Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An interview with Charlie Joe Jackson!

February is over! We can stop reading now!

Well, no. Admittedly, the "Boys Read Pink" initiative got buried under a lot of things, but there were a lot of boys that read "girl" books. A couple even went on to the second book in series (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging), and most admitted that the books were good.

Tommy Greenwald was kind enough to send an ARC of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit (out in August 2012), and I bribed on of my students with it. He submitted questions for Charlie Joe, and then he got to read the book. Well, Ja'waun doesn't read, he keeps telling me. He just keeps moving the bookmark. Here are his questions, and Charlie Joe's answers!

1. If your book is about not reading, then why are there so many pages?

2. Why do you think reading won't help us succeed?

3. How does reading make you fat?

4. Why does reading books about girls help you understand them?

5. Do you think you will be in any more books?

I enjoyed School Library Journal's review of the first book because it gave me the term I needed for Diary of a Wimpy Kid-type books. "Notebook novels". Perfect. Charlie Joe LOOKS like a notebook novel, but is so much more!

Characters from War Torn Countries

Volponi, Paul. The Final Four.
The Michigan State Spartans and the Troy Trojans meet up at the Final Four tournament in New Orleans. Malcolm, a boy from the inner city whose sister was killed in a drive by shooting and who is only looking out for himself, and MJ (Michael Jordan, an unfortunate name for a boy who likes to play basketball!), who is trying to do well in school and make a better life for himself, play for MSU. Roko, a boy whose journalist uncle was killed in Croatia, and Crispin, who is from who is from Louisiana and engaged to a popular cheerleader, are on the Trojan side. Tempers flare as the competition heats up, and drama unfolds behind the scenes as well as on the court. Play-by-plays and basketball commentary abound, and the minutiae of player recruitment is well covered. There is a lot of discussion about the financial hardships placed on the families of players who are getting an education, but may not have a lot of money for living expenses, a concern that has had long ranging implications at The Ohio State University! In particular, Malcolm runs into problems that may impact the success of his entire team, even though his goal is to leave college without graduating and go pro.
Strengths: There is such a desperate shortage of basketball books that I will no doubt buy two copies of this titles. Thankfully, even though this involves college players, there is very little bad language, and no sex or drugs. Whew. Louisiana and engaged to a popular cheerleader, are on the Trojan side. Tempers flare as the competition heats up, and drama unfolds behind the scenes as well as on the court. Play-by-plays and basketball commentary abound, and the minutiae of player recruitment is well covered. There is a lot of discussion about the financial hardships placed on the families of players who are getting an education, but may not have a lot of money for living expenses, a concern that has had long ranging implications at The Ohio State University! In particular, Malcolm runs into problems that may impact the success of his entire team, even though his goal is to leave college without graduating and go pro.
Weaknesses: The narrative is a bit fragmented and hard to follow at times. My sports readers are sometimes ones who struggle, and this may prove a challenging title for them.

I've loaned the ARC to a couple of readers; one brought the book back unread, but two others read it very quickly. Think I'll buy two copies.

Farish, Terry. The Good Braider.
Publication date 1 May 2012
Viola and her mother are doing their best to survive in their small town of Juba in the Sudan, but food is scarce and the soldiers make life difficult for everyone. After Viola is raped, the family escapes to Cairo, where Viola's brother dies. Viola and her mother sleep in the courtyard of a church, clean houses, and try to contact relatives in the US to sponsor them. Viola makes a good friend who helps her to study English, knowing that the only way she can earn money will be to get an education. The two finally make it to Maine, where Catholic Charities helps them get an apartment and navigate life in the US. Viola goes to high school, but also works in a food factory. She makes friends, but her mother is unhappy when she shows an interest in Andrew, an American boy who teaches her how to drive a car. Her mother burns Viola's hand over her offense of dating the boy, and social services are called in. Through this all, Viola tries to remember the wisdom of her grandmother, and her cultural heritage, which she expresses in her ability to braid hair in intricate African designs.
Strengths: This is an important book to help people understand not only how difficult life is for people in the Sudan, but also how difficult it is for students who immigrate from countries where their life is in turmoil, and whose family and cultural background deal with situations differently than those who have lived in this country for a long time might. This was a very powerful book.
Weaknesses: While is is clear that Viola is raped, the scene where it happened was not graphic, and the conversation that discusses what happened is matter-of-fact, not detailed, and handled well. I was reading this title on an E Reader and did not even realize that it was "in verse", because the lines were not cut up in a verse-like way.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dystopias-- Real and Fictional

Lake, Nick. In Darkness.
From the Publisher: "In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, Shorty, a poor, fifteen-year-old gang member from the slums of Site Soleil, is trapped in the rubble of a hospital and as he grows weaker, he has visions and memories of his life of violence, his lost twin sister, and of Toussaint L'Ouverture, who liberated Haiti from French rule in 1804."

While this is certainly good coverage of how horrendous the results of this natural disaster were, and the extra historical perspective was interesting, this was not abook for the middle grades. The language is "gritty", and the narrative a bit confusing. A glossary of unfamiliar words would have helped.

Read a more complete review of this title at
YA Books Central , The Happy Nappy Bookseller, The Fourth Musketeer, or Totally Bookalicious.

Walker, Brian F. Black Boy, White School.
From the Publisher: " When 14-year-old Anthony "Ant" Jones from the ghetto of East Cleveland, Ohio, gets a scholarship to a prep school in Maine, he finds that he must change his image and adapt to a world that never fully accepts him. But when he goes home he discovers that he no longer truly belongs there either. "

I had high hopes for this book, but the language and drug use make it one that I am not comfortable handing to students. I saw that one of my students was reading Ellen Hopkins' Crank, and when I asked her about it, she said that she really liked it, but SHE didn't think it was appropriate for a middle school library. She also admitted it would have been weird if I had handed it to her. More in-depth reviews at Bloggin' 'Bout Books, Good Books and Good Wine, Whatchamacallit Reviews, and A Book and a Hug.

Simmons, Kristen. Article 5.
Ember and her mother are just trying to survive in a futuristic society where the Bill of Rights is no longer and the law of the land is the Moral Statues. A terrible war has destroyed most of the major cities, and people are cramped together in the surviving areas, so to cut down on the fighting and lawlessness, the Federal Bureau of Reformation (known as the Moral Militia) has taken over, randomly arresting people, who never come back. When the Moral Militia shows up at Ember’s house, they haul her mother off because she had Ember without being married, and Ember is sent to a reform school as well. To make matters worse, one of the arresting officers is Chase, a former neighbor with a difficult past. Ember loved him. He eventually helps her break out of the school, after she is nearly killed for exposing guards’ misbehavior, and the two take off on an erratic cross country quest to find her mother. They hope that they can find someone to transport Ember to a safe house in an abandoned part of the country so that Chase can get back to his position before being considered AWOL, but they run into all sorts of problems. Chase has promised Ember’s mother that he will take care of her and get her to safety, so even when she runs from him, he finds her and helps her. Post apocalyptic problems constantly arise-- can the two get along well enough to save themselves? I feel a second book in the offing.
Strengths: For futuristic dystopia, this is very strong, plus has a touch of romance. Plausible reason for the change in government, reasonable portrayal of the groups and individuals Ember is fighting, enough bad things happening to people that students will be intrigued.
Weaknesses: All I could think was “Man, I’m too tired to live in a dystopia. Let me be killed in the first strike, because otherwise I’d just be hiding in my house/hovel/cardboard box.” All of the running just made me tired! Students will not have this problem.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nonfiction Monday--Little Rock Girl

Nonfiction Monday was started by Anastasia Suen and is hosted this week at The Children's War. Stop by to see a great list of nonfiction reviews.

Tougas, Shelley. Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration.
EARC from
Elizabeth Eckford knew that starting Central High School would not be easy for her or the other eight black students who were enrolling in the fall of 1957, but she might not have realized the impact that one photograph taken of her would have on the people who saw it. Starting with the circumstances under which the picture on the cover was taken, this book explores various aspects of the Central High School integration, from media coverage (including the man who took the photograph) to the long range implications of the event on the people involved as well as the nation in general. Well illustrated with period photographs, this offers an easier to read overview of the Little Rock events than Magoon’s Today the World is Watching You, which was completely excellent but a little too long. Students who read this book might want to go on to read Magoon’s wonderful book.
Strengths: The pictures reveal so much about the world of this time, and will help students understand the events a little better. Having one small moment, such as this picture, to focus on helps make a little more sense of a complicated event.
Weaknesses: The chronology goes back and forth a little more than I would like, being a very linear thinker, but makes sense given the way the book is laid out.

I have a large order of nonfiction books in the works, since the language arts classes are going towards the common core and reading less fiction. I'm trying to balance between titles that coordinate with the curriculum and those that will circulate well.

Landau, Elaine. American Quarter Horses Are My Favorite!
EARC from

I would love to have the entire series of
My Favorite Horses from Lerner Publications. This one was well illustrated, had a great diagram with the parts of a horse labeled, and had realistic information about owning a horse and taking care of one. However, at $17 for 24 pages, I don't think I will be buying any of these. I also want The Best Dogs Ever series; I've already read the Yorkshire Terrier and Poodle ones to Sylvie. Capstone has a series on horses that come in at 32 page each, but I want at least 64 pages of information for that price. Oh, well. I think the public library has them. Need to encourage students to get cards.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- The Traitor and the Tunnel

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started and is hosted by the (now wildly famous!) Shannon Whitney Messnger at her blog. Hop over there THIS WEEK to see a list of links to other bloggers posting on middle grade books.

Lee, Y.S. The Agency: The Traitor and the Tunnel
Publication date: 28 February 2012
Mary Quinn is still working with the Agency, and her newest assignment is to work as a parlor maid in Buckingham Palace, where Queen Victoria has been plagued with petty thefts of expensive ornaments. There are bigger problems, though-- Price Bertie and a friend are attacked in an opium den and the friend is killed. The opium fiend responsible for the death is a Lascar named Lang, whom Mary determines is her long lost father. Also in the works are sewage changes to the palace, and who is working on those but James Easton! Also around is reporter Octavius Jones, who is wooing one of Mary's coworkers to get information. Mary suspects the queen's lady in waiting of either the thievery or a bigger plot, but is caught up in trying to save her father. She is also a bit overwhelmed by the confidence of Bertie and the attentions of James. When all of the problems swirling around her finally make sense and come to a head, she is able to avert a national disaster with the help of James and a spunky Queen Victoria. What will the future hold for Mary? Maybe this series will go beyond the trilogy, or Ms. Lee will write some other appealing books!
Strengths: ***SWOON*** The more of these books I read, the more I lurve them! I'm becoming more fond of Victorian England, and like A Spy in the House and The Body in the Tower these are very well researched. The spying believable, the back stairs scenes illuminating to middle grade readers, and the romance brilliant.
Weaknesses: The sexual content of this one is approaching borderline-- Mary is attacked and her skirts fumbled with, Octavius Jones "beds" the maids, and the kisses between Mary and James are hot and heavy. While younger readers might not quite get what is going on, this one makes me a tiny bit nervous.

Scattergood, Augusta. Glory Be.
Glory is looking forward to enjoying the hot Mississippi summer at the pool and is not happy when the pool is closed down for "repairs", especially since the pool seems to be in good shape. When she meets Laura at the public library, Glory finds out that the pool is closed because civil rights workers from the north are trying to get the town to integrate the pool. Laura's mother is working in a clinic for black citizens who don't have better access to health care. Glory's father is a prominent minister in town, her sister Jessalyn is sympathetic to the civil rights workers, and the family's black cook, Emma, is trying not to comment too much on what is going on. While a good deal of the town is against integration, there are also a lot of citizens who are trying to do things like insure equal access to the library for everyone. Glory is caught in the middle and trying to do what she thinks is right.
Strengths: This short novel drew me in right away with Glory's concerns about her OWN summer. Once she figured out what was impacting her, she tried to make a larger change to society. This is how the middle grade mind often works, so I found this to be a more engaging book than I thought it would be.
Weaknesses: Again, the civil rights story is told from the point of view of a middle class, white girl. While engaging, this had even fewer characters of color than many such stories.

And remember, this voting is not really for any sort of prestigious award, it's just directing traffic to this web site so they can get more hits and do better on search engines. Still, the prize is a $250 restaurant gift card, and there are four teenagers in my house who have this nasty habit of eating. Just want people to be aware of what happens when they click through. Up to you. I already KNOW that I am fascinating.

Sunday Brunch-- Romance

Smith, Jennifer E. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.
Hadley doesn't want to fly to London, but that's not why she missed her flight by four minutes. She was just running late-- but try explaining that to her father, for whose wedding she now might or might not be on time. She's struggling to stay awake and occupied in the airport when a boy helps her with her suitcase-- and the two strike up a conversation. When they end up next to each other on the plane, they spend most of the long trip talking. Hadley is upset that her father moved to the UK to take a teaching job, fell in love, and left her and her mother. Oliver is more tactiturn, but she does find out that he is studying at Yale. When the

: Any book that ends up in London with a romance with a cute boy named Oliver... well, have to buy this one! plane lands, the two get separated, and Hadley realizes they never exchanged contact information. After struggling through part of the wedding and reception, she feels a desperate need to hunt Oliver down, and does manage to find him. How deep is their connection? What is the statistical probability of love at first sight?
Weaknesses: A bit more family angst than I personally like in a romance, and, well, this wasn't Before Sunrise (1995). *Sigh* I didn't quite feel the connection between Hadley and Oliver, and the fact that she actually hunted him down was somehow... wrong. True to life, but not as romantic as just bumping into him a week later on the Tube. Won't matter to my students!

Resau, Laura. The Ruby Notebook.
Sequel to The Indigo Notebook. Zeeta and her mother have lived in a different country every year for as long as Zeeta can remember. After a year in Ecuador, they are settling into life in Aix-en-Provence, France. Zeeta is very excited that her American boyfriend, Wendell, is coming to spend the summer with her, but she is conflicted when she meets the appealing Jean-Claude, who is traveling and working with a performing group. Complicating matters is someone leaving small gifts for her that she thinks may be from the father that she has never met. When Wendell arrives, he is a bit distant, and Zeeta is concerned that she will be like her mother, who has never been able to maintain a relationship for very long. With the help of an elderly gentleman, her new friends in the performing group, some mystical friends of her mother's, and Wendell himself, Zeeta is able to make some sense of the relationships in her life.
Strengths: This was a great book for describing travel, and the romances will make this appealing to my girls who go through a book a day.
Weaknesses: This felt more like adult fiction, with a slow, languid narrative. I also found the mystical qualities in some of the characters confusing. (Wendell sees visions, etc.) Still, I think I will order the entire series, including the new The Jade Notebook for my girls who can't get enough of books like 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

Brody, Jessica. My Life Undecided.
Brooklyn is really good at making really bad decisions. The latest-- having a huge party at her mother's model home and managing to burn it down trying to make fajitas while drunk with plastic vegetables-- results in her best friend, Shayne, dumping her, as well as 200 hours of community service at a nursing home. Realizing that she is incapable of making good decisions, Brooklyn puts together a blog ( and lets the readers of her blog decide what she will do. Grapes of Wrath or The Old Man and the Sea? Try out for rugby? Brooklyn manages to abide by the decisions for the most part, even though her readers think she should be more interested in Brian (her new debate partner) and less interested in Hunter (very hot new student). Things don't go smoothly, but Brooklyn tries to move beyond her shallow past, stay out of trouble, and decide if her friendship with Shayne is really they way to happiness.
Strengths: This was a very fun, light read that is about the vicissitudes of high school life and romance while still being appropriate for middle school. Whew. Enjoyed tremendously even though the plot is a tiny bit similar to Notes from the Midnight Driver. Brooklyn does mature.
Weaknesses: The cover will date very badly, but this is offset by actual web site at the addressed mentioned in the book. I didn't quite buy Brooklyn as someone who would have a party in a model home and hang out with Shayne, and she did take to debate a bit too quickly for me to believe. Still a fun read.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Double by Jenny Valentine

Valentine, Jenny. Double.
Chap is brought into a homeless shelter in London where he is mistaken for Cassiel Roadnight, a boy who has been missing for two years. He knows that he doesn't belong with the over medicated mother, Helen, sister Edie or rich but disturbing brother Frank, but the appeal of being with a family to take care of him is so appealing that he goes along with the charade. He remembers being raised by a reclusive and alcoholic grandfather who loved him dearly but was not capable of going out into the real world. After Chap gets settled with his "family", he runs into an old friend, Floyd, who realizes that Chap isn't Cassiel... because he thinks that Frank killed Cassiel! The two try to unravel the mystery which includes embezzling, kidnapping, mistaken identities and murder.
Strengths: Once again, the British do murder mysteries like no one else. This was reminiscent of the Time Bowler Blade books, and Bedford's Flip, and was creepy and highly atmospheric. It took lots of twists and turns, all which seemed creepily believable. SO good! (And the cover is reminiscent of the new Todd Strasses mysteries.)
Weaknesses: Might be a bit of a stretch for students not used to reading British books.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Kirby, Stan. Captain Awesome to the Rescue.
Eugene would be a better Captain Awesome would be a better superhero if his mother hadn't packed his cape when he moved to a new town. Never fear! Once he finds it, he is out to save the world from villians like his baby sister, Queen Stinkypants, just like his hero Super Dude does. When the class hamster goes missing, Eugene and his new friends manage to figure out who the culprit is.

This is book one in a new series coming out soon from Little Simon. The next books are Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man, Captain Awesome and the New Kid and Captain Awesome Takes a Dive.

Coven, Wanda. Heidi Heckelbeck has a Secret.
Heidi has been home schooled, but when her brother Henry starts kindergarten, her mother sends her off to the wilds of second grade. Heidi is apprehensive that she won't be able to do the things she wants, and it doesn't help when another student, Melanie, is very bratty to her, telling her that she smells, suggesting to the drama teacher that Heidi should be an apple tree in the Wizard of Oz production, and eventually ruining Heidi's self portrait in art class. Heidi is consoled by the fact that the teachers and other students are supportive of her... and by the fact that she is actually a witch. This is also the beginning of a new series that continues with Heidi Heckelbeck Casts a Spell, Heidi Heckelbeck and the Cookie Contest and Heidi Heckelbeck in Disguise.
Strengths: I can see younger students enjoying both of these series. The books are a bit longer than I Can Read Books but still include pictures and large text.
Weaknesses: Both of these seemed very negative about school, and both main characters were rather unhappy. This was a bit off putting for someone who spent first grde reading about empowered children like Haywood's Betsy or Encyclopedia Brown. I don't think that either of these would speak to middle school students, even though some series for younger readers, like Captain Underpants or Babymouse, sometimes do.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guy Friday-- Guyographies

Santiago, Wilfred. 21:The Story of Roberto Clemente.
Fantagraphics Books, 2011
This graphic novel follows Clemente’s life from poverty and tragedy as a young boy in Puerto Rico (his sister dies in a fire) to his many years playing baseball and being well-regarded for his skill as well as his philanthropy. His struggles with being a player of color in the 1950s and 60s is well covered, as well as his private life. There are some sidebars that discuss Puerto Rican history. The orange and brown color scheme fits with the time period.
Strengths: Students who liked the Satchel Paige graphic novel, or baseball in general, have been picking this up. It is much better than the mass produced graphic biographies widely available.
Weaknesses: The story was hard to follow at times, and the print was really, really tiny I’m getting older, but my vision isn’t that bad yet, and this was very hard to read.

Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem and Raymond Obstfeld.
Illustrated by A.G. Ford
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History Of African American Inventors
Ella and Herbie move in to a run down house and aren't happy about it, but when they have to help the handyman, Mr. Mital, he teaches them that many of the items in the house were invented by African-Americans. The story of the home renovation is broken up by short biographies of various inventors, comic panels describing the inventions, and many other sidebars detailing a wide range of little known African-American inventors.
Strengths: This has a lot of good information, and is presented in a lively and colorful way. Students will learn a lot about inventors.
Weaknesses: While good for casual reading, this could have been formatted in a more effective way for research. The story distracted me, the inventors were not presented chronologically, and the fold out pages may come to grief in a school library.

Who's Who Among Fascinating Librarian Bloggers

Hmmmm. Remember when you were a senior in high school and you got these letters that said you would be included in a gorgeous, leather bound copy of Who's Who in American High School Students... as long as you sent in $25?

I've been nominated for the "award" pictured at left. The prize is a $200 restaurant gift card, which seems highly suspect. As does the awarding body and the fact that I was nominated for a Happy Haul-idays post in 2010.

Voting starts on 27 February HERE and ends on 6 March.

If you have time to spare and feel I am worthy, go ahead and vote. With four teenagers in the house, money for food is always good.

I will say that I was able to print out the $25 restaurant gift certificate, although I haven't tried to use it.Still suspicious, And when I looked around, I found this article about search engine optimizations.

It seems likely that this organization is trying to get more visitors. Since they are, in fact, paying me for sending traffic their way, I am conflicted. I don't take money for posts. All I take is ARCs, because it's easier to review books if I can get a copy. So we'll see. Should we click on their links so I can get more free Mexican food? That's what it amounts to.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wonders and Wanders

Richards, Jasmine. The Book of Wonders.
Zardi enjoys her life in Arribithia with her grandmother, older sister Zubeyda and her friend Rhidan, a foreign orphan being raised by her family. Rhidan doesn't know his part, but when the two run into the sailor Sinbad in the port, he mentions that Rhidan looks like the people of the Black Isle. Zardi's father is an advisor for the sultan, who has banned magic from the kingdom, but not even this keeps the family safe-- Zubeyda is chosen to be the sultan's next "praisemaker" which will result in her being imprisoned and then hunted to the death. Zardi thinks that Sinbad would be able to help both with getting Rhidan back to his people and in overturning the sultan, so they hop a boat in search of him. They end up having many adventures, finding out about Rhidan's past, fighting magical creatures, and eventually getting back to the kingdom just as Zubeyda is being hunted. While things may be okay at home, Rhidan is still interested in the Black Isle, so the book ends with an elipsis...
Strengths: The setting and stories reminiscent of the Arabian Nights lends a fresh twist to this fantasy quest. Getting very weary of typical Celtic fantasy, but I can't think of anything with Sinbad, and this is quite well done.
Weaknesses: I felt that I was missing many of the Arabian Nights references.

Hubbard, Jenny. Wanderlove.
Publication date 13 March 2012. E ARC from
Bria Sandoval has broken up with her boyfriend, her parents are constantly squabbling, and they don't want her to go to art school. She wants to travel, so books a trip to South America with a package tour that ends up being filled with uptight old people. She is jealous of the style of the backpackers she sees, and when one asks her to a party, she goes. There she meets the guy who invited her, Rowan, who travels around working as a dive instructor, and his half-sister, Starling, who does volunteer work. The two convince her to leave the tour, ditch half of her luggage in favor of one backpack, and follow them on their travels until it is time for her to fly home. When Starling is called away, she leaves Bria with Rowan so she can keep him out of trouble. Bria enjoys seeing the nontouristy side of South America but is concerned about Rowan's past (that might involve drugs), but not concerned enough that she can't be really attracted to him. In the end, Bria learns a lot about life, relationships, and herself.

From the Publicist: "Wanderlove is about celebrating favorite places, so Hubbard has turned the Wanderlove website ( into a place to upload and chat about our own hidden destinations. There are already quite a few beautiful photos up there! She’ll be giving away three butterfly-doodled hardcovers of Wanderlove to participants. Anyone who submits an entry between now and March 5th, the day she gets back, will be eligible to win.

Strengths: This had really good travel features-- I'm half afraid to give this to my daughter who is a senior lest she think she can run off, not tell me where she is, and ignore my e mails. Of course, the other half of me wants to do the running off myself! Good for high school, if they don't mind a couple of f-bombs.
Weaknesses: Mainly personal. To me, all the characters had a fairly high slappage factor. Bria especially does a ton of whining, teeth gnashing, and handwringing over both the boyfriend and the art school. In the end, she decides that she HAS to be involved in art in some way even if she ends up teaching it, which given the current state of my school system made me want to shake her. (About 55 art, gym and music teachers are being considered for cuts. I've ranted about "following one's bliss" before. No bliss following. Employment first, then bliss following. Says the woman looking at starting her third career at 50.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Help, The Future of Us

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Skeeter has graduated from college and moved back to her family home in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. She is distraught that the family maid who helped raise her, Constantine, is no longer there and no one will tell her where she has gone, and also by her mother's insistence that she marry. Skeeter manages to get a job at the local newspaper writing a cleaning column. Since she knows nothing about cleaning, she enlists the help of a friend's black maid, Aibileen. Skeeter also writes to Harper and Row publishers about a job and gets a reply back from a woman who encourages her to write. After several unfortunate incidences with her friend Hilly, who is insisting that all of the black maids need their own separate bathrooms built outside the homes where they work, Skeeter decides to interview black maids about their experiences. Aibileen agrees, but it is difficult to find others who will help. Minny, who has trouble keeping jobs because of her mouth, agrees as well. As the South heats up with various civil rights activities, and local issues arise as well, more of "the help" agree to be part of the project, even though it means personal danger for them. The relationships between the employers and employees, whether good or bad, are the basis for this book that discusses the way things were at a pivotal time during the Civil Rights Movement. Strengths: The points of view were especially interesting, and to me, this was almost as much about women's rights at the time as it was about Civil Rights. Skeeter's behavior is not the norm for well-raised women at the time, but she triumphs. I can see why this has been such a popular title. And yes, now I want to see the movie, if only for the fashions. Weaknesses: I think I've been ruined for reading adult literary fiction. This is required for our sophomore English class, I figured I would evaluate it for appropriateness in the middle school. Aside from one scene where a woman has a miscarriage in her bathroom, and another where a crazy man exposes himself to a woman and her maid, this one is fine... but really boring! I forgot that in most adult fiction nothing happens!

Asher, Jay and Carolyn Mackler. The Future of Us.
November 21st 2011 by Razorbill

Emma gets a new computer as a guilt gift from her father who has moved away and now has a new family, and her friend Josh comes over with an America Online CD-ROM with 100 free hours. This is big stuff in 1996, so the two download it and log on. Emma sees a web site called Facebook, and sees a 30-something woman who looks a lot like her. The woman is not happy with her husband or her life, and Emma begins to realize that she is seeing her future. She consults Josh, who was her best friend until a misunderstanding where he thought she wanted to be more than friends-- now they are rather awkward with each other. In Josh's future, he is married to the hottest girl in their high school, so when Emma starts trying to change the future, he's not happy. Of course, while Emma is obsessed with her future, real life continues in her high school. Emma tries to change the future by getting to know a boy who looks hot when he's "old" (32!), and tries to change where she lives and even her job by deciding on different majors and making pronouncements about where she will and won't live. In the end, she begins to realize that there is no way to now what the future will bring, and no good way to influence it, so she might as well try to make the present as happy as she can.
Strengths: Wonderful premise, and the 1996 setting is clearly defined but not dwelt on overly much. My older daughter picked this up and was intrigued. I have needed more romance books, and this one will fit the bill. Love the digital cover!
Weaknesses: Some pointless vulgarity, but nothing too bad. Made me really sad, and could have been much better done. In the end, I didn't like Emma or Josh very much.

Of course, this freaked me out in a major way-- my daughter is heading off to college, and I made so many mistakes in majors and life choices when I was her age that I want her to have A Plan while also realizing that any plan she makes is going to change. Stress! The book hits this right on the head, but also makes it hugely sad for someone my age. As for my daughter-- majoring in nursing and wanting to live in Colorado seems a bit more promising than wanting to be a college professor of Latin. I wanted to live in Virginia. Or England. And being a school librarian appeared nowhere at all in my plans.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

(Time Slip???) Tuesday (well, at least it IS Tuesday!)

Hartley, A.J. Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact.

Darwen has moved from Manchester, UK to Atlanta, Georgia to live with his aunt who is very business oriented and not used to having a child around. After a strange encounter with Mr. Peregrine at an odd dusty shop in the local mall during which Mr. Peregrine gives Darwen a mirror, Darwen finds that he is able to travel into Silbilica, another world were there are fairies by also a powerful evil arising. Powerful evil might also be used to describe his new private school-- while he does find a few friends, he also runs afoul of some of the school bullies. The archaeology club interests him, and he feels that he can tell the friends he makes there about Sibilica. He and Alexandra go to the world together and have to face the scrobblers, who are managing to come into Atlanta more and more. Who is helping them to do this? Can Sibilicabe saved? While some of these questions are answered, there is room for a sequel.
Strengths: Magical realism and a strong school story ala Harry Potter will make this one appealing to my hard core fantasy fans. 
Weaknesses: This has been sitting next to my chair since an early November book look. Just couldn't pick it up. Cover art seemed especially blah to me, and nothing about the story sucked me in. I'll put it in the library collection, since I have a copy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy President's Day

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. Head on over there to see a list of Middle Grade Reviews by a variety of awesome bloggers (who are organized enough to remember to send in their links, unlike some people...)

Clark, Catherine. How Not To Run For President.
Aidan is playing in the middle school marching band when presidental hopeful Bettina Brandon comes to his Ohio town to campaign. He is interviewed, since his mother has just been laid off from local company FreezeStar, and manages to push Ms. Brandon out of the way of a falling sign. Both to thank him and to add some interest to her campaign, Aidan is asked to go on the trail with Ms. Brandon and her daughter, Emma, who is not only Aidan’s age but very bratty. For a while, Aidan’s heroism and his family’s plight (illustrative of the type of family situation Brandon is trying to rememdy with her campaign) gain supporters, but after a while, typical mudslinging starts to occur. Aidan’s dog is purebred rather than a mutt. His mother was fired, not laid off. Having gained a glimpse into the political world, Aidan returns home disillusioned but also more realistic in his understanding of people and situations.
Strengths: I liked that the candidate was a woman AND an independent. I thought that the Ohio settings were true to life. Good cover, and a rare funny, realistic book for boys.
Weaknesses: Never really felt connected to Aidan, and there wasn’t as much plot or action as I would have liked for this target audience.

There have been a fair number of "presidential" books for boys-- combine the books below with a selection of presidential biographies, and there's a ready made display. Just be careful if you have Joanna Hurwitz's Class President-- check out the Awful Library Books web site for the reason why (and a good laugh)! And, yes, that is Blendon Middle School's own copy of Sharon Draper's Sassy mentioned. I'm not quite sure how to fix it!

Nonfiction Monday

Dau, John Bul and Akech, Martha Arual. Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in the Sudan.
John and Martha were young children in Southern Sudan when civil war broke out. Told in alternating chapters, we find that John’s family ran from his village in the opposite way he did when it was attacked, and Martha’s family was at church. Thanks to members of their Dinka tribe, both were marginally cared for and made their way from refugee camp to refugee camp. Living conditions were abysmal, and there was always the threat of violence and attack, as well as frequent actual attacks. Due to perserverance and a bit of luck, both managed to survive, and Martha managed to stay with her younger sister Tabitha, who was only three when the two were separated from their family. John was older, and became one of the leaders of the Lost Boys, some of whom were
able to come to the United States after a filmmaker took interest in their plight. Martha argued that there were Lost Girls as well, and fought for a way to get her and Tabitha to the United States so that she would not be forced into a marriage, at 16, with a much older man. Martha and John knew each other in Sudan, and liked each other, but were separated in the US. They reconnected years later, married, and are trying to help their native country.
Strengths: I liked especially the way the book was structured—Peace, War, Refuge, War, Refuge, Peace. The details were horrific without being overly graphic, so this could be read even by elementary students. This is a very compelling book.
Weaknesses: The print is very small. Since this is a thin book, the print could have been a bit bigger.

Nonfiction Monday was started by Anastasia Suen and is hosted this week at Lori Calabrese Writes. Stop by to see a great list of nonfiction reviews.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cute Dogs Make Everything Better

Macomber, Debbie and Mary Lou Carney. Pictures by Sally Lambert.
The Yippy, Yappy Yorkie in the Green Doggy Sweater.

Yup. Checked it out of the library just so I could read it to Sylvie. She licked my face the whole time I was reading to her.

And really, I came across this title when looking up something that was actually related to my job as a middle school librarian. Sometimes the public library must wonder about me.

But a cute dog DOES make everything better. Happy Weekend!

Preston, Caroline. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures

From the Publisher: "In her scrapbook full of typed notes and a variety of vintage ads, photos, postcards, fabric swatches, and much more, Frankie Pratt describes her life from her graduation in high school in 1920 through her education at Vassar College, her travels around the world, and her efforts to find love and to achieve her dream of becoming a novelist."

This was a very fun, light read, and the scrapbook art is very fun. I checked it out because it reminded me of Jennifer Holms' Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf, so the one thing that struck me is that there IS a lot of connecting text, albeit in typed bubbles. Middle School is more "A Year Told Through Stuff", and this relies more heavily on the text to get the story across. I still enjoyed the 1920s setting, the inclusion of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the expat story... very fun.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Cartoons

Torres, J. and Elbert Or. Lola: A Ghost Story.
Jesse has to go to the Philippines for his grandmother's funeral. He doesn't like being there-- he's not used to the crowd of relatives, the heat, the bugs, or the horrible feeling that his cousin and former playmate is haunting him from beyond the grave. Jesse is afraid that he has inherited his grandmother's abilities to see ghosts, which is especially frightening when he thinks about all of the scary stories that she told him. His aunt and uncle are not doing well after the death of their son, and Jesse being there upsets them further until he is able to find a toy that his cousin lost before his death, and put his cousin's ghost to rest.

Strengths: This was an intriguing look at Philippine culture and folklore, and these elements were incorporated into the story of a family's loss very well. The illustrations complement the story in the graphic novel.
Weaknesses: There were some aspects of life in the Philippines that could have been explained a bit more.

Himaruya, Hidekaz. Hetalia: Axis Powers 1

My exchange student is a huge fan of manga and loaned me this one. She was pleased to have gotten a Hetalia bookmark of the Iceland character from this series. I tried valiantly to read this, but was so put off by the stereotypes of the characters that it was very hard to follow. This is a Japanese publication; I can't believe a US author would get away with this many ethnic slurs and jokes. Also, it's nice that TokyoPop rates these books by age, since manga frequently include bad language and naked women.

From the publisher:" During World War I, gruff Germany finds Italy hiding in a wooden box of tomatoes. Germany takes Italy as prisoner, but instead of war-like interrogation, Italy becomes more of the nuisance and unwanted guest. World War I quickly comes to an end, but World War II is right on its heels!"

Friday, February 17, 2012

Guy Friday-- Wild West Guys

McKissack, Patricia C. and Frederick L. McKissack, Jr. Illustrated by Randay Duburke. Best Shot in the West: The Story of Nat Love.
ARC from Baker and Taylor: Pictures in black and white.

This graphic novel follows the rise of Nat Love, who was born into a life of slavery and poverty in 1954 but managed to become a well-regarded cowboy and sharpshooter better known as Deadwood Dick. After the Civil War, Nat’s family tried to farm until sickness took several family members and made it necessary for Nat to seek employment to support his nieces. He became a cowboy, breaking horses that others couldn’t and delivering horses and cattle across the plains. He braved stampedes, outlaws, and capture by an Native Americans, who were so impressed with his abilities that they wanted him to stay and marry one of their own. Eventually, Nat ended up as a train porter, but wrote his memoir in the early 1900s.
Strengths: The story and print were very clear and easy to follow. I didn’t know anything about
Love but was able to follow the story. This is a very enjoyable book to use to introduce students to the Wild West.
: This is a dramatization of what Nat Love claimed his life was like; the McKissack’s point this out, but students may not understand that this is not necessarily what really happened. Doesn’t get in the way of a good story, though!

Lawrence, Caroline. The Case of the Deadly Desperado.

P.K. Pinkerton, who is half Native American, sees his foster parents killed in a small western town in 1862. The criminals are masquerading as Indians, but are in fact the deadly outlaw Whittlin’ Walt and his partners who are looking for a deed that P.K. got from his birth parents. P.K. manages to escape to the next town, where he encounters Belle, an “actress”, who helps him escape Walt but steals the deed. Assisted by a Chinese laundry boy, Ping, and two newspaper reporters, P.K. manages to elude Walt even though he keeps running into him. When he finds out that the deed may be to a huge holding that will get him a lot of money, P.K. tries to get the deed back from Belle and take it to the proper authorities… without getting himself killed by Walt or anyone else in the lawless country. Virginia City is a place where it’s every man… and boy… for himself, but P.K. manages to use his smarts to survive and prosper.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure with a strong dash of humor makes this a book about the wild west that will be easy for students to pick up. I have a lot of older titles on this period of history but haven’t seen anything for a long time. Fans of Paulsen’s Mr. Tucket series will adore this one. Fans of Lawrence’s Thieves of Ostia should pick this up for a window into a completely different world.
Weaknesses: This felt politically incorrect from time to time, but the world was not politically correct in 1862! I also didn’t understand why P.K. was portrayed as being unable to read people’s moods and emotions, which came up multiple times.

Perhaps if these books introduce students to the Wild West, someone will pick up Jack Schaefer's Shane. I did weed the Louis L'Amour novel I had because it smelled bad and no one had read that, but I hold on to Shane for reasons I can't even explain.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock

Levine, Kristin. The Lions of Little Rock.Marlee is a bit shy, but exciting about starting a new year of junior high. Things are tense in Little Rock in the fall of 1958, and her older sister Judy is not starting high school because of the problems with school integration. Marlee’s father is a teacher in the district, and he thinks that Negroes should be allowed in the school; Marlee’s mother is less sure, and as time goes on, takes a job teaching in a new private school being set up to circumvent the integration law. Marlee is excited to make a good, new friend, Liz. They get along famously, working on a school project, but one day the teacher tells Marlee that Liz is ill and won’t be back. The obnoxious Sally tells Marlee that this is not the case; Liz is actually black and was caught trying to pass as white. Marlee confirms this with Betty Jean, the family’s new maid and the wife of the pastor of Liz’s church. Marlee is warned that trying to remain friends with Liz could put them both in peril, but she doesn’t listen. The two try to remain friends even as events in Little Rock escalate.
Strengths: This does a good job at portraying many different perspectives of this event-- Marlee’s brother is in college and thinking of working with the Civil Rights movement, but neighbors and friends are in the KKK. We have Liz, Betty Jean, and other black characters who come at the events from different view points, giving this a well-rounded feel.
Weaknesses: My very first book review was for Rodman’s Yankee Girl (2004), and I’m still wondering why so many Civil Rights books are from the point of view of white, middle class girls!

It's a low key celebration here. Little did I know back in 2006 how much time I would spend on reading and blogging! Definitely would have come up with a better blog name, but at least now I have a cool blog design.

Hopefully, I can continue reading and blogging far into the future!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back Lists Gems

Looking at the books I have arranged for Black History Month, I am a little frustrated by how many of them are historical, and mainly concerned with civil rights. While these books certainly are valuable, what I really want to find is contemporary books with main characters of color dealing with issues that go above and beyond their racial identities. I include the following previously reviewed books because they are ones that my students really like.
Allen, Crystal. How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.Reviewed 11 April 2011Lamar loves to bowl, but his father only cares about his brother, who is a star basketball player. Things are tough in the household because Lamar's mother passed away when he was younger, and his father is having work cuts that limit the family's money. When the Billy Jenks, who is constantly in trouble, offers Lamar a chance to make a lot of money by playing with him in games people bet on, Lamar thinks he has something good going, until he realizes that his bowling idol, Bubba Sanders, would not approve.
Strengths: Fun language, snappy scenes, bowling, and an African American main character in the Heartland. I debated whether a picture of Lamar would be good-- could not decide. This cover is good. I also liked the realistic consequences and the supportive adults in this.
Weaknesses: While Lamar's funny style of speaking is appealing, I got a little tired of some of his catch phrases. ("Crackers and cream cheese")

Boles, Philiana Marie. Little Divas.
Reviewed 22 Feburary 2006
Little Divas is for a slightly younger crowd, with a great, bright cover, and a nice story about a girl adjusting to her parents' divorce and having a fun summer hanging out with her cousin. Okay, they spend a lot of time lying to a very strict aunt and uncle about where they are going, but since they are going to the mall with an older sister or to watch the boys play basketball in the park, I was okay with it.
My students seem to be especially drawn to the cover with the different complexions of the girls and have often remarked on it.

Rhuday-Perkovitch, Olugbemisola. 8th Grade Super Zero.
Reviewed 18 March 2010
Reginald has all kinds of problems. He's called Pukey by a former friend. His father is out of work. He has a crush on Ruthie and isn't sure what to do about it. Reggie also writes comic books and is a big buddy for a disadvantaged boy. To top it all off, he is volunteering with his church at a homeless shelter and starts to feel that his school isn't doing enough to give back to the community, so instead of helping the shallow Vicky win the election for class president, he decides to run himself.

This book was a refreshing change from inner-city, African American children with problems of drug abuse and gang wars, and the positive role models in Reggie's life, as well as his earnest volunteerism, will be good for students to read. My only problem-- this is a bit long (324 pages) . It's good to see volunteerism portrayed in an interesting way.

Smith, Sherri L. Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet.
Reviewed 11 March 2008
I was a little leery of a book that takes place all in one somewhat ill-fated afternoon, but this turned out to be a very humorous story of a multicultural family event. Ana Shen's father is Chinese-American, and her mother is African-American. For her 8th grade graduation, both sets of grandparents show up, and circumstances find them all in the kitchen working to put together a meal. The personalities and cultural differences are explored in an amusing and yet thought-provoking way. I will look for more from this author.

And I am now officially old. Our new crop of student teachers/observers came in yesterday, and they look like they should be hanging out with my daughter. Which makes sense, since she is a high school senior, and they are college freshman. Still, this means I am very close to being able to tell the faculty to fix their hair and pull up their socks. I already have a cane waiting for me so I can shake it at people!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Whittenberg, Allison. Tutored.
Wendy's father is a well-to-do, educated black man who is vehemently opposed to black people who have not made something of themselves, so he is not happy that Wendy is volunteering with a tutoring center in an economically disadvantaged part of town. While there, she meets Hakiam, whose mother got tired of raising him and put him into foster care. Having had enough of that, he moves from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to help his cousin Leesa raise her premature baby, Malikia. He doesn't really have a plan. Wendy does-- it includes going to college at Howard University in order to reconnect with her ethnic heritage, a plan that her father does not embrace. Wendy and Hakiam are strangely drawn to each other, and start to date. Wendy helps Hakiam take care of little Malikia, and tries to get him to secure a job and continue his education, but when things go wrong with the baby, he's not sure if he can hang on.
Strengths:I don't know that I have read anything that covers black-on-black prejudice, so this was interesting and will be a good addition to my romance books.
Weaknesses: The pictures of Wendy and Hakiam appear only on the back cover! There are a
few instances where this verges into more high school territory-- Hakiam smokes marijuana, and there is a party or two-- but these events are not glamorized. I also didn't feel what attraction these two had to each other, but they apparently did.

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder.
Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing, so when Prince Kai brings her his android to repair, she is not overly surprise, but is very flattered. She knows that she will not get to the big ball because her stepmother Adri is putting all of her resources into sending Cinder's stepsisters, Peony and Pearl. When Peony is struck down with letumosis, the plague that is going around and which also kills the king, Adri volunteers Cinder to participate in research to try to find a cure for the disease. During this research, Cinder finds out that she is actually immune to the disease. In the meantime, the Lunar Queen Levana comes to earth to console Kai about the death of his father and to try to set up an alliance with Earth... by marrying Kai. Cinder realizes that she can see through Levana's glamor, and her continued work with the doctor in the research facility leads to some startling truths about herself. Can Cinder save Earth from Queen Levana, save her sister from the plague, believe that Kai likes her more than Levana, and make it to the ball?
Strengths: This is one of those books that didn't appeal to me but which everyone is reading, but I was drawn in from the first page and really enjoyed it. There are so many good twists on the Cinderella story, plus intergalactic intrigue. I also liked that it was science fiction without being completely dystopian. Really a "wow" of a book!
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on, and since this is a fairly long book (390 pages), a bit more tightening would have strengthened the story for me.


I know it says entire encyclopedia sets about how I need to get a life, but I sat bolt upright in bed at 11:50 p.m. last night and couldn't get back to sleep! I finally got up and checked the Cybils web site, only to find out they posted at 2:00 a.m. my time. I did go back to sleep but was up earlier than usual!

Here are the wonderful winners for middle grade divisions. See more over at

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Middle Grade Sci Fi/Fantasy
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; illustrations by Barry Moser
Nominated by: Monica Edinger

Middle Grade Fiction
Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
Nominated by: Jennifer Donovan

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
Schwartz and Wade Books
Nominated by: Monica Edinger

And one Young Adult Fiction...
Young Adult Fiction
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
Sourcebooks Fire
Nominated by: Karen Yingling (me!)