Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wrapping up 2008

Here are my reading stats for 2008:

I read a total of 273 books in 2008 (this does not include fiction picture books, though it does include non-fiction picture books). 30 adult books, 93 YA novels, 67 juvenile/YA non-fiction books, 73 middle grade novels, and 10 graphic novels. 16 of these were audiobooks.

My reading resolution was to read more non-fiction books. In 2008 I read or listened to 11 adult non-fiction books and 67 juvenile/YA non-fiction books. Non-fiction reading made up just under 30% of my reading (and listening) in 2008.

Here's the breakdown month by month (this includes audiobooks):

January - 22
February - 30
March - 21
April - 26
May - 16
June - 27 (8.5 were for the 48-Hour Book Challenge)
July - 15
August - 23
September - 16
October - 26
November - 35
December - 22

My highest months were November (due to Cybils reading), February (nothing to do in Chicago in February except curl up inside and read!), and June (thanks, 48HBC!). I'm happy with these numbers and I just hope to discover many excellent books in 2009 just like I did in 2008!

What I've been doing since October

Voila Cybils nominees... plus at least a dozen library books. I haven't read every book on this table, but I've read at least half of them.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Review: Let It Snow

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, & Lauren Myracle. (Grades 9+)

Okay, with three YA powerhouses joining forces to write delightful, funny, sweet Christmas stories, how can you go wrong?

Um... you can't. At least not in my opinion.

I really wanted to get this review up before the holiday because I think it makes a fantastic stocking stuffer. But, uh, that didn't happen. You should still read this book.

Here's a bit of a summary from Amazon: "A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks."

I loved these stories because they're funny. They're sweet, but not over-the-top romantic mush. They're smart. They're about smart, imperfect characters. And they fit really well together. Characters from the first story show up in the other two (and vice versa). Perhaps my favorite scene is at the very end where all the major characters end up together in a Starbucks.

Let it Snow is a feel-good read for the discerning teen reader. Highly recommended for fans of any of the three authors. Read more (better) reviews at, Fyrefly's Book Blog, and Pop Culture Junkie.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Reading Resolutions

Last year I posted about my reading resolutions. I had two reading resolutions for 2008: to read more non-fiction and to read & review all of the Rebecca Caudill nominees. I'm happy to say that both resolutions were a success! I've made reading non-fiction part of my regular reading habits. I enjoy it and I'm able to pick out non-fiction titles that I like. And that was the whole point!

ANYhoo, I've got a couple reading resolutions for 2009:

1. I'd like to read & review the 2010 Rebecca Caudill nominees for sure. I'd also like to include a little something more, like discussion questions, readalikes, and/or booktalks. If I get really brave, I just might attempt video booktalks for these titles. Time will tell... but I'll definitely read & review all 20 Caudill nominees.

2. This is kind of a strange one, perhaps. It's occurred to me recently that I almost never read books that someone hasn't recommended to me. Either I've heard about them on a blog, read a review of them, or they're by an author I've enjoyed in the past. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I'd like to take a few more risks with my reading. One of the most rewarding things about being on a Cybils nominating panel is that I've picked up books I knew nothing about, books I never would have picked up on my own.

In 2009 I'd like to read at least one book a month that I don't know anything about. A book that I'll find from browsing my library's collection. Or maybe a cool cover will catch my eye and the blurb will sound interesting. Or maybe some kind person will send me a review copy.

So, there you have my reading resolutions for 2009. I think I've proven to myself that I am no good at challenges (I joined two last year and didn't complete either one...). But having my own personal reading resolutions gives me a little more motivation. I invite you to come up with a reading resolution (or several!), too.

Feel free to share in the comments. What are your reading resolutions? Or, if you prefer formal challenges, what challenges are you joining this year? Which are you really looking forward to? Which do you think will be the most challenging?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Joys of YouTube

So, there's kind of a stumper that's been plaguing the back of my mind for several years. Tonight I figured out what it was (triumph!!) and found it on YouTube (double triumph!!).

I remembered a video that I watched in class in elementary school (I believe it was first grade, but who knows). The video was about a group of kids that lived in a place where the sun came out only very rarely. On this particular day the sun is supposed to come out for the first time in many years and the kids lock one of the girls in the closet and she misses it.

Well, I picked up Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass this evening. And right there on page 31 it says:

I have two pages left of a Ray Bradbury short story. It's about this girl who lives in a world where the sun almost never shines. She hasn't seen it in five years. Then these bullies lock her in a closet when the sun is about to come out...

"That's it!" I shouted, and I promptly went to the interwebs to find that the name of the Bradbury story is "All Summer in a Day" and that it was made into a short film in 1982. And the short film is available on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Do go and watch it if you are so inclined, though I must warn you that it's pretty much the most depressing thing ever. I am certainly going to find the original short story at the library tomorrow.

Oh, and I'm really digging Every Soul a Star. Even though I'm only on page, well, 31 because I got so excited when I saw that reference that I had to put down the book and look up all this stuff. I'm returning to it presently. :)

5 Stars Upon Thars

I posted a short Best of 2008 list during my 12 Days of Giving feature, but there are many more books that I loved in 2008. As we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd share my favorite reads of the year. Here are the books I read in 2008 that garnered five stars* from yours truly. Books are 2008 pubs unless otherwise noted.

Children's/YA Books:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Down Cut Shin Creek by Kathi Appelt (2001)
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
The Squad: Perfect Cover by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume (reread, 1977)
George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden
Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel
Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns (2007)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl (listened to audiobook, book published 1984)
Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
Looks by Madeleine George
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale, ill. by Nathan Hale
Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones
Fireboat by Maira Kalman (2002)
Claudia and Mean Janine (BSC Graphix) by Ann M. Martin & Raina Telgemeier
Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (2004)
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel (2006)
Clementine's Letter by Sarah Pennypacker
How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (2006)
Nate the Great Collected Stories by Marjorie Sharmat (audiobook)
Good Enough by Paula Yoo

Adult Books:

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (2007)
Prey by Michael Crichton (2002)
Helping Homeschoolers in the Library by Adrienne Furness
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

*Five stars in my LibraryThing rating. Good Reads does not allow half-stars, so sometimes a 4.5 star rating on LT ends up being a 5 star rating on Good Reads.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hi, blog friends.

To any who celebrate Christmas, I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve and Day. I'm home with the family enjoying a very nice Christmas vacation.

I hope you have a safe, fun, and happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: Everything You Want

Everything You Want by Barbara Shoup. (Grades 9+)

It's all because of a goose that Emma's family wins the lottery (long story, but trust me).

Fifty million dollars.

You'd think it would make life easier, but suddenly everything gets more complicated. Emma's been immersed in her first semester of college and it's Not Going Well. Her best friend from high school isn't speaking to her because she told him she was in love with him. Emma stays in the psychology lab late on Friday nights because her roommate's always making out with her boyfriend. Emma feels lost and alone and she wishes more than anything that she could return to the time when she was small, when her parents took care of her, when things were simple.

Everything You Want is a story about getting, well, everything you want. And then realizing that it's changed you and the things you used to want no longer apply. Emma's not the only one who struggles with the changes that the money brings. Her parents and sister can't quite wrap their heads around it either. And having money doesn't make it any easier to have a crush on someone or to make friends or to decide what you want to do with your life.

As a person who felt plenty lost myself during my early college career, I really identified with Emma's struggles. She felt very real to me and I liked that she described her life as both depressing and hilarious. Other characters in the book are pretty well developed, especially her family members who each have different problems adjusting to the money. I also loved that Barbara Shoup painted such a vibrant picture of life at Indiana University*. She made me feel like I was walking down Kirkwood all over again.

Check out reviews at Jen Robinson's Book Page and bookshelves of doom. Barbara Shoup's a guest blogger at The Well-Read Child and you can check out her website and blog.

*With the notable exception that no freshman taking Psych 101 would be running an experiment (much less be allowed to rescue an animal subject). It's a small thing in the grand scheme of the book, but as an IU psych alumna I just had to point it out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: Ten Cents a Dance

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. (Grades 9+)

Chicago. 1941. Ruby Jacinski, fifteen years old, is forced to quit school and get a job at a meat-packing family to support her ailing mother and younger sister. It's hard, disgusting, ill-paid work but Ruby can forget all about it when she's dancing. From the waltz to the jitterbug to the Lindy Hop, Ruby loves dancing more than anything.

When bad boy heartthrob Paulie Suelze tells her that she could earn four times what she currently makes by dancing at the Starlight Dance Academy, Ruby thinks it's too good to be true. With money like that she could pay off the back rent and grocers' bills. She could put meat on the table and buy warm clothes for her mother. The only problem is that the job, well, it's not something good girls do. As Ruby gets sucked into the world of taxi-dancing - staying out late, accepting dinner and gifts from strangers, drinking and smoking - she has to hide the truth from her family.

I loved this book! Ruby's world was so real that I felt like I fell into it and didn't want to leave. Christine Fletcher's obviously done her research, but it never felt research-y. Details really add to the story and make it seem real without being dry. I especially liked the details about the fancy dresses that Ruby buys to dance in. I could practically see them as she swished by on the dance floor.

Another thing I liked so, so much was that Ruby's voice sounded authentically 1940s while still being accessible to the modern-day reader. It's a hard balance to reach, but I think Ms. Fletcher did it perfectly.

The book also touches on a lot of issues - race relations, class issues, the mafia, the beginning of the war - without feeling like an Issues book.

I absolutely didn't want to put it down. I wanted to devour it and savor it at the same time (which is hard to do). Highly recommended and one of my favorite books of the year.

Read more reviews at bookshelves of doom, Teen Book Review, librarian by day, Oops....Wrong Cookie, and The YA YA YAs. Be sure to check out Christine Fletcher's website.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: Cruel Summer

Cruel Summer by Alyson Noel. (Grades 9+)

It was supposed to be an awesome summer. Colby had finally penetrated the inner circle of the popular clique and she was looking forward to parties and sleepovers and general fabulousness to solidify her social standing. Then Colby's parents, going through a messy divorce, decide to send her to spend the summer with her crazy aunt in Greece.

Her aunt lives on a tiny island with no clubs or bars. She doesn't even have internet access! Obviously, Colby's life is ruined.

At first Colby clings to home, desperate to maintain the fragile friendship she's developed with bitchy Queen Bee Amanda. But once she stops clinging to everything she thought she had back home, she just might discover something better and learn to take life as it comes.

I really enjoyed this fresh, funny novel. It's told in emails, blog posts, text messages, etc. which really kept me turning the pages. To be honest, based on the cover and the title I didn't expect to like this one. I thought it would be one of those Gossip Girl/A-List/It Girl clones, but it had a lot more heart than I was expecting. It actually reminded me of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Colby's a bit of a brat at first, but her time in Greece really helps her get her head on straight and she develops a lot throughout the book.

It's a mite predictable and sometimes I thought Colby acted younger than her 17 years, but these are slight flaws in a really enjoyable story. Highly recommended for your next plane trip, beach vacation, or to escape the cold of your winter break. I'll definitely be looking for more by Alyson Noel.

Check out Alyson's website for her blog and info about her (many!) books. Melissa Walker's got Ms. Noel's thoughts on her book cover. And read another review at

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review: Audrey, Wait!

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. (Grades 9+)

All Audrey did was break up with her boyfriend, Evan, who was in a band. She had no idea that she would inspire him to write a song that would soar to the top of the charts. And she certainly had no idea that as the popularity of the song rose, she would become famous as well. Now the Paparazzi are following her everywhere, she's getting VIP seats and free stuff sent to her house... and she can't get a moment's peace. Maybe being famous isn't all it's cracked up to be...

I really enjoyed this fresh and funny voice. It's narrated in the first person as Audrey tells her side of the story, the real story behind the song and her unwanted popularity.

Y'know, as I was reading I kept thinking that the premise was far-fetched, but now that I think about it, is it really? People can be famous for anything, so why not for being the inspiration behind a raging pop hit?

Far-fetched or not, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Audrey's a great character and I think that if she was real we'd be BFFs. Even though a lot of what happens to her is out of her control, that's so not her style and she manages to wrestle back control of her life by the end of the book.

This is a great choice for music fans. I'd recommend it to fans of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Beige and Gingerbread. Audrey is a music lover extraordinaire and each chapter begins with a quote from song lyrics. Check out Robin Benway's website where you can buy the soundtrack on iTunes and see people's recordings of their versions of Audrey Wait (the song that started it all).

Oh, my, everyone's reviewed this title (I am so late to the bandwagon!), including: Little Willow, Pink Me, Book Nut, Becky's Book Reviews, Teen Book Review, The YA YA YAs, and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book Review: Fancy White Trash

Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling. (Grades 9+)

Abby Savage knows that her family is white trash. Let's see. Her mom just got married to a guy Abby calls the Guitar Player because he used to be Abby's sister's guitar teacher. Abby's sister is pregnant. With the Guitar Player's kid. Oh, yeah, and Abby's mom is also pregnant. With the Guitar Player's kid. Abby's oldest sister is 21 and has a kid with a guy who ran off on her after they were married for just a few months.

And they all live together in a house that's Way Too Small.

This is why Abby's created the One True Love plan. It's her ticket to breaking the cycle of her messed up family.

Rule #1: Find Someone New. No recycling guys that your mom or sister has dated. Ick.

But it's not that easy to Find Someone New in a small town where you've known pretty much everyone for your whole life. Oh yeah, and when your old crush Jackson lives next door and has just come back from a summer trip to Nicaragua.

I really enjoyed this book. It's fun and funny but it deals with some serious stuff, too. Abby's pretty sure her best friend Cody is gay, even though he won't admit it, and he gets some fairly serious abuse from the kids at their high school. Abby wants to help him, but she has no idea how. Well, she has some ideas but none of them seem to work.

It was a fun read for me and the characters have a lot of heart. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Marjetta Geerling. Check out her website.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nothing new here, move it along...

Head on over to Steph's blog, Reviewer X, not only because it is awesome in general but because she's kicking off Girl Week with a ton of reviews, guest posts, and giveaways. It looks to be good stuff!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Book Review: Daughter of War

Daughter of War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. (Grades 9+)

Kevork has to hide who he is. Marta bears the child of a man who raped her. Both of them could be killed if the truth came out. They are Armenians living in a country that hates them.

In Turkey during World War I, Armenians were rounded up and forced to live in concentration camps. They starved. Disease ran rampant. Missionaries from Germany and other countries tried to help, but even though Turkey was allied with Germany they were all in danger of being shut down.

No evidence of this genocide was allowed out of the country. If you were caught hiding Armenians, you were severely punished.

This is the backdrop for Daughter of War. It's brutally honest and tells the often untold story of a different genocide. We get many different points of view throughout the book, but the main stories are Kevork's and Marta's. After their parents were taken, Kevork and Marta met at a German orphanage where they fell in love. But adults and teens were not allowed to stay at orphanages and when Turks inspected the facility, Kevork and Marta were deported and separated.

Determined to find each other again, their stories take vastly different turns. Kevork disguises himself as an Arab and repairs shoes at a stall in the market. He's swept up in the resistance movement and sneaks money and other goods into concentration camps and hiding places. Marta, pregnant with an Arab's child, is delivered back to the orphanage and works to help the children there.

I give this novel high points for a gripping story about a genocide I knew little about. This book's not for the faint of heart as there are plenty of gory details about the abuse suffered by the Armenians and those who would protect them. Although the setting is rich with historical detail, I wish there had been more detail about the people and their cultures. Apparently this is a sequel to Nobody's Child, which I haven't read, so maybe if I had read that one I'd understand the conflicts a little better. Historical information is provided as a prologue, so I had some background but more details in the actual story would have made the characters come to life more than they did. Also, between the different narrators I found it hard to keep track of the passage of time.

Even with its flaws, I think this is a good story and an important one. You know those teens who devour anything having to do with WWII and the Holocaust? Try this one on them.

Check out Marsha Skrypuch's website and LiveJournal.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: My Favorite Things

I'd like to wrap up my Twelve Days of Giving by highlighting some of my favorite books of 2008.

For younger readers:

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech. Read my full review here. This novel in verse is a great choice for the poetry lover in your life. It's a sequel to Love That Dog, so bundle them together with a book by your favorite poet or a collection of children's poetry.

Savvy by Ingrid Law. Read my full review here. This story about the amazing Beaumont family and their savvies (read: special powers) will intrigue your young fantasy fan. I love the tall-tale feeling of this story set in America's heartland.

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale. Read my full review here. This graphic novel is an adaptation of the Rapunzel story and perfect for fans of fairy tale novels (think Ella Enchanted, East, etc.). This Rapunzel is taking matters into her own hands in this beautiful, spunky story set in the Old West.

Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor. Read my full review here. This is a beautiful, quiet sort of story, perfect for kids who like quiet, thoughtful books. Four different narrators tell their stories as they are brought together at the Sleepy Time Motel in the Smokey Mountains.

For teens:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Read my full review here. This is an un-put-down-able book that's great for older fans of Collins's Gregor the Overlander Series. A word to the wise: this book is pretty intense and I'd recommend it for kids in seventh or eighth grade and up.

For your teen who loves to laugh, definitely consider Paula Yoo's Good Enough. Read my full review here. This one had me laughing out loud. It was funny and touching and very satisfying.

Another book that had me laughing out loud was Jennifer Lynn Barnes's The Squad: Perfect Cover. Read my full review here. This story of cheerleader espionage is great for fans of Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. This is a smart, funny book that a teenage girl can really devour over winter break.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Read my full review here. This is a unique fantasy book with a kick-butt heroine. Buy it for your uber fantasy fans, but especially teens who have read and enjoyed Tamora Pierce. It's got an intriguing premise, plenty of action, and a bit of romance.

Thanks so much for tuning in for 12 Days of Giving! I had a lot of fun writing the posts and I hope you found something perfect for your young reader this holiday season. If you didn't, check out one of these sites:

Sarah's been posting her gift ideas for 'tweens using favorites from her 6th grade classroom.

Pam pairs over 100 books with a little something extra to make super special gifts in her Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book feature.

Find book suggestions for all ages at where many bloggers share ideas for holiday book giving.

And, of course you won't want to miss Colleen's roundup of Book Recommendations for Holiday Shopping.

You also might be interested in checking out one of the many Best of 2008 lists that are starting to pop up:

School Library Journal's Best Books of 2008
KirkusReview's Best Children's Books of 2008 (opens a PDF)
KirkusReview's Best YA Books of 2008 (opens a PDF)
Horn Book Best Books of 2008
NY Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2008
Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year (scroll to the end for children's books)

Happy holidays!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: Big Kids Read Picture Books, Too!

A common misconception is that picture books are only for little kids, for preschoolers. That by the time you're in grade school and can read chapter books, you don't need picture books anymore. Today I'd like to suggest some of my favorite picture books for older kids. These have fantastic art and/or funny illustration. They've got funny poems or longer stories. As much fun to look at as they are to read, they're perfect for sharing with a child in your life or for a kid to enjoy on his or her own.

Pssst! by Adam Rex. It was just an innocent trip to the zoo... until she hears "Pssst!" As she walks through the zoo, animal after animal asks her for something. At the end of the story, you see the fantastic creation the animals make with all the junk she brings them. Funny, detailed illustrations make this one great for examining up close and it's one of my favorites to bring to storytimes for grade school kids.

Speaking of Adam Rex, do not miss his poetry collections: Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake. They are laugh-out-loud funny and perfect for grade school kids.

A long-time favorite of mine is Chris Van Allsburg's Two Bad Ants. This story gives the reader an ant's-eye view of the world as a colony of ants discovers a path to the sugar bowl. When two bad ants stay behind to eat as much sugar as they want, they find that life outside the anthill is not all it's cracked up to be. Chris Van Allsburg is the author of The Polar Express, Jumanji, and Zathura which were all turned into movies. They're all great books, but don't overlook this gem!

If you know a kid who doesn't mind a good cry, pick up Sadako by Eleanor Coerr and illustrated by Ed Young. It's a picture book adaptation of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the story of a Japanese girl who gets lukemia due to the radiation from the Bomb. This is a definite tear-jerker (I'm tearing up just thinking about it), but the art is absolutely gorgeous and it's a very powerful story.

On a much lighter note, I'm a huge fan of all of Laurie Keller's books and a particular favorite is The Scrambled States of America. When the states realize they're in a rut, they decide to switch things up a bit and they all move to a different location. They meet new states, see a different view, and even fall in love... but in the end they realize they're happiest back where they belong. Also check out the sequel: The Scrambled States of America Talent Show.

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base is a beautiful picture book that has a mystery for the family to solve together. Horace the Elephant is throwing a lavish birthday party, but someone has made off with the feast! Clues are buried in the gorgeous illustrations and you'll find the answer sealed in the back of the book. Give this one with a promise to work on solving the mystery together.

The last ones I'll mention are some new favorites of mine. April Pulley Sayre has created some books perfect for animal lovers. With really silly illustrations and a great rhythmic text, the books are equally fun to read and look at. Hand Bird, Bird Bird: A Chirping Chant to your young ornithologist. Give Trout, Trout, Trout: A Fish Chant to your young fisherman. And present Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant to the kid who's fascinated by creepy crawlies.

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: Big, Thick Books

Some kids are voracious readers and every so often I get requests from kids who want "big, thick books"! These books are perfect for kids who devour books and like to delve into a chunky tome.

For middle grade (approx. grades 4-7):

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Cass and Max-Ernest get caught up in an adventure when they discover the mysterious Symphony of Smells and decode a message from a magician in peril. Read my full review here. And consider adding the sequel: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late.

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech. Perfect for fans of fairy tales, The Castle Corona concerns the lives of many different people, none of who is happy with his lot in life. As the story unfolds, each character will figure out how to get what he or she wants... but often in unexpected ways.

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. Annika, a young orphan in Vienna, is delighted when her mother comes for her, but things don't turn out to be what they seemed. With a twisty, unpredictable plot and a stellar cast of characters, The Star of Kazan draws you in and doesn't let go until the story's done.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Cabin boy Matt Cruse feels more at home in the air than on land and aspires to captain his own airship one day. When he finds a mysterious man dying in a damaged hot air balloon, his life changes in ways he never could have predicted. Great for kids who love adventure and fantasy like Peter and the Starcatchers or The Golden Compass, this is one of my absolute favorites.

Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip. Adam Canfield, star reporter of his school newspaper The Slash, thinks he may have gotten himself in over his head this year by signing up to be a co-editor of the paper. Then along comes a story he can't ignore. A story that will require the entire newspaper staff to work together to pull off. And Adam knows that this is his chance to be a leader... or to fail as a leader. Can they get the scoop? And even if they get it, will they be allowed to print it? A great story for kids who like to write.

For young adults (approx. grades 8-12):

Watership Down by Richard Adams. Get caught up in the inner world of this rabbit society in this classic book. When their home is destroyed, a group of rabbits must travel to find a new place to live, facing dangers along the way. Adams's rabbit society is complex with rules, folklore, and language. This is certainly a book to get lost in.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix (appropriate for middle school readers). The stories of three girls intertwine in this historical novel about the labor strike of 1909. Read my full review here.

East by Edith Pattou (this would be appropriate for middle school readers, too). This lavish retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon is really well-written and a favorite among fantasy lovers at my library. Rose, the wayward daughter of a Norwegian family, is taken by a great white bear who promises her family riches in exchange for her living with him in his castle. A great fantasy adventure.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith. This classic story of growing up in Brooklyn, New York really transports the reader to New York in the early 1900s. Francie is a really likeable character, a girl growing up and dealing with her unreliable dad, living in poverty, and figuring things out. It was one of my favorites in high school.

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: When I Was Your Age

Is there a history buff on your gift-buying list this year? These are some of my favorite nonfiction history books for kids.

Sally M. Walker's Secrets of a Civil War Submarine is one that I love to booktalk at every chance I get. The Confederate sub H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, but something went wrong and the sub never resurfaced. Both Confederate and Union soldiers searched for it, but the H.L. Hunley was lost for over 100 years. Really beautifil photos and a captivating story make this a great choice for kids interested in history.

World War II and the Holocaust are a perpetually interesting topic for many teens and tweens and books about Jewish kids during the Holocaust abound. Consider exploring the time from a different perspective with Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. The experiences of the kids who led underground resistance are especially interesting to me. Consider this one for fans of The Diary of a Young Girl who are interested in learning more about the time.

Peg Kehret's Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio is an autobiographical tale of the author's experiences surviving polio as a girl. Kehret is a popular author of children's fiction and this true account reads like a novel. This is an absorbing story that will appeal to kids who like to read about real people.

For younger elementary school kids who like history, consider the You Wouldn't Want To... series. Each book in this series examines a historical time or event in a really funny way with cartoon illustrations. They are a huge hit with the second- and third-grade classes that come to visit the library.

Sports fans will be interested in We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. Gifted athletes weren't allowed to play in the Major Leagues simply because of the color of their skin. With tons of historical information and really gorgeous illustrations, kids who love history and baseball will devour this book!

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: Did You Know?

Stories are all well and good, but sometimes we just want to know things. You can't go wrong with the Guinness Book of World Records, but there are a lot of great nonfiction books that have wide appeal with kids. Here are some of my favorites for gift giving.

How Big Is It? by Ben Hillerman is a book all about bigness. Stunning photographs of really big things are juxtaposed with ordinary things so we can get an idea of how big they really are. My favorite is a polar bear standing at the height of a professional basketball hoop. Also consider How Fast Is It? and How Strong Is It? by the same author. Kids will be poring over the photos in this book for days and days!

I brought 100 Most Dangerous Things on the Planet by Anna Claybourne to an elementary school class and they would not put it down! They literally walked me to the door so they could keep reading until the last second. This book provides facts about 100 dangerous things (think volcanoes, alligator attacks, solar flares, etc.), gives a survival rating, and tells you what to do if it happens to you. A great choice for upper elementary and middle school students.

For kids who like all things mysterious, grab Do Not Open by John Farndon. This book is a collection of all things hidden and secret from Air Force One to the Kremlin to Area 51. Read my full review here.

An oldie but a goodie is How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz. Using estimates, Schwartz attempts to quantify really big numbers like a million and a billion. Did you know that a goldfish bowl large enough to hold a million goldfish would be big enough to hold a blue whale? Schwartz explains how he came to his estimates in the bag of the book. This is one of my favorites and is a great choice to read together with younger elementary school kids.

Some kids are fascinated by all things supernatural and Encyclopedia Horrifica was created just for them. In magazine-like pages, this book examines the truth (and legends) behind vampires, werewolves, mummies, mermaids, and more! Read my full review here.

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How to Host a Mock Newbery Discussion

As award season approaches, Mock Newbery discussions start to pop up everywhere. You're interested in holding one, but you're not sure what to do? Last week my coworker J lead a Mock Newbery discussion for our library system. I helped prepare and this is what we did:

Step 1: Decide which books you'll be focusing on. You'll probably know several that are getting some buzz and you can always reference other Mock Newbery lists to get some ideas. Might I suggest Allen County Public Library's list and Anderson's Bookshop's list as two of my personal favorites.

Depending on how much time you have for your discussion, you may want to limit the number of books you're focusing on. For our discussion we provided a list of eight books and also encouraged participants to bring any other books they felt might qualify.

The books on our Mock Newbery list were:

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Savvy by Ingrid Law
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson

You'll want to make sure to release your list well in advance of your program so that participants have a chance to read all the books.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the Newbery criteria. J printed out the criteria and brought a copy for each person. That was very helpful to refer to throughout our discussion.

Step 3: Decide on how you will vote and, if you have a limited amount of time, set time limits for discussions. With eight titles and 2.5 hours in which to have our discussion, we set an approximate time limit of 10-15 minutes per book and allowed some extra time to discuss any other books people might bring. After our discussion of each title, we used a weighted voting system where people voted for their top three books in order of preference. A first place vote was worth 4 points, 2nd place was worth 3 points, and 3rd place was worth 2 points.

With a total of 10 people in our discussion group, we decided that the winner needed to win by at least 6 points. We voted and tallied up the votes, then took the top four and voted again.

Step 4: Announce your winner!

And I am happy to announce that the winner of our Mock Newbery was Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson! We also named three honor books: Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, and We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson.

Step 5: Thank Nina at Nina's Newbery for posting about how she ran her Mock Newbery because that's what helped us figure out ours. :)

Twelve Days of Giving: Cook Up a Good Story

What better way to spend a holiday vacation than by cooking up treats for everyone in your family? Give these children's-literature-themed cookbooks along with a commitment to getting together to create some of the recipes and read some of the stories that go along with them.

Is your niece/granddaughter/goddaughter/etc. inseparable from her American Girl doll? Give her one of the books from the American Girl Cooking Studio series. Many of the American Girls have cookbooks that include recipes from their period in history. Choose from Samantha, Julie, Kit, Molly, or Felicity.

Pair The Little House Cookbook with a set of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder for some frontier fun.

Ever wanted to try green eggs and ham? Now you can with recipes from the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook by Georgeanne Brennan. Pair this cookbook with your favorite Dr. Seuss book to read together after the meal.

For the Roald Dahl fan in your life (and, let's face it, who isn't a Roald Dahl fan?), pick up Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes and whip up some Snozzcumbers or fresh Mudburgers. Mmm. Pair it with The BFG, Matilda, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And if that's not enough for you, grab Roald Dahl's Even More Revolting Recipes, as well.

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters by Jane Yolen includes both stories and recipes between its covers. Cook recipes straight out of fairy tales (Runaway Pancakes, Pumpkin Tarts [from Cinderella's coach, of course], etc.).

And, okay, these aren't strictly based on literature but the Star Wars Cookbooks Wookiee Cookies and Darth Malt are a HUGE hit at my library and would make a great gift for any Star Wars fan.

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving: Books for Twilighters

So the tween or teen in your life has read all the Twilight books, they've seen the movie, and they're thirsty for more (haha)? Consider buying one of these books for the die-hard Twilight fan on your holiday gift list!

LJ Smith's Vampire Diaries series, a favorite of mine when I was in high school, was re-released in two volumes last year with new cover art and new packaging. Check out The Awakening and The Struggle and The Fury and Dark Reunion. The story of a beautiful girl torn between two vampire brothers will satisfy those who enjoyed the love triangle in Twilight.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause features a teen werewolf Vivian and her longing for the (human) hunky heartthrob Aiden. Can she curb her wild nature to be with a human boy? And what about the rest of her pack?

Meg Cabot's Mediator series star a girl with a peculiar talent - Suze can communicate with people who are not so much with the living. She works as a "mediator" to put the dead to rest. When her mother moves from from New York to California, Suze finds that her bedroom in the new house is haunted... and the ghost guy is, well, kinda cute... Great for Twilighters who like a little mystery.

In Evernight by Claudia Mills, Bianca is sent to Evernight Academy, an odd school where the students seem strangely perfect. She doesn't fit in and she's drawn to fellow outsider Jared. Is their connection strong enough to defeat the forces that would drag them apart?

Demon in My View is the story of Jessica, a high schooler who pens vampire novels under a pseudonym. When one of the characters from her novel shows up at her school, she's not sure what his intentions are. She gets tantalizingly close to him as she tries to determine the truth behind his existence.

And this last one was suggested by Ellen Anne over at Alternative Teen Services. The short story collection Prom Nights from Hell includes a short story by Stephenie Meyer as well as stories by some of the most prominent YA authors out there. Each story deals with a very special night in a teen's life - Prom - but these stories are about the darker side of Prom. A bonus for this collection is that Twilighters may be pulled in by the lure of a story by Stephenie Meyer and then discover some new favorites authors! (Thanks to Jackie for the link!)

Need more ideas? Check out the rest of my 12 Days of Giving posts!