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.