Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rotten by Michael Northrop

So I'm not fond of animal books, but I really enjoyed this one.  JD has just come home from a stint "upstate" to find that his mom has adopted a rescue dog, a Rottweiler he names Johnny Rotten, or JR for short.  When JR bites one of JD's friends, the boy's family sees dollar signs and sues JD's mom.  It's up to JD to save his dog from being put down and his mom from losing the house.  It's impossible not to cheer for JD and JR in this book boys (and girls) are sure to love.  Recommended for grades 7 - up.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

           It all started because Sophie and Grace were nosey.  One of their favorite things to do is to spy on people.  Especially at night.  With binoculars and walkie talkies.  They love to spy at night and even though most of their trips end up being boring, it’s the thrill of sneaking out of their houses and creeping through the neighborhood that really appeals to them.  But then one night they find out much more than they ever expected.  While spying on Sophie’s weird guidance counselor (Grace is homeschooled), they see a figure through the window holding a meat cleaver in the air.  They are convinced that Ms. Agford has just chopped up a body and so they anonymously call the police using Sophie’s phone.  It turns out that Sophie is in a world of trouble because Ms. Agford was just chopping up beets. 
            It looks like an innocent mistake, but Sophie and Grace soon realize that although Ms. Agford wasn’t a murderer that night, something is just not right with her.  They have no idea how to convince their parents of this, so they set out to prove it on their own.  Little do they understand just how much danger they will find themselves in.
            This is a great mystery for kids who are ready to have a little more danger, a little more violence, but who aren’t ready for a full-fledged murder mystery.  I would say it’s about perfect for 5th or 6th grade.  It’s not any more scary or violent that a typical Trixie Beldon mystery (yes, I know that reference really dates me!).   I highly recommend the trailer – it will sell the book for you.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger

Dwight has finally come back to McQuarrie Middle School. Things should be wonderful, but they aren’t.  No sooner does the spring semester start does everyone learn that all of the “fun” teachers (art, band, drama, etc) have been fired so that a new program can be started.  “Fun Time” is designed to help improve test scores, and because the school did poorly last year, the principal will do anything to make sure the school does better this year.
The first thing that Tommy and his friends think of is to ask Origami Yoda what to do.  Origami Yoda says its time to start a rebellion.  But Principal Rabbski is not going to go do without a fight.  Things might get really ugly . . .
Let me just say I love Tom Angleberer for creating this series.  The books are really funny, yet they manage to perfectly capture middle school issues.  Jabba the Puppett exposes the evilness of testing and the pressure it creates for both students and staff.  For years I served as on of the testing coordinators at my school (as well as being the librarian). Each year I found myself comforting sobbing children who had honestly done their best on our End-of-Grade tests and yet not passed.  I hope that by the time I retire, something will be done. 
The only frustrating thing about Jabba the Puppett is that part two won’t be released until spring – I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Gordon Korman
Balzer + Bray, 2012

         Donavan Curtis is a screw-up.  Instead of thinking about his actions, he just acts, and the result is often chaos.  He’s been voted Most Likely to Wind Up in Jail at his middle school for the past two years. But now he’s accidently destroyed a good portion of the school gym and he’s been caught red-handed.   Fortunately for Donovan, Dr. Schultz, the school system superintendent, accidently placed his name on a list of transfer to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction – the school for geniuses.  Donovan is no genius – he is quite average – but he figures the Academy is the best place for him to hide from Dr. Schultz.
            It’s quite obvious to everyone that Donavan doesn’t belong to the academy.  Even though he’s trying to do well, he doesn’t understand much of what’s going on.  Among these geniuses, he sticks out like a sore thumb.  Even so, he finds his niche and is able to contribute.  When his class is threatened with having to go to summer school to take Human Growth and Development, Donovan arranges for his very pregnant sister to save the day by acting as a real-life experience.  Donovan’s video games skills are extremely helpful with running the Robotics Club robot – this year they might even win the competition!  But even with Donovan trying to do the right thing, sometimes screw-ups happen anyway.
            I loved this book.  I loved Donovan, and I loved all his geeky classmates at the Academy.  It’s a funny book, but with a deeper message.  It’s also a perfect book for students who loved Korman’s Schooled.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

The First Day of School

Here it is -- the moment I've been preparing for since the last day of school in June.  I've enjoyed my summer, but I've done a lot of work to make sure this will be a great school year.  I think the library shows the effort.

First of all (and I wish I'd taken pictures of the piles) our school librarian SWAT team came in and helped me weed 2,177 books.  What is SWAT?  Each summer we have the option of having a team of librarians come to our schools for a couple of days to do whatever work has piled up over the school year.  Sometimes that involves rearranging the library, other times processing books.  I had never taken advantage of our SWAT team, but my library desperately needed weeding so I asked for a team this year.  Four of us worked for two days and the shelves look so much better!

Last week I started setting up displays and bulletin boards for the new year.  I am very grateful to Pinterest -- I used many ideas I found there.  Here's what will greet the students today:

The Theme for the month is Dystopian Fiction. The Hunger Games is still extremely popular at our school, so I thought I'd take advantage of it.

I also have processed a number of new books and
I have them out for students.  Some of these books are replacements for ones that were damaged or disappeared from the library.  I have some more to set out when these are taken.  My guess is that the Ripley's Believe it Or Not will last about 10 seconds before it's checked out.

This is the display of books nominated for the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award.  Ten books are nominated each year and I buy at least two copies of each book.  Students will get to vote in March.  I'm going to have to move this display because I'm having bookshelves built into all of my windows.  My fiction collection is way too crowded (even after weeding more than 900 books), so the bookshelves will wonderful to have.

I got this from Pinterest.  I'm really proud of the way it turned out and its message is particularly important for middle school students.

I haven't done a top 10 (in this case a top 15) bulletin board in a while.  These were the most checked out books last year (excluding books on the Battle of the Books list)
Another idea from Pinterest. My daughter hand-made the bubble letters. This board has already gotten a lot of positive comments from the staff.
This year I decided to do a drawing to be first to check out books from popular series.    It will be interesting to see how that goes.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Friends with Boys

Friends with Boys

Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2012

Maggie is dealing with a lot in her life right now.  She has three older brothers, a police chief father, and her mother has suddenly abandoned them.  Maggie feels like it’s all her fault.  After all, she’d rather hang out with her brothers than do girly stuff with her mother.  Now her mom is gone and Maggie blames herself.  Maggie has also been homeschooled all her life but she’ll be starting public school at the local high school and she’s scared.  She has no friends except her brothers and they’ll be so busy at school that they won’t have any time for her.  Maggie has one other problem too – she’s haunted.
            For the most part, I really enjoyed Friends with Boys.  I found Maggie to be an interesting character and I liked both her new friends, Lucy and Alistar, and her brothers.  I think the portrayal of high school life was spot-on.  The only part I wasn’t in love with was the ghost story.  I get how it advanced the plot, but I guess I just wanted a school story.  I hope there will be a sequel to the book – I would like to see what happens to Maggie and her brothers.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087
Alan Gratz
Scholastic Press, 2013

             “If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more.
            I wouldn’t have complained about brushing my teeth, or taking a bath, or going to bed at eight o’clock every night.  I would have played more.  Laughed more.  I would have hugged my parents and told them I loved them.
            But I was ten years old, and I had no idea of the nightmare that was to come.” (p. 2)

            Yanek Gruener is a Jewish boy living in Poland in 1939, and his world is about to come crashing down around him.  First the Germans invade, rights and privileges are denied, and then Yanek watches as a huge wall is built around his neighborhood and all the Jews are herded into this new ghetto.  Life in the ghetto is hard, but its inhabitants are terrified of becoming one of those who disappear each day, who are deported to what is rumored to be their death.  Yanek and his family hide out in an old pigeon coop on the roof of their apartment building until one day when Yanek comes home and his parents are gone – taken by the Nazis.  Yanek will never see them again.
            It’s not long before Yanek will also be taken, but not to die.  He is taken to a work camp, a place with a cruel commandant who loves to pick prisoners out just to kill them. This is only one of the ten camps that Yanek will eventually be held in.  Others include Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Dachau.  To survive one concentration camp is difficult, but to survive ten?  Almost impossible.
            I started Prisoner B-3087 last night, thinking I would read a few pages before I went to bed.  I ended up staying up late to finish it.  It is truly a harrowing account of life during the Holocaust, and an incredible survival story.  The book itself is fiction, but is based on the true story of Jack Gruener, who survived the Holocaust and eventually immigrated to the United States. 
            I loved the way Alan Gratz wrote Yanek’s story.  It is simple and spare, and because of this, the conditions in the ghetto and the camps seemed all the more horrifying.  If I had a quibble, it would be that I wanted to know more about Yanek’s assimilation back into a normal life after the war, more than the nine pages that were given.  So many Holocaust books detail what life during the war was like, but there aren’t many that take their characters through the life after the war.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

How many of you liked (or perhaps still like) to play with action figures?  What were some of your favorites?  Zach has played with Poppy and Alice for years.  They have the most fun using action figures and dolls to make up elaborate stories – stories that last for days.  All three love the stories, but now that they are twelve, Zach’s father feels that Zach needs to give up his toys before other kids find out and make fun of him.  So without telling Zach, he throws away all of the toys he feels Zach is too old for.  Zach is devastated, and he’s furious with his dad.  But he cannot bring himself to tell the girls the truth, so he just tells them he just wants to stop playing.
            Poppy, in particular, is devastated.  But then a couple of nights later, the girls wake him up in the middle of the night.  Poppy then pulls out the Queen, the one doll they had never been allowed to play with because it was her mother’s and was supposedly valuable. Poppy tells Zach that the Queen had spoken to her in a dream. According the Queen, they need to bury the doll in the town of East Liverpool, Ohio – a few hours away by bus.  As crazy as it seems, the three gather what money they have and set off for East Liverpool to bury the Queen once and for all.
            Doll Bones has been mentioned by numerous people as a contender for the Newbery, and I certainly understand why.  It is very much an adventure, but more importantly, it is a story about growing up.  Holly Black’s writing is beautiful.  For the first time in a while, I found myself jotting down page numbers of passages that I really liked. It’s also going to be a kid-friendly book.  Unlike The Center of Everything, it will be an easy sell to my students.  In the long run, however, I think The Center of Everything is a stronger contender.  The problem I had was in suspending disbelief on the actions of one of the characters.  Without risking too many spoilers, Black has Alice doing and saying a couple of things that I just don’t see in her doing.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not a great book, or that I’m not going to booktalk the heck out of it.  It just means that it gets four stars from me instead of five.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein

This is a fascinating account of Leonard Bernstein’s life from his birth until his debut as a conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1943 at the age of 25.  Bernstein had a lot going against him in his desire to be a musician and conductor.  His father, a Russian immigrant, was adamantly opposed to the idea.  He wanted his son in a stable, reliable job – working for him selling machines that would give women permanent waves.  From the beginnings of his life, however Lenny just wanted to make music.  Becoming a conductor seemed an almost impossible dream because at the time all of the important conductors in America were born and trained in Europe.  Lenny, however persevered and when the guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic became ill, he was asked to fill in.  His performance was so successful that it was never again in doubt that he would be a famous conductor.  Bernstein went on to conduct and compose music, both classical and contemporary (including West Side Story).
         This is not a book that I would hand to any kid, but it is perfect for the student who is committed to music. It would also be good for the child who has a lot of obstacles to face in order to achieve a dream. It’s an excellent read.