Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dear Blog . . .

I don't mean to ignore you. I'm certainly thinking of you - look at all those books I've been reading over there on the sidebar! I'm mentally writing reviews that the constraints of a 24 hour day have not permitted me to type. Barring any drastic changes in the space-time continuum, I'll be back to regular blogging after I'm finished my Christmas shopping/wrapping/visiting. I miss you!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown

I recommend this book for: elementary school, just about anyone with a sense of humor
I saw this on display in the bookstore and read the whole thing right there. Our hero, the screaming latke, begins yelling when someone tries to fry him in hot oil (wouldn't you?) and jumps out the window. In his travels he meets various symbols of Christmas and has conversations with them, but none of them understand exactly what the latke or Chanukah are all about. Growing more and more frustrated, the latke screams his way through several more pages until he finally finds the place where he belongs.
Granted, I am a giggler, but I really was laughing out loud in the bookstore at the fantastically expressive pictures of the latke. Snicket manages to make the story entertaining, help create empathy for those who don't celebrate Christmas but are inundated by its commercial aspects, and explain the history and true meaning of Chanukah. Kids and adults should find it educational and a ton of fun!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kissing the Bee by Kathe Koja

I recommend this book for: high school

Another wow! Dana is a high school senior, a good student who spends most of her time with her best friend Avra and Emil, Avra's boyfriend. Dana's secret is that she has always wanted Emil. Avra's secret is that she plans to drive off into the sunset right after prom, taking Emil with her. And Emil has a secret too, not that he's telling.

It might sound at first like a typical love-triangle drama, but this was a moving and thoughtful book. Dana's biology project about the lives of bees and their mythological symbolism provides an overarching metaphor for the relationship between queen bee Avra and Dana the worker. The tension in some of the scenes is unbelievably intense, and I completely loved it. The last line of the book explains the title, and it was a perfect finish. I definitely loved it!

(Sadly, it's not for everyone - if you're uncomfortable with swearing, teen drinking and partying or implied -not graphic - sex, I wouldn't recommend this title.)

The buzz from the pros.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

I recommend this book for: grades 4-6

Milada is a girl living in Czechoslovakia. The Nazis are around, but other than food shortages, the people in her small village are largely unaffected by the war. Then one night everyone is awakened in the middle of the night and arrested. Families are separated, and Milada finds herself on a bus with only one other girl - and both of them have blonde hair and blue eyes.

This powerful and haunting story about children who were retrained and adopted as Germans blew me away. The graphic details of the war are absent, but that doesn't keep it from being tragic as Milada struggles with remembering her actual past versus the lies the Nazis feed the children, making and losing friends, and even at times forgetting that there was a time before she was called Eva. This is engrossing historical fiction with emotional impact, moreso because it is based on real events.

Two small quibbles with this book:
1) As there is little description of the details of the war, children who have no context for what WWII means will be confused by the references to smokestacks and the horrible smell that comes from them. It won't ruin the book, but it's worth talking about with kids who might read this one.

2) The cover art, although I liked it more after reading the book, is unfortunate. It looks a bit like a 1940s propaganda poster, which I like, but I'm afraid it's just going to look dated and unattractive to a 10 year old.

The pros.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ida B. . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan

I recommend this book for: grades 3-5

Ida B. Applewood is a free spirit - she talks to the trees on her family's land and listens for their answers, sends rafts with messages downstream to see how far away they will make it, and takes long walks with her father in the evenings. Life is fairly idyllic, not even interrupted by school, as Ida B. has been homeschooled ever since kindergarten in the public school threatened to crush her spirit and her parents pulled her out. And then one day the trees whisper that trouble is coming . . . the discovery that her mother has cancer and must start chemotherapy has serious consequences on life as Ida B. knows it. Some of her trees are cut down to make way for houses to help pay for the treatments, and now -unforgivably, in her eyes - her parents have decided that Ida B. will have to go back to public school. Feeling betrayed and angry, she hardens her heart and decides that no one is getting through ever again.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Ida B. is definitely a great character, and I think many of her emotions came out realistically in the writing. A child's anger can be fierce, and certainly most 4th graders understand more about what is unfair in their own lives than they do about the affairs of adults and necessities. Even so, I found it troubling that she didn't seem to worry at all about her mother possibly dying, just about the fact that she was being made to do something she didn't want to do. Still, there are important themes here: forgiving and saying you're sorry, making the best of a bad situation, the fact that one bad teacher doesn't ruin the whole bunch, and of course the love of a family and others who care. Not a perfect 10 in my book, but still a worthwhile read.

From those who liked it better than I did . . .

One Little Chicken: A counting book by David Elliott , ill. by Ethan Long

I recommend this book for: preschool - K

There are a ton of counting books out there, but this one has the added appeal of dancing chickens. From one twirling chicken in a tutu to 10 chickens who shimmy shimmy shake, these birds are incredibly fun. My favorite picture is the spread of 5 chickens who "hula and they hula and they hula till it hurts," but all of the pictures are bright with lots of kid appeal and very expressively drawn chickens. Also, I can't wait to use this in storytime, because it has an ending that invites the listeners to get up and dance along - maybe with Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance? Great fun.

Blog backup

As you can probably tell from the ever-growing "Soon to be blogged" section in the sidebar, I'm falling behind on my reviewing. Blame it on end of the semester/holiday business or my on own selfish desires to do things like see my friends and clean my house, but I am still reading and considering, and I'll catch up eventually!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis

I recommend this book for: elementary school

The subtitle is "A Worldwide Cinderella," which just about sums it up. I read some excellent reviews of this one (see the link at the bottom) and couldn't wait to read it. The nearly universal Cinderella story comes to life as stories from all over the world combine into one tale. The artwork is lovely, and the simple text matches perfectly. A nice bonus is a map on the endpapers that shows the different countries whose versions of the tale are included. Not for young fairytale fans, but perfect for those who know and love the story, and especially kids who have heard versions from more than one culture. I can definitely see this title getting classroom use - for a folktales unit, you could read this book aloud, then assign small groups to read other books that are different versions of the Cinderella story and briefly talk about their differences or create a play using that storyline . . . hey, I might make that into a library program myself!

Reviews that made me want to read this book.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

I recommend this book for: high school

This book deserves a big WOW. I loved Zevin's Elsewhere, and this title did not disappoint me in spite of my very high expectations - in fact, I skipped a lot of housework to stay in bed and finish this one!

Naomi is a high school junior, a dedicated co-editor of the yearbook, a star tennis player and of course, a member of the popular crowd. Where's the conflict? After leaving a new, very expensive camera inside the school, she and her quirky best friend Will (the other yearbook editor) flip a coin to decide who should go back for it. Naomi loses, and on the way back out to her car, she falls down the stairs and wakes up in an ambulance with a boy named James who says he's her boyfriend, but not really. She's not sure if he is or not, because she can't remember anything that's happened since she turned 12.

As she struggles with the revelations of things she's forgotten (for instance, her parents' divorce!), Naomi has to face important questions about herself and her relationships. Can she be the girl she was, or does starting out with a clean slate make her a totally different person? How can she go back to that life when she can't figure out why she was dating Ace or why yearbook was so important to her? How can she stay away from James when he seems to be the only person who can relate to not having a past? I found it amazingly heart-wrenching and funny and thought provoking - all of those things Elsewhere was, but with characters who are alive - and they really did seem to live. A few things seemed like a stretch, such as Naomi's father not even questioning her when she tells him that she has to go to California the next day, but overall everything was very well done.

Some people may object to a few things in the book - teens are realistically swearing and drinking, and although she can't remember it and there is no detail, we find that Naomi had been sleeping with her boyfriend before her accident. I didn't find it offensive, as all of these elements were just small parts of the bigger picture of Naomi re-establishing her identity and figuring out what -and who - was still important to her. An engrossing and interesting novel.

From the people who get paid for this . . . I particularly like the book description section, which comes from the front flap of the cover.

I was sorely tempted to write above somewhere that Naomi ends up with the guy that the reader has known is the right one the entire time, but I wouldn't want to ruin the suspense for anyone. But yeah, she does, and I'm curious if it's just me or if anyone else was seriously reminded of the Anne of Green Gables love story while reading this. Guy and girl are best friends, he's in love with her forever, she finally realizes how she feels when he gets seriously sick and runs to be at his side even though there's another girl in the way, but that relationship ends because he's always been in love with her . . . okay, so maybe it's more archetypal than I thought originally. But seriously, all I could think of during that last hospital scene was Gilbert Blythe - not that that's a bad thing. Just wondering if I'm crazy . . . or maybe I need to rent the films again because I'm experiencing Avonlea withdrawal . . .

Monday, November 5, 2007

No Talking by Andrew Clements

I recommend this book for: grade 3-5

Did you love Frindle? Then you might like this book - or alternatively, you might hate it, because the story is very much the same. The basic premise is this: a group of 5th graders who are called "the Unshushables" by their teachers because of how much and how loudly they talk hold a contest to see who can stay quiet the longest - boys or girls. It all starts because Dave reads about Ghandi keeping silence one day per week to order his mind and wonders if it's possible. When loudmouth Lynsey's chattering breaks his concentration, he challenges the whole fifth grade to the speaking battle of the sexes. The teachers flip out because their authority is being undermined, but then they start to realize that it's not so bad, the kids are learning, and their classroom experience is actually improved. Everyone learns from the experience and they all become better friends and human beings.

Perhaps I'm being a little too snarky - the concept is absolutely brilliant, even if the reactions of the adults are ridiculously exaggerated in every case - but then, I'm sure adult behavior does seem that way to kids sometimes. There are a lot of funny things in the book - my favorite being Clements' astute observation that "a cootie by any other name is still a cootie" - but his omniscient narrative voice performed the double function of distancing the reader from the action of the story and really getting on my nerves. The device meant that the reader is always told about how the characters are feeling, never allowed to see it, and he kept saying things like "I could keep telling you about this, or I could jump and talk about that, but instead, we're going to jump to this other place, where such and such is happening. But there's more. There's always more." Not entirely my cup of tea, but I'll still recommend it to kids who want stories about school or semi-realistic fiction. A fairly enjoyable book.

Praise from the pros.

** One other, completely unrelated thing that bothered me is that I'm completely unable to tell from the cover illustration which one is a girl and which is a boy. Is it just me? This bothers me about Franklin's parents, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith

I recommend this book for: grade 5-8

Looking for a slightly quirky book about smart middleschoolers conquering all? Look no farther! Narrators Elias, Honoria, and Shohei all attend the prestigious Peshtigo School in Chicago (read: a fancy private school where the kids are geniuses and the parents are loaded.) All three are entering the science fair - Honoria because she cares about science and she wants to submit a real project that will beat the pants off of suck-up Goliath Reed's comparison of different brands of toothpaste, while Eli is forced into it by his scientist/musician father (who incidentally named all of his sons Johann - Elias is a middle name), and Shohei piggybacks on Eli's project. There are other things at play here as well, such as Honoria's crush on Shohei and Eli's on her. Then there are Shohei's struggles against his adoptive parents, who want him to embrace his Japanese heritage and force him to do so by redecorating his room with tatami mats and packing him sushi for lunch every day. The main crisis comes when Eli receives a bad grade on his project for not getting the results the chemistry teacher has come to expect, and he takes some drastic measures to prove that he's right. A good choice for readers looking for funny realistic fiction or something with the slightest hint of, not really romance, but a boy/girl thing.

They like it like piranhas like bananas! and beef hearts.

Slumming by Kristen D. Randle

I recommend this book for: high school

I picked this one up because I saw it on a list of books about LDS (or Mormon) teens, and that caught my interest. As an LDS person myself, I wanted to check it out.

Alicia, Sam, and Nikki are three seniors who share the bond of being the only people of their faith in the school. When Nikki idly wonders what makes some people beautiful and others not, they find themselves embarking on a human experiment to choose a social outcast and show them a little TLC, trying to shape them up and take them to the prom. Things are more difficult than they'd imagined, of course - Nikki zeros in on the class nerd and finds there's more to him than meets the eye, while the intimidating girl Sam chooses has an abusive family life that makes him physically ill when he knows the whole of it. Alicia's target, the school bad boy, is worse than she knows, and her naivete puts her in a very dangerous situation. The message that people are more than the stereotype others place them into is very clear, and the family situations the various teens face ring true - even the tragic ones. However, some things didn't sit quite right with me - one being the way Alicia completely shuts out her neighbor, Peter, for a transgression he committed when they were both 12. It seemed too extreme. As for the LDS element, it was clearly a part of the characters' lives - their values were clearly stated, an older brother receives a call to missionary service during the novel, church programs like hometeaching are mentioned . . . but I'm not sure why Randle chose to make the protagonists of this particular novel Mormons, if that makes sense. Overall, an okay book, but not one I'll read over and over again (like I did with her The Only Alien on the Planet as a kid!)

Professional reviews.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bloomability by Sharon Creech

I recommend this book for: grade 5-8

Sharon Creech is one of my heroes - her books always leave me feeling fantastic, and kids need that out of literature now and then. Hey, so do librarians! This gem is the story of Domenica (who prefers Dinnie), a young lady who has traveled the country with her family in her 13 years, as her father is always finding new "opportunities" and her mother and siblings have followed him. Ironically, her older siblings opportunities get severely limited - her brother's behavior lands him in jail and later in the Air Force, while her 16 year old sister marries a Marine just before he gets shipped out of the country and has his baby 9 months later. Dinnie's opportunity looks more promising - her aunt and uncle take her to Switzerland with them, where Uncle Max is the new headmaster of an international school. Although her mind resists such a move, Dinnie doesn't fight them and begins what she calls her "second life" abroad.

Dinnie's experiences reflect not just moving to a foreign country, but to any new situation - learning a new language, getting used to new people, learning new things (skiing!), missing those she has left behind. I particularly liked the signs that she makes to post in her window: the first ones read "kidnapped!" - or at least, they're supposed to, but her limited Italian makes for some interesting phrases - while later ones reflect her acclimation and growing love for her new opportunity. Her new friends come not just from America but from Spain, Japan, and all over the world - one of them coins the title phrase "bloomability" while trying to find the word for possibility. This is a sweet, exciting novel about a young lady finding her place in a different world, and I'll certainly be recommending it!


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ridin' Dinos with Buck Bronco by George McClements

I recommend this book for: preK-grade 2

When you work with kids, you learn pretty quickly what they like: animals, things that go, pirates, cowboys, and dinosaurs. This fun picture book takes the last two and combines them to make a story about a cowboy and dinosaurs - who wouldn't love that?

Buck Bronco was astonished to find some "loco-lookin' eggs" in his field that turned out to be dinosaur eggs. This book is his how-to guide for the proper care and riding of dinosaurs. Full of fun facts, such as the difference between a biped (better for speed) and a quadruped (more comfortable), and what herbivores and carnivores eat, it's a great blend of silliness (make sure to check that dino's feet for foreign matter like sticks, stones, and puppies!) and tidbits of information that dino lovers will adore. The format of the book is fun, with collages of smiling dinosaurs, helpful diagrams, and labels to help you identify different dino species and pieces of riding equipment. There is probably too much reading for the youngest dinosaur fans, but I think kids 4 and up would get a big kick out of this one!

More reviews here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm and Elicia Castaldi

I recommend this book for: grade 5 -8

This book is so cool! Ginny is in 7th grade and experiencing a period of changes: her mother is getting remarried and her older brother is on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent, just to name a few of the major problems. The story is, as implied in the title, entirely told through "stuff": notes Ginny and various members of the family leave for each other, receipts from stores, bank statements, newspaper clippings, correspondence from school, IMs with friends, and entries from Ginny's journal all mesh together to tell the story. The pages are all put together in interesting ways and colorful, fun to look at and take in all of the details. One of my personal favorites was the English composition Ginny writes about a big change in her life - the advent of a stepfather, and how his presence makes her brothers think it's okay to leave the toilet seat up. Her perspective is witty and her bad luck is funny but makes it easy to sympathize with her. A great choice for reluctant readers or those who just want something quick and fun.

Reviews that are better than meatloaf.

Friendship According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

I recommend this book for: grades 2-5

Humphrey is the adorable, doted upon class pet of room 26. He also has a few special skills, such as the ability to read, write, understand human speech, and get out of his cage (which is probably the least amazing, as my hamster accomplished the same feat at least once a month when I was a kid . . . but I digress.) When Humphrey returns from winter vacation, there are a few surprises in store - there's a new girl in the class AND a new class pet! Og the frog seems pretty unfriendly, but Humphrey is determined to give being friends with him a try, despite his own jealousy at all the attention the newcomer receives. Humphrey also works hard to help his other, human friends in the class deal with their problems - a bully on the bus, a mean stepsister, and a fight between two best friends, among others.

This is a cute story - sometimes almost too cute. Humphrey's antics and narration are way over the top, but fun to read about, and he does a great job of explaining vocabulary like "psychology." One thing that bothered me is that I never found out what grade the children were in -although I didn't read the first book, so I may have missed it there. Those are minor complaints, though, and I will definitely be recommending this book to animal lovers and kids looking for something funny to read.

Did the pros like that hamster in the window?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

This book marks another first: my first Gail Carson Levine book! Somehow I missed her when I was younger, and I clearly have a lot of catching up to do!

In the kingdom of Ayortha, Aza is an innkeeper's daughter who is ashamed of her looks - she is too tall and too wide, and people always stare. Her compensation is that Ayortha is a kingdom of singers, and her voice is among the most beautiful. Her life changes when she gets an opportunity to attend the wedding of the king and the new, stunningly beautiful queen singles Aza out to be her lady in waiting - but there's more to Queen Ivi than beauty, including the tendency towards fits of jealousy, complete inability to rule effectively, extreme vanity, and a very interesting magic mirror . . .

I somehow missed before reading this book that it was a new take on the Snow White story (one of my favorites!), so I was pleasantly surprised by the twists in the tale. Levine's characters are well-drawn and interesting, particularly zhamM the gnome (gnomes capitalize at the end of their words, to be exact) and Aza herself. A great, engrossing story for fans of fairy tales and those wise enough to know that looks aren't everything.

Professional reviews, or reviews by professionals, to be exact

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe

I recommend this book for: grades 3-5

Ida May is pretty sure she's not going to have fun in fourth grade for many reasons: she'll have to write in cursive, the math teachers will make her multiply and divide, and worst of all, her best friend moved away, and the only person who will really pay attention to her is Jenna Drews - and she only invites Ida over because her mother makes her. But on the first day of school she discovers that there's a new girl named Stacey who seems really nice. Ida wants to get to know her, but she's determined to not make another best friend who will just end up moving away and abandoning her. But, she eventually decides, there can't be any harm in leaving her a note . . .

This is a fun story about friendship in the fourth grade, with all the changes and insecurities that come with that year. Jenna is the ultimate in elementary school mean girls, and the parents are as clueless about that fact as many of them must be in real life . . . Ida and Stacey are well-rounded, interesting characters, despite the fact that neither of them feels like they're interesting enough for the other to want to be friends. A very enjoyable book.

But don't take my word for it . . .

Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

Justine's whole family is Jewish, but they do it in different ways. Her Bubbe (grandma) keeps kosher and walks to services every Saturday, while her other set of grandparents belong to a country club that serves all kinds of foods outlawed by the Torah. Her parents only attend services twice a year, and they and her siblings had a major meltdown when Justine announced that she wanted to keep kosher. It seems so much simpler to be Catholic like her best friend, so Justine decides to give up being Jewish for Lent.

Things I liked about this book: Justine's keen observations, such as realizing that sitting next to a cute boy in church can be distracting, so perhaps that's why men and women sit separately in the synagogue. Her guilt over what happens to Bubbe, a Holocaust survivor, seemed a bit over the top to me, but fairly believable for a child having a crisis of faith. I also enjoyed the priest and rabbi characters, who managed to fly fairly free of stereotypes. And, either I'm getting to be a total wimp when it comes to emotional books, or the scenes involving Justine and her special relationship with Bubbe were extremely touching, because I was crying through this book too!

Read it from the pros.

Mercy Watson Fights Crime by Kate DiCamillo

I recommend this book for: grades 1-3

Okay, so it isn't every Kate DiCamillo book that makes me cry! Mercy Watson is a pampered pet pig (her owners would prefer that she be called a "porcine wonder") with a sweet tooth for buttered toast. In this book, her third adventure, she hears the toaster rattling in the middle of the night. Sure that someone is making toast, she makes her way down to the kitchen, only to find a very short cowboy stealing all of the kitchen appliances! Hilarity and appearances by characters from the other books ensue, including the old ladies from next door, the police, and the fire department. As in the other books, Mercy ends up saving the day, even if all she was really after was a midnight snack. Great fun for early readers!

Professional reviews here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blaze of Silver by K.M Grant

I recommend this book for: middle and high school, fans of horse books who have outgrown The Black Stallion and Marguerite Henry's books

And so the de Granville trilogy (which began with Blood Red Horse and continued with Green Jasper) comes to a close. These are interesting books, and I'm glad I read the whole trilogy, but they don't go on my favorites list. The first volume concentrates on Will and Kamil, two young men on opposite sides of the battle lines of one of King Richard's Crusades, both of them with a deep and abiding love for one horse. The second is more about England's troubles in Richard's absence and other domestic woes, such as the girl who Will and his brother both love being kidnapped and held against her will. And Blaze of Silver wraps up all of the loose plot threads. Will Will and Ellie ever really be able to express their feelings? How long can Kamil stay in England? Will they be able to get the ransom to pay for Richard's release? What's the deal with the Old Man of the Mountain, and will he really be able to find Kamil and exact his revenge? This is a nicely realized historical novel. The ending isn't happy for all of the characters, but it is satisfying, so I definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoyed the first two books, but there's so much going on that anyone starting out with Blaze would be pretty hopelessly lost.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Mr. and Mrs. Green by Keith Baker

I recommend this book for: K-3

Mr. and Mrs. Green books are gems for early readers who can handle a good bit of reading but aren't quite ready for chapter books. The two crocodiles have a wonderful relationship, they're funny, and the books are colorful and appealing. In this adventure, they go fishing, paint pictures, and go to the park - topics with kid appeal, and the twists Baker adds on means these alligators rock!

Read it from the pros!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Jinx by Meg Cabot

I recommend this book for: high school

Jean is cursed with the nickname of Jinx, and that's not all - bad things happen no matter where she goes. As the novel opens, she is on her way to New York City to move in with her rich aunt and uncle's family to escape a stalker at home in Iowa. She's been enrolled in a snotty public school with her cousin Tory, and not only does she not fit in - she attracts Tory's hatred and a cute neighbor's admiration almost as soon as she arrives. Oh, and did I mention that Jinx and Tory had a great great grandmother who was burned as a witch and foretold that someone in their generation would inherit her powers?

This was - dare I say it? - my first Meg Cabot novel. Premise? Awesome. Execution? I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. I enjoyed the storyline, but I really could have done without Jinx constantly hinting at what was so horrible that happened in Iowa without giving any new information. The other thing that really annoyed me was how often she repeated to herself that she and Zach were just friends - both themes were explicitly stated too many times, I felt like I was being hit in the head with them. Overall, the story was pretty enjoyable, but I don't know that I'm feeling too inspired to read more Cabot just yet.

Points for parents: The setting of this book is a posh private school for spoiled rich kids who do drugs and sneak off to the boiler room during free period for extra human anatomy lessons . . . but it's not explicit, and the characters who do these things are the ones who are recognizably evil - Jinx and Zach are pretty much squeaky clean.

But it got much nicer reviews . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

I recommend this book for: preK-grade 2, and girls of all ages who love to dress up!

Oh, how I love love love Nancy! I love this book so much that I'm going to be Nancy for Halloween! She likes things to be fancy - ballet shoes that lace up her legs, glitter and feathers, and using fancy words like parfait instead of ice cream. But poor Nancy is the only fancy one in her family - her parents and sister are so plain that they don't even get sprinkles on their ice cream! Then she has the great idea to teach them how to be fancy, and her parents play along and go out for a very fancy dinner.

I can't express the hilarity of this book. Robin Preiss Glasser's illustrations are absolutely perfect - my favorite is the one where Nancy's family in all their finery bursts through the door of the local pizza joint. All of the other customers are staring with their mouths wide open because, as Nancy says, "They probably thought we were movie stars." If you haven't already, go read Fancy Nancy - it'll make your day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

I recommend this book for: grades 4-5

Books about toy rabbits make me cry. Or maybe it's just books by Kate DiCamillo . . . Edward Tulane is a very fine-looking china rabbit who's very proud. Even though the little girl who owns him loves him very much, he's too wrapped up in himself to return her love. But then an accident tears Edward away from her and he realizes how dark and cold the world can be. His various adventures take him to different people who love him - and he eventually learns to love them in return. This is not a book for every reader, but for those who can appreciate the miracle of learning to love, it will be an unforgettable experience.

Other thoughts.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up
Leo's small highschool in Mica, Arizona doesn't know what hit it when Stargirl arrives. She's been homeschooled up until 10th grade and marches to her own drummer - or more accurately, to her own ukelele playing. Her clothes come from every time period except the current one and she does everything she can to be nice to everyone. She's gawked at, becomes wildly popular, and is shunned during the course of the story because of how different she is from everyone else. Leo is in love with her, but can he handle everything that comes with being Starboy?
A great story that portrays the popularity scale of high school - how wildly it can swing back and forth, and especially how it affects relationships. Stargirl shines as brilliantly as her name, and although Leo ultimately disappoints, you understand why he does it. My favorite character was the retired archaeologist who taught informal lessons on prehistory and life to whoever showed up on his back porch. Not a happy ending, but a worthwhile read.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford and Valorie Fisher

I recommend this book for: grades 3-5

This is a book with an intriguing concept, and although I didn't love it, I thought it was okay. Moxy has to read Stuart Little before the first day of school, and the first day of school is tomorrow! She's spent all summer avoiding the poor little mouse, and even though her mother has demanded she read it before she does anything else, Moxy has plenty of other great ideas - like cleaning her room and planting a peach orchard to finance her college education - to keep her away from it. Clever, yes, but I found the narrative voice a bit irritating, almost condescending, particularly at the end. Although a very accurate and funny portrayal of how a child trys to avoid doing someting she doesn't want to do, I feel like the book was written more for adults to giggle at and nod their heads than for kids to appreciate. An aspect I really enjoyed were the photos (supposedly taken by Mark, Moxy's brother) that illustrated the action of the day, even though they did look far too perfect. In all, not one of my favorites, but still pretty good.

But hey, I'm just a cynical reader of teen lit, what do I know?

Wendy by Karen Wallace

I've always loved the Peter Pan story in all of its incarnations, so I was excited to find this on the shelf. It's a story that takes place in Wendy's life when she is 9 years old, so right off the bat there's the downside of no Peter. This tale is much darker - Wendy does associate with a young man who will never grow up, but it's her friend Thomas, a 15 year old mentally retarded boy who lives in the country and turns out to have a much closer relationship to the Darlings than anyone has admitted. Mr. Darling is an alcoholic with money troubles who has an affair with a neighbor, and Wendy and her brothers are subjected to the cruel treatment of a nanny who punishes them with castor oil for the smallest offense. Some things are very interesting, such as teen neighbor Esther and her involvement with the suffragettes, but I mostly found the novel lacking. Sadly, I don't think I could recommend this to fans of the book or the movies because it lacks the charming qualities, and I'm not sure who else would be interested.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up

What's worse than your mother dying or your parents getting divorced? That's right - acquiring, through no fault of your own, an evil stepmother. Alice, Reena, and Molly all find themselves in the position of watching their fathers marry crazy women. They also all find themselves attending a posh New England boarding school - Alice and Reena because their parents decide it would be better for them to be out of the house, Molly to escape the stepmother who wants to put her to work as a full-time babysitter. The girls initially struggle to make friends and despise one another, but when they find out their common bond, they form a group called the Poison Apples, determined to take back control of their own lives and make those wicked witches married to their fathers pay!

I love love loved this book. The package is fantastic, from the cover art to the pages edged in red, so that it looks like you're reading an apple. The three girls, who each narrate alternating chapters, have distinct and funny perspectives on life. Another fun aspect of this book is that it has the rich kid boarding school atmosphere, but the drama is much more innocent than that of Gossip Girls, for example. This one goes on the favorites list!

But if you don't believe me . . .

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

I recommend this book for: middle school, with some reservations

I had mixed feelings about this book. It seemed at first to be a typical middle school problem novel: Kirsten's parents are fighting and her best friend has ditched her to hang out with the popular girl, who is also evil. Walk is a black kid starting at an almost all-white school.

I definitely liked the characters, and the way they interacted seemed very true to life - for example, I wanted to strangle Brianna when I found out the reason Matteo was wrapped around her little finger, and I completely bought it.


I hate it when people spoil books, but I'm not sure I can convey my concerns about the book without ruining the shocker in the middle. I'll just say this - I work in a fairly conservative community, and I can see parents being upset by Kirsten's father's big secret. It certainly caught me way off guard, and it completely blew my suspension of disbelief. It actually made me think more of a soap opera and distracted me from all of the other wonderful character interactions in the book.

Maybe it's just me?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

I recommend this book for: high school

This is one of the best YA titles I've read this year . . . and that's saying something! Jade is a senior who has been dealing with anxiety since she was 14. Her parents are ignoring one another, her brother is depressed because his father won't let him quit playing sports, and her circle of friends is growing apart and going in vastly different directions. What keeps Jade calm is watching animals - specifically, she likes watching the elephants at the zoo down the street. She watches them pretty much 24/7 on their webcam, and that's where she sees the intriguing boy with a baby for the first time and has the feeling that he's going to be a part of her life . . .

Jade is fantastic narrator. She's insecure but takes her life into her own hands, honest but keeps secrets, at times hating all the people she loves. Her voice made me laugh out loud, several times, as in:

"It makes you realize how basically everything we do comes down to a) mating or b) competing for resources. It's just like Animal Planet, only we've got Cover Girl and Victoria's Secret instead of colored feathers and fancy markings, and the violence occurs at the Nordstron's Half-Yearly Sale."

There are some tough issues in this book as well - other than teen parenthood, there's Jade's first serious relationship, an extra-marital affair, and a bit of bad language, for those who are concerned about such things. But the focus of the story is how Jade grows strong in the face of her challenges, and it's a beautiful thing.

Reviews that made me want to read this book.

Eleven by Lauren Myracle

I recommend this book for: grade 5-7

This is a book I knew I had to read when a girl came in and asked for it, then started jumping up and down when I pulled it from the shelf, yelling "Yes, that's it!!!" Any book that inspires that much excitement is worth reading.

Sixth grade is a turbulent time for anyone, and Winnie is no exception. From feeling like she's losing her best friend to a new popular girl, crushing on her sister's boyfriend, and having her own first boy/girl thing happen on Valentine's day, she has lot going on. The friendship theme is so important here, and it's nice to see Winnie growing up and accepting that you can be friends with more than one person and giving the unpopular girl in her class a chance. Each chapter takes place in a different month, which I liked because it shows how much can happen in that period of time, and the episodes were very well chosen. This is my first Lauren Myracle book, and I definitely enjoyed it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Forged in the Fire by Ann Turnbull

I recommend this book for: high school

I think that I don't do sequels very well. I was completely entranced by No Shame, No Fear, and although I was still interested in this book and the characters, it seemed flatter to me. Maybe I'm a sucker for romantic tension (which is hard to maintain when the characters get married!), or perhaps it was that there was so much going on in this book - Friends held prisoner, deaths and marriages, babies, lots of moving around, the Black Death, and on top of it all, the great London fire. I think the problem, however, was mostly with me - I certainly can't fault Turnbull's attention to historical and character detail. I especially appreciated her honesty about young people's emotions, how even people in love can have feelings for someone else under the right circumstances. Definitely a book I'd recommend to fans of the first, but not as a stand-alone, lest the reader never develop an interest in the characters, not understanding their history.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

As a big fan of Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver, I was excited to get my hands on his first novel. This one goes back to 8th grade, and features drummer Steven Alper, who is also a character in Notes. Steven has typical 8th grade problems until his little brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia and his world turns upside down. Steven has to face all of the emotions of having someone he loves face death, the ugly reality of the children's hospital, and the personal and financial consequences of his mother quitting her job to take care of Jeffrey. Without being sentimental, Sonnenblick portrays all of the despair, hope, and yes, thankfully, humor of Steven's year. Of course, there are other significant happenings in his life, such as getting noticed by the hottest girl in the class and getting chosen to play sweet drum solos in the school jazz band concert, not to mention the titular Dangerous Pie. Steven and Jeffrey are both characters you want to cheer for, and although this book isn't as hilarious/devastating/hopeful as Notes, it's a great read that's fast because you can't put it down.

Friday, September 21, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck

I recommend this book for: grade 4 and up

There are certain things you expect in a Richard Peck novel, and this one doesn't disappoint in those areas. Quirky characters. Heartwarming moments. Interesting historical details. Yes, yes, and yes - but I'm not sure how much kid appeal this book really has. It's told as a series of vignettes that occur throughout Davy's experience on the homefront during WWII. Some of them were hilarious and some poignant - the jokes Dad plays on Halloween pranksters come to mind in the hilarious category - yet the overall feeling is one of nostalgia that I'm not sure kids can really relate to, and that creates some distance from the characters. Also, this book happens to have one of those endings where I didn't realize it was over and turned the page to see what happened next and the answer was "Nothing, you idiot, the book is over!" A little too abrupt for my taste. An enjoyable historical fiction, and yay for another one narrated by a boy, but I'm not jumping up and down about it like I was with The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips - which had a female protagonist, hmm . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In the Name of God by Paula Jolin

I recommend this book for: high school

Nadia is a 17 year old Syrian Muslim who considers herself to be religious. She wears the hijab and is annoyed by her less devout cousins. When an older boy cousin gets involved with radicals and starts spouting their anti-American philosophy everywhere, Nadia starts to get drawn in to the more militant form of Islam - the excerpt on the back cover features a man teaching her how to strap a bomb around her waist and set it off.

This book is a little scary, because Nadia is under a lot of the same kind of pressures most teens are - family and financial issues, dealing with romantic feelings, struggling with religion. How many bad decisions do most people make during the course of their teen years? Nadia, however, is in the position to make a very bad decision with a high death toll. Interesting reading to get an Eastern perspective on the Western world. Some of the characters lack dimension, and the ending happens a little too quickly with little resolution, but the insight into Nadia's life more than makes up for those flaws.

The Moon Robber by Dean Morrissey and Stephen Krensky

I recommend this book for: grades 2-4

Check out the amazing cover illustration, and you've seen the best part of this book. The concept is an intriguing one - 3 children walk through a magic door in a toy shop into another world, where the moon is a ship and you can buy clouds. The execution, however, leaves something to be desired. For example, the giant who steals the moon is described as always talking like a pirate, yet his actual dialogue doesn't have so much as a "yo ho" in it. The level is difficult to determine as well, as it has some long passages and scientific concepts that seem a bit advanced for a first chapter book. But the illustrations - gorgeous.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Huzzah, another great re-telling of Cinderella! I'd read a great review of this, then set myself up for disappointment when I saw the cover art - for some reason it looks cheap to me - but the story was fantastic.

La Cendrillon's mother died just after giving birth to her, causing her father to turn away from the child and leave her to be raised by his servants. He also leaves an infant boy, commanding that the child should never leave his lands unless he sent for him himself. And so Cendrillon and Raoul grow up together, she wishing every year on her birthday that her father would forgive the circumstances of her birth, and he always wishing to know his origins. Neither is ever granted, until one year in anger Cendrillon wishes for a mother and sisters who could love her, since her father never will - and her new stepmother and sisters arrive shortly thereafter.

Dokey has created a fantasy world where wishes have real power, where love and hate grow from the ground as certainly as they do in people's hearts, and where two friends make their own happily ever after by the choices they make. Definitely worth a read for fans of fresh takes on fairy tales.

What the real critics thought.

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull

I recommend this book for: high school, fans of historical fiction or love stories

Wow and a half. This is a beautiful love story set in England of the 1600s. Will is a rich merchant's son, recently returned from his studies at Oxford and ready to pursue a trade. Susanna is the daughter of a poor weaver, but economic status isn't the only thing keeping these two apart - she's also a Quaker. People of her faith are persecuted terribly at this time, and Susanna's father is in prison, prompting her to seek a job with a Quaker woman who owns a print shop to help support her mother and younger siblings. Will, who has always been interested in these people who will not renounce their faith even under dire circumstances, becomes especially interested when he learns that Susanna is one of them. Susanna is fantastic - because of her faith, she is not a submissive young woman, but she doesn't fall into the "historical heroine who's a complete rebel" category. She's utterly realistic.

Told in chapters alternating between the two lovers' voices, this is a very beautiful "novel of love and persecution", as the cover proclaims. The historical detail and description of the Quaker faith and Will's exploration of it make a rich backdrop for the love story, and the voices of the young couple are completely honest about both their beliefs, their questions and doubts, and the myriad sensations of being in love for the first time. Some parents may be made uncomfortable by some of the honesty, so this is recommended for high school, but very highly.

And I'm not the only one!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gemini Summer by Iain Lawrence

I recommend this book for: middle school?

Beau and Danny are brothers who do just about everything together. It's 1964 and America's eyes are on the space race, and Beau is completely caught up in the excitement of the space program, idolizing Gus Grissom, and dreaming of becoming an astronaut. Danny's dream is simpler - he wants a dog. Their parents have dreams too - Mom is writing a novel, the next Gone With the Wind, and Dad is digging a fallout shelter to keep his family safe from the attack he's sure is coming. Although they're considered hillbillies and made fun of because of Dad's job (he drives a septic truck commonly called the poop-mobile), and there's a bit of tension between their parents, the boys are happy. Then a tragic accident takes Beau, and Danny and his parents have to adjust to life without him. Then the miraculous happens - Danny's parents let him get a dog, but this dog is special. In fact, Danny is convinced that Rocket isn't just a dog at all - he thinks he's Beau.

This book was intriguing, but it had its problems. One, I was completely unsure about how old Danny was until over 3/4 of the book was over - since the book is in our YA section, I had him placed at about 11 or 12, only to find out that he was really 9, which changed things a good bit. And as such, it might be hard to find an audience for this book - there's no bad language or any kind of mature situation, but the description of Beau's accident could be disturbing for younger children, but Danny's youth might keep older kids from being interested. Historical fiction is a hard sell most days, but the dog aspect might make it more appealing, so it could go either way. That said, I did enjoy the story, and although the actions of the adults that actually drove the story tended to not make sense to me, the actions of the children made perfect sense. So, it's a good book for the right audience, but not for everyone. It would definitely make a good alternative for kids looking for historical fiction for school assignments, since it's a bit more exciting than many books in the genre and (gasp!) it's told from a boy's point of view!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

Oh, how I love this series! I devoured The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters, and volume 3 doesn't disappoint, delivering the same modern twists on Greek mythology, exciting escapades, and hilarious narration as the first two. This adventure is darker, as befits an aging Percy and a world on the brink of war, but the humor keeps it from being scary. Percy, Thalia, Grover, and two of the Hunters of the goddess Artemis are on a rescue mission to save the goddess and Annabeth from the clutches of Luke and Kronos. They meet up with new enemies, including zombies raised from dragon's teeth (commonly mistaken for those of the T-rex), and for the first time, the group suffers losses.

Things that are done really well: Percy's awkwardness around Annabeth, the introduction of the Hunters and their "no boys allowed" philosophy, Thalia's character development, capturing the adolescent sense of humor, tying in myths that are new to the series, plus tying back to past events like the Lotus Casino. And my favorite scene, where they visit Hoover Dam, is sure to make middle schoolers laugh out loud - I did! So basically, I'm devastated that this book only came out a few months ago and I'm going to have to wait for #4!

Everybody loves Percy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

I recommend this book for: grade 4-7

Joey is wired - he bounces off walls, mouths off to the teacher, steals pies, and rips his fingernail off in a pencil sharpener entirely by accident. Everything wrong he does is an accident - Joey has inherited behavior problems from his (abusive) grandmother and (absent) father, and his ADD and other problems are getting out of control. When he injures a classmate - by accident - and gets suspended from his school, Joey has to go to a special ed school where understanding teachers and doctors help equip him with what he needs to get better.

This novel attacks a lot of difficult issues - emotional abuse, ADD, estranged parents, special ed, and the complex relationship Joey has with his mother, who disappeared for many years and struggles with drinking and her son's behavior. Joey's observations on the way he loves his mother and grandmother, even when they've been mean to him, are astute and rather mature, but nice to hear articulated. Kids will find Joey's antics funny, and those who have some of the same problems might gain reassurance both from reading about someone they can relate to and the hopeful outlook for his "getting fixed." Another positive aspect is how Joey, one of the "normal-looking" kids adapts and makes friends with the other special ed students, even though he fears them at the outset. This is not a book for every reader - Joey's narration, as energetic as he is, can get a bit confusing at times - but those who can appreciate it will do so thoroughly.

Ask the pros.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

I recommend this book for: grades 4 and up

This book was as beautiful as the cover - I love those dandelions! The narrative is composed of 7th grader Josie's poems, beginning at winter break and ending the following autumn. Some of the many topics covered are living with cerebral palsy and being an outcast at school, life on her grandmother's farm where she is constantly surrounded by growing things, her busy student mother, and Jordan - a new neighbor who is facinated by science and treats Josie like a friend, something she's never experienced before. The poems are bursting with life, just like Granny's garden, and all of the beauty and heartache of Josie's life is honestly portrayed. As her family relationships and her new friendship with Jordan change and grow, Josie blooms. This book would be great for reluctant readers because of the length (I finished it in about half an hour), fans of poetry, and special needs kids/teens, but I can see many readers enjoying the different levels of this inspiring story.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I recommend this book for: high school vampire fans

I've decided that I shouldn't read vampire books. I read this one because I read a review that recommended it for fans of Stephenie Meyer, and I definitely fit into that category, but Tantalize was definitely not for me.

With that said, it's a very well-written book. The plot is intriguing - in a world where vampires and werepeople (Wolves, Cats, even Armadillos!) are acknowledged (although not accepted by any means) members of society, Quincey and her uncle D work to open their family's vampire-themed restaurant. I loved the idea. I loved Quince's quasi-romance with her smoldering half-werewolf best friend, and the building excitement as murders begin to pile up. Kieren (the Wolf) is one of the prime suspects, and Quince feels distant from him as she spends more time with Brad, the new chef for the restaurant who feeds her growing need for companionship and red wine. I was completely wrapped up into this story through the first 3/4 of the book, which I devoured like the tasty pasta dishes Brad creates in the kitchen.

What didn't I like? The nasty change that comes over Quincey at the end of the book, the almost complete lack of resolution (romantic or otherwise) - I read the last page and shouted "Are you kidding, that's it??", startling my husband. And, it turns out, I'm a huge wimp and couldn't sleep after reading this book. But as an avid Stephenie Meyer fan, I had to ask myself why, and here's what I came up with. I once heard Meyer's books described as "vampire books for people who don't like vampire books", and I think that's apt: they're high school romance with interesting characters, some of whom happen to be vampires who don't feed on humans. So, if that's what you're into (like me), Tantalize probably isn't for you. However, if you're into the eternal youth/black leather/feeding on blood elements, this book might be a great choice. Just don't expect an ending, particularly a happy one.

But then, I'm just a wimp: what more courageous reviewers thought.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor

I recommend this book for: grade 3-5

Georgina has big problems - her father left the family and they got kicked out of their apartment, so she currently lives with her mother and little brother in their car. Mom is working two jobs, trying to save up enough for a new home, but meanwhile the three of them are washing up in public bathrooms, wearing the same clothes for days in a row, and parking in a different place every night. But then Georgina sees a poster offering a $500 reward for a lost dog, and she has a brilliant idea - she and her brother can steal a dog, then take it back for the reward money, and all of their problems will be solved! Right?

This was an okay story - Georgina isn't a character who really affected me, but it was great to see a book about homelessness for this age group - it's actually becoming a more common problem in our area, and as librarians, we see the homeless population, either coming in for help or just for a place to be out of the elements. Predictably, Georgina's plot doesn't work out the way she had hoped, and her guilty conscience persuades her to do the right thing - so the message is there, the side characters are pretty interesting, and the situation certainly has its drama . . . and still, the book wasn't one of my favorites. Oh well.

Teen geniuses and teen lit

The other night I happened to catch part of the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament on TV. I like to think I'm smart, so I kept it on and quizzed myself. Imagine my delight when the last category proved to be about books! And then imagine my sadness . . . the three teen geniuses could answer questions about 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 without blinking an eye, but the rest of the questions, which were about teen literature, elicited three blank stares. They didn't know who Princess Mia is! They hadn't read The Book Thief! There is something seriously wrong with that!

Okay, I'm clearly biased in favor of young adult literature - I happen to think it's one of greatest things on the planet. However, I pretty much skipped over the teen section when I was younger - I glanced in, read a lot of Fear Street and a little bit of Lurlene McDaniel, then went on my merry way to the adult section. As a result, I missed out on a lot of great literature - not just stories, but literature. Teen fiction isn't just fluff for the limited attention span of IMers everywhere - when you skip over the teen section, you miss out on great books like The Giver, a distopia story to rival Brave New World in its frightening vision of a possible future. You miss The Book Thief and its amazing, unique viewpoint on the Holocaust - one of the best "literary" books I've ever read. You miss An Abundance of Katherines, a story about a disillusioned teen prodigy in which you practically have to be a prodigy yourself to not miss most of the jokes. Of course there's some garbage out there on the shelves, but that's true in just about every genre, and many of the young adult books I've read have had more original plots, more believable characters, and more life in them than most of what I ever read for a class assignment. I'm not advocating ignoring the classics by any means, but it makes me sad to think there are teens who could really appreciate these phenomenal books that teen authors labor over, but who pass over the entire genre in favor of the adult books. My advice? Read in the teen section while you're a teen. Find some stories and characters you can relate to, find challenging material on the teen shelves, because I guarantee you that it's there. And hey, it just might come in handy when all of you smartypants are face to face with Alex Trebek!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I recommend this book for: high school and adults

Note to self - Jane Austen is great company when you're home sick! Stuck at home today with (gasp!) no new library books (although the pile on my desk at work is stacked up over my head), I pulled this one off the shelf. I've read and re-read Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, always passing by this volume - probably because it was assigned reading in an English class that we never got around to discussing. But once I started, I found this book engrossing and finished it all today!

Catherine Morland is the heroine of this story - pretty and 17, not overly accomplished, but a voracious reader of Gothic novels. The first half of the book explores her family relationships and sends her off to Bath with a childless couple as chaperons. The second half takes her to Northanger Abbey, the home of some new acquaintances (including a most fanciable young man who shares her taste in books), and where her imagination starts to run away with her. Although the horrors she imagines never come to pass, the things that honest, English people of good society are capable of doing are rather atrocious indeed - from a social standpoint, of course.

Fans of other Jane Austen works will probably eat this up - although there's no Mr. Darcy to swoon over, Mr. Tilney is a good character, and Austen's observations about human behavior as witty as in any of her other novels. My favorite: "she was so far from seeking to attract their notice, that she looked back at them only three times." Priceless.

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

I recommend this book for: grade 5 -8

Several middle schoolers recommended this title as a possible book club book, and it definitely has a lot to discuss, especially for that age group! Juli has been head over heels for Bryce since 2nd grade, and he's been just trying to keep her out of his hair. Now it's almost the end of 8th grade, and things are beginning to flip: Bryce is starting to see Juli in a new light - she's seeing him in a new light as well, but it doesn't look favorable. Told in alternating chapters between their two voices, it's interesting to see how each remembers conversations and incidents - I thought the discrepancy between the two viewpoints was funny and very true to life, and that Van Draanen managed to capture the awkwardness and embarrassment of forming relationships very well. Juli is a great protagonist with beautiful ideas and a sparkle of her own, and although Bryce is less likeable at the outset, seeing him grow in the right direction is interesting to watch. With that said, there were things that didn't exactly fly with me - like how Bryce's dad had absolutely no redeeming characteristics, and his best friend completely ditched him and told him why, directly. Overall, though, this was an enjoyable story of the frustrations and joys of seeing yourself and the people around you for what they really are - one of the more rewarding parts of middle school.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Way Down Deep by Ruth White

Haha, Himitsu, I just keep on blogging and blogging . . .

I recommend this book for: grades 4-8

Ruby appeared in the tiny Appalachian town of Way Down Deep as a 3 year old in June of 1944. Not being able to speak very much, nobody knew how she had gotten there, but Miss Arbutus, the owner of the boarding house, took her in and raised her as her own. Now Ruby is 12, and with the introduction of a new family in town, the mystery of Ruby's past is beginning to unravel - but is the life she loves about to unravel with it?

This book was a joy, with quirky characters that made me think of Billie Letts, and a touch of magical realism. There's Robber Bob, who attempted to rob the bank with a toy gun to support his children, and the Sheriff, who walked in on the middle of the robbery without noticing anything amiss. The librarian, Miss Wordy, likes to use words like "inasmuch" and "albeit", and Miss Arbutus herself sends Ruby on all of the errands because she doesn't like to see people in person or use the telephone. The smalltown setting is picturesque and perfect, and the way Ruby brings joy to all of the people (and goats) around her is inspiring. This one's a definite winner!

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis

I recommend this book for: grades 4-7

Oh, it's fun to read kid's books! The heroine of this tale is 7th grader Emma Jean, logical thinker and social outcast. Her scientific way of looking at things doesn't make her friends, but she's mostly content to observe from a distance, saving her friendship for her mother, the kindly custodian, and the professor who boards on the third floor of her house and cooks authentic Indian meals. But then Emma Jean runs into Colleen crying in the bathroom, and Colleen asks her to help . . . and Emma Jean knows exactly how she can.

With her keen powers of observation and a basic knowledge of word processing, Emma Jean is out to save the 7th grade from every problem that's in her power - with mixed results. The crisis of the book comes when Emma Jean's interference causes a bigger problem than the one it solved, but it's only middle school angst, and resolved very neatly. Emma Jean is an interesting character - her verbosity annoyed me in the earlier chapters, but as I spent more time with her it grew on me. A clever, funny book with lots of heart, most tween girls who can get past the long words will just eat it up!

What the pros said.

Beige by Cecil Castellucci

I recommend this book for: high school, especially fans of punk music or California
This novel started out slowly, but it gained steam and definitely delivered at the end. Katy lives in Montreal with her mother, an archaeologist. Her father lives in L.A., plays with several punk bands including the infamous Suck, and hasn't seen Katy since he was kicked out of Canada for trying to bring drugs across the border when she was 7. Their reunion happens when Mom decides to spend the summer in Peru excavating, and that it would be better for Katy to spend some quality time with Dad, a.k.a. "The Rat" than come along.
Katy has a hard time fitting in to this new world - she hates messes, doesn't particularly like music of any kind, and she resents being shoved off onto Lake, a young punk rocker and daughter of The Rat's bandmate. But then some great moments happen: Katy and her father talk honestly about his addiction. Katy makes discoveries about her mother's past and makes friends on her own, and gets her heart broken by a handsome Californian. I really like the way Cecil Castellucci writes, and her exploration of the punk scene in all of its dirty, profane glory is incredibly fun. As an outsider slowly becoming an insider, Katy (labeled "Beige" by Lake) gives an interesting perspective, and her growth as a character made me want to cheer, even if it did happen a bit too quickly to be believed.
One clever thing I loved about this book is that at one point, Katy's friend gives her a punk primer - a mix CD of must-know songs. Each chapter is named for one of the songs, and the action of the chapter somehow relates to the title or the band . . . it's a glorious thing.
And if you like this one, try out Boyproof as well!

The Castaways by Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

I read great reviews of this graphic novel, and was somewhat disappointed. It follows Tucker, a 13 year old boy who follows his father's footsteps and hops a train, trying out the life of a Depression era hobo. It was definitely a quick read, but it was so quick that although there was certainly much to admire in characters like Elijah, the old black man who takes Tucker under his wing, I felt like I didn't have any time to get to know them and care about them. Tucker's mother was the only one I felt was fairly well-developed. But, it wasn't a bad book - the illustrations were certainly lovely, and there was a good bit of historical detail packed in to both the illustrations and the dialogue. I might recommend it to reluctant readers in need of historical fiction - although I don't know of many teachers who have embraced the graphic format just yet.

Disagree? So do the pros.