Thursday, October 30, 2008
Rosemary Goode is a sweet, optimistic girl. She loves her family. She gets good grades. She helps out at her mom's salon. But people don't seem to see any of that because they can't see past her weight. Even her mom and her aunt sometimes act like losing weight is all that matters. She doesn't really have any friends at school and she lives in perpetual fear of the nasty girls in the Bluebirds clique - they're always on the lookout for humiliating opportunities. Oh, and everyone calls her Artichoke because of an incident involving a green down jacket in the sixth grade. (One problem with living in a small town: nobody ever forgets anything.)
So Rosemary resolves to lose weight. It won't be an easy journey. And she'll discover some things that will surprise her. Life isn't easy for anyone, even the perfect girls at her high school.
I am picky about my fat-girl books and I enjoyed Artichoke's Heart. Rosemary is a likeable character who's dealing with her problems, albeit not always in the healthiest ways. She doesn't always succeed in her struggle with weight loss, but she doesn't always fail. And the book's not all about calories and treadmills either. With the exception of her weight, Rosemary's issues are the same issues that any girl might be going through: making friends, starting a relationship, dealing with family. That's what I really liked about it. I hate to get all message-y on you, but the fact that Rosemary starts a relationship while she's fat was a big plus for me.
I also liked the cast of quirky, small-town characters that make up the background of the novel. And I have to say that this is one of the more delicious-looking book covers I've seen. It makes me want to do a book display with food covers (Artichoke's Heart, Shug... what else?).
Read more reviews at Becky's Book Reviews, Librarian by Day, and Little Willow. Also be sure and stop by Suzanne Supplee's website.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
When I started it, I really had no idea how much fun it would be and how many wonderful people I'd meet through it. It's way exceeded any expectations I might have had.
So, I just want to say thanks for reading and here's to many more years of blogging!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Yes, yes, I am again joining the ranks of the insane and attempting to write a novel in November. Actually, you are reading the blog of a 4-time NaNoWriMo winner (I don't mean to be braggy). Even though this year poses unique challenges (Cybils reading comes first, I promise, Jackie!), it just wouldn't be November without typing my fingers to the bone.
ANYhoo. The point of this post is to say that if you are considering trying NaNoWriMo, DO IT. It's fun! And if you'd like to be my writing buddy, feel free to add me. I will tell you encouraging things like "Your novel doesn't suck!" and "Just write 500 more words and then you can watch Scrubs for awhile!"
If you'd rather watch from the sidelines (totally understandable), my word count should be automatically updated in the sidebar there.
Summary from the back of the book:
"Aurelia, the crown princess of Tyralt, wants control over her own life. Robert, her former classmate, wants Aurelia. And someone wants her... dead. There have been several narrowly escaped attempts to assassinate the princess, but the king has no desire to incite panic by making the information public. Instead, Robert, the son of the king's former royal spy, is allowed into the inner circle to secretly investigate and watch over Aurelia. Robert is determined to help, if only Aurelia would let him! But the princess will not heed the danger around her, and she does not need Robert to save her. Just as their friendship begins to grow into something more, the threat on Aurelia's life becomes paramount. With everything possible on the line - her life, her kingdom, her heart - Aurelia must take matters into her own hands, whatever the cost."
I can't sum it up any better than that. I really enjoyed Aurelia. Kick-butt heroine? Check. Intriguing family history? Check. Swordfighting? Check. A dash of romance? Check.
Yes, Aurelia's got all the elements, but there were things about it that I liked even more than your average feisty princess story. Aurelia being in the dark about the plots to kill her made the storyline even more interesting to me. The mystery woven into the story kept things moving and wasn't totally predictable (at least to me). And Aurelia's not just adventurous and independent for the heck of it. She really loves her kingdom and wants to be a good ruler. She sneaks out of the castle, not for thrills (well, sometimes for thrills), but to visit with and get to know the people.
It wasn't perfect, but it was a fine read and will satisfy those teens who can't get enough of princess stories. I'd recommend this to fans of Cynthia Voigt's Jackaroo (have other people read the Kingdom books? Does anyone else love them, too??) and maybe Tamora Pierce's Alanna. Check out Anne Osterlund's website and more reviews by Becky, Trisha, and Tiny Little Librarian.
Monday, October 27, 2008
This fabulous picture book biography explores the life of Ida B. Wells.
Born a slave in 1862 as the Civil War raged on, she was no stranger to injustice. Since she was a young girl, Ida had a mind of her own and was not afraid to express her opinion. She loved to read and write and she became a teacher and a writer, sharing her ideas about politics and religion when most women writers wrote about family life.
Ida's articles gained popularity with both men and women as she spoke out against the Jim Crow laws which made segregation legal. Years before Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, Ida Wells was refused passage in a first class train car even though she had purchased a first class ticket. Rather than ride in another car, Ida got off the train.
Ida's life changed when a friend of hers was lynched in Memphis. Ida began to write about lynching and to speak out against it. Her words were published in newspapers such as the Free Speech and The New York Age and eventually helped to bring an end to lynchings.
Ida always signed papers Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells.
I loved the illustrations in this book. They are full of bright colors and striking images. I think the images in this book do just what great illustrations are supposed to do: they compliment the text and heighten the overall meaning of the book.
The bulk of the book concentrates on Ida's campaign against lynching, but an afterword contains additional information about Ida B. Wells's life. It includes a timeline and information about the practice of lynching. Yours for Justice, Ida. B. Wells is on the ACPL's Mock Sibert list and check out Diane Chen's review and see how she used it in her classroom.
Happy Nonfiction Monday! Go check out the roundup at Picture Book of the Day!
Friday, October 24, 2008
Phrase that needs to be used more: Edward Cullenization. As in the Edward Cullenization of romantic interests in teen books. As in putting your love interest on a pedestal and seeing nothing wrong with them ever, having this idealized version of them in your head that no one could ever really live up to. As in, I have certainly Edward Cullenized John Green. Because I love him. And he is awesome.
Also, I saw both covers and came down in favor of the blue cover. And then there were only yellow covers left! So I bought one with a yellow cover. And THEN the girl ahead of me in line overheard me telling J that I liked the blue cover. And it turned out she liked the yellow cover better but had bought one with a blue cover. So we switched!
*Okay, so I have only seen him twice, including this time. But I wholeheartedly believe that there could never be a time when seeing John Green would not be awesome. So... yeah.
Y'all remember Jack from Love That Dog, right? Remember how he thought he hated poetry until he started writing some himself?
Well, he's back. A whole new school year, a new writing notebook, a furry nemesis, and the same teacher who followed his class up a grade.
In Hate That Cat, Jack's class is studying different poems. At first some of them don't seem to make much sense. (What is up with the red wheelbarrow, anyway??) But the more he reads them, the more they grow on him. And the more poems he writes, the more he figures out about himself and his family and his place in the world.
Jack's also pondering some interesting questions:
Something I am wondering:
if you cannot hear
what happens when you read
purr purr purr
or chocolate chalk?
Can you somehow
the purr purr purr
the chocolate chalk?
Do you feel the sounds
hear them? (pg 23)
This would be a great book to include in poetry units. In the back of the book Creech includes the poems that Jack talks about and imitates. I'd hand this to fans of Love That Dog, poetry buffs, and young writers.
Also reviewed at Kidsread.com, Fuse #8, and Sarah Miller.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)
Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum)
Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic)
E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion)
Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)
Of these five, I've read (and loved) three. And I'll certainly be getting my hands on What I Saw and How I Lied and The Spectacular Now at my earliest opportunity.
I found out via Jocelyn that ALA has announced the Teens' Top Ten List:
No surprises there and I'm particularly happy to see Before I Die on that list, as that was one of my favorites of last year.
- Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
- Vampire Academy by Rachel Mead
- Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
- The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
- Extras by Scott Westerfeld
- Before I Die by Jenny Downham
- Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speaking of spectacular booklists, the lists of the Cybils nominees are up! There are 136 nominees in the YA Fiction category, so I'll be a busy little librarian for the next couple of months! Certainly the Cybils shortlists will be excellent resources for book recommendations, but there's something to be said for the nominee lists as well. Although some of them won't be your cup of tea, it's a great starting place if you need to, say, come up with some middle grade novels or picture book nonfiction books for booktalks.
And speaking of booktalks, The YA YA YAs have a post up about booktalking tips that you'll want to check out. I'll heartily second Trisha's advice to find your own style (there's not one way to deliver a perfect booktalk... do what works for you and what you are comfortable with) and Gayle's advice to practice, practice, practice! From my own bag of tricks, I'll add that what I try to do with booktalks is to find the hook... When you started reading the book, what made you keep reading it? What made it interesting to you? What built suspense?
Lastly, I want to report that the ALSC blog will have a new feature starting in November: "Things I Didn't Learn in Library School..." ALSC bloggers will post about things they've learned since being on the job and anyone is welcome to submit anecdotes (head over to their post to share). It's certain to be useful and probably amusing, so I'll be on the lookout for those posts.
Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Harper is convinced that these "natural" disasters are getting worse and worse as global warming increases. And she's determined to do something about it. So she recycles. She stops drinking pop. She refuses to use foam cups. And she gets on a plane and heads out to Bailey, TN (population of about 1000) to build a house.
The house is for the Wrights, a family of five who have been working nonstop to clean up their neighbor's houses and the town. Now this group of teen volunteers is building a house for them. Harper's glad that she can help out. But she's also relieved to get out of LA for the summer. She had a family there. But even though there was no natural disaster in California, her home's crumbled beneath her. She had to get away.
Can a summer spent in the muggy heat of the Tennessee backwoods be enough to teach Harper how to rebuild what's been lost?
I loved this book. I was drawn to Harper from the first page. She cares deeply about things and truly wants to make a difference. And then as the book proceeds you find out that she has some secrets. Things happened back home that made her want to get away. Somehow her life unraveled. As Harper narrates the summer in present-tense, she flips back and forth between explaining what happened with her family in California. She gives you just enough information to pull the reader forward through the story and keep you intrigued.
It's a quiet book. The big, dramatic events have happened offstage - the tornado and the divorce. Harper's dealing with the aftermath of both. Far away from her home, she makes new friends and discovers a true connection with a boy. Slowly, she begins to put everything back together.
I loved the writing. It's poetic and has a snarky edge that I dig. Like when she meets the director for the volunteer program:
Linus Devereaux. The paragraph said he'd built homes in Alaska, Mississippi, the Florida Gulf Coast, South Dakota, Watts, Haiti, the Congo, and the Ukraine. It didn't say anything else about him, but it did end with this quote from Gandhi that all the posers at school like to put on their senior yearbook pages: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Then again, those posers go off to UCLA or USC or sometimes Yale, and they drink too much and throw up out their dorm windows, and this guy is off building houses in every corner of the globe, so I guess maybe he's actually earned the right to put Gandhi's quote beneath a picture of himself with an uncomfortable smile. (pp 10-11.)
I've been wanting to pick this up for awhile now since I read Reinhardt's A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life a couple years ago and loved it. I'm so glad I finally did pick it up because I think HTBAH is one of my favorite books of the year.
More reviews at Teenreads.com, LA Times, A Patchwork of Books, and propernoun.net.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I saw myself entering a new world, diving into the deep sea with only a mask and no compass or chart, my assignment to draw a map of water. Only I would not be given equipment. (pg. 15)
When Magda's mother died, she kind of shut down for awhile. Her mother was the only one who really understood her. Magda and her mother shared a worldview. They explored the beach and the water and created beautiful things from what they found. And then her mother died. And Magda began to float.
Eventually she left her room. She began to take walks in the woods. She began to start fires because she was drawn to them, because she wanted to create something.
Magda looks around her and sees a profound difference between her own ramshackle house and the rows of manicured houses farther from the water. She longs to enter that orderly, normal world that she calls "the standard", but she's afraid that she's destined to stay in the watery, chaotic world that her mother lived in.
The Shape of Water chronicle's Magda's internal struggle to deal with her mother's death. Not only is Magda crushed by the loss of her mother, she's left with a father and a spinster aunt who don't understand her and she's abandoned by her best friend. To cope with loneliness, her mind creates the Fish family, imaginary fish that swim into her thoughts.
This novel is beautifully written. I flagged passage after passage of really poetic writing. For example:
Julia's life had walls and dams, places of prediction and intent. Julia's life, unlike mine, would never collapse. I thought this while looking outside at the solid roofs of the houses surrounding her house, at the endless rows of fencing... My mother wanted me to like where we lived, to like the susurrus of the sea and the way the wind rose from the ocean year-round, to like our house, which was dark and old and sprouted lozenges of mold under the eaves. Because she had wanted me to like it, I said I did. (pp 7-8.)
Or when talking about the fires she set:
I set them as intentionally as I would set the dinner table. Every one of them. I planned them out in the same way my English teacher showed us how to plan an essay. (pg. 192)
So, yes. Really gorgeous writing. But did I like it? Hmm. Did I like it? I think it was just a little too weird for me. I can see that there is an audience that will probably really dig this story. In fact, when I was a teenager I might have really dug this story. I think it's the kind of story you have to work at a little bit - it's not immediately accessible. It's not for everyone, but I think those who are into it will be really into it.
It reminded me a little of I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier (I loved that book in high school). It might be a hit with fans of The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.
Not exactly my cup of tea, but I know that the imagery and characters in this story will stick with me for a long time.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The world is a dangerous place. Every kid needs a safe home. Every kid deserves to be loved. Is that so much to ask?
Victoria is on a train to New York City when she first sees the kid. Well, actually, she first feels the kid. Kicking her seat. Which is really not cool.
Then she notices the bruises on his arms. And the way his mom is feeding him nothing but orange soda. And how she jerks him around and scolds him for falling onto the floor.
And then the mom gets off the train in New York City and leaves the baby behind in the restroom.
What is Victoria supposed to do? She can't just leave him there. Who knows what might happen to him? And the whole situation has gotten her thinking about her own dad who, ever since the divorce, has been making promises he couldn't keep, has been letting her down and not showing up. And Victoria is just sick of all the promises grownups make that they don't keep. And she can practically see this toddler falling through the cracks.
So she takes him.
She had no idea how much trouble it would land her in.
I opened this book and was immediately sucked in to the story. Despite the madcap situation, Victoria is a realistic character. She's idealistic. She truly thinks she can save this kid from whatever his fate might be. And she's got a lot to figure out about her own life and family.
One of my favorite things about the story is that Victoria reaches out for help almost immediately. She tries to tell her dad what happened, to explain how she ended up skipping her train stop and why she has a two-year-old with her. Her dad's too impatient to listen to what she has to say and Victoria has to take matters into her own hands and do what she thinks is right. Still, she knows that she won't be able to take care of him forever, and she keeps tentatively reaching out until she finds an adult she feels she can trust.
Not everyone agrees with me. Check out Reviewer X's review. (While I can certainly see what Steph is saying, I will say that it was Victoria's internal journey that intrigued me more than the actual action of the story. She's finally taking ownership of something and finally dealing with her issues about her parents' divorce.) You'll also want to visit Stacy DeKeyser's website. This is another Flux title and I have to say that I've really enjoyed the ones I've read so far.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Did you know that there is an animal similar to the kangaroo but the size of a mouse? Did you know that there is a bat no bigger than a bumblebee? Did you know that there is an animal called an elephant shrew that is neither an elephant nor a shrew?
Well, these animals exist... but maybe not for long. They're all extremely rare and endangered.
This book introduces the EDGE (Environmentally Distinct & Globally Endangered) program and the work its scientists do. The authors present eleven different animals and explain how scientists are studying them or trying to find them. Each brief spread is laid out like a magazine page, making this book great for browsing. The book includes tons of color photographs and side boxes with fun facts and interesting information.
It seems like every year we get kids in the library doing an endangered species report and some of them are researching animals so very rare that there is very little information about them. Although the information in this book is a bit scant for research purposes (most animals only get three or four paragraphs), this might be a source for those extremely rare animals that you can't find in any other books.
Animals at the Edge includes the following animals: Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, Yangtze river dolphin, Hispaniolan solenodon, long-eared jerboa, bumblebee bat, pygmy hippopotamus, slender loris, Hirola antelope, golden-rumped elephant shrew, aye-aye, and wild Bactrian camel.
I heard about Animals at the Edge through a review on The Well-Read Child, which you'll want to check out. Jill's great review made me want to read it! You might also want to check out the EDGE website for more information about the program.
(Another resource to be aware of when looking for info on endangered animals is ARKive.org. It's a neat website that aims to collect photos, videos, and information about the world's animals as a way of preserving them.)
Happy Nonfiction Monday! Anastasia's got the roundup at Picture Book of the Day.
Friday, October 17, 2008
8:45a - Head into story room to prep for storytime with M. Look over the books we've planned, decide who will do what, pick out a song.
9:15a - Finish prepping the room by setting up easel for felt board, pulling browsing books.
9:30a - Brief staff meeting. We get a tour of the new RFID check-in device. It is super cool. I could watch it all day, except, well, I have work to do. :)
10:15a - Back in the office, browse carts of new books. When new books arrive, we keep them on carts in our office for a few days (if any have holds they go on to circ). It's important to keep up with what's new, browse new picture books for storytime possibilities, etc.
10:50a - To story room for final prep (pick out a CD for the few minutes between when we open the door and when we start reading, look over books one last time).
11:00-11:30a - Drop In Storytime for ages 2-5. We read Raise the Roof by Anastasia Suen, Sheep Out to Eat by Nancy Shaw, Silly Sally (big book) by Audrey Wood, Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems, Let's Go Visiting by Sue Williams, and do the song Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and a felt story of Blue Rabbit and Friends. As you can see, we typically don't stick to themes for our storytimes.
11:30a - Say goodbye to kids and caregivers, clean up room, record the books we used. We may use a few very favorites more often, but we try not to repeat the same books for 18 months or so. Nothing wrong with favorites, but it's nice to discover new books at the library, too.
11:40a - Back in the office. Start filling out graphics requests for the Preschool Fair. Last year our PF was in November, but this year we're moving it to January. I put in requests for signs and flyers to advertise the fair.
12:40p - Lunch time! I start reading Aurelia while I eat.
1:40p - Back from lunch, I return an email from a preschool teacher and discuss Newbery contenders with coworkers.
2:00p - We gather to meet with a rep from a publisher. She brings samples of some of their new titles so we can browse and select which books we'd like to order. She also answers any questions we have and asks for our feedback.
3:00p - Back at my desk, I check email and talk to coworker J about a performer coming next month.
3:15p - Fill out weeding slips for the last of the audiobook cassettes. We still have a few left on the shelves, but not many.
3:30p - Work on preschool loan bags about fall, Halloween, and make believe.
4:00-5:00p - On desk. I answer the following questions:
I need biographical information about this person for a certain grade level.
Where are books about these specific animals?
Do you have these DVDs?
I need CD-ROMS on a certain subject.
5:00p - Time to go home!
Thursday, October 16, 2008
It's morning. Soft, gray light slips over the tall redbrick wall. It stretches across the exercise yard and reaches through the high, barred windows. In a cell on the ground floor, the light shifts dark shapes into a small stool, a scrawny table, and a bed made of wooden boards with no mattress or blanket. On that bed, a thin, huddled figure, Helmuth, a boy of seventeen, lies awake. Shivering. Trembling.
It's a Tuesday.
The executioner works on Tuesdays.
So begins a fictionalized account of the real-life Helmuth Hubener, a teenager in WWII Germany who was arrested for spreading the truth about the Nazis. Helmuth wasn't always such a rebel. As Hitler came to power and Helmuth grew up, he was a fiercely patriotic member of the Hitler Youth. But as the war raged on, Nazis imposed many restrictions on daily life. Besides persecuting Jews and other groups in Germany, the Nazis made it illegal to read unapproved books or listen to radio broadcasts from outside Germany. When Helmuth discovered a way to listen to the BBC broadcasts about the war, he found out the truth that the Nazis were hiding from the German people. And he knew he had to pass along that truth to everyone he could reach.
I was delighted to see that Bartoletti had written this book. Earlier this year I read her nonfiction title Hitler Youth and I found Helmuth's story to be one of the most fascinating. I think this is a story that will resonate with teens and captivate them. The writing is also great. Take this passage as Helmuth is forced to write an essay supporting the Nazis when he secretly hates them:
The inside of Helmuth's head feels like crashing cymbals. The words, the sentences, waver, bang apart, come back together again until at last he's finished. He stares at the handwritten pages and feels worse than a coward. He feels like a traitor. (pg 50)
I must admit that fictionalized biographies don't do much for me. Having read Hitler Youth, I knew a bit about Helmuth's story which may have lessened the tension for me. Bartoletti includes a length author's note with photos of Helmuth and his friends and explanations of what happened to them after the story leaves off. I get that no one can know exactly what Helmuth went through after his arrest as he waited to hear whether he would be executed. But for me, I think I would have liked the book better if it had either been an actual biography or if it had been a totally fictional character inspired by the true story of Helmuth Hubener.
That said, it's still a powerful story that deserves a wide audience. I'd hand it to anyone interested in WWII and be sure to have Hitler Youth ready for when they finish.
The Boy Who Dared is on Mock Newbery and Mock Printz lists all over the place and it's gotten several starred reviews. Also read reviews at Librarilly Blonde, Teenreads.com, and Ms. Yingling Reads. Be sure and stop by Ms. Bartoletti's website.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The Very Lazy Ladybug by Isobel Finn, illustrated by Jack Tickle. This ladybug is so lazy that she never learned to fly. Instead, she tries to hitch a ride with various passing animals. When the elephant sneezes it launches the ladybug into the air and she's forced to fly at last. Big, bright pictures of animals are pretty much always a hit at storytime.
Of course, we can't forget The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This classic will be familiar to many kids at your storytime. The book is great, but try creating a felt story or use this storytelling kit or puppet set from Lakeshore Learning to give it some extra oomph.
If you've got older preschoolers or lower elementary, pull out one of my all-time favorites: Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg. It's a bit lengthy, so make sure you know your group if you're trying it with preschoolers. When the ant colony finds a way into the sugar bowl, two bad ants decide to stay behind and keep all the crystals for themselves. But life outside the colony isn't nearly as easy as they think it will be.
Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks is technically not about insects, but this story of a sweet spider who just wants to be a family pet. No matter how hard she tries to show the humans what a great, talented pet she'll be, they always react the same way: "Aaaarrgghh! Spider!" What will it take for her to show them she'd be a great addition to the family? This is another one of my favorites and I can read it again and again.
Add some music to your storytime with The Ants Go Marching and The Eensy Weensy Spider. Sing it straight up or check out Sharon, Lois, & Bram's version on their CD Great Big Hits. They start with the eensy weensy spider and then do a verse with the GREAT BIG SPIDER and then a verse with the itsy bitsy (very, very small) spider.
There you have some of my favorite bug books... what are some of yours??
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
One criticism I've heard about The Underneath is the violence portrayed in a book for children. Ms. Appelt has this to say:
I know that some people feel queasy about the violence in the book. It makes me queasy too. And I approached that aspect of the story with great respect. By not diminishing the violence, my goal was to embrace the love that was possible inside of it, and to illuminate it more fully against that backdrop.
When it is very, very dark, a tiny pinhole of light can seem like the radiant sun. Only in great darkness, great sorrow, can great light emerge. That was my intent. And I think that children deserve, in fact, I think they have a right to experience deep feelings.
I love Ms. Appelt's sentiments about this and highly encourage you to go read the rest of the review.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a life-threatening neurological disorder, has no certain cause and results in temporary complete paralysis. That would be devastating for anyone, but for perfectionist, type-A Dane, it's excruciating. Dane, who never wanted help from anyone, can't move his arms or legs. He can't walk, dress himself, or even turn his head. But GBS isn't permanent and 75% of sufferers make a complete recovery. With odds like those, Dane is quite certain that he'll be back on his feet and out on the ski slopes in time for fall training. He's always been better than average at whatever he's attempted, after all.
But as time passes, it becomes clear that Dane may not regain full control of his body, no matter how hard he works. If Dane's not a champion skier and all-around-perfect guy... who is he? That's what he'll have to figure out.
I have to give Monica Roe mad props for creating a character that I hated so much I wanted to punch him in the face, but with a story compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. Dane is obnoxious. Yes, he's talented and smart and athletic, but he treats everyone in his life really badly. "Empathy" is not in his vocabulary.
But who can really blame him? His parents take a strictly hands-off policy when their oldest son is stricken with this disease. They ship him off to Florida, purportedly because it's the best facility for his treatment, but also so they don't have to get their hands messy with him while he's not perfect. It's clear that Dane's not a brat for the sake of being a brat. He's developed his attitude as a way to deal with his dad's constant demand for nothing less than perfection.
Dane was a compelling character and, to be completely honest, I kept reading to see what would happen to finally put him in his place. There are two storylines - Dane's perspective from the hospital while he's recovering and flashbacks of his life before his diagnosis. We see what he was like before the disease and how he's changing now that he's in treatment.
The story wasn't completely cohesive for me. Although I knew there would come a point when Dane got his act together and stopped being so obnoxious, it didn't happen as organically as I would have liked. Maybe that was because of the book's diary-like format that sometimes documented several days in a row, but sometimes skipped ahead several days. But even with its faults, I found this to be an interesting story with a passionate main character.
I'd hand this one to fans of Inexcusable and The Burn Journals and maybe It's Kind of a Funny Story. I'd also recommend Pat Hughes's Open Ice, which is about a teen hockey player who may have to give up the sport after a head injury.
Check out Cynthia's interview with Monica Roe.
(Can I just say that I can't believe the nomination period is almost over? It seems like they just opened yesterday...)
I know I speak for my fellow panelists when I say we're super excited to get the final list of nominees and start reading and discussing!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Over 6200 aliens have invaded the United States alone.
Er... alien species, that is.
Alien (or exotic) species are species of animals that have settled in a place that's different from their original, natural homes. Sometimes these species become invasive species, meaning that they cause serious problems in their new home.
One example is the red imported fire ant, which took over the southern United States after being brought over from South America. Finding a new home rich with food and without the predators and parasites they faced in South America, the red imported fire ant expanded to invade 13 states. They dominate native ant populations, kill other native animals, decimate some kinds of crops, sting humans (sometimes even causing death), and damage farm equipment with their plentiful mounds.
Luckily there are scientists researching invasive species and figuring out ways to control them. Efforts to poison the red imported fire ant actually resulted in an increase in their population (the poison wasn't effective and killed off other ant populations, making it easier for the imported fire ants to take over more). Scientists had to find another way to contain the population.
In Science Warriors you'll learn about these ants and other species that cause serious problems when introduced to a new ecosystem. You'll also learn about the scientists who study them and devise ways to control the populations. Full color photos accompany a readable text that will appeal to kids interested in animals, science, and the environment. The book includes information about how everyone can do their part to control the spread of invasive species. A glossary, index, and list of further resources are all included as well.
I haven't loved all the Scientists in the Field books, but this one is a definite hit!
It's Nonfiction Monday, so head over to Picture Book of the Day for the roundup!
Review copy received from Houghton Mifflin (thanks!).
Saturday, October 11, 2008
When I was in high school, a friend's mom got us into a double feature at a local movie theater. One of the movies was Dazed and Confused. The other movie was Some Mother's Son. (I challenge you to find a stranger pairing for a double feature.) Years later, I remember almost nothing about Dazed and Confused, but Some Mother's Son has really stuck with me. So when I heard about Bog Child and that it was about the Northern Ireland conflict and the hunger strikes, I was instantly intrigued.
It's 1981 and Fergus McCann is 18 when he and his uncle find the body. It's the body of a girl, preserved for thousands of years in the bog, and it looks like she's been murdered. As Fergus ponders the fate of this girl and tries to study for his exams, other things are going on around him. Northern Ireland is smack in the middle of The Troubles, a violent conflict with Ireland, and his brother Joe is on a hunger strike in jail. Fergus develops feelings for Cora, the archaeologist's daughter. And Fergus is blackmailed into being a courier, carrying packets of an unknown substance back and forth across the border. Everything boils to a head as the McCann family struggles to convince Joe to give up the strike.
This book is not for everyone, but those who can stick with it through the unfamiliar Irish slang and dialog will find a touching, dramatic story of family and sacrifice. Siobhan Dowd's writing is poetic and she builds tension throughout the book. This is an unforgettable story set during a time rife with passion and turmoil. Fergus is a strong character who respects the opinions of his family members but refuses to get involved with violent protests. Yes, it took me a couple of chapters to get used to the words and patterns of speech, but it was well worth it.
When I picked up Bog Child, I knew very little about Northern Ireland and I have a feeling that many American readers might have that same problem. But the story was so gripping that it inspired me to research. I wanted to know what it was all about so I could better understand the story. (I am happy to say that I now have at least a feeble grasp on what it was all about and I'm still intending to learn more.)
Bog Child's gotten all manner of starred reviews, it was on the shortlist for the Guardian award for children's fiction, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a shiny Printz sticker on it come January. I was sad to learn that Siobhan Dowd passed away last year. She's written several other novels, the last of which is due for publication in February. I will certainly be checking those out.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Kristi is not exactly a nice person. But she has good reasons for that. Her best friend turned on her around the same time her dad left. She's forced to go to this hippy-dippy alternative school where instead of biology and English she takes "Explorations of Nature" and "Story as Cultural Artifact".
Oh yeah, and she hears what people are thinking.
And most of the time, they're not thinking very kind things.
I really liked Vibes. Kristi's a complicated character and a bit of an unreliable narrator. She thinks she has everything all figured out, but when she's faced with a situation like, say, her dad coming home for a visit for the first time in two years, it's obvious that she doesn't have anything figured out at all. Readers learn more about Kristi and grow with her as she faces some startling revelations and begins to find her place in the world.
It's not a readalike for these exactly, but as I was reading Kristi's voice reminded me of Jamie from Big Fat Manifesto and a little of Miles from You Know Where to Find Me. She's not afraid to be herself, even when she has to face everyone's mean thoughts about her every day.
Vibes is a great story about facing truths (both ugly and pleasant) and finding your way.
Read reviews at bookshelves of doom, The Picnic Basket, and Biblio File. And don't miss Amy Kathleen Ryan's website.
Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Since I left at a rather ungodly hour (5am!), I needed something with a lot of adventure to start with. Hurricane by Terry Trueman certainly fit the bill. This adventure story tells of a Honduran family dealing with Hurricane Mitch. Thirteen-year-old Jose has nothing bigger on his mind than school and playing soccer when tragedy strikes. With his father and older siblings missing, Jose has to take charge, helping neighbors dig family members out of the mud slides and finding a doctor for his sick baby brother. Hurricane is filled with suspense as the storm strikes and then as the village deals with the aftermath - flooding, mud slides, lack of food and lack of water. Narrator Ramon de Ocampo is particularly talented at giving each character a distinct voice. This is a great choice for middle grade kids and teens who like adventure stories about natural disasters.
Next up was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. This was a favorite of mine when I was a kid and the audiobook was great. Eleven-year-old April Hall isn't planning on staying with her grandmother in this small college town for long. Soon, her actress/singer mother will finish her tour and come fetch her and they'll go back to LA and be fabulous together, just like before. In the meantime, April isn't planning on getting settled or making any friends. But when she happens to be walking past the back of the old second hand shop with a neighbor girl, they inadvertently discover Egypt. Oh, it isn't the real Egypt, but with the help of active imaginations and a cast-off bust of Nefertiti, the Egypt Game begins. When a crime in the neighborhood threatens the future of their beloved game, what will April and her friends do? This classic story of imagination and friendship stands the test of time and I loved the story just as much as I did when I was ten. Narrator Alyssa Bresnahan is one of my favorites. I could listen to her voice all day! This is a great choice for family listening.
I didn't actually think I would like What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman, but I popped it in and was immediately hooked and had to listen to the whole thing. What Jamie saw was his mom's boyfriend throwing his baby sister across the room. Luckily, Jamie's mom was quick enough to catch her and the three of them left that night. This gem of a book tells what happened after the incident and how Jamie and his mom begin to conquer their fears and put their lives back together. This is a great listen for middle grade and teen readers who like "issues" books. The only violent act is that first one at the very beginning of the book. Jamie and his mom are multi-dimensional characters, imperfect and trying to figure out their problems and get back on track. There's lots to discuss with this book and, though it's short, the characters and story will stick with you. Narrated by Bronson Pinchot.
I only listened to a bit of Gordon Korman's The Abduction but stopped it because I wasn't getting into it. I want to mention it because I think the narration was really neat. It starts off with an introduction read in a sort of news-reporter-y voice and then the chapters are told in alternating perspectives. Meg is narrated by Christie Moreau and Aiden is narrated by Andrew Rannels. Listeners might want to pick up the On the Run series by Korman as that's where Aiden and Meg first appear.
And I got into the third disc (out of five) of Will Hobb's Downriver. I'm quite enjoying it so far. Forced into a "wilderness therapy" program called Hoods in the Woods, Jessie is unable to stop thinking about her dad and his new wife. Then someone comes up with the idea to "borrow" the leader's equipment and set off on a white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The story has tons of adventure and likeable, multi-dimensional characters. Will Hobbs is definitely an author I'll recommend to kids looking for adventure stories.
Monday, October 6, 2008
In 1991 two tourists were hiking along the border between Austria and Italy when they saw something. They thought it might be trash left behind by a careless hiker, but upon closer examination they found it was a body. When archaeologists examined the body they discovered that it was 5,300 years old, the oldest frozen human mummy ever found.
Bodies from the Ice travels all around the world examining human remains that have been found as glaciers slowly melt. Child mummies were discovered in the Andes, missing explorers were discovered in the Himalayas, and a Native American body was discovered in Canada. More and more artifacts and remains are popping up as the glaciers disappear.
Bodies from the Ice also examines glaciers themselves and why they may be disappearing. Is it global warming or a natural warming trend? And is there anything we can do to slow their disappearance?
The text is accompanied by tons of photos and illustrations (including some rather gruesome photos of various mummies). This is a great introduction to glaciers and will appeal to budding archaeologists. The subject matter is such that it will be appealing for browsers and it's well-researched and completely suitable for reports.
Deem includes an extensive bibliography and illustration credits as well as a list of glaciers to visit, tips on helping the environment, and an index. Hand this one to fans of Scientists in the Field and Mysteries of the Mummy Kids.
Check out James M. Deem's website and you'll find that he has a couple of other similar books: Bodies from the Ash and Bodies from the Bog. I will certainly be looking for those!
Happy Nonfiction Monday!! Check out the round up over at Picture Book of the Day!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
If you've read the first Maggie Quinn book, you know that Maggie Quinn has some special talents. She tends to have dreams that are, well, psychic. And lately her powers have been getting even stronger.
In Prom Dates from Hell, Maggie had to deal with demonic prom crashers. In Hell Week she's facing something even scarier: Rush.
In an effort to get published in the local newspaper, journalism student Maggie infiltrates rush week and started writing articles under the pseudonym "The Phantom Rushee". As she writes her snarky articles, Maggie begins to uncover something sinister going on with the sorority Sigma Alpha Xi. But in order to ferret out the evil on campus, Maggie has to stay undercover as a pledge and the consequences will be more dangerous than she could ever imagine.
Maggie Quinn is a smart, sassy heroine and I maintain that these books will give any Buffy fan her fix. Written with a great sarcastic humor, the book had me laughing out loud. Throw in a smidgen of romance, a dash of mystery, and a sprinkling of interesting secondary characters and you've got yourself a great book.
You'll probably get more out of it if you've read Prom Dates from Hell, but I read it last year (and my memory for books is ridiculously poor) and I didn't feel like I was missing anything. But I don't know why you would want to skip a dose of Maggie Quinn. And (hooray!) there's a third Maggie Quinn book due out in March: Highway to Hell.
Check out Rosemary Clement-Moore's website, RCM's blog, and more reviews at: Avid Teen Reader, A Patchwork of Books, and Kiss the Book. Also check out a Cynsations interview with RCM.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Over at Mommy Madness, the author says that banning books takes over her job as a parent.
From her post:
I think that am fully capable of discussing what my child reads with him. I am smart. I read a lot. I get paid to think on my feet and I am fully able to discuss these things with my child in a way that meshes with my parenting philosophy and my goals in raising him.
From Librarian Mom:
But what’s stayed with me is that parent’s rock-solid certainty that surely everyone knows what’s offensive, that it’s so obvious—or should be—as to go without saying. I think that’s an attitude that many would-be censors share, and in my experience it’s simply not the case.
From 5 Minutes for Books:
I think that by supporting the banning of books, we are in some way trying to pass off our parental charge. It is my responsibility to know what my daughter is reading and know about the books that her friends read and talk about. It is not the duty of the library system or bookstores to prevent these books from being circulated at all.
And I'd like to leave you with the link for the ALA's Challenge Support page. If you hear of a book being challenged, I urge you to support your local or school library and make your voice heard. Write letters to the editor, to the library board, to the school principal. And report it to the ALA on this site. If you're a librarian and a book is challenged at your library, this site provides some guidelines for how to deal with it.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The year is 1776. Isabel is a slave and her mistress, Miss Mary Finch, has just died. Although Miss Mary had written in her will that upon her death Isabel and her sister Ruth would be free, the document is nowhere to be found. So Isabel and Ruth are sold to the Locktons in New York.
The Locktons are Loyalists, supporting King George as the colonies teeter on the brink of the Revolutionary War. When Isabel arrives, she is approached by a young slave named Curzon who tells her that if she spies on Mr. Lockton and the meetings he has in his home, the rebel forces will ensure that she and her sister get safe passage back home to Rhode Island.
Isabel is in a unique position to spy on her master. She's as good as invisible to the gentlemen as she stands there waiting to serve them. And she'll do anything to procure freedom for herself and her sister. But it's not quite as easy as Isabel had hoped it would be. She'll come to realize that she needs to find her own path and seize her own destiny if she's ever to break these chains.
A unique book told from a first-person point of view, Chains really pulls the reader into the story. Of course I knew about slavery before reading this book, but Chains really brings the horrors of slavery to life and, perhaps for the first time, I feel like I really got it. Add to this the fact that most historical novels about slavery are set in or around the Civil War. The fact of the matter is that there were slaves in the American colonies. Lots of them. And the revolutionaries fought a war for freedom, but not freedom for all people.
The storyline pulled me in at first and the writing drew me in even further. Anderson knows how to paint a picture of scenes and events so that you see them unfolding in front of your eyes. Take this passage from after Isabel's been approached by Curzon and is deciding whether to take information to him:
If I opened the gate, I would be a criminal. Slaves were not allowed out after sunset without a pass from a master. Anyone who caught me could take me to jail. If I opened the gate, a judge could order me flogged. If I opened the gate, there was no telling what punishment Madam would demand.
If I opened the gate, I might die of fright. (pg 64)
I was completely pulled in by the story and the characters and I didn't want to put this book down. When I got to the end and found a to-be-continued, I was both dismayed and delighted. Dismayed because I want to know what happens next. I want to know right now. And delighted because Yay! There's going to be another book!!
So, yes. Be prepared for that. :)
I'm hearing Newbery buzz and Chains has already made Betsy's list of Newbery contenders. It's also listed on the Anokaberry, Anderson's Mock Newbery and the ACPL Mock Newbery.
If you're not reading it already, be aware that Laurie Halse Anderson has a blog. Check out Simon & Schuster's Behind the Book where Anderson explains why she wrote Chains.
In 1776, while the rhetoric of freedom and liberty was thick in the air of Boston, Providence, New York, Albany, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, and Charleston, fully 20 percent of the population of the newly christened United American States -- one in five -- were owned as property and sold like cattle...
As I researched I began to hear my main character, Isabel, whispering to me. She was chained between two nations. The British promised freedom to any slave who fled to British lines, with one exception -- slaves owned by Loyalists would be returned to their owners. The Patriots talked a good game about freedom, but few were willing to extend that inalienable right to people of color.
Chains is due out on October 21. Many thanks to The Picnic Basket for providing me a copy for review.
PS: Did I forget to mention the fabulous author's note? I did? Well. That is unacceptable. Anderson included an author's note that made my heart skip a beat. Lovely. :)
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Carlie asks why we care whether kids like the Newbery winners. After all, it is an award chosen by adults and the criteria QUITE CLEARLY STATE: "The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity."
Well, as a librarian, I care whether kids like the Newbery winners because at least once a year there is an assignment to read a Newbery book. Because parents and caregivers come in with no real knowledge about children's literature and ask for Newbery books because they have been told that those are "good books". And nothing warms my librarian heart more than handing a kid a book they will actually love (bonus points if it's for an assignment... triple bonus points if they don't normally like to read).
Now, if someone wants to check out a stack of Newbery award winners, of course I will help them find what they are looking for.
But if parents or caregivers (or teachers for that matter) come in looking for Newbery books because they don't know what other books might be good for their child, I might point them in a different way.
I've said it before, but I'm a huge fan of state book awards. In Illinois, we have the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award which has a list of 20 nominees each year. The books are nominated by school and public librarians and teachers. A committee comprised of school librarians, public librarians, and teachers from all over the state whittles the list down to a master list of 20 nominees. And kids vote for their favorite. Whether or not your school or library participates in the Caudill award, that is a great list of 20 books chosen for quality and kid appeal.
Definitely the Caudill list is one I turn to again and again when adults and kids come in looking for suggestions (especially when they're not really sure what they're looking for).
Another resource is our very own Cybils award. The winners and short lists are a great resource for finding quality books that kids will like.
So. If you're asking me whether The Higher Power of Lucky was my very favorite book of all time, I'm going to have to tell you that it's not. But it's not called the Books Abby Really Likes Award. It's the Newbery Award. And it has its own criteria. And if you're looking for high quality literature that kids will love to read, sure, take a gander at the Newbery winners and honor books. But also remember that if the Newbery winners aren't your cup of tea, there are other resources out there that might be more suited to your query.
What do you think? Are your computers filtered? Find out if your local library has filters on its computers and if you don't think it should, make your voice heard! Write letters to the editor and to the library board supporting your freedom to read anything (not just books).
Also check out Karl Fisch's response and the questions he's asking about internet access in schools.
From The Fischbowl:
...how do we best prepare our students for the unfiltered world they live in when they step off the bus? (Or open their cell phones? Or pull out their laptops with their own unfiltered connection to the Internet?)
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.
So begins the story of the Beaumont family. The Beaumonts are special. On his or her thirteenth birthday, each child comes into their savvy. Fish Beaumont causes storms. Older brother Rocket is electric, able to keep the Beaumont house lit up during a black out and jump start the old family car. Mrs. Beaumont has the savvy of being perfect (even when she messes up, it's perfectly awful). And grandpa can move the earth.
Savvy opens right before Mibs Beaumont's thirteenth birthday. She's understandably excited, wondering what her savvy will be. Rocket says that girls never get the "big" savvies, but Mibs isn't so sure. Will she be able to walk through walls? Float in the air? She can't wait to find out.
But then something awful happens. There's an accident and Poppa is in a coma. And suddenly Mibs knows what her savvy will be. Well, she doesn't quite know, but she knows that it'll be something that will help Poppa get well. It just has to be.
Savvy is a story about finding oneself. About growing up and about staying young. It's about having an adventure and being there for the people you care about. It's about finding your savvy, even if you aren't a member of the fantastic Beaumont family.
I had the pleasure to meet Ingrid Law last weekend at the YA Lit Conference and after hearing her talk about her book (and hearing my coworker J rave about it), I just had to pick it up. I'm so glad I did. Savvy is poetic. It's full of fun words, real words, that are used in unique ways. It also feels like a tall tale, which I love. Rich descriptions and multi-dimensional characters make this a novel not soon forgotten. Ingrid told us she's working on a sequel and I, for one, cannot wait. The book's also been optioned for a movie from Walden Media and that would certainly be something to see.
Savvy is getting starred reviews all over the place (well-deserved!). It's also been reviewed by Sarah Miller, Little Willow, Literate Lives, Becky, and Professor Nana.
You'll certainly want to check out the following: Ingrid Law's blog, the Savvy website (complete with book trailer), Ingrid Law's website, Little Willow's interview with Ingrid Law, Fuse #8's interview with Ingrid Law, and Ingrid's tall tale about how the Beaumont family got their savvy.
Savvy's on the ACPL Mock Newbery list and Anderson's Bookshop's Mock Newbery list.
Nominations for the third annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) will be open Wednesday, October 1st through Wednesday, October 15th. The goal of the Cybils team (some 100 bloggers) is to highlight books that are high in both literary quality and kid appeal. The Cybils were founded by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold.
The Cybils lists, from long lists to short lists to the lists of winners, offer a wonderful resource to anyone looking for high-quality, kid-friendly books. The Cybils team has worked hard to balance democracy (anyone can nominate titles) with quality control (two rounds of panel judging by people who focus on children's books every day). We do this work because we consider it vital to get great books into the hands of children and young adults.
How Can You Participate?
We think that the Cybils nominations will be of interest to parents, teachers, librarians, writers, and teens. If you have a blog or an email list or belong to a newsgroup that serves one of these populations, and you feel that your readers would be interested, please consider distributing this announcement (you are welcome to copy it). The Cybils team would very much appreciate your help in spreading the word. And if you, or the children that you know, have any titles to suggest, we would love to see your nominations at the Cybils blog, starting on Wednesday.
This year, awards will be given in nine categories (Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Novels). Anyone can nominate books in these categories (one nomination per person per category). Nominated titles must be published between January 1st and October 15th of this year, and the books must be in English (or bilingual, where one of the languages is English). To nominate titles, visit the Cybils blog between October 1st and 15th. A separate post will be available for each category - simply nominate by commenting on those individual posts. If you are not sure which category to choose for a particular book, a questions thread will also be available.
Between October 16th and January 1st, Cybils panelists (children's and young adult bloggers) will winnow the nominations down to a 5-7 book short list for each category. A second set of panelists will then select the winning titles for the different categories. The winners will be announced on February 14th, 2009.
Thanks for your help, and stay tuned for further news!