Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love

Rushton, Rosie. The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

Do you remember the Dashwood family from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility? Well, author Rosie Rushton has brought them into the 21st century. Elinor is now Ellie. She still loves the unattainable guy. Marianne is transformed into Abby, still as flighty as ever. Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, is Georgie, but this time she has her own story to tell.

What I thought: I picked this book up on a whim. At best, I thought I could use it to introduce younger readers to the delights of Jane Austen. At worst, I knew it was chick lit. While the premise (bringing Austen into the 21st century) is commendable, I was less than pleased with Rushton's efforts. While no one can replace Austen, Rushton could perhaps have tried to give her novel the thoughtfulness and intimacy for which Austen's novels are so famous. My main complaint is the disjointed narrative. The author bounces between Ellie, Abby, and Georgie leaving the reader quite confused. I know multiple story lines can be successfully blended (Hilary McKay's Saffy's Angel is an excellent example.) When I read this book, it confirmed my worst fears, it is chick lit. When you accept that, it is an okay read.

A Different Kind of Vampire Novel

Hahn, Mary Downing. Look for Me By Moonlight. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Cynda goes to live with her dad at an isolated Maine inn. She finds life there predictable at best until an unexpected guest arrives. Vincent Moranthos is handsome, educated, and charismatic. Cynda finds herself drawn to him. Their relationship starts out innocently enough with moonlight walks. Cynda is infatuated with Vincent. Her infatuation blinds her to his flaws. Vincent is a vampire. He wants not her love, but her blood. Can Cynda break the unnatural hold Vincent has on her?

What I thought: In a world inoculated by the Twilight novels, this book came as quite a surprise. Hahn's book is a different sort of vampire novel. There are distinct similarities between Look for Me By Moonlight and Twilight.

Both Edward and Vincent are handsome and charismatic. They both know the power they can exercise over humans. The difference is that Vincent uses that power to his own advantage. Edward has ethics that prevent him from doing so.

Bella and Cynda both come from broken homes. They both go to live with their dads in remote locations. However, Bella is more astute than Cynda. She realizes quite quickly what Edward is and the fact that he won't intentionally hurt her. Cynda's infatuation with Vincent blinds her to the obvious clues that reveal what he is.

Vincent is comparable in nature to the nomad vampires in Twilight (James and Victoria). Too bad Cynda doesn't see how evil Vincent can be.

It would be interesting to recommend this book to Twilight fans. In Meyer's world, vampires can be and often are good. In Hahn's world, vampires are evil incarnate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Unexpected Christmas Story

Bauer, Joan. Stand Tall. New York: Speak, 2002.

In the days leading up to Christmas and after, Tree struggles to find his place in a world he no longer recognizes. As the youngest child of newly divorced parents, he wonders what went wrong. Every week he lives in one house or the other. His grandfather has recently had a leg amputated (from an old war wound), so Tree also has to help care for his recovering grandparent. These are just his problems on the home front. He doesn't fit in at school either. Tree is not his real name. It's a nickname. Tree is 12 years old. He measures 6 foot 3 inches in height. And he's not done growing. Tree finds that he's out of place both emotionally and physically. Tree's new friend Sophie asks him if he has a motto. In the course of the story, Tree finds that his motto is "stand tall." He can't change his height, so he might as well take pride in it.

What I thought: I liked this book. It was an unexpected Christmas story. Nothing on the cover or the blurb indicates that it takes place at Christmas. I always enjoy Joan Bauer's books. This one was a bit different from her books that have female protagonists (Hope Was Here, Rules of the Road, Squashed, and Backwater). In those books, the protagonists are the first-person narrators. Bauer tells Stand Tall in third person. (I wonder if female readers prefer first person narration while boy readers prefer third person narration.) This book is also for a slightly younger audience than Bauer's other books. I think Stand Tall will have wide appeal because it deals with a multitude of issues: divorce, differences, natural disasters, pets, friends, family, and the Vietnam War (from a survivor's point-of-view).

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Makes a Poem a Poem?: Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Jack struggles to write poetry. Even when he writes a poem, he's not sure that it is a poem. He also worries if his poems are any good. He doesn't want his teacher to put his name on his work when she posts it on the bulletin board. Here's an excerpt from Love That Dog:

Maybe the wheelbarrow poet
was just
making a picture
with words
someone else--
like maybe his teacher--
typed it up
and then people thought
it was a poem
because it looked like one
typed up like that.

And maybe
that's the same thing
that happened with
Mr. Robert Frost.
Maybe he was just
making pictures with words
about the snowy woods
and the pasture--
and his teacher
typed them up
and they looked like poems
so people thought
they were poems (22-23).

Jack makes a valid point. How can anyone really know what makes a poem a poem? Who decides? I think Jack eventually comes to the conclusion that the writer decides.

What I thought: This was a fantastic book! It was a very fast read. I read it in 30 minutes. I really loved hearing Jack's voice come out through his poems. The premise (writing poetry in a classroom setting) reminded me a lot of Jacqueline Woodson's Locomotion. Creech's book would be great to use to introduce kids to poetry. As a poet, I find myself struggling with the same issues that Jack does. I sometimes look at my poems and ask, "What makes this a poem?" I suppose I do as I'm the one who wrote it and dared to call it poetry.

Book Review: Here Today

Martin, Ann M. Here Today. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

In 1960s era New York State, Ellie's life is far from perfect. Her dad works all the time. Her mom, who insists her children call her Doris, is always scheming to make something of herself. Doris' scheming and discontent with her current situation leads her to leave her family for the glamour of New York City. On top of these family problems, Ellie and her best friend Holly are being teased unmercifully and cruelly at school.

What I thought: Here Today is another great book by Ann M. Martin. She effortlessly captures the feel of the 1960s. Watching Ellie struggle was heart wrenching. Teasing is something to which most everyone can relate whether they were the teaser or the object of the teasing. The book is quite long (308 pages), but it kept my interest throughout. I was anxious to see what Doris would do next and how Ellie would deal with the newest problem.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn

Weyn, Suzanne. The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin." New York: Simon Pulse, 2008.

Weyn takes a classic fairy tale and gives it new life. The characters are not peasants but Irish immigrants. The setting is 1880s New York City.

Bridget finds herself torn between two men: the suave son of a rich man and the mysterious and magical Ray.

If you thought Rumpelstiltskin was about babies, you had it wrong. This story is about love.

To find out where Bridget's heart leads her, read The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gift Ideas from Books

For years, my literary cousin and I had Christmas gift exchanges that always had 1 gift that was book related. For this purpose, I went through some of my favorite books (Little Women and Little House) to see what the characters gave and/or received as gifts. So here's the list.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
house shoes, gloves, handkerchiefs, cologne, books, sheet music, drawing pencils, piano, snowman, fruit, flowers, afghan, picture, ribbon, ice cream, wrapper, silk dress, charm (for a bracelet, necklace, etc.), "ink bib," hard gingerbread, flannels

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
carved wooden bracket, read & whit knit mittens, peppermint candy, red mittens,m rag doll, apple studded with cloves, needle book (silk cover with flannel pages)

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
tin cup, peppermint candy, heart-shaped cake, penny, sweet potatoes

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
button string, candy, horses, popcorn balls, shawl, rag doll, mittens, muffler, fur cape & muff, Bible verse booklet, china dog, white china jewel box (tea pot on top)

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
knit socks, silk tie, candy, apron, handkerchief, bed shoes, mittens, swan's down hood & coat, knitted wristlets

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
cross-stitched picture frame, knitted lace, hair receiver, suspenders, jumping jack toy, candy, dress, flannels, fine wool stockings, coat, hood, mittensd, silk shawl, shirts, cap, ABC book, Mother Goose book, yarn embroidery thread, turkey

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
wool nubia, doll cradle (with sheets, pillow, and patchwork quilt), silver thimble, necktie, Tennyson's Poems, Stories of the Moorland, lace collar, handkerchiefs, ribbon

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
candy, oranges, gold bar pin

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
candy, glassware, clock, undershirt

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
cap, muffler, horehound candy, mittens, oranges, dried figs, jack knife, locket, earrings, lace collars, lace mitts, leather wallet

If you're surprised by some of the items listed, I suggest you read the books. If you choose to give someone a gift inspired by a book (or their favorite book), I recommend writing out or typing up the passage from the book that goes along with it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Twilight: The Movie

Well, I went to see the movie twice. This was not intentional. Overall, I think the movie does a pretty good job of representing the book. However, there are things I didn't like.

Bella arrived in Forks in January not March. They didn't make it look cold enough. No big parka on Bella. No snow. Bummer.

I really got tired of looking at Kristen Stewart's mouth. How many close-ups of her mouth does 1 movie need? If her mouth wasn't hanging open, she was biting her bottom lip.

They left out a few of my favorite parts. The scene where Edward kisses Bella on the stairs and she faints. The blood typing and subsequent fainting in Biology. I'm hoping these scenes will show up in the deleted scenes when the movie's released on DVD.

I can't say I was too happy about the actors who portrayed Bella & Edward. I'm not sure who I would cast if I could, but there have to be actors that better fit the characters. Edward didn't dress as well in the movie as I thought he should.

I loved the music in the movie. After I saw it the first time I rushed out to get the soundtrack. I think I'll eventually come to the conclusion that while I'm not entirely happy with the movie, they did a pretty good job condensing a 500 page book into a 2 hour movie. I definitely like the book better.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins

Perkins, Mitali. The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen. New York: Little, Brown, 1993

Until her grandparents come for a year long visit, Sunni’s life is perfect. She has friends. She even has a crush. But her grandparents change that. Overnight, Sunni’s mother transforms from a successful academic into the dutiful Indian daughter. She wears saris and cooks traditional Indian food. Sunni feels like she doesn’t know her own family any more. She certainly doesn’t know who she is.

She tells her Grandfather, “I wish Mom and Dad had stayed in India. Then I would be one hundred percent Indian, like those cousins Didu is always bragging about. Or if I had been born here and had been American—I mean really American—you know, born-in-the-U.S.A. and all that patriotic land-where-my-fathers-died stuff. Maybe then life would be less complicated” (87-88).

To see how Sunni reconciles the two parts of her identity, American and Indian, read The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins.

The Girl, the Dragon, and the Wild Magic by Dave Luckett

Luckett, Dave. The Girl, the Dragon, and the Wild Magic. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Rhianna has a logical nature. She would make a great mathematician or cook. The problem is Rhianna’s not studying math or cooking. She’s studying magic. Magic is imprecise. Magic doesn’t have rules. She tells her mother, “Mother…I tried. I studied, I really did. But it all gets mixed-up, somehow. It all comes out wrong. I get confused. There are no rules…nothing ever makes sense” (15). Rhianna is about to be expelled from magic school because she’s a dunce when she learns something very important about her self. She’s a Wild Talent. Her magic is very powerful and hard to control. It also drains all the other magic around it. To find out how Rhianna copes with her Wild magic, read The Girl, the Dragon, and the Wild Magic by Dave Luckett.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

Martin, Ann M. A Corner of the Universe. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Hattie’s life changed forever the summer her uncle Adam came home. She didn’t even know she had an Uncle Adam. He’d always lived in a school for people with disabilities. Here’s what Hattie has to say about that summer.

“My father’s movies are great, but they don’t begin to tell the story of the summer. What’s left out is more important than what is there. Dad captured the good times, only the good times. The parts he left out are what changed my life” (xiii).

To find out what happened that summer, read A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi

Rinaldi, Ann. The Coffin Quilt: The Feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. San Diego: Harcourt, 1999.

Fanny McCoy knows about hard times. She lives in the mountains of Kentucky. Fanny McCoy also knows about feuding and killing. That’s right. She’s part of that McCoy family of Hatfield and McCoy fame. She lived through the feud. Now Fanny McCoy wants to tell her story.

“My writing is kind of like Adelaide’s blood purifier that she’s always giving Ma. And besides, I don’t aim to be like our sheep, so shy that if a wild animal attacks, they just lie down and get ready to die. There’s been too much dying around these parts for my liking. I’m plumb sick of it. And I don’t even know if it’s all over yet. So I’m going to write what happened. The way it was for me, at least. The way it was all my life. Since I was a knee baby of seven” (6-7).

To hear Fanny McCoy’s story, read The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Ibbotson, Eva. Journey to the River Sea. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Maia wants a family more than anything. She’s delighted when her lawyer finds distant relations living in Brazil. They want Maia to live with them and they have twin daughters Maia’s age. So Maia travels to Brazil in the care of the new governess, Miss Minton.

“She was becoming more and more excited. The color, the friendly waving Indians, the flashing birds, all delighted her, and she was not troubled by the heat. But at the center of all her thoughts were the twins. She saw them in white dresses with colored sashes like pictures in a book, laughing and welcoming and friendly. She imagined them getting ready for bed, brushing each other’s hair, and lying in a hammock with a basketful of kittens on their laps, or picking flowers for the house” (26).

But life with her new relations is not what Maia imagined. They live as though they are still in England. They do not eat native food or embrace local customs. Mrs. Carter wages a never-ending war against insects. Mrs. Carter doesn’t believe in pets as they carry germs. They never go outside. The twins don’t like Maia. They are even cruel to her. Maia likens the Carter’s house to a prison for so it is to her. If it were not for Minty, such a life would stifle Maia. With Minty’s help, Maia continues her studies and even makes friends with the locals. To read more about Maia’s adventures in Brazil, check out Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Horvath, Polly. Everything on a Waffle. New York: FSG, 2001.

“I live in Coal Harbor, British Columbia. I have never lived anyplace else. My name is Primrose Squarp. I am eleven years old. I have hair the color of carrots in apricot glaze (recipe to follow), skin fair and clear where it isn’t freckled, and eyes like summer storms” (3).

Primrose is satisfied with her life. She has a mother and a father. She’s happy, but things change one day in June. There’s a bad storm. Her dad’s out fishing. Her mom goes to find him. They don’t return.

“There was a memorial service for my parents but I wouldn’t go. I knew that my parents hadn’t drowned. I suspected that they had washed up on an island somewhere and were waiting to be rescued. Every morning I went down to the docks to watch the boats come in, sure that I would see my parents towed in, perhaps on the back of a whale” (4).

Primrose never doubts that her parents are still alive. She endures forgetful old ladies, careless uncles, and nosy guidance counselors. Is Primrose right about her parents being alive? To find out, read Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Maggie's Door by Patricia Reilly Giff

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Maggie’s Door. New York: Yearling, 2003

People are starving in Ireland. Nory Ryan has no choice but to leave her home. Her destination is America. Nory says, “The blight had turned those potatoes to mush, to ooze, leaving everyone hungry. Starving. Still now over Patrick’s Well hung bits of cloth, prayers that people had left. There was one of her sister Celia’s shifts” (7-8). Nory sets out alone to find her family and reach her sister Maggie’s door in America. To discover more about her journey, read Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff.

Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Nory Ryan’s Song. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Nory Ryan and her family depend on potatoes. If the crops fail, they starve. They’ve heard that a disease is killing the potatoes. Nory worries about what will happen to her family if blight strikes their potato crop.

Think about green leaves, I told myself. Think about the sun in the sky and Da fishing on a big ship. Think about good things. What else? A red wedding dress. Number 416 Smith Street in Brooklyn. Think about… Stories of famine, people dying in their houses. Da’s little brother. A boy like Patch. Please let the potatoes be all right” (40-41).

To find out what happens to Nory and her family, read Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff.

Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles

Wiles, Deborah. Love, Ruby Lavender. Orlando: Gulliver, 2001.

Who is Ruby Lavender? Let’s look at a few excerpts from the questionnaire Ruby’s soon-to-be fourth grade teacher sent her.

3. Tell me about your town or neighborhood.
There’s nothing to tell. Miss Eula Dapplevine was the only colorful thing about Halleluia, and she up and left for Hawaii, deserting her kin (me), not to mention her chickens.

5. Tell me about your self.
I am a chicken thief. And a housepainter. And a floor sweeper. I have red hair and freckles the color of new pennies. I am a good writer. I have three chickens: Ivy, Bemmie, and Bess. I am about to have three more because Ivy laid three eggs. I do not eat meat.

7. What are your favorite subjects in school?
I never think about school in the summer. It is bad luck. Ask me in September. (pp. 61-63)

Ruby Lavender’s summer started out just fine. Then her grandmother, Miss Eula, goes to Hawaii. Miss Eula leaves Ruby to deal with their stolen chickens and Ruby’s worst enemy Melba Jane. Can Ruby survive the summer without Miss Eula? To find out you’ll have to read Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Clementine. Illus. Marla Frazee. New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Someone’s always telling Clementine to pay attention. Clementine does pay attention just in her own way. Surely you can understand that the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t as interesting as watching the lunch lady and janitor kiss. Paying attention is the least of Clementine’s problems this week. It all starts with Margaret, Clementine’s sometimes friend. Clementine begins her story: “I have had not so good of a week” (1).

To find out why Clementine’s week was so bad and what Margaret has to do with it, you’ll have to read Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill

Hemphill, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Knopf, 2007.

Sylvia Plath was a poet from age eight. She knew she was destined to be great. Stephanie Hemphill uses poetry to explore Plath’s life from birth to death. Here’s how Hemphill sees Plath:

Your Own, Sylvia

She could not help burning herself
From the inside out,
Consuming herself

Like the sun.
But the memory of her light blazes
Our dark ceiling.

She could not know how long
Her luminary would map the sky,
Or where her dying would lead the lost.

But for those who gaze heavenly
Or into the reflected pool of night,
She is fuel. She is dust. She is a guiding star. (246)

To find out more about Hemphill and her Sylvia Plath, you’ll have to read Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires

Spires, Elizabeth. The Mouse of Amherst. Illus. Claire A. Nivola. New York: Sunburst, 1999.

“I am a mouse, a white mouse. My name is Emmaline. Before I met Emily, the great poet of Amherst, I was nothing more than a crumb gatherer, a cheese nibbler, a mouse-of-little-purpose. There was an emptiness in my life that nothing seemed to fill” (5).

When Emmaline moves into the Dickinson’s house, she discovers something to fill the emptiness—poetry. To find out more about the mouse who writes poetry and her friendship with Emily Dickinson, you’ll have to read The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Vande Velde, Vivian. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Have you ever asked yourself “Why?” after reading a fairy tale? That’s exactly what Vivian Vande Velde did when she read Rumpelstiltskin. The story just didn’t jive. So she came up with six alternate versions. To discover Vande Velde’s answers, you’ll have to read The Rumpelstilskin Problem.

Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

Hannigan, Katherine. Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

Ida B likes to talk to trees and look for fun. Most of her days “start right and just keep heading toward perfect until [she goes] to sleep” (1). Then Mama gets sick. Mama’s too tired to be Mama. Daddy’s too busy to be Daddy. They send Ida B to the most horrible place on earth: Ernest B. Lawson Elementary School. Daddy’s even sells part of the orchard to pay the hospital bills. Some of Ida B’s tree friends are cut down. Ida B is determined to change the terrible situation she finds herself in. She says, “I was working toward nothing less than the righting of wrongs, turning evil to good, and stopping the craziness that was steadily and surely taking over my valley” (123). To find out what happens, you’ll have to read Ida B by Katherine Hannigan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

McCaughrean, Geraldine. The White Darkness. New York: Harper Tempest, 2005.

Sym lives and breathes Antarctica. She’s read all the books. She’s watched movies and documentaries. When a weekend trip to Paris becomes an expedition to Antarctica, Sym is thrilled. Sym has an unusual friend: Captain Lawrence Oates, otherwise known as Titus. He was part of a polar exploration at the turn of the twentieth century. Titus has been dead for almost ninety years, but he’s still alive and well in Sym’s head. Sym describes Titus:

“He is everything, everything, everything I ever admired and wanted and couldn’t have. He is everything I needed and couldn’t find in real life.
Of course he is.
That’s why I invented him” (294).

When her uncle’s obsession with discovering Symmes’s Hole becomes life threatening, it is Titus who urges Sym to meet the challenge and survive. To find out more about Sym’s adventures in Antarctica, you’ll have to read The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.

Banned Books Week September 27-October 4, 2008

What is Banned Books Week all about? Simply freedom. The freedom to read whatever you want without fear of discrimination or censorship. See the Top 100 Challenged Books 2000-2007 here:
Take a look at the list. You might be surprised by the titles on the list. You may have read some banned books without even knowing it. If you have, are you surprised that the book has been challenged? Read a banned book. Embrace your freedom to read and celebrate Banned Books Week.

Here are the books that I've read on the list:
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Giver by Lois Lowry
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Twisted. New York: Viking, 2007.

Tyler Miller became a legend overnight. He defaced school property. He spent his summer doing community service, working to pay off the damages, and grounded within an inch of his life. Tyler knows his prank has changed the way other students view him.

He says, “People had ignored me when I was Nerd Boy, but that changed after I was arrested. A third of my fellow students kept their distance, like I might be wearing a bomb strapped to my waist. Another third looked down their noses at me because I had to work with the (gasp) custodial staff. The third third was all thumbs-up and ‘Yo, Tyler!’ because spray-painting a couple thousand dollars worth of damage to the school and getting my very own probation officer made me their hero” (45).

Given the different opinions these students have about Tyler, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t know how to handle his senior year. Tyler’s uncertainty only leads to more problems. To find out how he copes with his senior year, you’ll have to read Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

Broach, Elise. Shakespeare's Secret. New York: Scholastic, 2005.

What would you do if someone told you a million dollar diamond disappeared in your house and was never found? That’s right. You’d try to solve the mystery. That’s exactly what Hero Netherfield does when her neighbor Mrs. Roth reveals the mystery of the diamond. If no one ever found it, then the diamond must still be in the house. Hero decides to find the diamond if she can. Finding the diamond turns out to be trickier than she thought. Soon Hero’s embroiled in a mystery involving Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Edward de Vere, and Shakespeare. What do these historical figures have to do with the missing diamond? To find out and solve the mystery, you’ll have to read Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach.

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

McKay, Hilary. Saffy's Angel. New York: Aladdin, 2001.

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Like you’re different? Of course. Everyone feels like this at one time or another. Saffy Casson knows that feeling. The difference is that Saffy feels like an outsider in her own family.

Saffy has a happy, eccentric family with a mother, a father, two sisters and a brother. One day that changes. Saffy no longer knows who her family is, who she is. She’s adopted. Her mother is not her mother, but her aunt. Her sisters and brother are her cousins. A few excerpts illustrated how Saffy feels about her discovery:

“Everything seemed to change for Saffron after the day she deciphered the color chart and discovered that her name was not there and found out why this was. She never felt the same again. She felt lost” (9).

“It seemed that the whole pattern of her family was slipping and changing, like colors in water, into something she hardly recognized” (10).

Years pass and Saffy accepts the fact that she’s adopted, but she always feels like an outsider. When her grandfather dies, he leaves her a stone angel in his will. Saffy becomes obsessed with finding the angel. It’s part of her past, from the time when she belonged. Will finding the angel help Saffy belong again?

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Wrede, Patricia C. Dealing with Dragons. New York: Magic Carpet, 1990.

Being a dragon’s princess in hard on handkerchiefs, but a girl has to make sacrifices.
Cimorene is not your usual princess. She doesn’t look like a princess. She doesn’t act like a princess. She prefers fencing, magic, Latin, cooking, economics, and juggling to her princess lessons. Fed up with her parents’ attempts to make her conform to their idea of what a princess should be, Cimorene volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. This is not normal behavior for a princess. Even some of the dragons have objections.

“No proper princess would come out looking for dragons,” Woraug objected.
“Well, I’m not a proper princess, then,” Cimorene snapped. “I make cherries jubilee, and I volunteer for dragons, and I conjugate Latin verbs—or at least I would if anyone would let me. So there!” (19).

Luckily, one dragon, Kazul, doesn’t object to Cimorene’s interesting abilities. Kazul accepts Cimorene as her princess.

Cimorene has more freedom as a dragon’s princess, but her problems don’t end. Knights keep coming to rescue her. And the wizards are up to something. To find out how Cimorene deals with these problems, you’ll have to read Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.

Note: Dealing with Dragons is the 1st book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles series.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Larson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky. New York: Delacorte, 2006.

Set 480 fence posts. Plant forty acres. Pay the final fees of $37.75.

That’s all Hattie Brooks has to do before she can call her late uncle’s homestead claim her own. She has ten months, and she’s up to the challenge. Why is a sixteen-year-old girl willing to work so hard? Hattie has never had a home. Her uncle’s claim is her chance for a home of her own. She says, “Here, under this big sky, someone like me—Hattie Here-and-There—could work hard and get a place of her own. A place to belong. Wasn’t that my deepest wish?” (91).

Hattie certainly has some hard work ahead of her. She has little farming experience, and she has to contend with the weather—a freezing winter, a mud puddle of a spring, and a scorching summer. She worries about rain, whether too much or too little. Hattie can’t help but worry about money. There’s a war on. Supplies are costly and money is scarce. Hattie makes friends and learns to be independent. But will it be enough? Can she prove up the claim? To find out you’ll have to read Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass Wars. New York: Scholastic, 2006.

If you think Wonderland and Alice’s adventures there are just fiction, you’re wrong. Wonderland is not some imaginary place filled with unbelievable creatures. Wonderland is Aylss Heart’s home until her mercenary Aunt Redd takes over. Thrown into the “real world” of Victorian England, Alice finds that imagination is not prized. Only one person seems to like hearing about her life in Wonderland—Charles Dodgson. He even writes a book about it, but he gets it wrong.

“The grinning Cheshire cat. The mad tea party. He’d transformed her memories of a world alive with hope and possibility and danger into make-believe, the foolish stuff of children. He was just another in a long line of unbelievers and this—this stupid, nonsensical book—was how he made fun of her. She had never felt more betrayed in all her life” (3-4).

Can Alyss find her way back to Wonderland and take her rightful place as queen? To find out, read The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. New York: Scholastic, 2003.

Lonnie Collins Motion (a.k.a. Locomotion) has issues. His parents died when he was seven. He and his sister bounced around among relatives and church people until no one else wanted them. Then, the foster care system placed them with separate families. Lonnie’s teacher, Ms. Marcus, shows him a way to deal with his feelings—through poetry. Just who is Lonnie? Let him tell you.

List Poem

Blue kicks—Pumas
Blue-and-white Mets shirt
Mets hat
A watch my daddy gave me
Black pants but not dressy—they got side pockets
Ten cornrows with zigzag parts like Sprewell’s
A gold chain with a cross on it from Mama—under my shirt
White socks clean
One white undershirt clean
Whit underwear clean
A dollar seventy-five left pocket
Two black pens
A little notebook right pocket
All my teeth inside my mouth
One little bit crooked front one
Brown eyes
A little mole by my lip
Lotion on so I don’t look ashy
Three keys to Miss Edna’s house back pocket
Some words I wanted to remember
written on my right hand
Lonnie (page 33)

To find out more about Lonnie you’ll have to read Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson.

Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles

Wiles, Deborah. Each Little Bird that Sings. New York: Scholastic, 2005.

Welcome to Snapfinger, Mississippi. Allow me to introduce you to Comfort Snowberger, “Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter” (11).

“I come from a family with a lot of dead people.

Great-Uncle Edisto keeled over with a stroke on a Saturday morning after breakfast last March. Six months later, Great-great-aunt Florentine died—just like that—in the vegetable garden. And, of course, there are all the dead people who rest temporarily downstairs until they go off to the Snapfinger Cemetery. I’m related to them, too. Uncle Edisto always told me, ‘Everybody’s kin, Comfort.’

Downstairs at Snowberger’s, my daddy deals with death by misadventure, illness, and natural causes galore. Sometimes I ask him how somebody died. He tells me, then he says, ‘It’s not how you die that makes the important impression, Comfort; it’s how you live. Now go live awhile, honey, and let me get back to work.’ But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up. I’ll start with Great-uncle Edisto and last March, since that death involves me—I witnessed it” (1-2).

To find out more about Comfort and her family, you’ll have to read Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts. New York: Puffin, 2004.

Can you imagine what it’s like to live on an island with the country’s worst criminals? If you can’t, you need to read Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan moves with his family to Alcatraz in 1935. He lives within yards of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly just to name a few. Moose is more cautious about his new home than excited. The first night he sleeps with a baseball bat and keeps his clothes on. Alcatraz’s convicts are working stiffs. Anything that needs to be done on the island, they do it. Just listen to this conversation between Moose and his dad:

“The convicts wash my shirts, as in murderer convicts and kidnapper convicts, and then I’m supposed to wear them?”
He laughs.
“They darn socks, too?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Do a better job than you mom too. Though don’t you dare tell her I said that.”
“Murderers outsew my mother?”
“Apparently so.” My dad laughs (34).

To find out more about Moose’s time on Alcatraz, you’ll have to read the book.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel, Kenneth. Airborn. New York: Eos, 2004.

Matt Cruse loves his job as cabin boy on the airship Aurora. One day, he hopes to be a flyer. The excitement of flying is all but routine, until the day he rescues a balloon in distress. In delirium, the balloonist talks about beautiful flying creatures. Matt assumes the fever has confused the old man. Later he meets the man’s granddaughter, Kate. She knows more about what her grandfather saw. Listen to this:

"At the base of the grand staircase, I asked her, 'Do you know what it was your grandfather was talking about?'
She nodded. 'That’s why I’m here. To see what he saw'" (82).

Kate is determined to see the creatures that her grandfather saw. She enlists Matt to help her, but their adventure is not smooth-sailing. They are beset by pirates and shipwrecked.

To find out if they survive their adventure and discover the mysterious creatures, you’ll have to read Airborn by Kenneth Oppel.