Monday, August 27, 2007

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

This isn't a real review -- no link to Amazon, no synopsis of the book. Just a couple of musings. I'm not going to take the time to write a long review because I didn't really like the book and don't feel it's worth my time. I guess what puzzles me is why I don't like it. It has the elements I enjoy. Suspense. Mystery. Survival. The theme of man manipulating science too much -- trying too hard to act like God.

Part of my problem is that I was never able to believe the scientists could be as cruel to little children as they are in this book. Yes, I've read many books about the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. But I still think Patterson pushes the button too far.

There are two other books in this series. My younger daughter loved them. The kids at my school love them. Maybe I'll try them and see if they can make me like The Angel Experiment any better. I guess, all in all, there are so many better books out there. Give me Uglies any day of the week.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Yesterday I was supposed to be reading Maximum Ride and writing Battle of the Books questions for it. Instead I found myself at the bookstore, no longer able to resist the urge to buy The Wednesday Wars. Now I admit that I was quite nervous about reading this book. I had read so many wonderful reviews of it and I was afraid that it wouldn’t meet my expectations of it. Well it did, and it exceeded them.

Holling Hoodhood knows that his 7th grade teacher hates him. After all, as the only Protestant in his class, he’s the only person left there on Wednesday afternoons when half of the class goes to Hebrew school, and the other half goes to Catechism. Mrs. Bates’ free Wednesday afternoons are ruined, just because Holling is a Presbyterian. After a month of doing chores such as beating out the chalkboard erasers, Mrs. Bates decides that Holling would benefit from learning great literature so she decides that he’ll read Shakespeare. Holling thinks she’s trying to bore him to death, but, much to his great surprise, he finds that he likes the plays she assigns.

There is much more to this book than Holling learning Shakespeare. There are many, many laugh-out-loud moments. There are many serious moments. The story takes place in 1967 and the Vietnam War intrudes on the lives of several characters. There are characters to love, and at least one character to hate (I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and strangle Holling’s father). Everything about this book is good. I will be a mighty sad person if it doesn’t win something in January.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Somehow I find it difficult to write about books that I really loved. When a writer creates something truly beautiful, I want my review to be just as well written and it can’t be – I’m just not that great of a writer. So let me just say from the beginning that I loved Dreamland. I love Sarah Dessen’s books. She touches my heart.

Caitlin is the younger sister to the perfect child. Her older sister Cass was chosen to be homecoming queen, scored the winning goal in the soccer state championship, elected student body president, and accepted into Yale. There’s really no way for Caitlin to match up to all this perfection. And then, on Caitlin’s sixteenth birthday, Cass runs away from home to live in New York with her boyfriend.

Caitlin does the one thing that Cass never did – she tries out for cheerleading and makes the team. But even as she’s learning the routines and tumbling across the floor, she hates every moment of it. She is going through the routines of high school life, more for her mom than for herself. And then one night she meets Rogerson Biscoe. It is obvious from the beginning that Rogerson is a Rich Bad Boy – the type who is into drugs, sex, and rebellion. Rogerson sells pot to the local school crowd, and as he and Caitlin become a couple, it is clear that she is not going to be making the types of decisions that her parents would approve of.

Caitlin quickly begins to spiral down. She smokes pot with Rogerson and her friends, she skips class and cheerleading practice, and she lies to her parents about what she’s doing. Caitlin and Rogerson’s relationship becomes more and more physical and she begins to spend all of her time with him. Then one night, after she doesn’t show up to meet Rogerson, he hits her. And as shocked, and as hurt as she is, Caitlin takes it. “I could have just gotten out of the car and walked up to my house, leaving him behind for ever. Things would have been very different if I had done that. But the fact was that I loved Rogerson. it wasn’t just that I loved him, even: it was that I loved what I was when I was with him. Not a little sister, the pretty girl’s sidekick, the second runner-up. All I’d ever wanted was to make my own path, far from Cass’s. And even after what had happened, I wasn’t ready to give that up just yet.”

Rogerson controls Caitlin completely. Because she knows that he gets furious waiting for her, she is careful to be on time, to never let him see her talking with a boy, but still the beatings come. Caitlin has to keep her arms and legs covered at all times, so that no one will see the bruises. And she tells nobody what is going on with her.

I think this is the first book about dating abuse that I have read. I expected to identify with the victim, but I never expected to feel sympathy for Rogerson. He is bad and wrong and needs serious consequences, but he also needs a lot of help, and I felt sorry for him because I don’t think that he’ll get that help.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Last night I read Who Owns Kelly Paddik? by Beth Goobie. It’s a high/low book, part of the Orca Soundings series. Kelly has been sexually abused by her father, tries to commit suicide, and is now institutionalized. Not great literature, but my eighth grade reluctant readers will eat it up. We have one other book in this series (more are on order) which I will be reading immediately.

I’m trying to come up with some fall reading goals. For right now, here they are:
1. Reread the Battle of the Books selections for which I haven’t written enough questions. The North Carolina list can be reached here. I’m torn about whether to blog about these books – none of them are new titles so I’m not sure what I’ll do.
2. Read at least one new-to-me title from my media center each week and blog about it, even if it’s an old title.
3. Read at least one non-fiction title each week. I really need to boost my collection of non-fiction booktalks.
4. Read a more-appropriate-for-high-school title every other week and blog about it. I have several sitting on my shelf right now and several more on my list that I just need an excuse to go the bookstore and buy.

School has started for me. I’ve gotten used to reading blogs several times a day. Now it will probably be only once a day. I miss it. Of course, it didn’t help that massive computer problems greeted me. Hopefully today will be better.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz

Daniel is half human. Now the logical question after this statement is: What is the other half? Perhaps Klingon? No, Daniel is half German and half Jewish and since Nazi Germany considers Jews to be a sub-human species, hence the half-human categorization.

Daniel, however, hasn’t always known about his Jewish ancestry. His mother wasn’t raised Jewish, and his parents have never mentioned it. So the story begins in 1933 with Daniel and his best friend Armin out painting swastikas on the walls of the town, trying to incite the local communists. They both desperately want to join the Hitler Youth, but their fathers won’t let them.

They are thrilled when the Nazis take control, but life soon changes drastically for them. Daniel finds out that his mother is a Jew and he cannot join the Hitler Youth because the background check will surely reveal his ancestry. Life becomes all about trying to hide who he is. Unfortunately, the secret gets out, and slowly the things that make up his life are taken away. His father, who is a prominent lawyer, loses his law firm because he is married to a Jewess, Daniel can no longer play soccer with his team and is eventually thrown out of school, and the family cannot enjoy doing such simple things as going to the cinema.

Throughout the story Daniel’s friend Armin sticks with him, but Armin does eventually join the Hitler Youth and has to make some very difficult decisions. Telling more would give away the ending so I’ll leave it there.

What made this book one of the best I’ve read this year? It was so very real and so very chilling. I truly understood how so many children were brainwashed in school to believe the superiority of their race above all others. The characters were real and sympathetic and I wanted each of them to end in peace with themselves and who they were. And finally, to watch the noose slowly being tightened around Daniel’s family’s necks, to know what happens in the end to the Jews who don’t manage to escape . . .

And then the ending. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about the last page of the book. Obviously, I cannot talk about it without spoiling it, but it would make for great conversation. Let's say that it shocked me so much that I had to read it twice before it sunk in.

Last month I read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (I’m trying to read a play each summer). I would love to teach a class that used both the play and this novel because they would make for wonderful discussions. One of my favorite speeches is Shylock’s that reads in part “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” It is sad to think that in 2007 groups of people are still considered by other groups to be only half human. Will the day come when we just treat everyone like human beings?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What a choice!

You're the University of North Carolina!

Well well well. You made your idea of building a city on the
hill public before just about anyone else. And since you were stuck to one
place for a seemingly endless period of time, you're not above ramming
other people off of it. Though he's been retired for ages, you still buy
Jordans to put on your feet. You have nothing against the duchess, but you
simply cannot stand the duke.

Take the University Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I must say that as a proud UNC graduate in both 1987 and 1989, I couldn't be happier!

Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

What continually horrifies me about human beings is their willingness to view other human beings as less than human -- as animals -- as things. That’s what happened to the Jews during World War II (and many other times in their history). It’s also what happened to slaves in the United States. It’s such an easy cop-out. After all, if slaves aren’t real people, then they are not capable of having the same emotions as their white masters, and it is acceptable to own them and to do such things as sell them away from their families. In Day of Tears, Julius Lester does a masterful job of expressing the viewpoints of both the slaves and the white people involved in a fictional retelling of the “biggest slave auction in American history.”

Will and Mattie grew up with their owner, Pierce Butler. They have a daughter who looks after Butler’s two little girls. Even though most of the slaves on the large Georgia plantation are being sold to pay off Butler’s gambling debts, Will and Mattie know that they and their daughter Emma are safe, or so they think. When a lady from Kentucky offers to buy Emma, Butler caves in and she is sold without even the opportunity to say goodbye to her mother. She will never see her parents again.

Besides the obvious, heart-wrenching effects the sale has on all of the slaves involved, none of the white people ever really recover from it either. While most of the whites continue to view the slaves as sub-humans, they do not gain from the sale the things they hoped for. Lester creates interludes so that we learn what happens to all those involved in this horrible day, known in history as “the Weeping Time.”

Every year I read aloud Gary Paulsen’s Nightjohn to my eighth graders. I want them to truly understand that slavery wasn’t like what was presented in Gone with the Wind. Now I have another tool to use with my classes. Because it is told in dialogue, it will make great reader’s theater.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bodies from the Ash by James. M. Deem

I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii. Its story has many of the elements that I love: history, tragedy, love, horror. Bodies from the Ash may be my favorite book about this event. To have been there when that volcano exploded and try to flee, finally realizing that you can’t and that for you, life is over. And then to lie, covered by ash for almost 2,000 years until you’re discovered. Now, thanks to plaster casts made during the excavation, we can see the people of Pompeii in their moments of death. A beggar carrying a bag for alms. The slave trying to break free of his chains. The merchant struggling to pull himself up.

Deem does a wonderful job of both describing what it would have been like to have been in Pompeii and Herculaneum that fateful day in 79 A.D and how the excavations proceeded once Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748. It is sad to think that Pompeii is considered an endangered site and may not be there for future generations to see.

This is going to be a great book to share with my 6th graders during their Ancient Rome unit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Somehow I have been a librarian for a very long time and have never read this book. I had read the back of it and decided that I wouldn’t really like it. Boy, was I wrong!

Charlotte Doyle lives in 1832. She is due to travel home to Rhode Island from England where she has lived most of her life. Two other families are supposed to travel on the ship with her but at the last moment they cancel and Charlotte is left as the only female on board.

Immediately you realize that something is very wrong. This is not a happy crew. Charlotte is warned not to stay on board, but she feels as though she has little choice. Soon she meets the cook, Zachariah, who gives her a knife to protect herself. Charlotte at first sympathizes with Captain Jaggery, who she thinks is the only gentleman on board. She soon realizes that he is cruel, if not completely crazy, and a mutiny ensues. During the voyage Charlotte has to reach down to levels she never realized she had and give up her visions of what she, as a young lady, must act like. She is a character that you can sympathize with and her growth in the book is wonderful to read about.

Masquerade by Melissa De La Cruz

I must say I read this one quickly. I started it last night and it was the first thing I picked up this morning (even before the paper!).

Anyway, on to Masquerade. Schuyler has gone to Venice with her best friend Oliver in a quest to find her grandfather. She thinks that only he can help her figure out what's happening with the Silver Bloods who are preying upon the Blue Bloods. The adult vampires are still denying that the Silver Bloods are back but Schuyler knows better. A Silver Blood almost killed her grandmother and has killed several teenagers her age. How then, can the adults be convinced?

Another book that I don’t know exactly what to say about. Did I like it? Yes. I started it last night and finished it early this morning. While it didn’t have the driving plot of the first book, and some elements were confusing, what I liked about it was the vampire world that De La Cruz has created. This very high society world has many cracks and yet it still manages to do at least some good for the Red Bloods (or humans). They aren't painted in such wonderful light -- they are selfish, narcissistic beings who do somehow manage to do good for others, if only to redeem themselves.I also liked the whole theme of ignoring or even denying that a bad thing is happening in an attempt to make that bad thing go away. After all, don't we as humans do that all the time? Another interesting theme is that of sacrifice. There are several sacrifices made in the book, the most poignant when Oliver allows Schuyler to use his blood in order to save herself. This book made me think about the world De La Cruz has created, and I must say I will buy the next volume when it comes out next fall.

Now, if the copy of Eclipse that I ordered for the library would just come in!!!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz

Well. Ever since I got to the mid-way point in this novel, I've been thinking about what I was going to say when I blogged about it. I'm still struggling. Did I like it? Yes. But there were aspects of it that made me uncomfortable. I tend to read more middle-school stuff and this is definitely a high school book. But more about that later.

When we think of the term "Blue Bloods" we think of those who are fabulously rich and can trace their wealth back generations. That is what the term means in this book, but it also means so much more. Blue Bloods are vampires -- have been vampires since they were expelled from the Kingdom of Heaven. They want atonement -- to be accepted back into Heaven. Until then they live their lives (or cycles as they are called) using their wealth to bring culture to and do good for others. The Metropolitan Museum of Art? Founded by Blue Bloods. You get the idea. Although there is a theme of reincarnation, the vampires are born human and when they are fifteen, they start changing. Schuyler has just discovered that she is a vampire, not an easy thing for her to accept at first. But worse things are happening. Vampires are supposed to be immortal, but somehow the young teenage vampires are dying and the older vampires seem to be in denial about what's going on. Schuyler is in danger and so she and a couple of her friends set out to figure out who is causing the vampire deaths.

What's good about the book? I love the twists on the vampire myth. I think that's why I love Stephanie Meyer's books so much. The story is exciting and I've already gone out and bought the next book.

What made me uncomfortable about it? The drinking. Now I know it's explained in the book that alcohol doesn't affect vampires, but these fifteen year-olds drink. A lot. And quite frankly that bothered me. I do understand it goes with the "rich kids who are above the law stereotype" that she's creating but I wish she had chosen some other way to show this. There is one almost sex scene, but interestingly enough I don't think there was a single swear word.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Ok, so how do you read this book and not immediately go out and buy the next one? I have it on order for the library so I'm going to try and wait, but it's going to be hard.

Percy is looking forward to another summer at Camp Half-Blood, but on the last day of school, all heck breaks loose. When he gets to camp, he discovers that Thalia's tree, which protects the camp from monsters, is dying. Soon he's off on another quest (which has been officially assigned to Clarisse, who as a daughter of Ares is not his best friend) to find the Golden Fleece which will restore the tree to good health and make the camp at least some-what safe again.

I think that I was perhaps the last librarian on the planet to read this series, and I must say I love it. I'm thinking about buying a copy of The Lightning Thief for each of my sixth grade language arts teachers and begging them to read it out loud when they are doing their Greek myths units. I cannot wait to booktalk it the first week of school.

My first post

I never thought it would be so hard to figure out a name for this blog! I've known for a while that I wanted to create a blog about what I was reading, but a good name was just not coming to me! If I had to go to a deserted island with just one book, it would be To Kill a Mockingbird and the quote about equating reading and breathing is my favorite from the book. Hence the name.

Why create this blog? I'm a middle school media specialist (and have been one for 18 years). I read a ton of children's and young adult books, and I wanted some place to write about what I'm reading. Occasionally I may write about other things that interest me too. I didn't want my blog to be definitely tied into my school, because occasionally I may review a book that is more appropriate for high school.

While I do read a lot, I don't average a book a day (more like 2-3 books a week), and much of what I read isn't brand new. I don't get ARCs (at least not yet) and right now my "to read" pile is so high that getting ARCs would just scare me. Maybe someday if I can ever catch up . . .