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.