Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Favorite Day of the Year

Yesterday was by far my favorite day of the year. Why? Because it's the day that my big book order arrived. For those not familiar with school budgets, the process for spending money is to beg and then spend it as quickly as you can before it's taken away. I'm actually very lucky because my principal is really good about giving me money every year. Unfortunately that situation is proving to be the exeption for many school librarians.

So the book ordered arrived and I' ve been slowly unpacking the boxes. There are tons of books that I've read about in blogs and have been aching to read. I'm just not sure where to start. These are the books I'm debating about right now (with about 1/2 of the boxes unpacket):

Unwind by Shusterman
Missing Girl by Mazer
Lock and Key by Dessen
Beastly by Flinn
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by Lockhart

These are only a few of the fiction books I've gotten in but right now they are top of what I want to read. The problem is that of the new books, I probably would love to read about 250 or so of them and there's no way, NO Way I can do that -- I have at least 50 books I've bought but haven't yet read and probably another 20 sitting behind my desk at school. It's a good problem to have, this too much to read, but it's overwhelming too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Silver Cup

The Silver Cup
Constance Leeds

Set in the year 1095 in Medieval Germany, The Silver Cup is the story of Anna. Anna lives with her father Gunter who is a trader and travels to nearby towns to trade his goods. Anna’s life is not easy – her mother died when she was young and even as a child she does the work of a woman. To make matters worse, her aunt who lives next door looks down upon her and does anything she can to make Anna’s life miserable. Although Anna is close to her cousin Lukas, she feels like an outcast.

One day Anna accompanies her father to the nearby city of Worms where he conducts business with a Jewish man. Anna is both fascinated and horrified by the Jews – she like all the Christians around her has been brought up to believe that Jews are born with tails and horns and can never be forgiven for murdering Christ.

In the world outside Anna’s small village, the Pope has called for a crusade and many (including Anna’s cousin Martin) are eager to go. Unfortunately, the horrible Count Emich has been gathering troops under the guise of taking them on crusade but in reality he’s using the opportunity to rape, murder, and pillage all the Jews in the various towns he encounters.

Anna and her father arrive in Worms the day after Count Emich has left. What they find leaves them vomiting in the streets from the sheer horror. Anna does find one survivor – a girl named Leah – and she insists on bringing her home, even though it will bring problems and she will become even a greater outcast.

I must say I really liked this book. It gave me a really good feel for life in Germany during this time period. I enjoyed the characters and felt that they were well rounded and believable. The pages in Worms where Anna and her father witness the results of the slaughter of the Jews are truly wrenching and yet not inappropriate for most middle school students. This will be a great addition to my historical fiction collection.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Do Not Pass Go

Do Not Pass Go
Kirkpatrick Hill

Deet doesn’t know how well he has it. After all, his family is poor, his parents are irresponsible and unorganized, and he feels like he’s the only one in the family who has it all together. He works school, he’s organized to the point of being anal retentive, and he helps take care of his sisters.

Then the unimaginable happens. Deet’s father is arrested for using drugs. His dad has been working two jobs and he’s been caught taking drugs to stay awake during his night job. He’s now in jail, awaiting a trial and sentencing. Deet’s life has taken a complete shift. At first he’s embarrassed and ashamed that his father would do anything so stupid, and then he’s scared for him – after all jail can be a pretty horrible place. His mother, who at the beginning of the book comes across as completely irresponsible, changes immediately. She gets a job in order to have money coming in to the family and she forces herself to go to the jail to visit he husband. Deet too visits his father and begins to learn that there are all types of people there. While all the prisoners had made some sort of mistake, they were certainly not all bad people. He also learns that the ways that people react to their family members being in jail can differ greatly. He also begins to make friends, which is something he’d never really allowed himself to do before.

On the whole I liked this book, but I do feel it has it flaws. Hill sets out to show that lots of different types of people make mistakes and end up in jail and that “Jail wasn’t the end of the world,” but he’s a bit heavy-handed in his approach. I do think, however, that readers with family and friends in jail might get some comfort from this book.

The other issue I have with it has to do with religion. Deet is an atheist. I don’t have a problem with that – I think it’s important that many different religious viewpoints are expressed in books. Deet’s grandfather is a unforgiving, mean Christian man who’s convinced that his son is going to hell. It’s the combination of the two that bothers me because Hill seems to be reverting to stereotypes when it comes to religion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Compound

The Compound
S. A. Bodeen

My goodness, what a book! It’s one I’ve been eager to read since I encountered several blog reviews of it. It was a one-day-don’t-put-it-down read.

The worst has happened. Eli is wakened by his father one night and told that nuclear weapons had been fired on the United States. Fortunately, Eli’s father is a billionaire and has prepared for a nuclear event. He has had a shelter prepared for his family and he frantically ushers them into The Compound where they can safely live for the next fifteen years. In all the confusion, however, Eli’s twin brother and his grandmother have been left behind and there’s no opening the door to rescue them.

Fast-forward six years. Eli and his family have lived in relative comfort but know nothing about what is going on above ground – how much, if any, of the world is left. Although Eli’s father had seemingly thought about everything they would need, there have been some failures and it looks as though their food supply will not last the required fifteen years. His father has made some contingency plans for emergencies but nobody wants to even consider falling back on these plans.

Eli was the self-described evil twin before he entered the Compound and he’s so traumatized from losing his brother that he withdraws from the family. He cannot stand skin-to-skin contact with others and he sticks to a steady routine that helps him maintain his distance from them. He does worry about the dwindling food supply and is not happy about the contingency plans. When he discovers that the internet still works, he begins to question his father’s motives. As things become worse, Eli races to save his family before the unthinkable happens.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Revelations: A Blue Blood Novel
Melissa De La Cruz

Revelations is the third book in the Blue Bloods series. In order to review the first two books, let me quote from my review of Blue Bloods (the first novel):

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.

In Revelations, it is painfully obvious who the evil ones are – Silver Bloods. Silver Bloods are vampires who prey on other vampires. Unlike Blue Bloods, Silver Bloods care nothing for atonement – they just want to win the ages-long war they have had with the Blue Bloods. What isn’t obvious is exactly who all the Silver Bloods are and it is that revelation at the end of the book that is shocking and leads one to count the days until the next book is released. From the beginning Schuyler is in danger, but while some of her enemies are obvious (she is, after all, in love with a man who is quite taken), others are (to use a cliché) hiding in plain sight. The climax takes place in Rio de Janeiro and is certainly shocking.

Overall, Revelations is a decent book. It moves quickly and I never guessed the ending. I would say it suffers from being a middle book in a series. It moves the series along, but there’s not a good resolution to any of the plot lines because there are more books to come. I read somewhere that Melissa De La Cruz is planning ten books in the series – I’m not sure her fans will be willing to wait seven more years to a conclusion.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Right Not to Read (yes, more about summer reading)

I have loved to read since I was seven my first “chapter book.” As a child I read non-stop – even reading as I walk down the halls at school (occasionally I can still be caught doing that!). I had great plans for this summer – plans to get through 50 – 75 books and catch up on my to-be-read pile.

It didn’t happen. I didn’t come close. Why? Because when it came down to it, I wasn’t in the mood. I’ve been on several vacations. I’ve watched way too much tv (I’ve become hooked on Battlestar Galactica – yes, I am a geek). Now I’m hooked on the Olympics, staying up way past my bedtime and having the tv on every day to make sure I don’t miss anything special.

I have read some, but much of it has been adult murder mysteries and thrillers – genres I don’t review in this blog.

Am I sorry about this lack of reading and blogging? Absolutely not. It’s been a good summer and I’ve enjoyed the things I’ve chosen to do. After all, this is my vacation and I should do with it as I please. And that’s why forced summer reading is wrong. If I, at 43 years old, can do what I want during my summer vacation, why can students do the same thing? This absolutely does not mean that I think kids shouldn’t be reading – I opened up the library at my school several times during the summer in order to encourage summer reading. But I do think it should be voluntary.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Young Adult Rant

Margo Rabb’s Aricle “I’m Y.A., and I’m O.K.” in Sunday’s New York Times is the perfect starting place for what I was planning to discuss today. (At some point I’m going to go off in a tangent and it won’t make much sense but it does to me in my semi-warped head).

I can certainly understand the frustration that novelists feel when they think their book isn’t taken as seriously as it should be because the publishers have decided to label it young adult. After all, most teenagers don’t feel as though adults treat them as maturely as they should, so why should their reading material be treated any differently? And as for adults who read young adult books – well they just need to grow up (or at least some in the blogosphere would argue).

I’m a middle school librarian so I get special dispensation for reading young adult materials – it’s for my job. But I must say that even my mom (who was also a librarian) says that she wishes I would read some “serious literary books.” Quite frankly, many of the “adult” books I’ve read recently I’ve only felt so-so about. Last year I tried to read Atonement and simply couldn’t do it. I was miserable so it became the first book I’ve given up in a long time. I will confess to have read a number of adult thrillers and murder mysteries over the past year, and whereas I would argue their worth to many people, others would certainly disagree. I also read a couple of classics each summer. I just finished Persuasion by Austen (wonderful, by the way, one of my favorites) and will read The Taming of the Shrew before summer is over.

Last year, because of my blog reading, I began to read a number of young adult books that weren’t middle school appropriate but that were important books to read if one were to consider herself well versed in young adult literature. Looking for Alaska (John Green) was one of the best written books I’ve read in years. I also enjoyed The Bermudez Triangle (Maureen Johnson), Deadline (Chris Crutcher), Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), and Boy Toy (Barry Lyga), among others. Since these books were better suited for the high school library I purchased them on my own, and then placed them in my office and let the teachers in my book club know they were there. These teachers are also not afraid of the young adult label and they have devoured both the books in my office and in the regular media center. In fact, they are some of my most demanding readers, wanting ever more book recommendations than I can keep up with. To them the phrase “YA book” has lost its stigma and they can now look at what their students are reading and be able to talk intelligently about it. I look at these teachers with a sense of accomplishment (and actually few are language arts teachers – I have math teachers, science teachers, social studies teachers, the chorus teacher, a guidance counselor, the school secretary, and even the occasional physical education teacher who have participated in my book club). With them, I feel some sort of success in my mission to share young adult literature with all.

But where do I feel unsuccessful (and here I am – off on that tangent I warned you about)? I have too many teachers who don’t read, some who don’t read young adult literature, some who don’t read anything at all. I can accept that, albeit grudgingly, if the teacher teaches math or maybe even one of the electives (although I’m telling you that nothing is more effective than a beloved physical education teacher reading a sports biography and then recommending it to his students). But what really kills me is to have teachers who teach middle grades language arts but who don’t ever choose to read middle school literature. How can they be decent language arts teachers without exploring current literature? It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a teacher bring in a class to check out books and then to sit down and grade papers while their students wander about aimlessly instead of helping them find books and recommending books that they have read and enjoyed. Now I grant you that it’s my job to help students find books and actually it’s one of my favorite aspects of my job; however, it’s hard when it’s one person helping 28 – 30 – it goes so much better when there are two people helping a class. For one thing we can bounce ideas off each other as we are trying to help students find the “perfect books.” I think it sends an unconscious message to students when teachers don’t read young adult literature – a message that says “your books aren’t good enough for me.” And that, while not illegal, is a crime.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Host

The Host
Stephenie Meyer

I have actually owned The Host since the week it was released, but I decided to wait until I went on vacation to read it. I picked it up on the ride to the mountains and haven’t been able to put it down.

Earth has been taken over by an alien race. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The aliens tried to be subtle about it but they tipped off their hand when the humans began to realize how peaceful and kind everyone else was. Some humans tried to resist. Few succeeded.

Wanderer has been placed in the body of one of the resistors. Melanie was captured trying to rescue a relative and she fights Wanderer with everything in her. The aliens aren’t used to this – they are used to their hosts’ minds giving in and then going away so that they can take over. At first Wanderer cannot stand Melanie, but then she develops a friendship with her and together they find one of the last outposts of rebel humans – humans who at first are not the least bit willing to accept them.

Although in part a bit predictable, I found this to be a well-crafted science fiction novel. I love Meyer’s characters and the conflict they feel throughout the book. I also loved the themes in the book, especially the one that asks what does it really mean to be human?

This is one of my books for the Stephenie Meyer Mini-Challenge.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Remember Little Bighorn

Remember Little Bighorn: Indian, Soldiers, and Scouts Tell Their Stories
Paul Robert Walker
National Geographic, 2006

Although I am an American history major, I really know little about the history of the Native Americans (yes, this is a fault I need to correct). But I am always looking for good, short nonfiction that I think will appeal to boys so I picked this book up in order to write a booktalk for it. I found myself reading aloud parts of it to my husband (whose knowledge about Little Bighorn was a bit better than mine). I think this will be a winner at my school.

Walker does an excellent job of using primary documents to allow survivors from both sides tell what happened. He lays down the background of why the Cheyenne and Sioux felt cheated by the American government. He then discusses what happened in the events leading up to the battle, and the battle itself. Wherever possible, he uses quotes from those who were there. He also clears up many misconceptions surrounding the battle. Throughout the book are photographs of the participants. There are also paintings and drawings (many by the Native Americans who were there) used to illustrate and explain the events. I thought the explanation of the battle itself was clear (I could follow fairly easily what was going on). It is gruesome in some places, but it is, after all, a story about a lot of people who were brutally killed so it’s going to be gruesome.

I must say that at first I was disconcerted by Walker’s use of the word “Indian” instead of “Native American.” I looked though the book to see if there was an explanation for this choice but couldn’t find one. I did notice, however, that the Native Americans referred to themselves as “Indians” so I can only assume that Walker used the term in order to give the book a sense of continuity.

I had originally planned to use this book to entice hi/lo readers. I still think it would interest them, but I think it will be better with my gifted students who love to read about battles. My plan right now is to introduce it to my eighth graders who will be studying American History next year.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


As a person to do challenges, I stink. I have tried one challenge and didn't begin to be able to do it. This is mostly due to the fact that I got in a new shipment of books in my school library and was too intent on reading them.

But Becky of Becky's Book Reviews has two challenges that I think might be right up my alley. I can read books for them that are already on my to-read shelf and they don't require too much commitment. So, here goes:

First, the Presidential Reading Challenge. There are four different levels to the challenge and I'm going to do Level I which requires you to read one book by November 4, 2008. I received David McCullough's Truman as a Christmas present and I'm going to read it. Level Four also intrigues me. It requires you to read 10 primary documents (speeches, etc.). I may try this one -- I have until July 4, 2009 to complete it and I would love to read the inaugural addresses of several presidents.

Second, the Stephenie Meyer Mini-Challenge. I already have The Host and am planning to buy Breaking Dawn as soon as it is released. Since I'm already going to read the books, I figured it was a pretty safe challenge to sign up for.

My Life in Dog Years

My Life in Dog Years
Gary Paulsen

I have a confession to make. This morning I was sitting on my back porch, with the intention of reading this book and calmly writing Battle of the Books questions to it. Well let me just say that it’s a good thing it was early in the morning and nobody could hear me because otherwise they would have locked me up somewhere. I have laughed at loud at books, sometimes even hee-hawed, but never, never have I howled with laughter so much and so loudly that I ended up crying.

My Life in Dog Years is about eight of Gary Paulsen’s dogs. He got his first dog at age seven when he was in the Philippines with his parents. He knew the dog was destined to be eaten by his owners and so he saved its life by getting his mother to buy it. The dog, Snowball, later saved his life by killing a deadly snake that was getting ready to strike at him.

Paulsen talks about dogs that were pets, dogs that were sled dogs (one of those also saved his life), and dogs that were working dogs. My favorite chapter – and the one that make me so hysterical with laughter was the one about his Great Dane, Caesar. Other chapters are funny, some are sad, and many are just wonderful reminiscences of Paulsen’s different pets.

This is a wonderful book for all ages. There are a few curse words (none that offended me) and I think it would be great read aloud – in fact, I plan to recommend it to my sixth grade teachers as soon as we get back to school. So far my favorite read of the summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Edward Bloor

Charity Meyers has not led a “normal” life – at least not normal by 2008 standards. The year is 2035 and Charity is one of the “privileged” rich children who live in a walled community, constantly protected by security guards carrying machine guns. Children are discouraged from leaving the community – they even attend school via satellite. The real danger is from being kidnapped. Kidnapping is now an industry, and if you’re kidnapped and you parents follow the kidnappers’ directions and pay ransom, you are safe. It all happens within twenty-four hours. After that time, if you haven’t been set free, you’re not so safe.

Charity has been kidnapped. She has awaken to find herself tied to a stretcher. She is now counting down the twenty-four hours. The kidnappers assure her that her father will pay the ransom and everything will be ok. She’s not so sure her father won’t mess up on the directions and she won’t end up dead. To pass the time, she flashes back to the time before she was a prisoner tied to a stretcher. As the time for ransom to be paid arrives, things go very, very wrong, and Charity realizes in what serious danger she is in.

I must admit that it took three tries to get through this book, but once I picked it up this morning, I couldn’t put it down. Bloor has written a pretty harsh commentary of how the rich (if they choose to be) are oblivious to the needs of the poor. The poor in this book are looked upon by most of the members of Charity’s community as lesser beings – as servants, or as fodder for the army. They are trapped in their lives, have poor educational opportunities and bad health care, and have virtually no opportunity to advance themselves. And yet, in the end we realize that they are not as trapped as Charity is, in her fancy home with servants and a famous but extremely shallow stepmother. Because of the fear of kidnapping, she isn’t allowed to do much – she isn’t allowed to have a life.

I have read all but one of Edward Bloor’s books (I haven’t read London Calling yet but it’s on my pile) and I must say I love them. He never hides the social commentary, but he always wraps it up in a gripping story.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Cuba 15

Cuba 15
Nancy Osa

Violet Paz is a Cuban-Polish American. She quite aware of her roots, and yet because the mention of Cuba raises such issues with her father and her grandparents, she’s never learned much about the country they fled when her father was only one year old.

Violet is now 15, and her grandmother has said it is time for her quinceanero, the celebration that announces that she is now a woman. Violet is at first hesitant to have this party (she hasn’t even worn a dress since she was in grade school), but gradually she become more excited about.

Violet has also been asked (ordered?) to participate in the school’s speech team. Given the topic of Original Comedy, she creates a routine based on her parents’ domino tournament that truly turns into a farce. There is, of course, a guy on the team that she’s interested in, but he seems awfully slow in making the first move.

As the year passes, Violet makes some serious mistakes (such as going through her speech coach’s desk) and chalks up some firsts (kissing a boy, for one). She works on taking her many “half-talents” and making them into “full-talents.”

I really liked this book. It has some truly hilarious scenes, and yet Osa does an excellent job of bringing for the issue of Cuba-American relations. She does not make any judgments, but does make it clear that there are two sides to the issue.

I’m not quite sure why it took me a week to read Cuba 15. I guess I have found myself busier than expected this summer, but I’m going to try and get back focused on my reading – or else that pile of mine will never go down.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Sara Zarr

Jenna Vaughn has remade her life. When she was in elementary school she was Jennifer Harris – the girl that was tortured, called “Fattifer” and stole things and binge-ate. She was also Cameron Quick’s best friend. Now she is seventeen and is Jenna Vaughn. She goes to a different school, has a wonderful stepfather, and is thin and healthy. What nobody realizes that it’s all a sham – inside herself Jenna is just pushing Jennifer aside, and acting the way she knows will make her popular, will make her fit in. She even has her first boyfriend.

But inside herself, Jenna is still wounded. Cameron Quick is gone – Jenna has heard that he’s dead – and his disappearance from her life has left a hole in it. It is evident from the beginning of the book that Cameron’s father was abusive and that there was a traumatic event that involved Jenna, Cameron, and his father. Jenna has never told her mother what happened to her, and she has never been able to work through it.

Then on her seventeenth birthday, Jenna finds a card in her mailbox – a card addressed to Jennifer Harris. It is from Cameron and he is back and he’s enrolled in her school. Jenna’s life is thrown into turmoil. She begins to binge eat and steal candy from stores. Her boyfriend is quite naturally threatened by Cameron’s presence. Jenna doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t want to be Jennifer Harris, but she’s not truly happy as Jenna Vaughn. And then there is the traumatic event that is still haunting her.

Sweethearts is a sad novel – that’s obvious from the beginning. It is also beautifully written. It’s a great book for the 8th – 10th grade group who will be able to relate to Jenna’s efforts to change herself in order to survive socially. They will also be old enough to understand how much of herself Jenna has to sacrifice in order to change.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Cynthia Kadohata

“It’s not fair.” As an adult I get so very tired of hearing children (and adults) say that. So many times what’s not fair is the trivial stuff – people who don’t get things exactly the way they might want. But there are many things that aren’t fair. It isn’t fair when parents have to work two jobs in order to try and provide for their children. It isn’t fair when children are ignored because they are a different race than those around them. It isn’t fair when a child gets cancer.

It’s the 1950’s and Katie Takeshima’s family is moving from Iowa to Georgia. Katie is not eager to move but her parents’ store has failed and they’ve been promised work in some poultry processing plants. Her parents’ dream is to own a home, and they literally work night and day in order to achieve it. Katie and her sister Lynn are very close and they look after each other while their parents work. As one of the very few Oriental families in town, they suffer from the prejudice of the townspeople, but that is not a central theme of the novel. Over time a new brother is born, and then Lynn begins to feel weak. The doctors blame it on anemia but the iron she takes and the liver she eats don’t seem to help. Eventually the truth is revealed – Lynn has lymphoma.

This is a beautiful, sad book that is primarily about relationships. Obviously, the relationship between Katie and Lynn is the most important, but all of the family relationships in the book have importance. Katie’s parents’ fierce desire to provide for their children means that they to some degree sacrifice their relationship with their kids – they are either at work or exhausted from working all the time. In today’s time, we might tell them not to work so hard – that they needed to show their love by spending time with their kids – but they expressed their love by trying to ensure that their children would have their own home and the opportunity to finish school and to go to college.

Kira-Kira won a Newbery in 2004 and it is well-deserved.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fear this book

Fear this Book: Your Guide to Fright, Horror, and Things that Go Bump in the Night
Jeff Szpirglas

How many people are afraid of snakes? How about roller coasters? How many of would not want to admit to being afraid of anything? Pretty much everyone is afraid of something. But have you ever wondered what happens to your body when it gets scared? How do you let others know that you are scared (besides yelling, that is)? And where did all of these phobias come from? Fear this Book discusses everything from vampires to roaches to the fear of going to school.

I found this book to have good explanations of what causes fears and phobias. It is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but I learned a lot from it and found it to be an enjoyable read. I think that it will be especially popular among my non-fiction readers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Keeping Corner

Keeping Corner
Kashmira Sheth

When she was two, Leela was engaged. When she was nine, she was married. Now twelve years old, Leela looks forward to her anu – the ceremony that means she will go to live with her husband’s family. But then the unthinkable happens – Leela’s husband is bitten by a snake and he dies. Set in India in 1918, Keeping Corner is the story of how Leela survives her first year as a widow.

For Leela, widowhood means that she will have to spend an entire year in her house. She can no longer wear the jewelry she loves, she must wear a widow’s sari, and she must have her head shaved. All of these things are demanded by custom, and because she lives in a small town, Leela has no other choice but to follow tradition. Fortunately for her, times are changing. Gandhi’s viewpoints are beginning to circulate and people are listening. Leela gets the opportunity to continue her education by receiving tutoring at home. Education has never been valuable to her, but now she clings to it and realizes that the only way she’ll escape her destiny is to go to a city and become a teacher or a doctor. But asking this may be asking too much of her family, a family mired in tradition and custom.

Even though I’m a history major, I must confess much ignorance to the history of India. I did find this to be a fascinating account of what to me, as an American raised in the late twentieth century, seems to be a horrifying custom. To be condemned to a life of widowhood at age twelve is completely foreign to my comprehension of how women should be treated. I’m so very grateful that in many areas of the world customs have changed and women are treated far more equally than in the past.

I truly enjoyed Keeping Corner. It follows some of the same themes as Gloria Whelan’s Homeless Bird, and I think both could be used effectively in a girls’ discussion group.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Suite Scarlett

Suite Scarlett
Maureen Johnson

Today was my first day of summer vacation. I have about 250 books set aside to read this summer. There is no chance at all that I’m going to get through all of the them – but I’m going to try my hardest.

I chose Suite Scarlett as my first summer book. I discovered Maureen Johnson after reading about a censorship challenge to on of her earlier books, The Bermudez Triangle. I frequently read her blog and Suite Scarlett was the third of her novels that I’ve enjoyed. It was a great way to start the summer.

Scarlett Martin has just turned 15. Her family owns a hotel in New York City – a hotel that is just barely surviving. On the morning of her 15th birthday, Scarlett’s parents have had to let their final employee go, so now it’s just the family to run the hotel. Scarlett had planned to get a summer job so that she could have some spending money. Now she’s expected to work at the hotel. Scarlett has an older brother, Spencer (whose one desire is to become an actor) an older sister, Lola, and a younger sister, Marlene (who is a cancer survivor and a completely spoiled brat). The idea of running the hotel without any help might seem overwhelming, but it’s not so bad when you only have a couple of guests.

Enter Mrs. Amberson – an obviously rich former actress – who announces she has come to stay at the hotel for the summer. She decides to hire Scarlett to be her personal assistant and proceeds to enmesh herself in both Scarlett’s and Spencer’s business. When the play that Spencer is in is threatened because the location is condemned, she decides to save the day, but not without a few missteps – some of which turn into disasters.
Suite Scarlett is a perfect summer read. It’s fun and light, there’s a romance, and you know everything will be ok in the end.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks
Jeanne Birdsall
Yearling, 2005

What can I say? I loved it. It has been compared to Elizabeth Enright’s books and I totally get the comparison. The Penderwicks is the story of four sisters whose father rents a cottage for a three week vacation. The owner of the cottage, Mrs. Tifton, lives in the mansion next door and she despises the girls almost immediately. Fortunately for the girls Mrs. Tifton is not seen often and they are able (for the most part) to avoid her as they go about their adventures. Mrs. Tifton’s son, Jeffrey, becomes an important playmate and eventually the story centers around whether Jeffrey will be sent to military school instead of focusing on his true love, music.

While some of the problems addressed in The Penderwicks are serious, there is never any real doubt that things will be better in the end. I’ve been snowed under with state testing this past month, and this was the perfect book to pick up and enjoy as I wait for the last two weeks of school to pass by and summer to begin.

Where I've Been

May is testing month at my school. I help the testing coordinator with North Carolina End of Grade Tests and they pretty much consume our lives. In addition, I agreed to serve on a team for North Carolina Presbyterian Pilgrimage (a three day spiritual weekend). Pilgrimage is one of most important things I've ever done, and I always rejoice in the opportunity to share the love and grace of God with others.

Testing is almost over (we have restests today and Algebra I tests later this week) and next week is the last week of school so I can finally start reading and writing again. To be honest I've done a little bit of reading, but just haven't had time to write about it. I'm going to post a review in a few minutes and I hope to get more out over the next week or so.

I'm debating about joining Mother Reader's 48 hour reading challenge. It was through this challenge that I encountered many of the bloggers that I read daily. I do have several commitments this weekend so if I do decide to participate, it will be spotty.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The True Meaning of Smeckday

The True Meaning of Smekday
Adam Rex

Earth has been invaded by the Boov who have demanded that all Americans move to Florida. Gratuity Tucci (all of 12 years old) decides to drive to Florida and hopes to find her mother who disappeared when the Boov showed up. On the way she picks up a Boov (named J.Lo) who has gone AWOL. During their journey another alien race shows up and they threaten everyone’s existence. Only Gratuity and J.Lo can save humans and the Boov.

I really wanted to love this book. The website is really cute and I was sure the book would be just as cute. It was, to a point. My problem with the book was that it was too long. Rex could have easily chopped 100 – 150 pages off it and it would still be as cute, but it wouldn’t have gotten to the point of being tiresome.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfect
Linda Urban
Harcourt, 2007

Zoe Elias just wants a piano. What does she get? An organ and six months of free organ lessons. It’s not perfect but her life isn’t perfect either. Her father is afraid to leave the house and so her mom spends a lot of time at work, earning enough money to keep the family afloat. Her dad takes lots of courses from Living Room University “where you can learn any trade without leaving the comfort and privacy of your own home.” (p. 25) He’s taken such classes as “Earn Bucks Driving Trucks” and “Golden Gloves: Make a Mint Coaching Boxing.” Zoe learns to play the organ using the book Hits of the Seventies and is chosen to be at the Perform-O-Rama (a local organ competition). The only hitch? With her mom working so much and her dad afraid to leave the house, how is she going to get there? Life is not perfect for Zoe, but as she learns, a crooked kind of perfect is sometimes good enough.

It would be easy to dismiss A Crooked Kind of Perfect as just a sweet story but that would be doing it an injustice. I simply loved Linda Urban’s characters and her refusal to use stereotypes. I can’t label a favorite character – I loved them all! Zoe’s father really appealed to me but maybe that’s because I had an agoraphobic great-grandmother so I could understand his fears. Neither Zoe nor her friend Wheeler were whiners, although many would think they had plenty to whine about. The theme of not giving up, even when life isn't perfect is an important one (and one that kids need to be constantly reminded of). This book couldn't have a better title.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this book will be around for a while – it’s a book that teachers will love and I think kids will love it too.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Mother the Cheerleader

My Mother the Cheerleader
Robert Sharenow
Harper Collins, 2007

Few people would admire Louise’s mother. Besides being a neglectful alcoholic who frequently “entertains” truckers in her boarding house in New Orleans, she is also a Cheerleader – one of the women who gather in front of Louise’s elementary school to scream horrible racial insults at Ruby Bridges when she is escorted to school each morning. Louise has been pulled out of school as a protest to integration. She spends her days helping around the boarding house, cleaning up after a mean, legless man and cleaning his bedpans. Louise had never even thought much thought about the fairness of segregation. As she says, “My first reaction to the news that William Franz was to be integrated was to wonder why the Negro kids wanted to go to such a crummy school.” (p. 10)

One day a man shows up looking for a room. Although Morgan Miller says he’s in town to visit his family, it becomes evident that he is also interested in the protests down at the school. Both Louise and her mother are fascinated by Mr. Miller – Louise because he’s interested in reading and her mom because she’s interested in men. Neither is prepared for the conflict this man will bring.

Every morning Louise’s mother goes to the school to fulfill her duty as a Cheerleader. The day after Morgan Miller arrives, she continues her routine. She’s startled, however, to see Morgan step out of his car to watch the whole scene. He tells her that he witnessed the whole thing in order to see “real courage” because he needed courage in order to visit his brother. Unfortunately, his visit (in a car with New York plates) gets noticed by the redneck men who also attend each morning’s sessions.

There is nothing romantic, nothing pretty about this book. Louise is a character who is definitely not thriving in her environment – but at least she’s surviving it. She does realize that “Acts of courage come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes what seems like a small moment to one person constitutes an unprecedented act of bravery for another.” (p. 286)

I wouldn’t call this a fun read, but it was a good one and an important one. As a child of integration (my elementary school was integrated just a couple of years before I started first grade), I cannot imagine what a segregated school would have been like. It’s thanks to the courage of people like Ruby Bridges that I didn’t have to.

Back from Vacation

San Francisco and Northern California were absolutely amazing. It was my first trip to California and we had a spectacular time. I loved going to see redwoods, and I’ve never driven along such a coastline. I can’t wait to go back.

The only down part was knowing that my beloved iBook was very, very sick. Two weeks and two days without it were entirely too much. And the iBook wasn’t the only thing sick. My eldest daughter, mother, and mother-in-law had terrible colds and they decided to share the love once I got back. I’m finally, slowly beginning to feel better. And my iBook is back after receiving a new motherboard.

Now you would think after being offline for more than two weeks that I would have a boatload of book reviews to post. Nope. I spent all of spring break reading adult fiction – mostly murder mysteries. I do have one review that I’ll post later tonight (I hope) and I just finished A Crooked Kind of Perfect and I hope to write the review tomorrow. I still have a pile of fiction to read and I hope to start devouring it after Saturday (my eldest daughter’s birthday).

I’m very, very behind on reading my blogs and I know there’s not much hope of catching up so I think I’m going to start fresh. I must say it’s good to be back in a routine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Vacation and dead computer

I'm in the San Francisco area on vacation this week. I had saved a couple of book reviews on my iBook so I would have something to post while I was away but unfortunately my iBook has died (and it doesn't look like a pretty death either) . Right now I'm using my husband's pc and am in mourning. So I'll be posting again when I get home and my iBook is happy. Meantime I'll try to check some blogs each day but I don't have an accurate list of what blogs I do read. I would be miserable about it but I must confess that when I look out my window and see the magnificent redwoods a stone's throw away, I can't be too depressed. Computers can be fixed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big in This?
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Orchard Books, 2007

“It hit me when I was power walking on the treadmill at home, watching a Friends rerun for about the ninetieth time. . . . I was ready to wear the hajib. That’s right. Rachel from Friends inspired me. The sheikhs will be holding emergency conferences.”(p. 1-2)

For most intents and purposes, Amal is a normal eleventh-grade Australian girl. She has close friends, she loves to shop, she worries about her self-image, and she is Muslim, in fact, the only Muslim girl in her private school. So the whole idea of wearing the veil full-time is a big deal to her. It immediately identifies her as someone who is different, and especially in this post-September 11 world, that’s not an easy thing.

Mrs. Walsh, the principal at Amal’s school allows her to wear the veil, but is not enthusiastic about it:
“Amal, I hope you appreciate that this is something . . .rather novel. I respect your decision and your right to practice your faith, but you do look different now, dear. I don’t want you to interpret this incorrectly but I hope you realize that I am going out of my way to accommodate you.” (p. 60)

Fortunately, Amal’s friends are quite supportive. Amal is very capable of standing up to those who want to make fun of her. She also faces the same issues that any girl her age faces: Does she lie to her parents to go to a party where there will be alcohol? Does she kiss the boy she’s had a crush on? What does she do when her best friend runs away? Amal’s faith is very evident throughout the book and she uses it to help with decisions she has to make. That’s not to say that she doesn’t make mistakes – she does – which means that she is a perfectly normal teenager. And that’s the point of the whole book. Just because Amal is Muslim and decides to wear the hajib doesn’t mean that she’s not a normal teenager with the same wants and desires as any teenager.

As time goes on and Amal becomes more comfortable with her decision, she realizes that "I’ve been kidding myself. Putting on the hajib isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning of it." (p. 333)

I can’t begin to say how much I loved this book. Although none of the students at my school are Muslim (at least not this year), many can identify with what it’s like to be different and this book will be perfect for them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Tales of the Cryptids

Tales of the Cryptids
Kelly Milner Halls
Rick Spears
Roxyanne Young
Darby Creek Publishing, 2006

It’s no secret that kids love books about things that are bizarre and unexplained. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are always popular topics in my media center, especially among reluctant readers. Even though they are popular topics, many of the books I have about them are not well written and are quite old. I was thrilled, therefore, to get Tales of the Cryptids which is both interesting and well-written.

Tales of the Cryptids is divided up by types of cryptids. The book begins with Bigfoot and other creatures like him, moves onto sea serpents, and then to the mystery of whether dinosaurs still exist. There is also a section on cryptic mammals and a cypidictionary that looks at each type of potential cryptid creature around the world with a “reality index” as to whether or not the creatures probably exist. I found it interesting that the authors labeled Bigfoot’s status as “leaning toward real” but the Loch Ness Monster’s status was merely “unknown.” There are interviews with experts in the field, and the writing appears to be an objective treatment of the topic.

I’m planning to do a fiction/nonfiction display next year and this is going to be a great book to pair up with Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess:
An Enola Holmes Mystery
Nancy Springer

Last night I was exhausted and honestly just wanted to be a couch potato. Unfortunately there was nothing on tv that I wanted to watch. I had brought home a mystery that I needed to read for booktalks so I picked it up. What a great choice!

Enola Holmes may be the sister of one of the most famous people in England, but because she’s so much younger than Sherlock and her other brother Mycroft she doesn’t know them at all – she’s not even seen them since her father’s funeral when she was four. But now she’s fourteen and her mother has disappeared and she has no other choice than to telegraph her brothers for help.

Help, when it arrives, is not what Enola wanted. Sherlock and Mycroft determine that their mother has quite willfully run away and so they don’t worry about her. Enola, they discover, has not been brought up as a young girl should and so the best solution is to send her off to boarding school. Enola is not happy.

She does figure out, however, that her mother has left her a series of ciphers and as she solves them, she uncovers money that her mother has hidden for her – money that will allow her to run away and either find her mother or lead a better life than that which her brothers envision.

So Enola sets off to find her mother and almost immediately gets herself involved in the mystery of a young marquess who has apparently been kidnapped. Excitement ensues as Enola tries to fend off kidnappers and stay hidden from the famous Sherlock Holmes.

As a child I loved mysteries (I had read the Complete Sherlock Holmes before I entered high school), and I would have torn through this series. Not only is it an engaging mystery, but I really liked Enola’s spunk. Nobody (except, perhaps, her mother) seems to think she’s very bright, but she manages to figure out the importance of what her mother was wearing when left home when Sherlock overlooks it. I would have loved to have seen a little more of Sherlock, but maybe in later books. At this point there are three books in the series – I have the second book in my media center (and will be reading it soon) and the third book is a 2008 release.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Miss Spitfire

Miss Spitfire
Sarah Miller
Atheneum, 2007

When I was a little girl I was fascinated with the story of Helen Keller. Since I am addicted to reading, the very thought of losing my sight is nightmarish. Losing both my sight and hearing? Unthinkable. While I was familiar with the story, there was a lot I had forgotten (basically all I could remember was that Helen was pretty wild before Anne Sullivan came to her and she learned to sign by realizing what water was).

Annie Sullivan walked into a house ruled by a tyrant. Because her family felt so guilty about her and were convinced that she could not behave differently, Helen was allowed to do whatever she wanted. Every time Annie tried to control Helen’s behavior, she was stopped by the parents. Eventually she resorted to moving Helen to a nearby house where she could have complete control over her and begin to instill some discipline and consistency in her life.

There are almost too many wonderful things about this book to discuss in one short review. Ms. Miller has taken a story that most people (at least most people my age) have heard and truly brought it to life. This was the first I’d read of Anne Sullivan’s early life and I hadn’t realized what horrible conditions she had endured as a child. It was the strength and tenacity that she gained from her childhood that helped her survive that first month with Helen, and it is these qualities that children of today can relate to.

I also enjoyed reading excerpts from letters she had written to a friend – it was almost as if Anne herself was validating the story Ms. Miller was telling. My only complaint? I wish they story had not ended where it did. Yes, the day Helen learns water is the logical ending, but I wanted to know what happened the next day, and the next. But don’t all authors want to leave us wanting more? There is a nice three-page summary of Anne and Helen’s life together, along with several photographs, a timeline, and an excellent bibliography. I’m sure Miss Spitfire will make the list of my favorite books read in 2008.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Falconer's Knot

The Falconer’s Knot
Mary Hoffman

Silvano is a young man who is in love with a married woman. When he’s accused of murdering this woman’s husband, his father sends him into hiding at a Franciscan friary, where he pretends to be a novice and hopes his name will be cleared.

Chiara’s parents are dead and her brother does not have money for a dowry so he sends her to become a postulant at the Poor Clares convent (which is located beside the friary). She has not received a call to be a nun, but she has little choice but to go to the convent.

Meanwhile at the friary a wealthy merchant is murdered. Soon thereafter there is another murder. Rumors circulate at first that Silvano is the murderer but then suspicion shifts to his mentor, Anselmo. Although Silvano and Chiara are not supposed to have any contact with each other they are thrown together on several different occasions and they start wondering who could be the murderer. As things in the friary become more and more chaotic the two are determined to solve the mystery.

This is a mystery, but it also has romance and there’s a lot to be learned about life in the Middle Ages. Hoffman does an excellent job of showing the importance of art and religion in everyday medieval life. I don’t think this is a mystery for everyone, but there are students who will enjoy it. I certainly did.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fly on the Wall

Fly on the Wall
E. Lockhart

I have often said “I would love to be a fly on the wall when such-and-such happens.” For Gretchen Yee, her wish came true.

Gretchen lives in New York City, attending a special school for those who are talented in art. Gretchen’s preferred art style isn’t one that anyone else appreciates. She loves comic books and comic book heroes and that’s the type of drawings she does. Her drawing teacher doesn’t like her comic book style, and doesn’t mind criticizing her work in front of the whole class. In a school full of people who pride themselves on being weird, Gretchen feels ordinary and therefore out of place. There’s a guy she has a crush on, but she doesn’t know how to even talk to him, much less do anything about her crush. To make matters worse, she finds out that her parents are getting a divorce and she’s going to have to move. Her mom gets the chance to go on a vacation in the Caribbean and her father is going to Hong Kong on business, leaving Gretchen alone in the apartment for a week. Life is just not good.

Then she makes a fateful wish. She wishes she were a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room. The next morning she is just that. After recovering from the shock of turning into a fly, she begins to learn how the “other half” conducts itself. Like all teenage girls would be, she is fascinated by all the boy parts she sees in the locker room, but then she begins to look under the surface and sees that many of the boys have just as many problems as the girls. They too are worried about their body images and they have lots of insecurities. Some are bullies, and some are gay. All are human. Now if she can just get back to her human self and act on all she’s learned . . .

This was a fun book with lots of humorous scenes but it had lots of serious undertones. Themes of divorce, homosexuality, homophobia, bullying, and just surviving as a teenager are throughout the book. For those concerned with such matters, there is a lot of strong language. I read my personal copy of the book and in my school zone this is a more appropriate book for high school readers. I enjoyed it, however, and will have no trouble recommending it to high school students.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Oh, Rats!

Oh, Rats!
Albert Marrin

Rats have never been a topic I was fascinated in, but I read a couple of blog entries about this book last year and was intrigued. I must say that I learned a lot about rats from it, although I must confess that I still don’t care for them. For those who like rats, and for those who like to be grossed out, this is a great book.

Marrin begins this book by exploring the characteristics of rats and then moves on the complicated relationship between rats and people. He does an excellent job exploring the worldwide impact of rats upon humans, although the majority of the focus is on Europe. I was amazed at the number of cultures that eat rat (although I probably shouldn’t have been). I was amused at some of the methods employed by people to get rid of rats, especially the idea of putting them on trial. The section on the bubonic plague didn’t really have information I hadn’t read elsewhere, but it was interesting (I did like the section on remedied for the plague although it would take a lot to get me to drink a handful of urine every day).

The only thing I could complain about is that in places I think the book could have been better written. There are some awkward sentences that an editor should have caught and had the author rework. Overall, however, this is going to be a great nonfiction booktalk for middle schoolers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shooting the Moon

Shooting the Moon
Frances O’Roark Dowell
Atheneum, 2008

Jamie Dexter is an Army brat. Her father is a Colonel, and she refers to him as such. Jamie is thrilled when her brother, T. J., joins the Army – she thinks it’s wonderful that he will soon be going to Vietnam and serving his country. She’s mystified when her dad is not excited and doesn’t understand why he would try to talk his son out of enlisting.

T. J. does go to Vietnam as a medic and Jamie starts volunteering at the rec center on base, where she gets to know a soldier, Private Hollister, who is assigned to work at the center and who also plays a mean hand of gin rummy. Soon T. J. starts sending letters home to his parents – not very detailed letters, just complaining about the food and talking about how nice the nurses were. He doesn’t write Jamie; instead he sends her a roll of film and asks her to develop it. Jamie doesn’t have any idea how to develop film, but the rec center has a dark lab, and a soldier shows her how. The first roll of film contains pretty innocuous pictures, but as T.J. sends more rolls, the pictures become darker, full of wounded soldiers missing arms and legs. Jamie doesn’t show her parents the pictures of the wounded soldiers; she chooses instead to share pictures of plants and soldiers sitting around drinking beer. At first she doesn’t understand the purpose of the pictures “As he trying to scare me? Or was he just trying to tell me that war wasn’t anything like the way we’d dreamed it, playing with our little green Army men under the trees?” (p. 115)
Shooting the Moon is not a long book, but it sure does pack a punch in its few pages. At a time when many people are questioning our involvement in Iraq, a book that looks at Vietnam is always relevant. Dowell’s writing is beautiful – there are many passages I could have quoted – and to a certain degree Jamie reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and anything that reminds me of that book is automatically wonderful. It will be interesting to see what type of attention Shooting the Moon will garner from award committees. It’s the first book I’ve read with a copyright date of 2008, and I think we’ve had an excellent start to the year

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Boy Toy

Boy Toy
Barry Lyga
Houghton Mifflin, 2007

Boy Toy
has to be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It begins with a list of things “Ten Things I Learned at the Age of Twelve.” Number 1 is “The Black Plague was transmitted by fleas that were carried throughout Europe by rats.” Number 10 is “How to please a woman.” When Josh was in seventh grade he was molested by his beautiful, alluring history teacher. Eventually his parents realize what’s going on (it takes a traumatic event with one of Josh’s best friends), Mrs. Sherman is arrested and placed in prison. Josh’s life is never the same as before. He cannot get over the guilt of being the reason Eve (Mrs. Sherman) is in prison. He is quick to anger – often getting into fights – and except for his best friend Zik, he has isolated himself. Everyone knows what has happened to him, and his one desire is to graduate and get as far away from his hometown as possible. His one true love is baseball, but he is also a talented student who has never made less than an A in any class since third grade. To make things more complicated, Eve is now going to be released on parole. Josh goes nowhere without worrying about bumping in to her.

This is a story told largely in a series of flashbacks back to Josh’s seventh grade year when the abuse happened. Josh’s life is complicated not just by Eve, but also by his parents, whose relationship with each other is simply rotten. One of Josh’s problems is figuring out exactly what real love is, and he doesn’t have many examples from which to draw. In the end, he confronts Eve and is able to get some closure from the events that have so damaged him.

Although I read this book in one night (because I could not put it down), it really made me uncomfortable. I’ll take that as a good thing – no one should “enjoy” reading a book about molestation. Although Lyga targets a type of abuse that has been highlighted often in the papers these past few years, I think the emotions and guilt experience by Josh are pretty common for most people who have been sexually abused (not just by teachers). This is one of many strong points Boy Toy had. I also loved Josh’s relationship with Rachel (a girl who had been one of his best friends before the abuse and who is now interested in a romantic relationship if only Josh would allow it). Rachel is wonderful about understanding Josh and all of his problems. Lyga’s portrayal of Eve is also not one-dimensional. While Eve is most definitely the villain in the book, she is also quite damaged and, in the end, remorseful over her actions.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak did a masterful job of showing the horrors of rape; Boy Toy does the same with child molestation. I know this will be a book that many of my teachers will read and discuss.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Childhood Reads

From the time I was in 3rd grade until I was in 10th grade, I was going to be a nurse. I didn’t know anyone who was a nurse, but I had read the books. Oh boy, had I read the books. Perhaps my favorite series of books when I was little was the Sue Barton series, made even more challenging by the fact that I couldn’t get my hot little hands on several of them (Superintendent of Nurses and Neighborhood Nurse eluded me until the event of eBay). Sue was real and funny and I wanted to be her. I also loved the Cherry Ames books, and over the past twenty-five years or so (since I was in my teens), I’ve been able to find most of them in used bookstores and on the internet. I’ve never been able to get and read the last three. They are the hardest to find and their eBay prices were more than I was willing to pay. But somehow I stumbled on the fact that the Cherry Ames titles written by Helen Wells have been reprinted (completely ignoring the ones by Julie Tatham but that’s ok, I already have them). I ordered two of the three I'm missing and spent a very nice weekend reading them. For those who care, I thought Ski Nurse Mystery was better than Mystery in the Doctor’s Office but I liked both. It’s all formula fiction, but I ate it up as a child and it was a nice time of nostalgia for the weekend.

An interesting fact: I was taught in library school that Sue Barton, Student Nurse was the first novel intentionally marketed to young adults so when I do teacher in-services I introduce it at the first young adult novel.

Why didn’t I become a nurse? 10th grade biology convinced me that it I needed to look elsewhere. So I went to UNC-CH as an accounting major (it suited my anal-retentive nature) but quickly switched to history and political science. I did volunteer at UNC Hospitals and spent some very rewarding years working with kids with cancer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Quick Question

Does anyone know if there is a site that collects links to various book trailers?  I love it when I come across a trailer I can use with a class, but I have difficulty finding them for myself.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My To Be Read Pile

Robin Brande had a post yesterday about her To Be Read pile. Being the anal-retentive person that I am, I decided to count the books on my pile. Here are the totals:

At School (new books that I’ve pulled to read before they go on the shelves)
132 Fiction books
42 Nonfiction books
10 Graphic Novels

At Home
33 Adult Fiction books
6 Adult Nonfiction books
8 Young Adult books
2 Young Adult books

Grand Total: 233 books

Yes, that is scary and overwhelming. Not to mention that I’ve been stuck on the same book for the past week (I did sneak in two Cherry Ames books over the weekend but I’ll talk about that in a later post). I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this pile, except read my little heart out. I do know that they are all books I want to read, so I’m not going to give up on any of them at this point.

Edited to fix the grand total.  Yes, I can add -- I just hit the wrong button.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie
Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic, 2004

Stephen is a normal eighth grade boy. His younger brother drives him crazy, the girl he has a crush on doesn’t know he exists, and he loves to play the drums – so much, in fact, that he is one of only two middle schoolers who have made the All-City Jazz Band.

Stephen and his younger brother have a love-hate relationship. As he states in his journal:

Having a brother is horrible. Having any brother would be horrible, I suppose, but having my particular brother, Jeffrey, is an unrelenting nightmare. It’s not because he’s eight years younger than I am, although that’s part of it. How would you like to be King of the Planet for eight glorious years, and then suddenly get demoted to Vice-King?

Even though he complains, Stephen loves Jeffrey and when an early-morning nosebleed sends Jeffrey and his mother to the emergency room, Stephen spends the day worrying. It turns out there is reason to worry – Jeffrey has cancer and only a little over a 50% chance of surviving the disease.

Immediately Stephen’s life is torn asunder. His mother and Jeffrey make repeated trips to Philadelphia for treatment, his father buries himself in his work and worries about money, and Stephen buries himself in drum practice and completely blows off his schoolwork. And then he gets a wonderful piece of advice from his guidance counselor: “Instead of agonizing about the things you can’t change, why don’t you try working on the things you CAN change?” And so he does.

I loved and adored this book. It is sad, but it’s also funny. It’s all about doing what you can, even when it seems that what you can do is but a drop in the bucket compared to the problems all around you. The characters are wonderful. I was especially glad that the character of Renee (the girl Stephen has a crush on) doesn’t turn out to be a shallow jerk but instead a good friend. And Jeffrey is cute, cute, cute – it broke my heart to read about him.

I know girls are going to love this book. I hope boys will too. I’d love to pair it with Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss, another cancer story but told from the point of view of the person with cancer.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow
James Sturm & Rich Tommaso
Hyperion, 2007

First of all, I must confess my ignorance when it comes to graphic novels. I do recognize their importance but I don’t have much experience with them (I hope to change that this year). It has also been almost twenty years since library school and what I don’t remember about analyzing illustrations would fill volumes. That said, I must start somewhere and this book was a wonderful introduction.

I orginally thought this would be a graphic biography of Satchel Paige but it isn’t. It’s more of a period piece, told from the viewipoint of a sharecropper who once got a hit off of Paige in a Negro League baseball game. Injured sliding home, he is forced to return to sharecropping and all of the horrors of the age of segregation. Although he wants better for his son (Emmet Jr), he is eventually forced to put him in the fields picking cotton. He never talks about his baseball career – he is a worn-down man. But when Satchel Paige’s All-Stars come to town to play the Tuckwilla All-Stars, he takes his Emmet Jr. to the game. His landowners, Mr. William and Mr. Wallace are on the Tuckwilla team. Satchel Paige doesn’t show up until the 8th inning, but when he does he shows why he is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and inspires Emmet to share his past with his son and have some hope for the future.

Notice I haven’t said much about the pictures. This is a graphic novel so some comment about the pictures is necessary, but this is where my ignorance comes into play. I liked the pictures. I think they did a great job of illustrating the action. They are vital to understanding the plot. I just don’t know if I know enough about critiquing illustrations to have a valid opinion. I can talk about one illustration that I did particularly like. When Emmet is forced to put his son in the cotton field with him, there is a two-page spread of the two of them surrounded by cotton with no end in sight, in essence drowning in what was just a new form of slavery for many African Americans in the early twentieth century. It’s easy to see how Satchel Paige was such a hero to the African American community in this time of opression.

This book moved me greatly. It is an incredible snapshot of African-American life in the South in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s going to be a wonderful tool for the classroom.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reading Meme

I just got home from a lovely weekend in the moutains and discovered I’d been tagged for a reading meme by Becky. What fun questions to think about and answer!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?
 Antonement by Ian McEwan. My mom says it’s one of the best books she has ever read, but I couldn’t get past the first few pages. 

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

 The event would be afternoon tea on my back porch. I would love to have Father Tim 
from Jan Karon’s books, Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Why? Because they all remind me of who I would like to be. I may love teen problem fiction, but the comfort I get from reading about truly good, wise, and kind characters cannot be surpassed.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? The book I never thought I’d finish was Moby Dick, and it would be a great punishment to have to read it again. I must also give the ultimate book that people try to get through and don’t succeed, War and Peace (although my mother has read it and really enjoyed it). 

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it.

 I must admit I am a terrible liar, so I don’t tend to do it. I did read the Cliff’s Notes to Gulliver’s Travels when I was in high school (I read half of the real book and just couldn’t take it any more).

 People assume I’ve read more classics than I have, but I do try to correct them when they make that assumption. I freely admit the need to read more classics.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to reread it that you haven't? Which book?

 Not really. I do tend to pick up books, thinking that I haven’t read them, but realizing that that I had after a few pages.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP) 

I cannot, will not state just one so I’ll pick one from different age categories. Picture book: Miss Rumphius (all people should strive to make the world a better place). Early Reader: Winnie-the-Pooh (because people always need to remember the importance of friends). Middle Reader: Harry Potter (again, the importance of friends, sacrifice, and because everyone should know Harry and his companions) Young Adult: Lord of the Rings (ditto what I said about Harry Potter) Adult: Bible (not that I think the Bible is only for adults to read – far from it -- it’s just that many Christian adults don’t read the Bible)

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?
 French – I’d love to read Dumas in the original language.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

 Easy choice – To Kill a Mockingbird. I pretty much read it every year anyway.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

 The amount of passion that adults have for children’s and young adult literature continually amazes me. Since I started reading blogs I have become more deliberate about what I’m reading. I feel the pressure if I haven’t posted a review recently, which means that I’m not doing as much rereading or reading as many adult books as I’m used to. 
I also feel more snowed under – there’s so much that I haven’t read and I feel much pressure to “catch up.”

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. The most important component of my dream library would be always-expanding shelves so that I never have to agonize about culling my collection. New books that I wanted would magically appear, and yet somehow the “to read” shelf would never overwhelm me. There would be sofas for me to sink into that would always be comfortable, even after hours of reading. There would also be good lighting. While I don’t have to have leatherbound volumes, I do love hardbacks with attractive covers. I am also into the old fashioned wood and leather feel to the furniture, with oriental rugs on the floors. Biltmore House has a wonderful library – I’d take it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Boot Camp

Boot Camp
Todd Strasser
Simon & Schuster, 2007

Boot Camp opens with Garrett in the back of his kidnappers’ car. He is not likely to be rescued, however, because his parents have authorized his removal from their home. Garrett has been making some questionable decisions: an affair with his teacher, skipping school, smoking pot, staying out all night. His parents cannot seem to stop him so they have him removed to a boot camp for troubled teenagers in upstate New York.

Garrett knows something about boot camps, but he’s not prepared for all of the abuse. It seems that as long as nobody makes marks, physical abuse is allowed, even encouraged. Garrett at first thinks he will be able to outwardly confess his misdeeds and work his way out of the camp in six months or so. After all, nobody understands his love for his teacher and the fact that they were meant to be together.

Garrett is soon taken to TI (Temporary Isolation) for a minor offense. In TI he is forced to lie face down on a concrete floor twenty-four hours a day for days, perhaps even weeks at at time. The goal is to break him, but Garrett is a hard nut to crack. He’s not going to break easily and the other option, death, is not pleasant either. He soon meets two other people, Pauly and Sarah, who are not likely to survive the camp and who are determined to try an escape to Canada where the authorities cannot get to them. Nobody has ever escaped successfully, but they feel it is their only chance and try to persuade Garrett to join them. It is a tough decision for Garrett – he still feels as though he can beat the system – but eventually he decides to go with them in a harrowing escape attempt.

I’ll admit to having some problems with this book, and quite frankly I don’t know where to start with my analysis. It is clear that Strasser is writing a cautionary tale and it is also clear that he has done some research to back up his claims that boot camps are scary places where kids are often abused, even at times until they die. I have no doubt that boot camps are not pleasant. I also have no doubt that kids are abused in the attempt to “straighten them out.” I do have problems, however, with the amount of sadism in some of the employees. It just was a bit too heavily laid on.

I also take issue with the fact that Strasser never really confronts the reason Garrett is sent to the camp. While I’m not advocating that boot camp is the right place for a kid such as Garrett (or for any kid for that matter), sleeping with your teacher, staying out all night, skipping school, and smoking pot are all wrong things to do and that is never really addressed. Instead I felt the reader is encouraged to feel that Garrett was justified in his actions because nobody really understands him.

All of that said, Boot Camp is a powerful book and I think that students will really enjoy it, and, perhaps, learn from it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Miracle on 49th Street

Miracle on 49th Street
Mike Lupica
Philomel Books, 2006

Molly has had a rough year. Born and raised in London, she and her mother move back to Boston when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. After her mother dies, Molly goes to live with Barbara, her mom’s best friend from college, and her family. Barbara, Mr. Evans, and their daughter Kimmy are all kind but they aren’t family. Family is what Molly needs. Family is what Molly craves. She has never known her father but just before she dies her mother tell her who her father is: Josh Cameron, the most famous sports personality in the world (think Michael Jordan). Although she loved Josh, Molly’s mother realized that his primary interests would always remain basketball and himself, so she chose to not tell him she was pregnant and go to live in Europe.

Molly, however, is willing to take risks to gain a family. She and her best friend Sam concoct a scheme for her to meet him alone so that she can tell him who she is. The meeting goes disastrously – Josh doesn’t believe that she’s his daughter. After a second, equally frustrating meeting, Josh’s housekeeper and substitute mother finds out about Molly and insists that Josh apologize and get to know her. But as Molly learns more about her father, she realizes that maybe her mother was right – Josh will never be able to see beyond himself and basketball. But this book is entitled Miracle on 49th Street for a reason.

Here’s my confession: I love the sappy, the sweet, the good, happy-ending story. Yes, I also love teenage problem fiction, but sometimes I need to have the happy and I loved this book. Like Molly’s favorite movie, Miracle on 34th Street, this book had its unrealistic elements, but who cares? It made me happy and that’s all that matters ☺

One one interesting note: I searched online for reviews of this book and one that I read was clearly written by a student who said it wasn’t a YA book because “Although the main character is a teenager, there is hardly any slang and no cursing.” I wasn’t aware that these were important criteria for defining YA novels. I always thought a YA novel was a novel that appeals to young adults. Silly me.