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.