Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Chosen One

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra’s life has always been ordered and planned. Afterall, she is a Chosen One – a member of a polygamous cult who is led by a man called the Prophet. Her father has three wives which is not all that many – her uncle Hyrum has six wives. There are twenty children in Kyra’s family with two more on the way. Her family, large though it is, is close-knit and loving.

Kyra has a streak of rebellion in her (although she doesn’t really think of it as rebellion). She has a secret (kissing only) relationship with a teenage boy who lives at the same compound and she surreptitiously visits the local bookmobile. Books are forbidden in the group but each week she checks out one and hides it in a tree. Joshua has said he wants to Choose her, to marry her and Kyra’s thrilled. So she is devastated when the prophet comes to visit and tells her that she must marry her Uncle Hyrum, a man who is 60 years old. Even though her father tries to get the marriage prevented, he is unsuccessful and both Krya and Joshua are horribly beaten when Joshua asks to marry her instead. It becomes increasingly clear that escape is going to be her only option, but escape means giving her family forever. Escape is also not guaranteed to succeed – it could also result in her death.

I enjoyed this book, although I found it to be a little too dramatic at times. Williams does a good job of showing that though these polygamous groups are dangerous because of their potential for abuse, not everyone within them is abused or miserable. Kyra may have strict mothers, but the children are well loved and her father is attentive and loving to all of his children. I think this book will be in high demand from my eighth graders, to whom I plan to booktalk it as soon as Christmas break is over.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost

Sarah Zarr

It appears to Sam that everything in her life is broken down. Sam’s father is a pastor, her beautiful but fragile mother is an alcoholic who has had to go to rehab after a DUI. Even though their church is quite successful, money is tight, so tight that every time their credit card is used, they breathe a sigh of relief when it goes through. The world around Sam is broken down too – the town is suffering from a massive heat wave and both the air conditioning and her ceiling fan are broken. The plants outside that her mother had planted are dying. The heat is oppressive, suffocating.

And then the unthinkable happens. A thirteen-year-old girl in Sam’s church is kidnapped. Sam’s father becomes the family’s spokesman and encourages Sam to go and stay with her friends until the crisis is over. Sam resists but ultimately agrees to go for a short time. As the search for Jody continues, the likelihood of her being found diminishes and Sam’s faith flounders.

I honestly don’t think I can do a better job of reviewing this book than Liz Burns did over at Tea Cozy so I’m not going to try. Liz hits all the important points and I’m only mentioning the title here because there may be some people not familiar with her blog (her blog is probably my favorite literature blog). I found the book to be beautifully written, with lots of possibilities for discussion with literature circles or book clubs.

Monday, December 21, 2009

One of the Survivors

One of the Survivors

Susan Shaw

Joey and Maureen were the lucky ones. The fire alarm had been constantly going off that day at school. Each time the intercom would come on, telling everyone that they were testing the new alarm system. But the last time it goes off, the intercom message is fuzzy. Mr. Austen is annoyed by the interruptions to his class and he tells everyone to ignore the alarm again. But Joey can’t. His mother died the previous year in a fire, and he and his best friend are the only people in the class to defy their teacher and evacuate their classroom. They are also the only ones to survive the fire that kills everyone else.

Needless to say, Joey is traumatized by the whole thing. Afraid to be in his house and harassed by those who blame him for the fire (looking for someone to blame, he and Maureen became the natural, albeit innocent, scapegoats) Joey cannot get past what has happened to him. There are those, however, who can and do help him get over the trauma.

I have read two books by Susan Shaw and I think that she has “child who is traumatized by terrible event that has happened” down pat. I especially love Joey’s father who is patient and loving and everything a father needs to be in such a terrible situation. Overall I enjoyed this book, but it’s a quiet book and so won’t appeal to those who feel the need to have action on every page.

The copy that I reviewed came from my school library.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Let It Snow

Let it Snow
Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle

It started snowing in North Carolina Friday and I figured this would be the perfect book to read while watching the snow (and if I have to wait until the next snowfall it might be a few years :-) This is a series of three stories, all set in a small town in North Carolina during a blizzard. Maureen Johnson writes about a girl whose parents have been arrested in a riot over a Christmas village piece who is going to Florida to stay with her grandparents when her train crashes into a snowbank. When she ends up in a Waffle House with a bunch of cheerleaders, a boy from town rescues her. The story has all of charming Maureen Johnson quirkiness to it without being too absurd. I loved it.

John Green then takes over with a road trip story -- a road trip to the same Waffle House with the cheerleaders. But that quest to find love may in the long run turn out to have a satisfying conclusion right beside you. This story has John Green written all over it, indeed I was reminded several times of characters from Paper Towns. Green's voice is strong throughout the story.

Lauren Myracle's story focuses on a girl who is despondent because she cheated on her boyfriend and is remorseful and wants him back. Addie is perhaps the hardest character to like because she's fairly self-centered (and is reminded of that several times through the story) but I will say in her self-centeredness she is a typical teenage girl. She does grow in the story and characters appear from the other two stories to give a sense of connectedness.

This is a great, fun Christmas-time read, especially if these are authors you enjoy. Overall I did enjoy the book and may read it again next Christmas.

I purchased the copy of Let it Snow that I reviewed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Declaration

The Declaration

Gemma Malley

It is the future. An incredible thing has happened. Disease has been cured and a drug that will extend life forever has been discovered. Sounds like paradise, but there’s one hitch. With nobody dying the world is becoming overpopulated and running out of resources. So the Declaration is created. People have a choice – take the Longevity drug and never die, or Opt Out and have children. Pretty much everyone chooses not to die, but there are a few that rebel and have children anyway. If the children are captured (and they are almost always captured), they are considered Surplus and are sent to live in Grange Hall where they are trained to be servants for those who are legal. These children are treated horribly and are brainwashed to think that they should never have been born.

Anna had been at Grange Hall longer than any other child. She is determined to become a Valuable Asset in someone’s home. But then a new Surplus shows up. Peter is unusual because he was not captured as a young child, and he refuses to submit to the brainwashing and abuse that the other children take for granted. He quickly ingratiates himself to Anna and tells her that he knows her real parents and he has been sent to help her escape and take her to them. Anna is not inclined to believe him or even to care about her parents (after all they are terrible people for breaking the law and having her) but when it becomes apparent that the head mistress of Grange Hall is going to have Peter murdered, she decides to help him escape and to leave with him.

I’ve read a lot of books in which children are treated badly – whether it’s from child abuse or neglect or from addictions on the parts of the parents. The Declaration, however, is different. In this book the mere existence of the children is treated as despicable. People are willing – even eager – to trade the existence of children, a natural and good part of the life cycle, for the opportunity to live forever (certainly an unnatural thing). The abuse and brain-washing that Anna suffers was very painful for me to read.

This is certainly a compelling read, and I’m eager to read the second book in the series. It’s a great choice for anyone who loves dystopian fiction.

The copy of the book that I read was from my school library.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

this world we live in

this world we live in

Susan Beth Pfeffer

The only color I know now is gray, the gray of ash and dirt and sadness.

It’s been less than a year since everything changed, less than a year since hunger and darkness and death have become so commonplace, but I couldn’t remember what life – life the way I used to know it – had been like. I couldn’t remember blue. (p. 2, ARC)

Yesterday I checked my mailbox at school just before I left for the day and discovered an ARC of this world we live in. My plans to finish decorating my house for Christmas quickly flew out the window because the rest of my evening was spent devouring the book (I have a very understanding husband who even cooked dinner so that I could read).

this world we live in begins about a month after Miranda’s last entry in Life as We Knew It. While finally the family is beginning to receive food every week from the government, they are very aware that eventually the food will run out. Because the world outside is finally beginning to thaw, Matt and Jon decide to walk to the Delaware River (about 15 miles away) to fish for shad and hopefully bring enough back to supplement their diet for a while. Not only do they bring back fish, but Matt brings back a wife, Syl. While not exactly welcomed with open arms, Syl soon begins to fit in with the family. And then more company arrives. Miranda’s father, stepmother, and baby brother show up and they bring three new people: Alex and Julie (the brother and sister from the dead and the gone) and Charlie, a man they met on their journey. Now with eleven mouths to feed, survival has become just that much harder.

I honestly don’t want to say anything else about the book because I don’t want to spoil it. this world we live in is a bleak book, but it’s appropriate for the world Pfeffer has created. It’s the story of a family who has been thrown in an impossibly difficult situation yet they are managing (barely) to survive. It is their struggle that haunts me – it’s been two years since I read Life as We Knew It and yet I still think about Miranda and how much food it would take for our family to survive if we were thrust in the same situation.

While this is a survival story, it is also a novel about people and I have become quite attached to the characters. Pfeffer has done a wonderful job with characterization – I feel as though I know Miranda and her family. I don’t feel like I really got to know Alex and Julie any better but that’s ok – this was Miranda’s story and she’s who I really cared about. I have read Pfeffer’s blog for the past two years, and I know she debated about several different plots when writing the third novel. I’m thankful she settled on the story that became the world we live in because it’s a perfect way to end this trilogy.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the author and used it to review the book. Quotes need to be checked against the final printed copy of the book, which will be released in April 2010.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dragon's Keep

Dragon’s Keep

Janet Lee Carey

Rosalind, princess of Wilde Island, is almost perfectly beautiful. She has a lovely face and will have a beautiful shape when she is a woman. But she is not perfect. The ring finger of her left hand – the finger on which she should wear her wedding ring – is not a finger at all but a claw, a dragon’s claw. Nobody but Rosalind and her mother are aware of her deformity – she always wears golden gloves to hide it. If anyone finds out, she will no longer be a princess – will perhaps be thought of as a witch and killed. It was prophesied by none other than Merlin that she will be the one to bring peace to the island – but how can that happen.

To make matters worse, the island is under periodic attacks by a dragon, who has no compunction about eating humans. When Rosalind is captured by the dragon, there is no real hope that she can survive. But there is that prophesy – and can Merlin be wrong?

I really enjoyed Dragon’s Keep. Janet Lee Carey is a wonderful writer and this novel has a lot of depth to it. I did find that I did have to pay attention to what I was reading – I couldn’t simply fly through the novel because I got lost a couple of times. I read the book during a read-a-thon at school and it was easy to get distracted by people who came into the media center needing my help. I don’t think this is necessarily a good book for people who don’t like fantasy, but if you do love fantasy novels, this would be a good choice.

The copy of Dragon's Keep that I used for this review was checked out from my media center.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sisters Grimm: The Everafter War

The Everafter War
Michael Buckley

I thought this was supposed to be the last of the Sisters Grimm series, and as much as I've enjoyed the series, I've been ready for it to end. Now it looks as though there will be at least 2 additional books. In this one, we find out who the Master is. Sabrina's and Daphne's parents are awakened but all in all this is a darker book than some of the others.

I purchased the copy of the book that I reviewed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Whether to blog

I've really been struggling with blogging recently. Our county, like many counties in North Carolina, is in a severe budget crunch. One of the cuts they made was the media assistants' positions. I now have my full-time job to do, and my assistant's full-time job to do. It's been hard, and I know that I need to cut some of the things I do because I simply don't have time to do it all.

I have been reading much less than usual -- I'm exhausted by the time I get home each day and right now the tv is more appealing. I thought I'd put the blog on hold until summer when I have a break from school. But today at lunch I was reading some of the blogs I used to have time to read daily and I realized how much I love being a part of this community. I think book bloggers serve an important role -- I have certainly learned about books I would have never heard of without them, books that I've passed on to teachers and students at my school.

So I think I'll continue to try. I may only talk about a couple of books a month (hopefully I won't skip any more months the way I skipped September).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Just Ella

Just Ella

Margaret Peterson Haddix

I love fairy tale novels and I love Margaret Peterson Haddix, but I have to confess that this book took me a month to read.

Just Ella is the story of what happened to Cinderella after Prince Charming proposes. Ella finds herself in the castle, learning to be a gentlewoman, and hating every minute of it. She’s not allowed to do anything but needlework (she’s not even allowed to light her own fire) and she is bored to tears. When she finally decides that she doesn’t love the prince and she tells him that she’s not going to marry him. The prince isn’t very smart (a servant says, “He wouldn’t know how to get out of bed in the morning if he didn’t have advisers telling him which foot to put on the floor first.”) but all heck breaks loose when he realizes that she’s serious. He ties Ella up and puts her in the dungeon until she relents. Ella, however, is determined not to give in, even if her escape route is dangerous, and more than a little smelly.

I found the first part of the book tedious, but once Ella ends up in the dungeon, I finished it in one setting. It’s on the N.C. Battle of the Books list for this year and I think most of my students will enjoy it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

If I Stay

If I Stay
Gayle Forman

It was such an easy decision – a snow day – a trip out with the family to visit friends. A decision that ends three lives and puts the fourth in jeopardy. Mia loves being with her family, they are close-knit – her parents are what people my age would call “cool.” But on this snowy day, there is an accident. Somehow Mia’s consciousness is thrown from her body and she wanders around the accident site, noticing the bodies of both her parents. She cannot find her brother Teddy, but after the rescue workers arrive they mention him so she thinks he will be ok.

Mia travels along with her body, first to the local hospital and then to the Trauma Center in Portland. Although she is aware that her parents are dead, she is dispassionate about it, and disconnected from what’s going on around her. Eventually she becomes aware of the fact that Teddy too is dead and although her grandparents and friends are still alive and desperately want her to get better, Mia becomes aware that whether she lives or dies is her choice. Fairly unemotional at first, as it gets closer and closer to her having to make a decision, she becomes more aware of the ramifications of the actions.

In the quiet corner of the ICU I start to really think about the bitter things I’ve managed to ignore so fare today. What would it be like if I stay? What would it feel like to wake up an orphan? To never smell Dad smoke a pipe? To never stand next to Mom quietly talking as we do the dishes? To never read Teddy another chapter of Harry Potter? To stay without them? I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.

Mia has to decide – does she want to stay, when those who matter most have already gone?

This was a wonderful afternoon read. It’s very different emotionally from the other tear-jerker I read this weekend, Would You, but I really liked it. Most review sources have it recommended for high school and I would agree with that assessment, although I think mature eighth graders would enjoy it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Would You?

Would You
Marthe Jocelyn

It’s just a normal summer – Claire’s last summer before she goes away to college. Her sister Natalie is spending her days working as a lifeguard at the pool, and her nights hanging out with her friends. Natalie’s isn’t happy about Claire’s imminent departure (“We’ve been sharing a room since I was born. How can our life be reduced to occasional weekends?”) And then in one moment, her world changes. She arrives homes one evening to find out that Claire has been hit by a car. She’s in a coma, and nobody knows if she will be ok.

It must be first understood that I rarely cry while reading a book, so the tears rushing down my cheeks were a shock. Natalie’s love for Claire and her knowledge that her life has been changed forever just broke my heart. I must say that I really appreciated that this was not a lesson book. Claire’s accident is just that – an accident and was not caused by drinking or drugs, or anything else could be used to preach to teenagers. Because of this, Jocelyn can spend her time focusing on the effects the accident has on Claire’s family and the choices they have to make. I recommend this one to anybody who loves tear jerkers.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan

Mary and all those who live in her village are surrounded by the forest. Not any forest but the Forest of Hands and Teeth. The forest out of which the Unconsecrated relentlessly attack the fence that surrounds the village, the fence that protects the villagers. Mary’s father has disappeared, and it is assumed that he was bitten, that he has now become one of the Unconsecrated. Mary’s mother waits by the fence, determined that her husband will return to her, but he doesn’t, and one day she gets too close and gets bitten. She is given a choice – be killed immediately or to become one of the Unconsecrated and be cast out of the village. Because she hopes that she will find her husband, she chooses the latter, and Mary, who cannot bear to leave her until the end, has to watch her mother die, knowing she will turn into a horrible, flesh-eating monster.

Mary’s brother is so upset by what has happened that he turns against her and tells her to join the Sisterhood, a group of unmarried women who live in the Cathedral, direct the villagers in their faith in God, and hold many of the secrets behind what has happened to the village. Mary has lost her faith in God, but she has no choice but to go to the Sisters. As part of her duties, she nurses the fiancĂ© of her best friend and falls in love with him. As it is obvious to the head Sister that Mary doesn’t belong among them, eventually Mary is offered the chance to marry – not to the man she loves but to his brother. Mary is torn, she feels as though she has no good option, but before any wedding occurs, the village is attacked and the fence is breached. Mary and just six others escape while the rest of the village is destroyed by the Unconsecrated. Now they must follow a narrow path surrounded by a fence, trying to find a place where they can be safe.

It is obvious from the first sentence that Carrie Ryan is a wonderful writer, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a hauntingly beautiful book. It is also dark and sad but I absolutely could not put it down. It is the first book in a trilogy, and it will be difficult to wait until spring when the next volume is available.

I do have one question for the author. This book is set on Earth in the future after some sort of apocalyptic event that has caused the zombies to be created. Because there is an old cathedral in the village and there was once an old vineyard there, I would have guessed that the book is set somewhere in Europe, perhaps in France. However, at one point Mary finds an old page from The New York Times, implying that the setting is the former United States. I would love to know where she planned for the book to take place.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is on the middle school portion of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award 2009 – 2010 list.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Stephen Krensky
School library copy

I have really mixed emotions about this book, so I debated about whether or not to review it. I decided to go head and write the review because it does allow me to address some issues I have with much of the high interest nonfiction that is available.

I chose to read Zombies because, although I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and can tell you a lot about vampires, I know next to nothing about zombies. Since two of the books nominated for the middle school portion of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Awards deal with zombies (The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Zombie Blondes), I decided to learn a little about the creatures before I tackled these books. And I must say that I did learn a few things about zombies, things that will enable me to talk about them in a reasonably coherent fashion when I’m doing monster booktalks this October.

As I stated earlier, I did have issues with several aspects of this book. First of all, it really isn’t very well written. I understand that the reading level is fairly low (grade 5.7 according to the publisher’s website) but does easy-to-read have to mean poorly written? Many of the sentences are short and choppy and I don’t think the book as a whole flows very well.

The author also includes a section that summarizes a number of books and movies that have zombies. Whereas some of the books he mentions are appropriate for the target age range (grades 4-7), others were written with more of an older young adult to adult audience (such as Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series). Also, many of the movies that mentions (for example, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later) are R-rated and thus inappropriate for the book’s age range.

My final issue with the book is one that is true for many of the high interest books that are available today. I don’t care for the book’s page layout – I find it confusing. Miscellaneous fact boxes and picture captions that don’t directly deal with the topic on the page interrupt the narrative. For example, in the introduction to voodoo section, there is a picture of a man, presumably in Haiti, riding a pony. The caption reads, “Haiti was once covered by a lush, tropical rain forest. European settlers cut most of the trees to make way for farms.” Now what does that have to do with voodoo or zombies?

Will I booktalk this book? Probably, because it is one of only two nonfiction books I have about zombies. Will students like it? Yes, because they will be interested in the topic. Would I purchase it again now that I have read it? Honestly, I don’t know. It does fill a niche in my library, but I just wish it were a better book.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Elephant Run

Elephant Run
Roland Smith
Copy from school library

After the London apartment in which Nick Freestone lives with his mother and stepfather is bombed during World War II, Nick is sent to live with his father in Burma. Unfortunately, by the time he arrives at his father’s teak plantation, it is obvious that the Japanese are going to take over the country. Nick’s father is determined to get Nick out of the country and to safety in Australia, but before that can happen, the Japanese arrive and take everyone captive. Nick’s father is sent to a work camp, along with the most trusted of his mahouts (men who train and work with the elephants on the plantation). Nick is left to be a servant to the Japanese occupiers. He is determined to escape and to rescue his father. A Burmese girl, Mya, is left an orphan when her father is murdered by the Japanese and she also wants to escape and rescue her brother, one of the mahouts now forced to work on a railroad being built by the Japanese. Nick and Mya do have some help – Mya’s great-grandfather who just might be able to make the attempt a success.

Like all of Roland Smith’s books, Elephant Run is action-packed. I do have a few quibbles about it, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The quibbles: First, Smith focuses on the points of view of two characters, Nick and Mya, but there were times that I had trouble moving from one point of view to the other. My second quibble deals with the way Smith teaches the reader about the region and the time period. It is obvious that most of his readers will come to this book with little knowledge of Burma, the Japanese invasion of the country, and of elephant training so Smith has a lot of information to get across. It does feel like in certain places it’s almost as if he’s saying, “OK, here’s a little lesson for you about . . .” and after a paragraph or so then proceeds with the narrative.

Despite these quibbles, I was really drawn to the book. The almost non-stop action helped, as did my interest World War II. I also really liked the characters and cheered for them as they faced such terrible odds in their attempt to escape and free their family members. I loved the sections with the elephants and enjoyed learning about them. I think this will be a great book for my middle school boys – especially those in 7th grade who study Asia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Carl Hiaasen
Copy from the school library

Noah Underwood’s father, Paine, has gotten into trouble before but this time takes the cake. Paine is certain that the owner of a floating casino is flushing his toilets directly into the water, polluting the marina and nearby beaches. He cannot prove anything because the owner, Dusty Muleman, seems to have an inside source that tips him off whenever the Coast Guard is about to have an unannounced inspection. Paine decides to take matters into his own hands by sinking the casino. He’s promptly arrested and it isn’t long before the boat has been raised and the casino is back in business. It’s now up to Noah and his little sister Abbey to prove that Dusty’s actions are threatening the beaches.

I really enjoyed this book. Hiaasen has a strong environmental message, but his books never seem overly preachy, partly because he injects a lot of humor in them. I also really liked the characters in Flush. I wouldn’t say that his characters have a lot of depth, but they’re quirky and fun. This is a title on the 2009 -2010 Battle of the Books list and I think the students at my school are going to enjoy it.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Tom Becker

Jonathan Starling has not had an easy life. He’s never known his mother, and his father is frequently ill, suffering from what he calls the Darkening. Jonathan has basically raised himself, with the help of a friendly neighbor. So when his father yet again is placed in a mental hospital in London, Jonathan see an all-familiar pattern restarting. But while he’s visiting his father, the man in the next room is murdered and Jonathan finds a mysterious dagger in the room. All of a sudden people are chasing him and Jonathan learns that there is another, untalked about part of London. A part where more than 100 years ago the worst of the worst were condemned to live. Jonathan must travel to Darkside in order to save himself and his father.

I must admit to having a hard time getting in to this book. I just never really connected with the characters. I read a review of it quite some time ago and was really excited when it came in to my library, but it never really clicked for me. I do wonder how the next book in the series will be – Becker will not have to spend so much time setting up his two worlds and can concentrate on character development.

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Review or Not to Review

As a general rule, I try to write a review of most of the young adult literature I read. The exceptions to this rule have been when I’m extremely busy with work or if I really hated the book. Recently, there was a post at Read Roger that discussed whether or not bloggers should post negative reviews. I thought both the post and the many comments (62 at this point) were interesting. I honestly didn’t think I had much to add to the conversation – I have received a grand total of one ARC and one other book from a publisher during the time I’ve been blogging – and so I don’t feel any obligation to review every book I’ve read or to give a positive review to every book I blog about.

However, as one commentator in Read Roger’s blog discussed, one of the reasons I don’t tend to do negative reviews is that I get to choose what I read and I tend to only choose that which I think I’ll like. Two exceptions to this rule are books on North Carolina’s Battle of the Books List and the NCSLMA YA Book Award list. I feel like it’s my job to read these books so I try to through them in the summer (This is why I suffered through White Fang a couple of weeks ago).

Today I hit a book I didn’t care for but haven’t decided whether or not to review it. I read it because I thought it would make a good booktalk for my eighth graders, and I do think that many of my girls will enjoy it. I, however, found it to be shallow and silly. I’m just not sure what to say about it if I choose to review it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reading Above Grade Level and Rereading

This is primarily a blog containing book reviews of children’s and young adult titles. It’s been pretty sporadic over the years – that just reflects my life with two children, an amazing husband, and a job that I love but tries to drown me occasionally. When I have time, I am a heavy ready of other blogs written around the Kidlitosphere. Two different sets of articles have interested me recently and rather than reply to everyone’s blog, I thought I’d just jot down some notes here.

I’ve been a school librarian for twenty years. All but one of those years has been in the same middle school. When I meet parents, I am assured that it’s all-important for their children to be readers, but many freely admit that their kids don’t like reading. So I get these children at the beginning of puberty when school, and especially books are the least important things in their minds and am expected to magically instill in them a love fore reading – something they didn’t acquire during the preschool or elementary school years, the best time for children to fall in love with books. (Don’t get me wrong – I also get a fair amount of children who love to read and I just have to point them to the shelves).

So there are a number of things I do to try and get my non-readers to pick up a book and at least give it a try. Over the past few years, I’ve built up my graphic novel collection to a reasonable level (it would be higher but my graphic novels are by far my most stolen items). When I booktalk I try to include nonfiction titles that will appeal to my students – especially the boys (if it’s gross, I want to read it and talk about it). I try to read a variety of books so I can find something, anything that might appeal to that reluctant reader. This year I’m going to try book speed-dating and see how that works. I’m also thinking of getting at least one eighth grade class to participate in a Good Reads group online.

So what are the barriers to this (besides the kid’s saying “I hate to read” and rolling their eyes at everything you suggest)? One huge barrier is teachers saying that a child must read a book on their reading level. In public schools the almighty test score takes president over everything else, and if we are not challenging our students, exposing them to enough rigorous work, we are not doing our jobs. To hell with actually teaching them – we must raise their test scores. So books on grade level (or above grade level) is the answer, according to many. I can preach until my lips fall off that reading below grade level improves fluency and comprehension, but to no avail.

As has been pointed out, many parents want “age-appropriate, higher-level” books. In other words they want books written several grade levels above their children that don’t have strong language, sex, or extreme violence. It’s hard to convince parents that most books written for teenagers are actually about things that teenagers are interested in (and, believe it or not, teens use strong language when they are around each other, and they think about sex a lot). I actually had a parent of a higher-level reader who was horrified by one of the books in my library and she said that she didn’t want her daughter to read any books where boys dated girls. There went two-thirds of my fiction collection. My media center has books appropriate for 6th – 8th graders. I have The Penderwicks and I have Speak. Some of my books are more appropriate for immature sixth graders, and some are most appropriate for very mature eighth graders. In my twenty years of experience, I have discovered that children have an innate ability to pick out what’s appropriate for them. I also discuss during their first library check-out each year that if they don’t feel comfortable with a book, they can always return the book and check out something else. I stress that I have books for many different types of readers and they have to find what they are most comfortable with.

I also get complaints from teachers and parents about children rereading the same books over and over again. Again, I tell them that rereading improves fluency and comprehension, but many times I cannot convince parents of this. I am an avid re-reader. Rereading brings me comfort when I’m having a bad day and need a book I can count on. I also go back to books whose characters show me the person I want be. I have learned much from Atticus Finch and Marmee and Elizabeth Bennett, among hundreds of other characters. While I couldn’t be perfectly happy only rereading the books in my personal library, I could go for quite some time doing so. Many kids find a book that they want to reread again and again and somehow we think this is bad. It’s funny – we start this when they are toddlers by agreeing to reread the same book night after night (I cannot begin to count how many times I read The Foot Book) but now that they are reading on their own, it’s a bad thing. We have to respect our children’s choices in what they read, whether it’s a book that’s below their level, or one they have read before.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Birmingham, 1963

Birmingham, 1963
Carole Boston Weatherford

The day I turned ten
Our church was quiet. No meetings, no marches.
Mama left me in Sunday school
With a soft kiss and coins for the offering plate.

With a seemingly simple free verse poem, Carole Boston Weatherford has brought us compelling account of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement and of the aftermath of the bombing illustrate the pages.

This is an incredibly moving book. Even though I read it in five minutes, I found myself going back, re-reading, and carefully studying the photographs. I learned things too – I had no idea that children were so important in the Birmingham marches. I cannot imagine sending either of my daughters out to march in such a volatile situation, yet 2,500 children participated. The notes on the photographs were also informative.

This is going to be a great book to use with students. They are going to connect with both the words and the photographs.


Jennifer Bradbury

It seemed like the perfect idea. Two best friends, fresh from graduating from high school, set out on a cross-country bike trip. They even get their parents to agree to the idea. Then, sixty miles from their destination, the Washington coast, one of the friends disappears. Now the friend that is left has to deal with the questions and demands of the family who is not happy their only son is gone.

Chris is now starting his freshman year at Georgia Tech, and he’s furious with his former best friend Win for abandoning him on the road. Win’s father is rich and powerful and he loves throwing his weight around. He’s even gotten the FBI involved in the case, and Chris finds himself being questioned and being followed. He knows that he didn’t do anything to Win – that Win just took off – but can he get anyone to believe him?

Shift is told in an alternating present-time chapter/flashback chapter format. We see Chris as he’s trying to cope with what he views as his best friend’s betrayal, and we also see who he was before and during the bike trip. I think it’s pretty obvious from the beginning as to why Win disappears, but that didn’t spoil the story at all. I really enjoyed this book, even though it was read in a fit of insomnia in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Claudia Gray

Bianca knows that Evernight isn’t the place for her. Most of the students who attend this ancient boarding school are too beautiful, too poised, too good for everyone else who just happens to be there. While I’ve never read any of the Gossip Girls books, that’s the picture I envisioned. Bianca is there because her parents are teachers and they’ve taken a job at Evernight to try and get Bianca out of her painfully shy shell.

Bianca’s roommate is one of the beautiful ones, but she is at least passably nice to Bianca. Bianca shows more interest in the students who appear to be outcasts. Immediately in the book, Bianca meets a boy named Lucas and falls heads over heels for him. They do go through some pitfalls, but eventually they become a couple. Each of them, however, is harboring a secret and these secrets could destroy both their relationship and the entire Evernight community.

I thought this book was ok. I will read the sequel if I can get my hands on it without having to buy it. I know my eighth graders will like it, but I wouldn’t recommend it for any lower grade levels than eighth.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Lisa McMann

Fade was my reward to myself for finishing White Fang. It took me 7 days to read White Fang – it took me 2 ½ hours to read Fade.

At the end of Wake, Janie accepted a position as an undercover police officer. Her captain had worked with another dream catcher and recognized the importance of having one on the force. Now Janie has been asked to do something quite dangerous – find a potential sexual predator at her school. She immediately suspects her chemistry teacher and there are some really creepy scenes with her flirting with Mr. Durbin and him letting her know he likes it.

In the midst of all of this, things for Janie are getting harder. Recovering from the nightmares other sleeping people have is more difficult. Her eyes are getting bad and she doesn’t know why. The captain has given her some files that might have answers to her questions, if only she has the nerve to open and read them.

Wake and Fade are fun to read. I’d put them as appropriate for 9th – 10th grade, not middle school level. I wouldn’t say the mystery in this one was difficult to figure out, but the mystery is just a side story. The real story is the romance between Janie and her boyfriend Cabel and the story behind Janie’s dream catching.

Monday, June 15, 2009

White Fang

White Fang
Jack London

The first thing I should say is that I’m not going to do a traditional review of White Fang. No summary of the book. But I am going to take the time to talk about how I felt about the book.

I should start out by saying that I didn’t set out with a good attitude towards White Fang. I don’t really like reading animal books, and I don’t care for Jack London. Why read it to begin with? Because it’s on North Carolina’s Battle of the Books list and I’m the coach for my school.

White Fang is divided into five parts – for me the first four parts were pure torture. Jack London is an excellent writer, and I could see how the book would appeal to many (my husband loves it), but where I read 9 books during Mother Reader’s 48 hour challenge, it took me 7 days to get this book read. I will say that I enjoyed the last part so the book ended on a positive note for me.

I was taken aback by the brutality in White Fang. The wolf is horribly beaten on several occasions, and he is forced to participate in dog fights. While I wasn’t necessarily surprised to find these scenes in the book, it was quite painful to read them and they were one of the reasons I could only take the book in small doses.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Final Post

As I said in my opening post, I have wanted to do the 48 hour reading challenge for two years. Two years ago I didn’t have a blog, but I discovered many of the blogs that I read daily through Mother Reader’s challenge. Last year the weekend wasn’t right. This year, it was – thank goodness.

This past month has been one of the most challenging professional months I have had in 20 years of teaching. For various reasons, I was in charge of all end-of-grade testing at my school. I haven’t been able to be a librarian all month, and I have missed it. Being able to spend the weekend doing nothing but reading was incredibly relaxing and just what I needed.

So here are my totals. I read and blogged for 21 hours. I wasn’t great about recording which times were reading and which were blogging but here is what I did:

7:15 pm – 10:15 pm

7:45 am – 8:45 am
9:45 am – 10:15 am
10:30 am – 5:00 pm
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
10:10 pm – 10:40 pm

6:00 am – 8:00 am
9:30 am – 11:00 am
1:30 pm – 5:00 pm
5:20 pm – 5:50 pm

In that time I read 9 books:
London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Bounce by Natasha Friend
Exodus by Julie Bertagna
Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan
Huge by Sasha Paley
Wake by Lisa McMann
Safe by Susan Shaw

Reading books in a variety of genres helped me keep the pace up -- something I have to remember for next year. I would also like to increase my total reading and blogging time to about 24 hours next year.

Finally, let me say that the hotel was the way to go. I didn’t worry about laundry or cooking dinner, or really anything except reading. Now the only sad part is I have to wait a whole year before the next 48 hour challenge.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Update #9


Susan Shaw

Tracy’s mom died when she was three, but she’s always felt her presence with her, keeping her safe. That is, until the unthinkable occurs. On the last day of school in 7th grade, Tracy is kidnapped, raped, and left for dead on the side of the road. Suddenly nothing is safe.

Safe is the story of recovering from a trauma that goes deep in the soul. Tracy turns away from everything she has loved (except her father) – her friends, basketball, taking long hikes. She does find solace in music, discovering a love for the piano, and a talent for composing.

Many will compare this book to Speak, and that’s valid. I think they make good companion books. I didn’t like this one as much as I loved Speak, but then I didn’t expect to – Speak is one of my top ten young adult books and it would take an awful lot to top it. I did really enjoy Safe, though, and I think my upper middle school students will too.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Update #8

My time for reading and blogging is up to 19 ½ hours – I’m almost at my minimum goal of 20 hours. Book #8 is

Lisa McMann

Janie is seventeen years old and she rarely if ever dreams. She doesn’t need to – she’s too busy being caught up in the dreams of anyone who is sleeping in the same room she’s in. Sound good? It’s not – she’s tired of the “I’m naked and everyone else around me isn’t” dreams and the “I’m falling” dreams, and the inevitable sex dreams, but it’s the nightmares that really get to her, that send her into a paralyzed state.

After a harrowing bus trip in which many of her classmates sleep/have nightmares, Janie is forced to admit her abilities as a dream catcher to a boy who she likes and appears to like her back – a boy that has the worst nightmares she’s ever experienced. But it appears that he is not all that he seems to be and she might have just confided in the someone who’s not worthy of her trust.

This one I really liked. I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read for this challenge, but a couple (at least) were fairly predictable. While I could predict parts of this book’s plot, the premise was quite original and I’m looking forward to reading its sequel, Fade (as soon as I go buy it at the bookstore).

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Update #7

I’ve been reading for 17 ½ hours now and have just finished my 7th book. It is:

Sasha Paley

Wil is being forced to attend Wellness Canyon. Her parents own a number of fitness centers, but Wil overweight and completely opposed to becoming physically fit. If she has to attend “fat camp,” then she is going to gain weight there just to defy her parents.

April has saved up money all year to be able to go to Wellness Canyon. All she wants is to finally be skinny and popular. She’s so excited about her summer that she’s about to burst.

Somehow these two girls end up as roommates. One determined to succeed; the other determined to fail. As the back of the book states, “this summer’s going to be about more than just counting calories . . . “

I liked this one. Nothing about it is ground-breaking but I found it to be an enjoyable book. In most ways it was predictable (including having the popular people turn out to be mean and hateful) but I think it makes for an excellent summer read.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Update #6

I've now been reading and blogging for 15 1/2 hours. Book #6 was short It was:

Edward's Eyes
Patricia MacLachlan

Tear-jerker. Several hankies worth.

Edward’s Eyes is told from the viewpoint of Edward’s brother Jake. The moment Jake’s parents bring Edward home from the hospital, they put him in Jake’s arms and from then on the two have a special bond. Edward’s eyes are “the dark mud-blue of the night sky, but there are surprising little flecks of gold in them.” Jake loves those eyes.

It’s obvious from the beginning that this is going to be a sad story. MacLachlan is a beautiful writer, and this book does not disappoint.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- Update #5

So far I've spent 14 1/2 hours reading and blogging. I've finished my 5th book (this one really took me a while to get read) and am getting ready to start another one. Here's number five:


Julie Bertagna

It is the year 2100 and the world as we know it has ended. The polar ice caps have melted and the ocean has “drowned” almost all land. Mara and her family live with a few other villagers on Wing – a small set of islands in what used to be Scotland (at least I assumed it was Scotland). Each year there are months of horrific storms and the islands get smaller. Before long the island will be completely consumed by the ocean.

Fifteen year-old Mara wants to save everyone, and she manages to persuade them to board their fishing boats and leave Wing in search of a city built on an ocean – a city that only she has seen through her cyberwizz, a device that allows to her roam about in a type of internet. In the confusion of leaving, Mara doesn’t make it on to her family’s boat, and when they finally make it to New Mungo, she learns that her family has all drowned when their boat overturned. New Munto itself isn’t the haven she is looking for. The city doesn’t take in refugees, it leaves them to starve and die of disease while periodically raiding the boats for healthy young people it can use as slaves. Again Mara sets off to save a people, this time from slavery and then to find a world where they can all live in peace.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about this one. It’s pretty bleak, although it does end with some hope. It’s the first in a trilogy, and I may try to read the next one just to see what happens.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- update #4

Four books down now. I must say this is a lot of fun. I've got a little more reading in me tonight, but then it will be time to enjoy my 20th anniversary. My goal before it's all over with is to get 20 hours in. Right now I'm sitting at 10 hours of reading and blogging. Here's the latest:

Natasha Friend

vyn's life is torn apart when her father, Birdie, announces that he is getting married and Evyn, her brother Mackey are moving from Maine to Boston. Birdie's fiance has six kids and Evyn is rapidly thrust in to a large family. Needless to say, Evyn is less than thrilled with all of these changes. She has to share a room with two of her new stepsisters, and she's enrolled in a private all-girls' school where she has to undergo the typical mean-girls that many thirteens year-olds suffer through.. Everybody but Evyn seems to be settling in well to their new lives. Mackey has gotten the lead in his high school musical, and Birdie gets along well with all of his new stepchildren. Evyn, who has always yearned for her mother (she died when Evyn was 1), finds it particularly difficult to accept this new life. And then Birdie and his new wife announce that they are going to have a baby. I thought this was a decent book. It does cover the same ground that many other books have been written about, but it will appeal to my middle schoolers. I think it will be perfect to booktalk to my 7th graders.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- update #2

I've now finished book 3. My total reading/blogging time so far is about 8 1/2 hours. Book three took a while but boy was it worth it. How can I possibly wait until September for the sequel? Book three was:

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

I know just about everybody on the planet has read this book, so I'm not going to spend time I could be reading on a summary of it. Just a few thoughts . . .

I was initially hesitant to read this book, even though everyone who had raved about it. The beginning of it just reminded me too much of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," a short story I read in 8th grade and which I truly hated. The idea that sane people could and would kill other people as a tribute is truly horrifying, much more so than most horror movies around. And I found myself equally disgusted by society of The Hunger Games. In fact, while I found the plot and the characters engrossing, I had a hard time believing that such a society could ever exist. But then I remember that Hitler's Germany was real and I guess anything is possible.

This is not going to be a difficult book to get my middle schoolers to read. In fact, I think that the two copies I have are not going to be enough.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- update #2

I've now read for 4 1/2 hours and have finished 2 books. Here is my summary of the 2nd book:

Leap of Faith
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I loved this book. Simply loved it. It's the story of Abigail, a girl who has all of sudden been kicked out of school for stabbing a boy. In desperation her parents send her to a Catholic, even though they are firm non-believers. Abigail is full of anger at everyone, but most especially her parents who are completely disconnected from her and the bullying she has been suffering at school. They listen to nothing she says. When she wants to take art as her elective, they say no, and so she ends up in drama.

Everyone in the school, even non-Catholics, must attend Mass on Wednesdays. Abigail is at first confused at what's going on, but she likes the feeling of peace she gets at Mass. She doesn't believe in God, but she feels a pull to become Catholic. Part of this is because she's so mad at her parents and she knows they won't like it, but there is also something more.

Abigail also realizes how much she loves drama class. She performs in the Christmas play (which her parents are too busy to attend) and gets the lead role in the spring play. But as she learns her part, and as she goes to classes to become a Catholic, she realizes that a leap of faith is not just a saying, and somewhere wrapped in everything is her need to learn to forgive

Friday, June 5, 2009

48 hour Reading Challenge -- update #1

I've finished my first book. Here it is:

London Eye Mystery

Siobhan Dowd

Salim has disappeared in what seems to be an impossible manner. While his two cousins wait below, he has gone aboard the London Eye, been sealed in, and then not come out when the ride is over. Nobody can attest to his whereabouts, and his mother is, quite naturally, hysterical. The police are called in but they cannot figure out what’s happened either.

Enter Salim’s two cousins, Ted and Kat. They set out to find out what has happened to their cousin. Has he been kidnapped or has he run away? How did he manage to get off the London Eye without anyone else noticing?

This was an interesting mystery – I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It’s told from the viewpoint of Ted who quite obviously has Asperger’s Syndrome. He compares his mind to a computer’s and while he obviously struggles in many social arenas, he is the perfect person to figure out what has happened to his cousin.

48 Hour Reading Challenge -- I'm starting

Let me start off this challenge by stating publicly how wonderful my husband is. You see, two weeks ago was our 29th wedding anniversary. I am in charge of all End of Grade tests in my school. It's a big deal. I've had zero life outside of school since May 1. My wonderful husband knew how badly I wanted to participate in the Reading Challenge so he suggested we get a hotel room at our favorite hotel and read during the weekend. I needed to relax, and this is the perfect way to do it. I repeat, my husband is wonderful.

I am having one problem, however. My assistant has strep throat, and my throat is getting a little scratchy. I'm just hoping it's sympathetic pains.

I think I'll start off the challenge by reading The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. I'm starting now, at 7:15 p.m.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Missing Girl

The Missing Girl
Norma Fox Mazer

There are five Herber girls – Beauty, Mim, Stevie, Fancy, and Autumn. They range in age from 11 to 17. Each has very different personalities from the other, but each has distinct weaknesses. And they are all being watched.

The girls are poor – their father has been in an accident and has not recovered. In many was, they are surviving on their own, even though their parents are in the house. But the parents have made a wrenching decision. They are going to “lend” their middle child, Stevie, to an aunt. Stevie can help the aunt at her house, and in return the aunt will feed and clothe Stevie. The girls are most unhappy about this decision but are helpless to do anything about it, until the unthinkable occurs.

Woven throughout the story are sections of the girls being watched. It is quite obvious from the beginning that he wants one of the girls for evil purposes. When the opportunity finally comes for him to take one, he seizes it. From here the story becomes that of a family struggling with the loss of a child, and the child, desperately trying to get home.

I had been quite eager to read this book. In many ways it didn’t disappoint. Mazer’s depiction of the kidnapper is truly creepy. I never, however, felt as much connection to the girls as I wanted – they just felt distant to me.

One other point – School Library Journal recommended this book for grades 7 – up. I cannot agree. To me this is a high school book, and that’s where I’ll send my copy of it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

MotherReader: The Fourth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

Two years ago I was reading an article about blogs written by Liz Burns in School Library Journal. I decided that I needed to explore the blogs she recommended and just happened to do it the weekend a reading challenge was taking place. It seemed as though every blog I was looking at was participating in this challenge, and I wanted to play too! There were two problems: I didn't have a blog, and the challenge had already started.

Last year I had too many conflicts. This year? Conflicts, but I'm going to work around them. My sweet wonderful husband has booked us a hotel room for two days where I can read and blog to my heart's content. I still have a few things I'll have to do, and I've never been one to go without sleep, but I'm going to see exactly how many books I can get read in a 48 hour period, and I cannot wait!

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

When Jeremy Fink was 8 years old, his father died in an automobile accident. To many this was not a surprise. After all, a fortune-teller had predicted his death by the age of 40 and he was 39 when he died. Jeremy is now almost 13 and he has never stopped missing his dad. One day he and his best friend Lizzy are hanging out on the steps of their apartment building when the mailman delivers a package addressed to his mother. Beset with curiosity, they open the package to discover a letter and a strange, locked wooden box engraved with the words "THE MEANING OF LIFE: FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY." The letter explains that the box was entrusted to a lawyer until Jeremy turned 13, but unfortunately the lawyer had lost the keys. Jeremy and Lizzy soon discover that the keys to the box will be unique and the box cannot possibly be opened without them. So the adventure begins as they search for some keys that might fit. Throughout the summer they will almost get arrested, they will turn long-lost items to their owners, and they might just find out the meaning of life. I really enjoyed this one. It's got adventure, but most of all it has heart. The ending was neat, but oh so satisfying. I think Jeremy Fink will appeal to many students in my school.