Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
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
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.
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 . . .
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.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
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
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
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
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.
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!)
Friday, November 2, 2007
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
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.
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
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.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
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 . . .
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.
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
Thursday, October 18, 2007
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
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
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
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.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
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?
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
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 . . .
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
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.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
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
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.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Saturday, September 1, 2007
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!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
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.
Monday, August 27, 2007
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
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
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.
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.