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: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwlists/TOP_100_in_2000_2007.pdf
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.