Monday, August 4, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Eruption!

Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
Scientists in the Field series
Elizabeth Rusch

Is it insane to live in the shadow of a volcano?  More than a billion people live within the reach of a volcanic eruption.  Most of the time the people are safe and volcanic ash from previous eruptions make the land perfect for farming.  But then there are times when the volcano becomes very, very deadly.

It is 1985.  The city of Amero, Columbia has more than 30,000 inhabitants, even though it sits in the valley beneath the volcano Nevado del Ruiz.  Then, on November 13, the volcano erupts.  Instantly tons of snow is melted, starting a mudslide that will envelop the city.  More than 23,000 people are killed.  Why, with all of the sophisticated equipment of the late 20th century was this allowed to happen?  Some scientists vow, “Never Again,” and the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program was formed.

Eruption tells the story of two subsequent volcanic eruptions – Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Mount Merapi in Indonesia – and how scientists are now able to predict when a volcano is about to erupt and then order evacuations that are both timely and life-saving. 

I’ve only read a couple of books in the Scientist in the Field series but the ones I have read have been stellar examples of nonfiction writing.  Eruption was no exception – it was suspenseful and well-written and I learned much about volcanoes.  I highly recommend this addition.

Review copy came from my school library.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Skila Brown

Carlos lives in a peaceful little village with Mama.  He cannot wait to be grown so that he can work and help her.  But while his village might be peaceful, the country isn’t and eventually soldiers come looking for rebels that are supposedly nearby.  The soldiers leave, but they assure everyone that they will deal harshly with anyone who helps the rebels.

One day when Carlos’ mama has seen him into the forest to gather mushrooms, he hears gunshot and he realizes that the soldiers have come back everyone in the village is being massacred.  Knowing he cannot go back to the village without being killed, Carlos decides to try and reach his grandmother’s village high up on the mountain so that he can warn the people there of the great danger they are in.

Caminar is a heart-breaking story of loss amid horrible violence.  Skila Brown has chosen to tell the story through verse, and I really like that decision.   This would be a great book to pair with Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
Morgan Marson

            Emily has always been the quiet, subdued half of the Emily and Sloane pair.  For two years, it’s pretty much been wherever you see one girl, you’ll find the other one.  Emily is looking forward to another fun summer with Sloane when one day Sloane and her family disappear.  Nobody is at the house, and Sloane doesn’t answer her phone or any of the texts Emily sends her.  There’s not really anyone who can help Emily.  Her parents are generally wonderful but they’re spending the summer writing a play and they are so engrossed in their work that they are oblivious to life around them.
            When Emily receives a letter from Sloane, she eagerly opens it, hoping that it contains an explanation for her disappearance.  Instead, it has a list:
1.     Kiss a Stranger
2.     Go Skinny-Dipping
3.     Steal Something
4.     Break Something
5.     Penelope
6.     Ride a Dern Hors, Ya Cowpoke
7.     55 S. Ave. Ask for Mona
8.     The Backless Dress and Somewhere to Wear It.
9.     Dance Until Dawn
10. Share Some Secrets in the Dark.
11. Hug a Jamie
12. Apple Picking at Night
13. Sleep Under the Stars
Emily hopes that if she completes the list, she will be able to find Sloane. As she starts working her way through it, she realizes that the list was created in order to make her feel brave and to experience the world in a bold, new way.  While on her journey she makes some great new friends and discovers a lot about herself.

            Morgan Matson has written 3 books and I’ve read and loved them all.  As in all of her books, there is a romantic element and even though it was obvious whom Emily was going to end up with, it didn’t matter and it wasn’t really the point of the book.  This was a book about stepping outside your comfort level and doing it without the most important person in your life.  I think it will resonate with many teenagers who will be clamoring to read it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Absolutely Almost

Absolutely Almost
Lisa Graff

Albie has always been an almost child.  He often doesn’t get things correct (like math or spelling) but he can almost do it.  He is ten and he’s going to starting a new school and he’ll have a new nanny.  He’d not very excited about the new nanny part – he thinks he’s too old for one – but he hopes his new school will be better than his last one.  It doesn’t take long, however, for the class bully to target Albie and another student in the class, Betsy.  Together at the bottom of the class social ladder, Albie and Betsy become friends.

Things aren’t always great at home, either.  While Albie comes to love Calista, his new nanny, his parents aren’t always easy.  They are constantly disappointed that Albie doesn’t do as well as they expect in school, and their expectations are sometimes unreasonable.

But then the bully finds out that Albie’s best friend is a reality tv star, and suddenly Albie is “cool.”  While Albie’s position in the class has sky-rocketed, Betsy’s is still at the bottom.  Albie does what he can to tell Betsy how to become popular, and he doesn’t understand why Betsy doesn’t seem to appreciate his efforts.  Inevitably, things fall apart for Albie and he has to realize that if life isn’t going to be absolutely perfect for him, it might can be absolutely almost – and that’s good enough.

While I was at Nerdcamp Michigan early this month, I listened to people rave about this book, so as soon as I got home I requested it from my public library.  I really enjoyed it.  I cannot think of many books about children who struggle like Albie, but they are much needed.  Albie is like so many children that I teach – he does his best but somehow that is never good enough.  I became really frustrated with his parents during the book – high expectations are fine but their expectations were unreasonable for Albie’s abilities and I really wished they would put forth the effort to work with him one-on-one so that they could see that he was really trying to do well. I think at the end they got it, and that they loved Albie for who he was.  My favorite quote in the book was one of his dad’s, “I think the hard thing for you, Albie, is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.  Once you know what you want – really, truly – I know  you’ll get it.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: "The President Has Been Shot!"

"The President Has Been Shot!" : The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
James L. Swanson

One sunny November afternoon the President of the United States was traveling on a campaign visit to Dallas, Texas.  President Kennedy, his wife Jackie, and the governor of Texas and his wife were traveling in a convertible limousine when three shots rang out.  Governor Connnally was seriously injured; President Kennedy was dead, parts of his brain splattered across the limousine and on his wife.

Who would do such a thing?  Lee Harvey Oswald was a pretty much a loser.  He had failed at everything he’d ever tried to do.  There’s no evidence that he spent a long time planning the assassination; instead, it was pretty much a crime of opportunity. “The President Has Been Shot!” reviews the entire, terrible weekend – a weekend that changed the country.

A finalist for the YALSA nonfiction award this past year, “The President Has Been Shot!” is a thorough account of the assassination.  The book was divided into two parts – part one was an introduction to Kennedy and part two was the assassination.  Although I understand Swanson’s need to inform young adults about Kennedy’s life and the early years of his presidency, I found this section to be a bit choppy and I’m afraid it might turn off some readers.  Once part two began, I was riveted to the story and I think most of my  students will be too.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson

The Great Greene Heist
Varian Johnson
Published May 27, 2014

Quick Summary:  Jackson Greene has said he was finished with schemes and capers.  After all, his last one cost him the girl he cares about plus he now has to have weekly meetings with the principal to make sure he’s staying out of trouble.  But now that very girl needs him.  Gaby is running for Student Council president and Jackson realizes that the boy running against her will stoop to anything in order to win, even getting his father to bribe the principal, Dr. Kelsey.  In order to ensure that Gaby wins, Jackson has to run the biggest caper of his life, and he has to do it without letting Gaby know what’s going on.

 My Thoughts:  This is the first book I've read by Varian Johnson and I really liked it.  The author's notes states The Westing Game was one of Mr. Johnson's inspirations and that was one of the reasons I wanted to read it.  It is a book that will be perfect for my more sophisticated readers.  Much has been written about its diversity, and I was thrilled with both the diverse cast and that no big deal was made of it. This is definitely one I'll be adding to my school collection.

Copy source:  ARC received at nErDcampMI.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Evening Finish Post -- 45 Hour Book Challenge

          So I'm declaring an end to my challenge.  Even though I didn't read as much as I did the two other years I've participated, I'm pretty pleased with what I've done, especially since I didn't think I'd be able to participate at all this year.
          In all I read 2 books, finished another book that I'd already started, and am more than half-way through The Savage Fortress.  I read for 12 hours and 31 minutes and I blogged and visited other sites for 3 hours and 35 minutes.  I spent more time visiting and commenting other sites this year than I have in the past and I really enjoyed that aspect of the challenge.  I did notice that I'm reading more slowly than I did in the past -- I'm not sure if that's due to age or just general tiredness.
         I look forward to next year's challenge  -- it's a great way to start a summer.