie is hit by another player in a football game but manages to make his interception, but afterwards the player who hit him, Nate, does not get up off the field. He ends up in the hospital paralyzed because he hit Reggie with his helmet, not an approved move. Reggie feels bad and wonders if he did anything to contribute to the injury. When he goes to the hospital to check on Nate, Nate's mother screams at him that it is his fault and he shouldn't come back. Reggie starts to be overly cautious on the field, and the decision is made to have him go to counseling and sit out a few games, but this coincides with a newspaper report that he has been suspended, as well as a school hearing about the accident. Will Nate get better? Will Reggie be able to play again without fear of hurting someone.

Strengths: Rud does an excellent job with giving not only good play-by-plays but discussing sports psychology on a level that middle school students can understand. I have just the student waiting for this one!

Weaknesses: I wish that Rud would write longer books that are not hi/lo. The prose is overly simple in some instances, but the stories are so good!

Bossley, Michele Martin. Kicker.

Izzy and Julia spend a lot of time in the town park playing soccer, but after they receive threats and the park is closed due to vandalism and possible chemical contamination, the girls are suspicious. They start an investigation into the woman who donated the land to the park, as well as her descendants, one of who is trying to buy the land back. They uncover a link to a famous Canadian robbery, and start to think that there might be treasure buried at the park. This, however, does not solve the mystery of the threatening texts and notes that are undermining their playing, so they have to solve that as well.

Strengths: Another excellent Orca title, and I love how it also incorporates a mystery. I have had a lot of girls asking for soccer books, so I have been trying to add a number to the collection.

Weaknesses: Again, the more simple language occasionally sounds clunkier than I would like.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy Haulidays from Chronicle Books

Hop over to the Chronicle Books Web Site to check out their Happy Haulidays contest. The Charity I would choose would be the Blendon Middle School library; 90% of the books I buy end up there anyway!

Here are the books I would choose to donate. So let's see what fun stuff we'd add: When you comment, you have a chance to win if I do.