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New Book Reviews Archive

Promise the Night

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

promise the nightby Michaela MacColl, 262 pages, grades 6 & up

When Beryl's dog was dragged away from her mud hut by a leopard in the middle of the night because she forgot to secure the door flap, Beryl vows to find him… then does.  When people start refering to her as a "wild child" and Beryl's dad tries to get her a British nanny, Beryl seeks education alongside the boys from the local Nandi tribe.  When she is told that girls don't get to go on lion hunts…

Beryl Markham was the first pilot to fly solo from England to North America.  She spent her life defying the rules that society placed on her and other women of the time.  Promise the Night is a novel based on Beryl's remarkable childhood in Africa.

If you would like to read Beryl's own story of her life as a pilot, you could read her autobiography, West with the Night.

 

Click here to see if the book is in the library.

A Long Walk To Water

Thursday, January 5th, 2012
alongwalktowaterby Linda Sue Park, 120 pages, Grades 5-8
_

Salva is at school when they attack.  The teacher sends the boys running out the back door and into the forest to get away from the invading rebel soldiers.  

This is the beginning of Salva’s journey through southern Sudan into Ethiopia on the run from the war sweeping his country, and he is on his own; he was separated from his family when their village was attacked.  

This novel is based on the true life of Salva Dut who now lives in the United States and has started an organization that digs wells to help people in the country where he grew up.

Salva Dut’s website:  http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/salvas-story/

Click here to see if it’s available for check out.

If you enjoy stories about ingenuity and survival you might also like the biography by William Kamkwamba called:  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Demonkeeper

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

demonkeeper-coverby Royce Buckingham, 216 pages  Grades 6-7

After his mentor disappeared, Nat was left alone to care for all of the demons in their run-down, old house in Seattle.  Most of the demons aren’t too much trouble, just a little pesky.  But, the Beast in the basement is a different story.  Nat has never seen the Beast; the terrifying creature must be kept locked away to protect runaway and orphan children, its chosen prey.  Of course, on the one night that Nat decides to leave the house to go on a date with Sandy, the girl he met at the library, two boys break into the house and release the chaos that Nat, and all of the previous demonkeepers before him, have so carefully kept in check.  At the same time, another less honorable demonkeeper has slipped into town intending to use the demons, especially the Beast, for his own dastardly plans.  Can Nat control the chaos and defeat the destructive demonkeeper?

Click here to see if it’s available for check out.

Connections:  For other stories of kids left to battle monsters, check out Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, and The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu.

 

Storm Mountain

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

storm mountainBy Tom Birdseye, 135 pages  Grades 5-8

Somehow… one thing led to another, and before Cat knew what what was going on, she and her cousin, Ty, were stuck in a winter storm on Storm Mountain… just like the one their fathers had died in two years before.  Cat knew it was crazy when Ty showed up at their door and suggested they climb the mountain to spread their fathers’ ashes, but she didn’t think Ty was insane enough to take off on his own when she said she wouldn’t go.  Challenge after challenge leave Cat wondering if her limited mountaineering skills can save them both.

Connections:  For other high adventure mountaineering books, try reading Peak by Roland Smith, the Everest series by Gordon Korman, or Climb or Die by Edward Myers.

Slick

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

slick 116 pages  Grades 5-8

Thirteen year-old Liza’s parents are divorced, and she has found that one way to take away the sadness is through DIY (Do It Yourself) projects like making things from recycled items and stuff she finds thrifting (shopping at thrift stores).  She doesn’t like her mom’s new boyfriend and becomes convinced he is up to no good when she finds out how the oil company he works for is ruining the environment in Guatemala.  Liza decides to take action and forms a group called GRRR! (Girls for Renewable Resources Really!) to expose the company.

Connections:  For other stories of activism, try reading Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French or Hoot and Flush by Carl Hiaasen.

Prisoner in the Palace: How Victoria Became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

prisoner in the palaceBy Michaela MacColl, 367 pages  Grades 7 & Up

Seventeen year-old Liza’s circumstances changed suddenly and for the worse.  One day she was living a life of luxury in a fancy hotel with her parents and the next she is destitute, after her parents die in a carriage accident.  Liza considers herself fortunate when she is hired to be the maid for the young princess (and soon to be queen), Victoria.  She quickly finds herself caught up in the intrigue, with the previous maid mysteriously dismissed and the princess’s mother and confidante trying to take away control from the soon to be queen.

Connections: For other tales of enterprising orphans from other eras, try reading Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Crispin: the Cross of Lead by Avi, and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.  If none of those appeal, a subject search in our OPAC would reveal 190 books with the tracing of “orphan.”

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

mysterious howlingThe Mysterious Howling (Book 1)

by Maryrose Wood

The book begins with Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, on a train headed to her first job.  Miss Lumley is a teacher and governess; she is especially excited (and nervous) about this first job at Ashton Place.  Her interview with the lady of the house goes quite well and she is hired on the spot, even though they were often interrupted by some mysterious howling from outside. The noise, she is surprised to find out, was being made by the children she has been hired to teach.  It turns out the master of the house had found these children while hunting and until now they had literally been raised by wolves.  Many would run away from such a daunting task, but Miss Lumley is not only optimistic, she is determined to do a good job for these “three waifs;”  their predicaments are often funny, and their story is sweetly told.

Incorrigible-210x300The Hidden Gallery (Book 2)

by Maryrose Wood

This sequel is even more exciting than the first book.  Miss Lumley suggests that she might take the children, who had been raised by wolves until Miss Lumley arrived, to London to visit Miss Mortimer, her former headmistress from the Swanburne Academy.  Lady Constance, who has been terribly bored and out-of-sorts because the house at Ashton Place has still not been completely repaired after the children destroyed it while chasing a squirrel in the previous story, is delighted and decides to move the entire household to London for a spell.  A number of suspicious adventures follow, and Miss Lumley and the children narrowly escape danger while trying to unravel the mystery of the children’s condition and other strange goings on about London.
Another difficult-to-put-down sequel is sure to follow.

 


The Maze Runner

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The_Maze_Runner_coverby James Dashner        374 pages,  Grades 6-10

Tom wakes up in a box without windows or doors.  He fumbles around and cannot find a way out until the top opens up and beyond the glare of the bright light he hears kids voices.
“Look at that shank.”
“How old is he?”
“Looks like a klunk in a T-shirt.” (p.3)
Tom cannot remember who he is or where he came from, but he is pulled up into the Glade by a bunch of other teenage boys. All the kids there arrived in about the same state: confused, some sense of the way things work, but no clear memories of the details of their lives before the dark box that delivered them. The Glade is a bit like a working farm and a bit like a prison.  Each of the teens has a job to keep the place functioning:  cook, farmer, slopper, runner, etc., but there is no way out. They all believe their one hope to get home is to decipher the maze that surrounds the Glade, but the maze changes shape every night, and there are frightening things that roam its halls.

Connections: Those who enjoyed Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins or Unwind, by Neal Shusterman will like the Maze Runner too!

The Running Dream

Friday, March 25th, 2011

running dreamby Wendelin Van Draanen,  336 pages,  Grades 7 and up“‘Fifty-five flat!’ Kyro shouts, ‘Fifty-five flat!’

CYRM NOMINEE 2013

It’s a new personal best for me.
A new record for the league.” (11)

At sixteen Jessica is on top of her game, about to take league, maybe even go to state, when the track team’s bus is hit by an out-of-control car.  One of the team loses her life, and Jessica’s right leg is crushed.

Jessica is a runner; running is not just something she likes to do, it is woven into her identity, so the accident takes more than her leg, it makes her question who she is.

Personal strength, friendship, family, and courage pull Jessica forward on her journey to discover who she is and who she can become.  It is as inspirational a journey as the many true journeys of people in similar situations.

The following is a link to a TED talk with Aimee Mullens, also a runner, called “Aimee Mullans and Her 12 Pair of Legs.” http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/aimee_mullins_prosthetic_aesthetics.html

Matched

Friday, March 25th, 2011

matched_book_coverby Ally Condie,    366 pages, Grades 7 and up

CYRM NOMINEE 2012

In a future world where no one has to fear disease, malnutrition, crime, or other problems of past cultures, people trust The Society to make the best decisions about everything: the food you should be eating, the clothes you wear and even who is best suited to be your partner for life.

Cassia has reached the age of her matching, and at the ceremony while others are paired with people from other cities far away Cassia is surprised and grateful to find her match is Xander, her best friend from childhood.  She leaves the ceremony feeling confident this is her ideal mate, but when she uses the computer to find out more about her match the face of another boy she knows flashes on the screen!

This little “mistake” opens Cassia’s eyes to the possibility that The Society might not really be as perfect as she has been brought up to believe; could this doubt put everyone she knows in danger?  And, who is her real match?

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy, fiction that takes place in a future that is the opposite of an ideal world,  you might also like: Unwind by Neal Shusterman, or Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Crossed, the sequel to Matched will come out in 2011.

Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom

Monday, February 7th, 2011

george clooneyBy Susin Nielsen,  229 pages,  Grades 6-8

Violet is having a hard year.She almost poisons her step-sisters (unintentionally, of course), she breaks a classmate’s nose (less than unintentionally), she crashes into a movie star’s car (honestly by mistake), only to name a few of the mishaps of her seventh grade year.Really, Violet is only tying to make it through middle school, survive visits with her dad and Jennica (her dad’s new wife, who is fake in more ways than one), and make sure her mom doesn’t fall for the wrong guy again, but somehow nothing seems to go as planned.If only she could get George Clooney to write her back, she is sure he will love her mom and make her real sister’s and her life much better.

If you enjoy realistic fiction with a bit of humor like Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison, orAbsolutely Normal Chaos, by Sharon Creech, then Dear George Clooney… might be for you.

The Unknowns

Monday, February 7th, 2011

unknownsby Benedict Carey,    259 pages,   Grades 6-8

Until now living in Folsom Adjacent, a trailer park bordering the Folsom Power Plant on a circular island, has been pretty boring. In fact, Diaphanta, a.k.a. Lady Di, and Tamir al-Khwarizmi, a.ka. Tom Jones, had nothing to do but work on trying to pass math and stay out of the way of the bullies until people in their community start to disappear.The Crotona police don’t seem to be doing anything, so when their friend and math tutor vanishes from her trailer leaving behind a clue Lady Di and Tom Jones decide to see if they can solve the puzzle and save their teacher.Di and Tom, and eventually a few other allies, follow a series of math clues through the tunnels under Adjacent and battle adolescent and grown-up bullies trying to save their friend and the dirty little town that is their home.

This book will satisfy fans of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer, Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society, or anyone who enjoys puzzling out math problems from different points of view.

Leviathan

Monday, February 7th, 2011

leviathan2By Scott Westerfeld, 44o pages,  Grades 7 and up

Westerfeld has created an alternative history of  World War I and filled it with Clanker and Darwinist war machines.The Clankers use mechanical transports that remind readers of the Empire’s AT-AT walkers in Star Wars while the Darwinists use flying machines that live, breathe and eat.In fact, one of their greatest living machines called Leviathan is really an entire ecosystem; whale DNA, bat, and bird all mixed together to create a huge flying zeppelin manned by the military.Daryn, a girl disguised as a young soldier, joins the Darwinist army and is aboard the Leviathan when the war begins.Alek, the Austrian prince, escapes his country after his parents’ assassination in a Clanker contraption.A near fatal crash, and a famous scientist seeking to save her precious cargo bring Daryn and Alek’s worlds and missions together in the chaos of the beginning of an alternate first World War.

This book’s sequel Behemouth has recently arrived and promises to be another thrilling adventure.  Another exciting adventure including a zeppelin and an alternative past is called: Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel.Oppel’s story is less of war and more like an adventure on the high seas with pirates and mysterious creatures.

Keeper

Monday, January 17th, 2011

keeperBy Kathi Appelt, 399 pages  Grades 5-7

Keeper has messed up… really messed up, and she needs to fix things.  During the blue moon, she plans to visit the sandbar where mermaids gather, to find her mother who disappeared when Keeper was 3 years-old.  Keeper has a plan and is sure that her A to A plan will work.

Check out the book trailer at the author’s website.

Connections:  For another story that make you question a character’s reality, try reading Signal by Cynthia DeFelice.  Another magical story by Kathi Appelt is The Underneath.

Closed for the Season

Monday, January 17th, 2011

closed for the seasonMary Downing Hahn, 182 pages  Grades 5-8

Logan is unhappy to have to move to a new city.  He knows his family’s new house is a fixer-upper, but he isn’t prepared for the wreck they find or the annoying kid next door.  Logan also finds that his parents were hiding the fact that the previous owner died in the house.  It turns out that his parents weren’t informed of the whole story…  Her murder remains a mystery and it seems that the answer might be found in the creepy, over-grown, abandoned amusement park nearby.

Check out the author’s video trailer – Closed for the Season

Connections:  For other recent, creepy tales by the same author, try reading All the Lovely Bad Ones, Deep and Dark and Dangerous, and The Old Willis Place.  Other favorite scary, mystery writers include: Lois Duncan, Joan Lowry Nixon and Barbara Brooks Wallace.

Eye of the Whale

Monday, January 17th, 2011

eye of the whale*Green Team Recommends*

by Douglas Carlton Abrams, 365 pages  Adult Novel

Though not strictly written as young adult fiction, this book will appeal to Middle Schoolers interested in the natural world, especially in marine life.  Eye of the Whale is an eco-thriller set primarily in the greater Bay Area, bringing together whale researchers, whalers, corporate lobbyists, activists, and government agents.  One central character is actually a humpback whale, nicknamed Apollo, who swims up the Sacramento River to deliver a message, but to whom?  And what is the message?  And who is it that doesn’t want the message to get delivered?  This thriller uses fascinating and startling facts and theories– about whales and about the impact of chemical pollutants accumulating in the natural world and eventually in our own bodies (body burden)– to tell a story that is both a page turner and a cutting commentary on the destruction, waste and poisoning that has flowed out from our modern industrial civilization into the natural world.

Unwind

Monday, November 29th, 2010

UnwindBookCoverBy Neil Shusterman, 335 pages.         Grades 7-9

It is the future, and if you are between the ages of thirteen and eighteen you worry every day about becoming an “unwind.”

When no one won the terrible civil war between the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups there was a compromise.It was decided that all babies would be born, that children would be untouchable from birth to 13, and that between 13 and 18 any child could be unwound. Every single body part goes on living in another body, so it is not considered death.The unwound teen continues to live in different places.

In this version of the future there are no doctors, only surgeons.There is a transplanting process that works so well, people just replace parts that are damaged or diseased instead of trying to cure them.The technology is great for people who lose a limb, but you can also “correct” things like baldness with a transplanted scalp full of hair, or replace your crooked teeth with a brand new set.

Connor is trouble, and his parents have had enough.Risa has no parents, and the state homes need to make space for the new babies being “storked,” left on their doorstep.Lev is a “tithe;” he has been raised since birth to be unwound as a sacrifice to god. “Unwinds” are outcasts whom no one wants to help, so how can they escape their fate?

Connections:  For other survival stories full of adventure try:  The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, or Graceling, by Kristin Cashore.  Another edgy science fiction adventure is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Boom

Monday, November 29th, 2010

boom cover UKby Mark Haddon, 195 pages.                   Science-Fiction Mystery.

Jimbo’s sister, Becky,  tries to scare him into thinking he is about to be kicked out of school, so Jimbo and Charlie bug the teachers’ room with walkie talkies to find out if it could be true.  Instead of finding anything out about Jimbo,  they catch two of their teachers speaking a strange language, and it isn’t a human language!

The boys are determined to solve the mystery, and when none of their other tactics yield answers, the boys decide to sneak into Mrs. Pearse’s house. This a big mistake; now they know too much.  They are sure aliens are after them, but their families think they are crazy, and then Charlie disappears!

What would you do if your best friend might have been abducted by aliens?  Go after him, of course.  Jimbo and his sister Becky are on their own in the wilds of Scotland trying to save Charlie, and maybe a lot more than that!

For other crazy alien stories try:  Nosepickers from Outer Space by Gordon Korman, or The Doom Machine, by Mark Teague

Smile

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

smileBy Raina Telgemeier, 213 pages  Grades 5-8

The author, Raina Telgemeier, was just racing her friends to the front door after a Girl Scout meeting when she tripped, fell and knocked out her two front teeth.  From that moment, middle school became a blur of surgeries and dentist/orthodontist appointments mixed with the more typical crushes, teasing and embarrassments.  This graphic memoir vividly depicts the mixed bag of middle school.  Will high school be better?

Connections:  For other humorous autobiographies/memoirs, try reading John Sciezka’s Knucklehead or How Angel Peterson Got His Name by Gary Paulsen.  For other graphic memoirs/biographies with a much more serious tone, check out Maus by Art Spiegelman or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

as-easy-as-falling-off-the-face-of-the-earthBy Lynne Rae Perkins, 352 pages  Grades 7 Up

Do you believe in Murphy’s Law?  Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  Fifteen year-old Ry seems to be living Murphy’s Law, starting with his train to camp pulling away as he stands at the top of a nearby hill in the middle of nowhere Montana, trying to get cell phone reception.  The next thing you know, Ry is on a cross-country road trip trying to get home, and each of his missteps leads to a new adventure in this humorous and absurd quest.

Connections:  If you enjoy the combination of adventure and humor, you might try reading The Adventures of the Blue Avenger by Norma Howe, The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater, Backwater by Joan Bauer, or Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen.

Stuck On Earth

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

stuck_on_earthBy David Klass, 227 pages  Grades 6-9

In a tale that is not always what it seems, Ketchvar III is an alien, snail-like creature who is charged with the important task of evaluating human beings’ worthiness before possible extermination (vaporization by Gagnerian Death Ray).  In order to get close to the humans, he inhabits the body of 14 year-old Tom Filber by crawling in through Tom’s nose.  As it turns out, seemingly ordinary Tom’s life is not so typical.  Ketchvar questions the value of humanity when he finds himself dealing with a dysfunctional family and bullies at school (“voluntary daily incarceration”).

Connections:  For other humorous tales of alien/human interaction, try reading The Doom Machine by Mark Teague, Boom! by Mark Haddon or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The Gollywhopper Games

Friday, November 26th, 2010

gollywhopperBy Jody Feldman, 332 pages Grades 5-8

What is as exciting as a candy company that hides a few golden tickets offering a lifetime supply of candy and a tour of the mysterious factory?  How about a toy factory with a puzzle and stunt contest where the winner receives untold riches and fame?  The Gollywhopper Games starts with a stadium full of children and teens answering questions and brainteasers, in hopes of becoming one of the ten semifinalists.  To twelve year-old Gil, the contest is also a chance for his family to have the money they need to leave town and find a fresh start.  Once inside the magical world of the toy company, the contestants are faced with life-sized mind games and physical challenges, initially requiring teamwork but eventually singling out a winner.  Are you ready for a few brain teasers?

Connections:  The magical toy company setting and contest will appeal to those who enjoyed Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  For those who enjoy the puzzling mind games, try reading the Puzzling World of Winston Breen series by Eric Berlin, The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart or Blue Balliett’s art mystery books that start with Chasing Vermeer.  Be sure to check out the Jody Feldman’s fun website.

Scrawl

Friday, November 19th, 2010

ShulmanScrawlv2Finalby Mark Shulman  p.  230   Grades 7 and up.

Tod Munn has a bad reputation; he has been known to steal the wimps’ lunch money, push his way into the front of the  lunch line and shove people into the lockers when they least expect it.  He is not someone you want to mess with if you don’t want to get hurt.  Naturally Tod has landed himself in detention, and this time it is for something really bad, but he is not outside raking leaves with his “droogs,” instead he is spending time one-on-one with the school counselor, Mrs. Woodrow.

For detention he has  to write in a journal every day after school.   He spends weeks with the counselor in a hot school room writing and writing until it feels like his hand might fall off.  Tod thinks the counselor is trying to “fix the bad guy,” and he doesn’t think it is going to work, either. Who do you think is right; is the bully really a bad guy, or is there more to the story than meets the eye?

Connections:  If you like books about tough kids you might like Small Steps by Louis Sachar or if you enjoy books written in journal form you might also enjoy Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech.

The Danger Box

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

danger boxBy Blue Balliett, 306 pages  mystery for Grades 5-8

Zoomy is legally blind, but he can see things if he holds them close up.  He loves to read  and play games on the computer, and he also loves to investigate and collect things.

He arrived on his grandparents’ front step when he was a newborn baby.  They love him and take him in;  they know their son, Zoomy’s father, can’t take care of a baby, because he is running wild; an alcoholic who is always in a lot of trouble with the law.

Zoomy’s life is going along just fine until the summer his dad shows up in a stolen truck and dumps a stolen box in their garage.  His father’s mysterious  appearance is the beginning of Zoomy’s life spiraling out of control.  First, his grandparents let him investigate the contents of the stolen box, then his dangerous dad threatens Zoomy while he is alone at the library,  then his grandparents are visited by a mysterious stranger, and finally there is a big fire at his grandparents’ shop that doesn’t seem like an accident.

What will happen to Zoomy? Could it all come down to the contents of the stolen box?

If you enjoy this book you might also like:  A Dog for Life, by L.S. Matthews, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, or  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.

Mockingbird

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

mockingbird-by-kathyrn-erskine-book-cover-1By Kathryn Erskine, 235 pages, Grade 6-8

Caitlin and her father are feeling broken after tragedy strikes their family a second time.  Caitlin’s mother died of cancer three years before and now her brother, Devon, is dead after a violent incident at school.   On “the day their lives fell apart”, as Caitlin calls it, Devon’s door was slammed shut and Caitlin doesn’t feel like she can open it.  She misses her brother, and his  room and all it holds especially a special place next to his bed where she used go for comfort.  It was Devon who used to help her cope with the worlds of the town, the classroom and the playground.   He  always said Caitlin was brave; he even liked to call her Scout after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Now that Caitlin’s dad spends a lot of time crying  and Caitlin, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has to be especially brave.  She would like to help her family put the pieces back together, but she is not sure how to do that.  After talking to the school counselor one day, she decides what they need is  “closure” and she is on a mission to get it.  But, first she has to find out what it is and how you get a hold of  it.

For other stories about how families find closure try Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

Exodus

Monday, October 25th, 2010

exodus-julie-bertagna-book-cover-artBy Julie Bertagna, 345 pages  Grades 7 and up

Sometime in the not-to-distant future, the world as we know it has mostly drowned under the rising ocean from the melting ice caps.  Fifteen year-old Mara’s island home is just about to disappear under the waves when her vision of sky cities prompts the village to sail off on dangerous seas in search of a safe haven.  When they reach the high-tech city, they find that they and the thousands of other refugees aren’t welcome.  Instead, they must fight for their lives and for scraps from the city in the sky.

Connections:  For another story of a society threatened by global warming, try reading First Light by Rebecca Stead or read the sequel to Exodus called Zenith.  To read about the author’s inspiration for the story, check out her website.

Crunch

Monday, October 11th, 2010

crunch-leslie-connor-book-cover-artby Leslie Connor, 330 pages – Grades 5-8

A sudden oil crisis leaves Dewey and his older sister to run the family’s bike shop and care for their younger siblings while their parents are stranded up north.  The crunch has made the bike shop incredibly busy, and to make matters worse, a thief is stealing precious precious parts, but Dewey has a plan to identify the culprit.

Connections:  Check out the author’s website.  If you like mysteries with an environmental theme, try reading Gloria Shurzynski’s National Park series.

The Poet Slave of Cuba

Friday, September 24th, 2010

poet slaveBy Margarita Engle, Art by Sean Qualls    p. 183  – Grades 7-12 – biography

Trapped as a slave in a wealthy home in Cuba, Juan Francisco Manzano lived his life in fear of the cruel punishments of his masters.  This sad and harrowing story was uncovered because the young slave,  Manzano, wrote vivid poetry that describes his time as a slave.   In Cuba poetry is like television; many people perform poetry for others and stories are often carried across the country because people repeat the poems they have heard.  It is for this reason that the author, Margarita Engle, was inspired to write this biography in verse, paying tribute to Manzano’s work.  While enslaved Manzano could not stop creating poems in his head; sometimes his owners praised him for his creativity and other times he was severely punished.  The poems were part of Manzano and came to him as naturally as breathing; no punishment, no matter how harsh, could stop him from being himself.

Connections:  For other serious stories in verse try Aleutian Sparrow or Out of the Dust, both by Karen Hesse.  For stories about people escaping oppression try 5,000 Miles to Freedom: Ellen and William Craft’s Flight From Slavery, by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin, or The Year of Impossible Goodbyes, by Sook Nyul Choi.

Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori (Book One)

Friday, September 24th, 2010

nightingale floorBy Lian Hearn, p. 305 – adult fiction

Takeo has never known his father, who died many years before, and he has been growing up in a remote and peaceful Japanese village surrounded by the rest of his loving family.  The rest of Japan is not so;  it is a time of warlords, and secret societies in the middle ages, and Takeo’s home is attacked and destroyed by a warlord named Iida who is threatening to take over the whole country.  When Takeo returns from a walk in the woods and  sees his village burning, something inside him takes over.  He scares the warlord’s horse and causes Iida to fall to the ground.  Understanding his fatal blunder, he runs back into the woods chased by the warlord’s soldiers.  They all run into a man on horseback who fights for Takeo, cutting off the arm of one of Iida’s best warriors.  This mysterious man turns out to be a lord of the Otori clan, another of the powerful families of Japan.

Takeo’s life changes completely from this day forward.  He is adopted by the Otori and  he discovers his father was a famous assassin.  He also finds out his real heritage is the Tribe, a kind of secret ninja society; he possesses some of the Tribe’s extraordinary abilities.  He can hear details across a crowded courtyard, or through a wooden door, he can make himself “go invisible” and become as silent as a ghost.

In these turbulent times, talents like these are desired by many, and Takeo finds himself pulled in different directions, but he is determined to complete the final task for his adopted father:  kill Iida, the same  lord who burned his village and killed his family.  The trouble is the only way to reach the warlord in his palace is to cross the nightingale floor, a huge room covered in a floor that sings whenever anyone touches it.  How can he  cross the nightingale floor and avenge his family?

Connections: For other stories taking place in medieval Japan try The Samurai’s Tale, by Erik Christian Haugaard, or The Sword that Cut the Burning Grass: A Samurai Mystery, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

The Alchemyst

Friday, September 24th, 2010

the-alchemyst-book-coverBy Michael Scott – p. 375  – Grade 6-9 – fantasy

Michael Scott is a professor of mythology and was inspired by the TRUE  story of Nicholas Flamel.  He was actually a real person!  He was born in Paris on September 28, 1330, and buried 1418, but the tomb is empty! Thus begins the myth, or history, of the alchemyst, Nicholas Flamel, immortal and still alive in today?

The Alchemyst begins in modern day New York City; teenage twins Sophie and Josh have moved there  for the summer.   The brother works in a bookstore  for Nick Flemming (name sound familiar?) and the sister works at a cafe across the street.  Right away the bookstore is blown up by mud people and a menacing character named Dr. John Dee.  When Dee and his muddy henchmen storm into the bookstore, Josh is watching from a hiding place.  Dee grabs Flamel’s wife, Perry, and almost makes off with the most powerful book of magic, but Josh manages to grab a few key pages before he and Mr. Flemming have to escape the explosion.   Flamel believes Josh and Sophie might be the twins of the prophecy, so he wants to keep them close in the hopes of finding his precious wife and the stopping Dee from destroying the world as we know it.   From the moment the bookstore explodes Josh and Sophie are on a roller coaster adventure, full of magical, mythical creatures and frightening beasts.  Sequels The Magician and The Sorceress continue the perilous adventure.

Connections:  Other adventure fantasies The Lightning Thief series, by Rick Riordan, Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, The Alchemist’s Cat, by Robin Jarvis

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Monday, August 30th, 2010

the boy who harnessedBy William Kamkwamba,   p. 273 – adult autobiography

When William was a kid he loved to take thing apart.  He dissembled his parents radios and spent hours investigating a neighbor’s bike light, spinning the wheel to turn it on and stopping the wheel to turn it off.  Sometimes this experimenting drove his parents crazy, but it was this kind of thinking that would save his village.  When he was 13 Malawi experienced a two year famine; his family survived, but were left nearly penniless.  It was this struggle that was the spark igniting William’s creative thinking; he just knew that power was the answer to his village’s troubles.  If they could somehow control energy, they could work later into the night, pump water to their crops, farm more efficiently, and farm enough crops to save some for hard times.  He used his local library, a one-room building about a quarter of  our library reference room) and the town junk yard to build a working windmill.  The people of the village thought he was crazy until his house was filled with light.  He was finally recognized by the wider world and was honored at TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design): Ideas Worth Sharing. Check out – William Kamkwamba:  How I Harnessed the Wind. This incredible teenage journey is a compelling read for middle school students and adults as well.

Connection:  For other true stories about overcoming astonishing odds try Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, Of Beetles and Angels, by Mawi Asgedom, or 5,000 Miles to Freedom, by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin.

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Drums1by Jordan Sonnenblick.    p. 273    Grades 6-8

Most younger brothers can be a pain, but 8th grader Steven Alper’s five-year-old brother Jeffrey really takes the cake or pie, that is.  He borrows Steven’s prized pair of drumsticks to stir his dangerous pie, a “zesty blend of coffee grounds, raw eggs and their smashed shells, Coke, uncooked bacon, and three Matchbox racing cars.”   When he’s not trying to keep his mischievous brother from being a pest, Steven is pretty much preoccupied by his two passions–drums and beautiful 8th grader Renee–that is, until his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia.  The diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization of Jeffrey turn Steven’s life upside down.  He’s trying to keep his family’s situation a secret from friends and adults at school but having a difficult time coping on his own–which he is because his mom’s staying at the hospital and his dad is lost in his own world.   Torn between resentment toward his parents for neglect and compassion for  his little brother, Steven loses himself in his music, taking refuge in the basement with his drum set.  He’s feeling pretty hopeless until he takes the school counselor’s suggestion and focuses on what he can change.

Although the story is sad in parts, Steven narrates it with sarcasm and humor and what comes through strongest are the love these brothers feel for each othe and their resilience.  This is a story that will pull at your heart strings.

Connections:  The sequel is After Ever After.   If you enjoy Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, you would probably also like Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar.  The library also owns nonfiction on leukemia and coping with serious illnesses.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

calpurniaby Jacqueline Kelly   p. 340  Grades 5-8

All twelve-year old Calpurnia Tate wants is to become a scientist.  She’s spent the long hot summer of 1899 in the small town of Fentress, Texas,  as an amateur naturalist recording her observations of and questions about nature in a notebook–questions such as, ” Why don’t caterpillars have eyelids?”  She finally thinks her parents understand her and acknowledge her dream when she begins to unwrap her birthday present from them.  It’s a book, and the first word of the title is Science. Unfortunately, the whole title is The Science of Housewifery!

Calpurnia is the only daughter in a family of seven children.  She has no interest in the traditional home arts a young girl at the turn of the century should be learning to make a good wife.  Instead, she develops a close relationship with her reclusive grandfather, who encourages her to use the scientific method in her quest for answers about the natural world and his own quest for a new species.

This is a very entertaining read with an intelligent, spunky protagonist, family humor, sibling rivalry, and good science.  Let’s hope for a sequel.

Connections:  Each chapter of this novel begins with a quote from Darwin’s Origin of Species, so you may also want to read Charles Darwin : Naturalist by Margaret J. Anderson or Darwin’s Ghost: the Origin of Species updated by Steve Jones.  Other good novels dealing with the theory of evolution are The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer and Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd.

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

firefly lettersBy Margarita Engle, 151 pages  Grades 6 Up

In this novel-in-verse told in three voices, inspired by the diaries and letters of 19th century suffragette, Frederika Bremer, we learn about the many barriers women faced in Cuba.  Frederika visits Cuba from Sweden and stays with a wealthy family whose daughter, Elena seems more confined by her society’s expectations for women than the family’s slave, Cecilia who travels with Frederika as her interpreter.

Connections:  For other novels in verse, try reading Love that Dog by Sharon Creech or Out of the Dust or Witness by Karen Hesse.

Salt

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

salt-maurice-gee-book-cover-artBy Maurice Gee, 252 pages  Grades 7-10

When Hari’s father is captured by soldiers from the Company and sent to Deep Salt as punishment, Hari vows to save him even though no one ever returns from these dangerous mines.  Simultaneously, Pearl, the daughter in a high-ranking Company family escapes her arranged marriage by fleeing with her maid, Tealeaf, a mystical Dweller.  Both Hari and Pearl have the ability to communicate telepathically, and they work together to try and save Hari’s father and their world from the dangerous weapon found in the mine.

Connections:  Another fantasy title where the main character is helped by her ability to communicate with animals is Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  For other mature titles where male and female characters fight to save their community from evil, try reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

Blessing’s Bead

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

blessings-bead-debby-dahl-edwardson-book-cover-artBy Debby Dahl Edwardson, 178 pages  Grades 6-9

The mysterious blue bead in her grandmother’s sewing basket and the stories of her Inupiaq ancestors provide the grounding Blessing needs when she is forced to live with her grandmother in a remote village in northern Alaska while her alcoholic mother is in treatment.  This novel, in two parts, starts in 1917 with the story of Blessing’s great-grandmother’s experiences with the arrival of Siberian traders and survival of the Spanish influenza epidemic.

Connections:  Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George is another story of a girl caught between worlds in Alaska.  For a story that focuses on the effect of influenza on a small Alaskan village, read The Great Death byJohn Smelcer.

The Doom Machine

Monday, May 17th, 2010

doom machineBy Mark Teague, 376 pages.  Grades 5-7

When Isadora Shumway and her mother get stuck in a small town after their car breaks down, the last thing they expect is to be abducted by aliens.  Soon logical, studious Isadora finds herself allied with the local juvenile delinquent, Jack, in an interstellar fight to keep the spider-like alien Skreeps from finding and using the space travel machine that Jack’s uncle invented.

Connections:  For other titles with space/time traveling students, try reading Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars by Daniel M. Pinkwater or I was a Sixth Grade Alien by Bruce Coville.

Flawed Dogs

Friday, May 7th, 2010

flawed-dogs-book-cover-01by Berkeley Breathed  p. 216  Grades 6-8

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County and Opus fame has now written a very dark but funny novel and illustrated it with pictures as bizarre as the premise of his story.  After fourteen-year-old Heidi McCloud liberates a highly prized breed of dachsund from his crate at the airport, she takes him to live with her at her uncle’s estate and names him Sam the Lion.  Soon a jealous poodle in the household frames Sam and leaves  him for dead, but Sam survives this ordeal plus a stint in an abusive animal laboratory.  Then he and a group of disabled and disfigured mutts from the National Last Ditch Dog Depository come up with a hilarious plan to get revenge on the prestigious Westminster kennel club dog show.  Lots of slapstick humor.

Connections:  Other humorous dog stories include Uncle Boris in the Yukon : and Other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater, Wanted.. Mud Blossom by Betsy Byars, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen.

Science Fair: a Story of Mystery, Danger, International Suspense, and a Very Nervous Frog

Friday, April 30th, 2010

science fiarBy Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson ,  p. 394  Grades 5-8

Okay, we all know that some parents help their kids with their science fair projects and maybe a little too much, but at Toby’s middle school in the suburban Washington, D. C. area, the parents of the rich kids are going too far.  Not only is the competition unfair, but it may also endanger the security of the United States government!    For several years, these parents have been giving their kids a lot of money to have a scientist actually build the projects, and one of these kids always wins the competition.  This year, the leaders of a small foreign country have designed a terrorist plot against the U.S. and are using the unwitting eighth graders to build a superweapon to be used against America.  Only Toby realizes what is going on, and he gets suspended from school on suspicion of cheating when he tries to let the adults know about the real cheating and the devious plot. If you can suspend disbelief, you are sure to enjoy the over-the-top, very silly humor and fast-paced action.

Connections:  Here are some other titles with science project plots:  The Chicken Doesn’t Skate by Gordon Korman, The Mulberry Project by Sue Park,  and Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo  by Greg Leitich Smith.  Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have also collaborated on the humorous Peter and the Starcatchers series.

Fat Cat

Friday, April 30th, 2010

fat catby Robin Brande   p. 327   Young adult

No exploding volcanoes for seventeen-year-old Cat (Catherine) Locke’s science fair project!  Instead, the smart, competitive overweight teen makes herself the guinea pig for her project.  Her goal is to live for seven months as a Homo erectus, an early prehistoric human, which means no technology (cars, cell phones, computers except for school work) and no processed foods including sugar.  Cat is determined to win the science fair, mostly to get revenge on her former best friend and rival Matt McKinney, whom she believes betrayed her most terribly in seventh grade.  All the walking and healthy eating causes her to lose weight and feel better, and after her best friend Amanda takes her shopping for stylish clothes, Cat starts drawing a lot of male attention.  This young adult novel is filled with funny, clever teen conversation and portrays friendship at its best.

Connections:  These young adult novels also deal with weight and weighty issues:  Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen, Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher and Dough Boy by Peter Marino.

One Crazy Summer

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

one crazy summerby Rita Williams-Garcia  p. 218  Grades:  5-8

CYRM NOMINEE 2013

It’s the summer of 1968, and eleven-year-old Delphine flies from New York to Oakland with her two younger sisters to spend the summer, uninvited, with the mother who walked out on them when Delphine was seven and Fern was just a few days old.  Her father feels the girls need to get to know their mother, but that does not make Cecile any more welcoming.  In fact, she won’t even let the girls into her kitchen.  Dinners are take-out food on the living room floor and breakfast is at the Black Panther summer camp.   The girls are on their own, but each comes into her  own that summer.   Told from Delphine’s perspective, this is a lively, often humorous, story of resilience with characters you will come to know and love.

Connections:  A novel about the Black Panther Party for older readers  is The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon.  Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers is set during the Harlem Renaissance, another significant period in African American history, and tells the story of another crazy summer.

Pastworld

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

pastworld-coverby Ian Beck   p. 353    Young Adult

In 2050, central London has been transformed into a theme park for modern day tourists to visit.   These “gawkers”  fly in on an airship  for a day or two to experience what life was like in Victorian London, including dangerous street crime and hangings.  When seventeen-year-old Caleb flies in with his father, one of the originators of Pastworld, his father is kidnapped and Caleb is accused of murder.  He meets beautiful and innocent Eve, a teenage inhabitant of Pastworld, and they become embroiled in a ScotlandYard investigation of a series of gruesome murders by the mysterious Fantom.  This story is a compelling mix of science and historical fiction.

Connections:  Another suspense novel with people living in an  historical amusement park  is Running Out of  Time by Margaret Haddix.     Other great mysteries set in Victorian London are Montmorency by Eleanor Updale,  Smith by John Garfield, and the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

jessicasguidetodatingonthedarksideby Beth Fantaskey     p. 351  Young Adult

More vampires anyone?   Jessica’s adoptive parents wait until she’s a high school senior before telling her that her birth parents were vampires in Romania!  They’ve also neglected to tell her that she was betrothed at birth to a vampire prince who has just shown up in her hometown to claim her as his fiance.  Of course, this very rational mathlete doesn’t believe in vampires and so is having a very difficult time dealing with the arrogant, but very good looking, stranger who is posing as a foreign exchange student at her high school and living in the apartment above her garage.  Filled with suspense, drama, romance, and humor this is a great read for Twilight fans.

Connections:  Here are some other young adult vampire novels you might enjoy:  Suck It Up by Brian Meehl, Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, and The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause.   Though not about vampires, Beastly by Alex Flinn is a good romance with the beauty and the beast theme.

Found (and the sequel – Sent)

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

found-margaret-peterson-haddixBy Margaret Peterson Haddix, 314 pages  Grades 4-8

When a mysterious plane suddenly appears at the gate, the gate agent gets the surprise of her life as she finds only 36 babies onboard the plane.  Thirteen years later, the Skidmore’s adopted son Jonah (from the belly of the whale) and his friend Chip receive the same creepy letter, “YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING.”  With the help of Jonah’s sister Katherine, the two boys search to find out more about their true identities.

sent-book-coverThe sequel called Sent is a great window into the difficulties of living in medieval England.

 

 

 

 

Connections:  Other great stories of time travel include:  Nick of Time by Ted Bell, the Gideon Trilogy by Linda Buckley-Archer, Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park, the Baseball Card Adventure series by Dan Gutman, and The Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen.

Totally Joe

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

totallyjoeBy James Howe, 189 pages  Grades 6-8

<!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–>“Being who you are isn’t a choice.”Although he had always lived this life lesson, it wasn’t until his favorite aunt gave him a button printed with these words that thirteen, year-old Joe really thought about what it meant for him, as a gay 7th grader, as well as for his schoolmates.Joe’s family and friends have always encouraged him to be himself (including dressing-up in dresses, playing with Barbies and cooking in an Easy-Bake oven) and he has always embraced his originality even when it led to teasing. Through an alphabiography project for his teacher, Joe shares his growing awareness of himself and his friends.

Connection:  Joe and the other characters were first introduced in Howe’s novel, The Misfits.  For other stories where characters share their life experiences through school writing assignments, try reading Love That Dog or Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge, or Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls.

Seer of Shadows

Friday, April 16th, 2010

seer-shadows-avi-paperback-cover-artby Avi    p. 202  Grades:  5-8

Do photographs reveal the truth?  In our age of Photoshop, we know that photos can be altered to give a different version of reality, but what about photographs taken in 1872?  In Seer of Shadows, Horace Carpetine is apprenticed to a photographer who alters a photograph to make his wealthy customer believe the spirit of her adopted daughter is watching over the woman.  Horace realizes that this is no photographic trick.  The ghost of the daughter has actually returned to wreak revenge on her cruel parents.

Connections:  For other good ghost stories, consider these authors:  Cynthia DeFelice and Betty Ren Wright.  The library also has good nonfiction on photography and biogrpahies of famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, and Dorothea Lange.

Pop

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

pop-gordon-korman-book-cover-artby Gordon Korman  p. 260  Grades:  6-9

Pop!  That’s the feeling and imagined sound that comes from taking the hit in tackle football and that sixteen-year old Marcus has come to love.  Before this summer, Marcus had always held back as quarterback, fearful of being injured.  New in town and hanging out in the park to practice his football maneuvers, he meets Charlie, an eccentric older man who challenges Marcus and teaches him to play rough and tumble football fearlessly.  Disappointed that Troy Popovich gets to start as quarterback, Marcus takes on his role as lineman with a vengeance, winning him not only the acceptance of his teammates but also Troy’s former girlfriend.  The tension grows between Marcus and Troy when Marcus learns that Charlie is Troy’s father and discovers the reason behind Charlie’s increasingly odd behavior.  Korman delivers lots of football action as well as a thoughful story.

Connections:  Here are some other good football novels for teens:  Crackback by John Coy, Necessary Roughness by Marie Lee, and Gym Candy by Carl Deuker.  Matt Christopher writes football stories for younger readers.

Imperfections

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

imperfection_by_lynda_durrantBy Lynda Durrant   p. 171   Grades 5-8

What is perfection?  When Rosemary Elizabeth arrives at the Shaker community of Pleasant Hill, she has plenty of delicious food to eat, spotlessly clean, white clothes to wear and beautiful surroundings.  She also gets to leave her drunk, abusive father and knows that her younger brother and sister are safe, too.  But, can Rosemary Elizabeth live up to the Shaker ideal of perfection with all of the rules about eating, sleeping, dressing, working, praying and talking?  Even if she can, does she want to?

Connections – Other stories that depict the impact of the Civil War on the youth is Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.

When the Whistle Blows

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

whistle blowsBy Fran Cannon Slayton, 162 pages  Grades 6-10

The B&O Railroad passes just outside Jimmy Cannon’s window, and since his dad is the foreman, the engineers hit the whistle every time they pass.  Jimmy has learned to sleep with a pillow over his head, but on Halloween night in 1943, his brother Mike snatches away the pillow so they can sneak out and follow the Society to learn their secrets.  On Halloween night, 1944, and Jimmy and his buddies (the Platoon) are planning to use some rotten cabbages to get  revenge against the local bully, Stubby Mars.  On Halloween night, 1946, Jimmy and the team are playing in the championship game of the first undefeated season in Rowlesburg High school history.  Halloween happens to be Jimmy’s dad’s birthday and through Jimmy’s teen years the day (and night) always bring him something, including mysteries, antics, and heartache.

Connections:  Another historical fiction book about working on the railroad is Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep.  For another book set in the country, try reading Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. Tony Johnston’s Bone by Bone by Bone is another historical fiction title with a complicated father and son relationship.  To learn more about the book, the author or the railroad, check out the author’s website.

War Games: a Novel Based on a True Story

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

war gamesBy Audrey Couloumbis & Akila Couloumbis, 229 pages  Grades 5-8

Before the Germans invaded their village in Greece, Petros fought with his brother, played marbles with his buddies and loved hearing stories about his heroic cousin fighting in the war.  Now, people have left the village, neighbors can’t be trusted, and friends need help.  In these trying times, twelve year-old Petros finds that even his services are essential to the war effort.

Connections:  Hitler’s Canary by Sandy Toksvig and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry are other stories of kids involvement in the resistance during World War II.

The Potato Chip Puzzles

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

potatochippuzzlesby Eric Berlin   p. 227  Grades 6-8

Want a puzzling puzzler?!  Seventh grader Winston Breen and his two best friends enter a contest at the local pototo chip factory to win $50,000 for their school.  All they have to do is be first to solve all six puzzles which take them and their obnoxious chaperone all over town and beyond.  The biggest puzzle, however, turns out to be figuring out who is cheating.  Someone has been sabotaging some of the teams by causing flat tires, locking people in bathrooms, and stopping the ferris wheel.  The reader is expected to solve puzzles as well as solve the mystery.

Connections:  Another Winston Breen title is The Puzzling World of Winston BreenThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet are other good puzzle mysteries.

The Brain Finds a Leg

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Brain-Finds-a-Leg-Coverby Martin Chatterton    p. 212    Grades: 6-8

Farfetched but fun!   The Brain does find a leg.  It used to belong to Biff Manly, a seventeen-year-old surfer, who has been found dead at the bottom of a quarry.  Theophilus Brain, a thirteen-year-old self-described genius and Sherlock Holmes disciple, has figured out that a saltwater crocodile (who thinks he’s a dog) severed the leg and hid it underwater.  The crocodile is just the first of list of bizarre-behaving Australian wildlife who show up in this zany science fiction mystery which includes koalas that attack in gangs, possums  that steal SUVs, kangaroos that rob supermarkets and whales that toss tourist boats.  The Brain enlists Sheldon McGlone as his sidekick, and the two are fast on the trail of the murderer and the secret to what’s making the animals act so strangely.

Connections:  Other creepy creature stories include The Cryptid Hunters, The Underneath, and Loch.

Crows & Cards

Friday, February 26th, 2010

crows and cardsby Joseph Helgerson   p. 279   Grades:  6-8

Twelve-year-old Zebulon Crabtree is angry with his father for shipping  him off on a Mississippi riverboat to St. Louis to become a tanner’s apprentice.  He quickly decides to disobey his dad when  Chilly Larpenteur, a cardshark and con man, tricks him out of his money and convinces Zeb to join his racket.   Zeb pretty much becomes Chilly’s prisoner, being locked in the cupboard of the gambling house each evening and forced to work the wire that signals Chilly about his opponent’s cards, so he can cheat.   Zeb’s only hope is to escape, and with the help and friendship of a slave and a Hidasta Indian chief and his daughter, he may succeed.  This is a humorous, rollicking adventure reminiscent of Mark Twain’s novels.

Connections:  The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventues of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by W. R. Philbrick.

Runaway Twin

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

runaway twinBy Peg Kehret, 197 pages  Grades 5-8

“Most people who have a life-changing experience survive a terrible injury or disease.  My life was transformed by a craving for Twinkies.”

Twinkies remind Sunny Skyland of her twin sister who she hasn’t seen since their mother and grandmother died in car accident when they were 3 years-old.  A sudden windfall provides the funding for Sunny to set off, alone, on a cross-country journey to find her sister, Starr, with only an old photograph to guide her.  Along the way, she picks up a four-legged traveling companion and braves challenges from both man and nature.

Connections:  For other stories about kids in foster care, try reading The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson or Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson.

The Big Game of Everything

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

The Big Game of EverythingBy Chris Lynch, 275 pages  Grades 6-10

“You have to love your family.  You do, even if you don’t right?  You don’t have to agree with them or appreciate them or go to concerts with them, but you have to love them.”  Twelve year-old Jock’s “hippy-frippy” parents named him Union Jack after their stay in England, and they run a barbershop where they try to convince their customers not to get haircuts.  Jock is constantly jousting verbally with his money-obsessed brother who is a year younger and 30 pounds heavier. His grandfather owns an unfinished golf complex with 13 holes, where customers must replay their favorite 5 holes to golf a full game.  Jock is looking forward to spending the summer at the golf complex, but he and his brother need to avoid the town bullies and help their grandfather get back on course after a visit from two of his old buddies.

Connections:  For other golf fiction, try reading The Million Dollar Putt by Dan Gutman.

Escape Under the Forever Sky

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

escapeBy Eve Yohalem  220 pages  Grades 5-8

Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the daughter of American ambassador to Ethiopia?  Thirteen year-old Lucy Hoffman dreams of staying out overnight in the bush watching the animals or just visiting the marketplace and exploring with friends, but instead she spends her days at school or stuck inside their home within their walled community in the capital city of Addis Ababa.  When she and a friend sneak out and go to the city, Lucy is kidnapped.  When it looks like rescue isn’t coming, she has to decide whether escaping into the Ethiopian bush is going to improve her odds of survival.

Connection:  For other survival tales set in Ethiopia, try reading The Return by Sonia Levitin or The Storyteller’s Beads by Jane Kurtz.  To read about Eve Yohalem’s inspiration for writing this book, check out her website.

Nation

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Terry_Pratchett_NationBy Terry Pratchett  367 pages  Grades 7-10

The tsunami seemingly washed away their distinctly different worlds and left them both stranded.  After the wave, Mau returns by dugout canoe from his coming of age quest to his village (the Nation) gone, and the trail of destruction leads him to the grounded wreck of the Sweet Judy, the ship that was to bring Daphne from her home in Victorian England to join her father in the “South Pelagic.”  With supplies from the wrecked ship and Mau’s knowledge of the land, the two start to rebuild the Nation as wounded survivors start arriving from other islands and as Daphne holds out hope that her father will come find her.  Daphne (known as the ghost girl), with her curious customs, strange clothes and white skin, struggles to communicate and fit in with her new community while Mau, the very young chief of this new Nation, is called the demon boy for having no soul without the completion of his manhood ceremony.  As this group struggles to survive, they live in fear of the inevitable arrival of the Raiders.

Connections:  For other tales of shipwrecks or deserted island survival, try reading Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, Overboard by Elizabeth Fama or Seaborn by Craig Moodie.  For more background on the book and the process of writing it, watch this video interview with the Terry Pratchett.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Friday, January 29th, 2010

claudette-colvin-twice-toward-justice-phillip-hoose-book-cover-artby Phillip Hoose   p. 104  Grades 6-8

I bet you know who Rosa Parks is and what she’s famous for, but have you ever  heard of Claudette Colvin?  She was a fifteen year old girl who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus nine months before Rosa Parks became famous for the same thing.

On March 2, 1955, fifteen year-old Claudette Colvin courageously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white woman.  Two white police officers came onto the bus and ordered her to give up her seat.  When she refused, stating that it was her Constitutional right to sit there, they dragged  her off the bus, shoved her into a police car and handcuffed her.  On the way to the police station, they called her names and made disparaging comments about her as Claudette sat terrified in the backseat next to one of the officers.  She was charged with violating the segregation  law, disturbing the peace, and assaulting the policemen who had pulled her off the bus.

Why is it that Rosa Parks became the symbol of the Montgomery bus boycott and  is considered one of the people who started the Civil Rights Movement, but most of us have never heard of Claudette Colvin?  At first she was a heroine to the Black community for standing up to the unfair practice of segregated seating, but then she became viewed as a troublemaker, and even her classmates shunned her.   Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement felt it was too risky to have a teenager represent them.   Hurt and isolated, Claudette still summoned the courage to testify at the trial that ended bus segregation in Montgomery.

Connections:  Other good nonfiction books about teenagers active in the Civil Rights Movement include Marching for Freedom : Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge, Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, and Freedom’s Children : Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen Levine.

Blood on the River: James Town 1607

Monday, January 25th, 2010

bloodontheriverby Elisa Carbone    p. 224   Grades 5-8

Barely escaping the gallows in London, orphan Sam Collier finds himself the page to Captain John Smith and on his way to the New World to help settle the Jamestown colony.  Smith believes the survival skills Sam has honed on the streets of London and even his violent temper will make him a successful settler in this challenging new frontier.  Captain Smith faces challenges of his own.  Although he has a good relationship with the Powhatan, the British aristocrats resent the leadership role he’s taken and do everything in their power to undermine and even arrest him.  This is gripping historical fiction, based on primary source documents, that presents the Indian perspective as well as the colonial.

Connections:  The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac, A Pickpocket’s Tale by Karen Schwabach, and The light in the Forest by Conrad Richter are other good novels about the Colonial Period in America.

The Rock and the River

Monday, January 25th, 2010

rockriverby Kekla Magoon   p. 283   Grades:  7-10

Fourteen-year-old Sam is caught between a rock and a hard place.  It’s Chicago 1968.  His father, a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,  is a lawyer and Civil Rights leader who has been organizing nonviolent protests and demonstrations most of Sam’s life.  His seventeen-year-old brother Stick is impatient with the nonviolent approach, and after King’s assassination, joins the militant Black Panther Party.  Sam’s life is thrown into further turmoil when he witnesses the brutal police beating and arrest of an innocent Black teenager and finds a gun hidden in the bedroom he shares with his brother.  This wrenching story propels the reader along with Sam toward his ultimate decision:  will he be the rock or the river? Through Sam’s personal story, the reader comes to understand how 1968 was the year that the Civil Rights Movement changed course.

Connections:  Freedom Songs by Yvette Moore is another novel about the Civil Rights Movement.  Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe tells the infamous story of Emmett Till, a fourteen year-old African American boy from Chicago who was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi.  Our library owns many nonfiction books about the Civil Rights Movement.  One of special interest is Freedom’s Children : Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen Levine.

Flygirl

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

flygirlby Sherri L. Smith  p. 271  Grades 6-8

It’s World War II, and the Japanese and Germans aren’t the only enemies.  On the homefront, Ida Mae Jones is fighting racism and sexism.  All she wants to do is become a pilot and to help in the war effort.  The U.S. government has formed the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), but they won’t accept African Americans (“colored”) into what was still the segregated armed services.  Risking her life and disappointing her family, Ida Mae decides to pass for white by joining up and reporting for training in Texas, where enforcement of Jim Crow laws was especially harsh.  To avoid the constant threat of danger, Ida Mae must skillfully maneuver not only her airplane but also her relationships so that her true identity is not discovered.

Connections:  To learn more about women pilots in World War II, read Yankee Doodle Gals:   Women Pilots of World War II by Amy Nathan.

Keeping Corner

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Keeping Cornerby Kashmira Sheth    p. 272  Grades: 6-8

Twelve-year-old Leela, betrothed at age two and married at age nine,  suddenly becomes a widow when the husband whom she’s never lived with dies in a tragic accident.

It’s 1918 in Gujarat, India, and widows are not allowed to remarry nor to participate in community celebrations or activities.  They are viewed as bad luck and must shave their heads and spend the first year in their parents’  home “keeping corner.”  Life seems over for Leela until a tutor arrives to help her get an education.  Gandhi is not only working toward freeing India from British rule but also for women’s rights, especially rights for young widows.  This compelling story shows a young, self-absorbed girl growing into an accomplished, confident young woman against the backdrop of  India’s independence movement.

Connections:  Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelen also tells the story of a teenage widow, but in contemporary India.  Neela by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni tells the story of Gandhi and the Independence Movement.   Kashmira Sheth’s other novels are also excellent:  Blue Jasmine and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet.

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

39-clues-coverby Rick Riordan  p. 220    Grades: 5-8

If you were offered a million dollars or the the first clue of 39 in a race to discover the most powerful secret treasure of the most powerful family in human history, which would you choose?  When Amy and Dan Cahill’s grandmother dies, they must make this decision.  They give up the million and choose the clue . . .  but so do a bunch of their backstabbing relatives.  So begins an action-packed, dangerous adventure that takes Dan and Amy and their teenage babysitter halfway around the world.  Warning:  This is the first of ten books to be written by different authors.  This book ends with a cliff hanger.

Connections:  Other good puzzle mysteries are The Westing Game and Chasing Vermeer.

Wild Girl

Monday, January 18th, 2010

wild girlBy Patricia Reilly Giff, 147 pages.  Grades 4-7

Who is Wild Girl?  Is she the skittish filly from South Carolina or Lidie, the twelve year-old girl from Brazil.  After being raised by her aunt and uncle for the past five years, Lidie moves  to New York to join her father and brother, who train race horses for a living.  Her dad and brother are expecting the pink and Disney loving seven year-old that they remember from back home in Brazil, and Lidie is having a hard time showing them the strong, capable young woman that she has become.  While Lidie struggles with her new life in a new home, new country, new school and new language, the filly is also having a hard time getting comfortable in her new home.

Connections:  For other stories sharing the immigrant experience, try reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan,  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, or Nory Ryan’s Song also by Giff.  For other horse stories, try reading Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan, The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley, or Season of Ponies by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Operation Redwood

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

operation redwoodBy S. Terrell French, 353 pages.  Grades 5-7

While forced to stay with his wealthy, manners-obsessed aunt and uncle so  his mother can photograph temples in China, twelve year-old Julian Carter-Li discovers emails describing his uncle’s plan to level an old growth redwood forest and the even more horrifying plan to ship Julian off to math camp for the summer.  With the help of his buddy Danny and a new email buddy, Julian creates Operation Redwood in the hopes of foiling both plans.

Connections:  For other eco-minded adventure stories, try reading Gloria Skurzynski’s National Park Mystery series or Hoot or Flush by Carl Hiaasen.

All About Sleep from A to Zzzz

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

about sleepBy Elaine Scott, 58 pages.  Grades 5-8

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel like you are falling as you go to sleep and wake with a jerk?  Did you ever wonder what would happen to you if you didn’t sleep?  Or, why we have nightmares?  The author explores the science behind sleep walking, dreams, sleeping disorders and the stages of sleep in this nonfiction title.

Connections:  For other books on sleep, try reading Sleep:  The Mysterious Third of Your Life by Jonathon Kastner, Dead on Their Feet:  Teen Sleep Deprivation and Its Consequences by Joan Esherick, and Sleep and Dreams by Alvin Silverstein.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Omnivores-Dilemma-coverBy Michael Pollan and adapted by Richie Chevat, 298 pages.  Grades 6-10

Here is some food for thought. . .

The omnivore’s dilemma in the past: Since we can eat almost anything, how do we know what is safe to eat?

The modern omnivore’s dilemma: We have thousands of choices of food in our supermarkets, but we don’t really know what is in our food or where it comes from.  How do we decide what to have for dinner?

Richie Chevat has taken Michael Pollan’s 415 page answer to the modern question (The Omnivore’s Dilemma:  A Natural History of Four Meals) and cut it down to more bite-sized pieces without losing any of the flavor.  To help us omnivores decide what to eat, the book shows us food production from four points of view:  industrial (think McDonald’s), industrial organic (think Whole Foods), local sustainable (think farmer’s market), and hunter-gatherer (think hunting and gathering).  After you ingest this mouthful, you might never look at food the same way again.

Connections:  For other examinations of the food industry try reading Fast Food Nation or the young adult version called Chew on This by Eric Schlosser.  For a look at the horrors of the early nineteenth century meat packing business that  led to the first regulations in the food industry, read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Bystander

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

bystander-james-preller-paperback-cover-artby James Preller   p. 226   Grades 5-8

Bully?  Accomplice?  Bystander?  Victim? Upstander? Which will Eric be?  As a new student at Central Middle School, he quickly sizes up the situation and recognizes immediately that pudgy David is a victim and that good looking, charming Griffin is at the top of the pecking order.  At first, Eric is drawn in by Griffin’s charisma and attention but soon sees the creep beneath the smile.  When ulitmately Eric refuses to do what Griffin demands, he becomes the target.   Eric, however, is not a victim, and with the help of Griff’s ex-girlfriend, he devises a plan.

Connections:  Other books with this theme are Shredderman: Secret Identity by Wendelin Van Draanen, Schooled by Gordon Korman, and  Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn.  Young adult titles for mature readers include The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, Don’t Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer, and Inventing Elliot  by Graham Gardner.  For nonfiction, try Bullying : How to Deal with Taunting, Teasing, and Tormenting  by Kathleen Winkler, Sticks and Stones by Karen L. Maudlin or Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain written and illustrated Trevor Romain.

The Georges and the Jewels

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

the georges andby Jane Smiley   p. 232  Grades 5-8

If you own a horse or wish you did, this is the book for you.  Famous adult author Jane Smiley, who wrote Horse Heaven, seems to have written this book with middle school girls in mind.  Seventh grader Abby Lovitt lives on a horse ranch in California.  It sounds like a perfect situation for a girl who loves horses, but it isn’t.  Her father buys and trains horses to sell.  He doesn’t want the family, especially Abby to become attached to the horses, so he won’t allow her to name them.  The geldings are all called George and the mares are Jewel.   But each horse has its own personality, and Abby adds an adjective to each name.  Ornery George becomes her challenge.  Her dad can’t sell the horses until they are tame enough for a girl to ride them.  Ornery George has bucked Abby off so many times that she defies her strict father and refuses to ride him  . . . until one day when a stranger arrives at the ranch.

Connections:  Here are some other good horse stories:  Dairy Queeen by Catherine Murdock; Willow King by Chris Platt; and Hero by S. L. Rottman.  Two short story collections are Horse & Pony Stories compiled by Christine Pullein-Thompsonand Horse Stories edited by Felicity Trotman.  Classics include King of the Wind by Margerite Henry, National Velvet, and My Friend Flicka.

The Graveyard Book [print and audio]

Friday, November 20th, 2009

TheGraveyardBook_Hardcover_1218248432by Neil Gaiman, p. 312 – Grades 5-8

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife,” and so begins the story of orphan, Nobody (Bod) Owens, who has been raised by the inhabitants of the graveyard since the night his family was murdered when he was just 18 months old.  Given the freedom of the graveyard, Bod lives his life in the company of the dead, and finds adventures and dangers within its walls, involving ghouls, the undead and even a human playmate, Scarlet Amber Perkins.  As long as he stays in the graveyard he enjoys many non-earthly freedoms and remains safe from the man Jack who was still looking to kill him, but he longs to learn his story and explore the wide world beyond.

Connections:  For other great fantasy books dealing with the dead, try reading Sabriel by Garth Nix (in print and audio), The Seer of Shadows by Avi, and Ghost Girl by Tonya Hurly.  Watch “The Graveyard Book Video Tour” to see/listen to the author reading the book chapter by chapter while on his national tour.

Cricket Man

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

cricket manby Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  p. 196  Grade:  Young Adult

During the summer before eighth grade, Kenny Sykes has begun each morning rescuing the hundreds of crickets that keep jumping into his backyard swimming pool.  As an inside joke with his little brother, Kenny assumes the super-hero identity Cricket Man and creates a t-shirt that he wears to school concealed under his regular shirt.  The rest of his time he spends skateboarding or spying on and trying to get the attention of his beautiful sixteen-year-old neighbor, Jodie Poindexter.  When Jodie appears to have fallen into a deep depression, it’s Cricket Man to the rescue.

Connections:  These novels for young adults also focus on special and unusual friendships:  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes; The Wild Kid; Stoner and Spaz and Define Normal.

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan: An Enola Holmes Mystery

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

peculiar pink fanby Nancy Springer.  p. 181  Grades 6-8

Fans of feisty, nonconformist Enola Holmes will enjoy this fourth installment in the Victorian mystery series.  Sixteen-year-old Lady Cecily has been kidnapped and is being forced into an arranged marriage.  Enola, the fourteen-year-old much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, is trying to locate and rescue the poor girl while avoiding being captured herself by  older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, who do not approve of her independent ways.  Disguises, humor, and high jinks abound.

Connections:  The Case of the Missing Marquess; The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline are titles in this series by Nancy Springer.  Other mystery series with strong female sleuths include:  Grace Cavendish by Patricia Finney; Herculeah Jones by Betsy Byars; Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen;  and Gilda Joyce by Armstrong.  For a more challenging read, try The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King, which introduces fourteen-year-old Mary Russell and another great series based on Sherlock Holmes or read the Arthur Conan Doyle short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes himself.

Dairy Queen

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Diary-Queenby Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  p.  274  Grades 7-8

What a summer!  Fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, works dawn to dusk on her family’s dairy farm after her father has hip surgery.  Life is pretty dismal until the coach from her high school’s rival team asks D.J to coach his budding quarterback, the gorgeous Brian Nelson.  While training and doing farm chores, the two teenagers become friends, but things get complicated when D.J. tries out for her high school’s football team.

Connections:  The sequel is Off SeasonRunning Loose by Chris Crutcher is another football romance.

Adam Canfield Watch Your Back

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

adam canfieldby Michael Winerip.  p. 329  Grades 6-8

Adam Canfield is literally shoveling in the money on a Snow Day by clearing his neighbors’ walks–when older bullies pull up in a van and mug him.  Not only is he a victim of a crime, but he also becomes the embarrassing focus of a media campaign by The Slash to stop bullying.  This sequel to Adam Canfield of the Slash is as good as its predecessor.  While Jennifer and the other Slash staff take on bullies, saving a tree, and discrimination, Adam launches an undercover operation to expose the fact that parents are doing their kids’ science fair projects.

Connections:  If you enjoy the Adam Canfield books, try these other novels based on school newspapers:  The Landry News by Andrew Clements and Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude and Other Commandments I Have Broken by Rosemary Graham.  The Watergate Scandal in American History by David K. Fremon describes how Washington Post investigative journalists broke the Watergate case.

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

Friday, November 13th, 2009

trouble beginsby Sid Fleischman.  p. 224  Grades 5-9

Like his famous character Tom Sawyer, Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) sought adventure and often found trouble in his early life.  His experiences in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River, getting lost in a cave and painting a fence, would become Tom’s experiences.  He worked a printing press, became a steamboat captain and took the stagecoach out West to earn his fortune during the Gold Rush. While he eventually struck gold, it wasn’t from digging in the hills.

Connections:  Other books by this author that help illuminate an individual or a time period in history include:  Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, Jim Ugly, Bandit’s Moon, and The Whipping Boy.

The Unnameables

Friday, November 13th, 2009

unnameablesby Ellen Booraem.  p. 318  Grades 6-9

In a world where things and places are simply named for what they are and people are named for what they do, how would you expect a boy named Medford Runyuin to fit in?  He doesn’t.  Instead the people of Island are wary of him and the children teasingly call him Raggedy or Plank Baby because of his messy look and his arrival on the island tied to a plank when he was a baby.  To make matters worse, Medford has a secret that he is trying keep hidden from the people of Island, and the mysterious arrival of the stinky Goatman is likely to blow his cover, literally.

For other stories of characters fighting the unfair rules/laws of their world, try reading The Giver by Lois Lowry, Maximum Ride:  The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Among the Hidden or Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

To learn the story around the creation of the crazy character the Goatman, check out the author’s website http://www.ellenbooraem.com/evolution.html

Beastly

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

beastlyby Alex Flinn.  p. 304  Young Adult

CYRM NOMINEE 2011

Attention Twilight fans!   This compelling romance puts a contemporary spin on the Beauty and the Beast tale.  Popular fourteen-year-old Kyle Kingsbury is incredibly good looking, charming, rich, and really mean.  After playing an especially cruel trick on a homely girl,at a dance, a witch casts a spell on Kyle turning him into a beast–making him as ugly on the outside as he has been on the inside.  He only has two years to break the spell or live as a beast forever.  In order to do so, he must fall in true love with someone who will love him back and give him, of course, a kiss!

Connections:  Here are some other excellent versions of the Beauty and the Beast story:  Beast by Donna Jo Napoli; Rose Daughter and Beauty by Robin McKinley.

The City of Ember

Friday, October 16th, 2009

city of ember  p.270  Grades 5-8

What if the only light in your world came from an electric bulb?  And what if your society was running out of those light bulbs?  This is the situation that faces twelve-year-olds Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow.  Lina discovers a set of instructions that she believes will help her people get out of Ember into a world of light.  Unfortunately, her baby sister has chewed on the paper and only certain words are readable.  Will they provide enough clues for Lina and Doon to find the escape route through the underground pipeworks.  And why are the city officials trying to arrest them?

Connections:  The Books of Ember series also includes People of SparksProphet of Yonwood and The Diamond of Darkhold.


 

The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

6277972by Dene Low.  p. 196    Grades 5-8

What a funny, frothy farce!  Set in Victorian England, this improbable mystery concerns sixteen-year-old Petronella who is about to have her London debut when her guardian Uncle Augustus swallows a giant beetle and develops an insatiable hunger for all insects.  The story begins at Petronella’s sixteenth birthday party on her large country estate where her uncle swallows the bug, two of her celebrity guests disappear, and we meet the romantic Lord James Sinclair.  Filled with Petronella’s witty observations and banter, lots of slapstick, luscious language,and some romantic possibilities, this books is a delight to read.

Connections:  If you enjoy this book, try the short stories and novels by P.G. Wodehouse such as How Right You Are, Jeeves, Carry on, Jeeves, and Leave It to Psmith.

H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

H_I_V_E_-_The_Higher_Institute_of_Villainous_Educationby Mark Walden.  p. 309  Grades 5-8

A school for bad kids?!  That’s what H.I.V.E., the Higher Institute for Villainous Education, purports to be.  Kids who appear to have special talents that could be used for evil are kidnapped and brought to this school located on a remote island where adults interested in world domination train the students in various nefarious skills.  The island appears to have no escape, but as soon as thirteen-year-old Otto arrives, he and three of his new classmates begin plotting their get away.  A counterpoint to Hogwarts, at H.I.V.E., technology and brains replace magic and wizardry.

Connections:  Other fast-paced adventures set in special schools include:  David Lubar’s Hidden Talents and its sequel True Talents; James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series; Trenton Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society; and Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.  PMS Library also owns the sequel–H.I.V.E. : the Overlord Protocol .

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The London Eye Mystery

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

londoneyeby Siobhan Dowd,  p. 323  Grades 5-8

Ted loves the weather, listening to forecasts and tracking changes, but he wasn’t sure that he was going to like having his aunt (called Hurricane Glo by his father) and his cousin come for a visit.When Ted’s cousin, Salim, disappeared from the ferris wheel-like London Eye, Ted initially came up with 8 theories about what could have happened to him, including the more mundane, we missed him getting out, to the outrageous possibilities of a time-warp or Salim spontaneously combusting (Ted’s favorite).Salim’s mother and Ted’s parents are frantic with worry, and don’t listen to Ted’s ideas about where he could have gone.His older sister, Kat, does listen, and together they try to use the available clues (pictures in Salim’s camera and a souvenir photo) to solve the mystery.

Connections:  Other books that have characters with Asperger’s syndrome or Autism include:  Rules by Cynthia Lord, The Very ordered existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley, and Al Capone does my shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.

Savvy

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

savvyby Ingrid Law, p. 342  Grades: 5-7

Change can be scary, but as Mississippi Beaumont (aka Mib) approaches her thirteenth birthday, she can’t wait to see what special savvy (magic power) she will possess.Her oldest brother Rocket’s electric savvy keeps the car going and the lights on, but blows light bulbs and causes blackouts when he can’t scumble (control it).Her other brother Fish’s savvy caused a hurricane on his 13th birthday that forced the whole family to move to the Kansas/Nebraska border from their coastal home in Mississippi to avoid large bodies of water.The other changes that come with turning 13 (changing feelings, friends, fashion, etc.) prove to be more challenging for Mib.When her father ends up in the hospital after a car accident, Mib is determined to get to him and prove that her savvy will save the day.

Connections:  Other books with seemingly normal kids having magical talents or in magical situations include:  The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Anybodies by N.E. Bode, Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, and Half Magic by Edward Eager

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

enterainerby Sid Fleischman, p. 180  Grades 6-9

The Great Freddie is a washed-up ventriloquist (he can’t speak without moving his lips) living in Europe following WWII until one night in Vienna, Austria he opens the closet in his hotel room and finds a dybbuk or Jewish spirit of a boy (Avrom Amos Poliakov) killed by Nazi soldiers during the war.To repay a debt he owes the boy for an incident that happened during the war, Freddie allows Avrom to possess his body and speak through him for the purpose of tracking down the boy’s killer and becoming a bar mitzvah.In the process, Avrom turns The Great Freddie’s ventriloquism act into a smash success and finds a platform for speaking out about the atrocities against Jews by the Nazis during the war, but Freddie finds himself in some awkward situations with his girlfriend.

Connections:  Some other great fiction titles that illustrate the treatment of Jews during World War II try reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, or Hitler’s Canary by Sandy Toksvig.  Check out this video interview with the author.

Kaleidoscope Eyes

Monday, September 14th, 2009

kaleidoscopeby Jen Bryant.  p. 257  Grades 5-8

It’s summer vacation and what could be better than sneaking out at night to look for buried treasure with your two best friends?!  After thirteen-year-old Lyza’s grandfather dies, she finds an envelope in his attic marked “For Lyza ONLY.”  It containis three maps, a key, and a letter with rather crypic directions which lead Lyza, Malcolm and Carolann on an adventure to find pirate William Kidd’s buried treasure.  Set in 1968, this novel is told in verse against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution of the sixties.

Connections:   The Voyage of the Arctic Tern by Hugh Montgomery is another pirate adventure in verse. For more books on pirates, try Sea Queens : Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen, Piracy & Plunder : a Murderous Business by Milton Meltzer, Piratica by Tanith Lee, Bloody Jack by Carolyn Meyer, Voyage of Plunder by Michele Torrey, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

One-Handed Catch

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

one-handed-catch-mary-jane-auch-paperback-cover-artby M. J. Auch  p. 246  Grades: 5-8

The summer before sixth grade,  Norm loses his left hand when it gets caught in a meat grinder.  Poor kid!  His mom’s not cutting him any slack, and his dreams of making the baseball team seem hopeless–until he hears about a one-handed major league baseball player and a customer gives him a right-handed baseball mitt.  Now it’s up to Norm.

Connections:  Here’s some other great baseball fiction:  Hang Tough Paul Mather by Alfred Slote;  Some Kind of Pride by Maria Testa; Choosing Up Sides by John Ritter; High Heat by Carl Deuker; and Hard Ball byWill Weaver.  Browse 796.357 for baseball nonfiction and search baseball biography in the catalog for famous players.

Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Fingers

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

lang langby Lang Lang with Michael French.  p. 215  Grades 5-8

Would you think that watching Tom and Jerry cartoons could inspire you to become one of the world’s greatest pianists?  Well, that’s what happened to famous pianist Lang Lang.  When he was three years old, he loved watching cartoons, especially Tom and Jerry.  In one cartoon episode, Tom, the cat, is dressed up in a tuxedo and playing a concert piano.  He awakens little Jerry, the mouse, who has been sleeping on the strings, and then the mischief begins with Jerry jumping out of the piano and onto the keys.   The cartoon made young Lang Lang realize how much fun playing the piano could be, and in his imagination, he was Tom one minute and Jerry the next.  By the time he was five years old, he was winning major competitions.   His memoir not only tells of his passion for music, but also of the very long hours of practice and work.  He was born in Shenyang, China to poor parents.  His father was determined that Lang Lang would be a famous pianist and put tremendous pressure on his son to excel.  At times heartbreaking, this memoir is a must read for any aspiring musician.

Connections:  You might also enjoy these music biographies:  John Lennon:  All I Want Is the Truth; The Voice that Changed a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights; Lives of the Musicians:  Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought); and Johann Sebastian Bach:  And the Art of Baroque Music.   To see a video of Lang Lang performing, check out this link.  We apologize for the brief commercial.

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

sea queensby Jane Yolen, p. 92  Grades 4-7

Ahoy matey!  Pirates bring to mind Blackbeard, peg legs, eye patches, the Jolly Roger, stolen treasure, and not women.  Women were generally considered bad luck on a ship.  Yet, Yolen shares the history and legend of several infamous female pirates.  The beautiful Alfhild from Denmark was protected from unwanted suitors by a pet viper.  The fierce Grania O’Malley from Ireland gave birth to her son aboard ship and climbed out of bed the next day to shoot at the leaders of a Turkish ship that had attacked.  Madam Ching of China “commanded a total of two thousand boats and seventy thousand men, the most any pirate in the world ever led.”  So hop on board and enjoy the tales.

Connection:  For another title telling tales of women in a role typically held by men, check out I’ll Pass for Your Comrade:  Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey.  Check out this video interview with Jane Yolen.

Child of Dandelions

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

child of dandelionsby Shenaaz Nanji, p. 210  Grades: 7-10

What do you do when your whole world seems to be falling down around you?  Do you deny that it is happening?  In 1972, when President Idi Amin of Uganda gave all foreign Indians 90 days to leave the country, fifteen year-old Sabine didn’t think that included her family, as they were all Ugandan citizens.  When her uncle disappears mysteriously, she convinces herself that he will turn up soon.  When her best friend, Zena turns against her, Sabine hopes she will come around eventually.  But, when the soldiers come looking for her father . . .

Connections:  Some other stories that deal with conflict between different groups within one country include Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

zen and the art of faking itby Jordan Sonnenblick.   p. 264   Grades 6-8

It’s tough being the new kid especially in January of the eighth grade.  San Lee has moved around and changed schools a lot, and this time it’s because his dad has gone to prison for fraud.  His mom’s short on money because of his dad’s legal fees, and even though it’s the middle of the winter in Pennsylvania, San heads off for his new middle school in sandals and the light windbreaker that were fine in Texas.  Adopted from China as a baby, San is the only Asian American at his new school.  When he discovers that his social studies class is studying Buddhism, which he studied last year, he pretends to be  a Zen master.   This deception wins him the attention of a beautiful girl but spins out of control in both serious and comical ways as more and more kids believe he’s the real thing.

Connections:  Books where a new kid makes a big impact on the other students in a school are Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Gypsies Never Came by Stephen Roos, Schooled by Gordon Korman and, for mature readers, Jake Reinvented by Gordon Korman as well as Inventing Elliot by Graham Gardner.  If you’d like to know more about Zen Buddhism, try browsing the 294.3 section of the library.

The Underneath

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Underneath by Kathi Appeltby Kathi Appelt    p. 313    Grades 6-8

This amazing book has it all–chills, thrills, tears, fears; strangers and dangers; monsters and heroes; prehistoric and modern times; dogs and cats, love and hate; cruelty and compassion; animals and humans; magic and realism, shape-shifters and kittens; revenge and redemption; loneliness and friendship.  This strange and magical story begins in a Texas bayou  when a calico cat about to have kittens hears the lonely howls of a chained up dog.  She and her kittens take up residence with him underneath the shack where the hound’s cruel master, Gar Face, has chained him.  They are safe until one of the kittens ventures out from the underneath and is caught by Gar-Face.

Connections:  If you like sad animal stories, try these titles: Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Sounder by William Armstrong, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.  The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien, and Watership Down by Richard Adams are other wonderful fantasies where animals form communities to help each other.

Ranger’s Apprentice series

Monday, July 20th, 2009

ranger's 1by John Flanagan   p. 250 (about)  Grades 5-8

If you like fast-paced, exciting adventure series, here’s an excellent one.  In The Ruins of Gorlan, book one of the series, fifteen-year old Will becomes apprenticed to Halt, a senior member of the Rangers, a group of dark-cloaked, mysterious spies whose espionage protects the kingdom.  His training–rigorous, often grueling–prepares Will to face the challenges to the kingdom by Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, including gigantic, ferocious wild boars and the Kalkara, ape-like creatures that use their piercing stares to paralyze their opponents.

Connections:  Here are other fast-paced adventure series:  Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz.

 

 

ranger's 3

ranger's 2

Word Nerd

Monday, July 20th, 2009

word-nerdby Susin Nielsen.  p. 248   Grades:  7-8

What do a 7th grade misfit with a severe peanut allergy and a twenty-five-year-old ex-convict, former drug addict have in common?  SCRABBLE!!!  After Ambrose nearly dies when three bullies slip a peanut into his sandwich, his overly protective mother removes Ambrose from school and has him do a correspondence course from home.  While she is at work, Ambrose secretly forges a friendship with his landlords’ son, Cosmos, who has just gotten out of prison. He cons Cosmos into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club.  While Ambrose becomes hooked on Scrabble competition, Cosmos becomes hooked on beautiful Amanda, who runs the club.  This moving book is filled with lots of humor, word play, interesting characters and even danger.

Connection:  Other good reads with clever, outsider characters are Schooled by Gordon Korman, the Shredderman series by Wendelin Van Draanen, Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick, and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of the Tree by Lauren Tarshis.

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Emma-jean-lazarus-fell-out-tree-lauren-tarshisby Lauren Tarshis.  p. 169 Grades 5-8

Emma-Jean Lazarus is different from the other seventh graders at William Gladstone Middle School.  She’s super smart and super logical and finds the social interactions among her peers interesting but totally irrational.  Yet she is drawn to use her super problem solving skills to help sweet, hypersensitive Colleen when Emma-Jean discovers her crying in the girls’ bathroom.  Emma-Jean’s meddling not only leads to some hilarious situations but also to her beginning to make friends.  In the sequel, Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love, Emma Jean develops a crush herself while trying to help Colleen discover the secret admirer who left a note in Colleen’s locker.  If you enjoy quick, humourous reads about quirky characters, you’ll love Emma Jean Lazaus!

emma-jean

 

 

 

Connection:  Other good novels with quirky characters include The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, Susan Patron’s Higher Power of Lucky, Way Down Deep by Ruth White and the adult novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Way Down Deep

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

way down deepby Ruth White, p. 197 – Grades 4-7

In Way Down Deep, WV during the summer of 1944, a cute, red-headed toddler was found on the courthouse steps.  Raised by Miss Arbus, the owner of the local boarding house, Ruby Jane spends the next ten years living a comfortable life in the quiet little town filled with lots of quirky, loveable characters.  When a bank robber and his family are taken in under the collective wings of the townspeople, Ruby Jane starts to piece together the puzzle of her mysterious past.

Connection:  For other books with quirky characters set in a small town, try reading Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder or Susan Patron’s Higher Power of Lucky.

Anything but Typical

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL JACKET COVERBy Nora Raleigh Baskin, p. 195 – Grades 4-7

Twelve year-old Jason, a creative writing whiz, is easily able to point out the differences between his “neurotypical” peers and autistic self but struggles with filtering out the noises, sensations and smells that distract him and make it hard to behave the way people expect him to.  He is most comfortable when logged into his favorite story sharing website, Storyboard.  Through the site, Jason starts a friendship with a girl, Rebecca, who admired one of his stories.  He even goes so far as to describe her as his girlfriend.  Jason gets the opportunity of a lifetime when his father offers to take him to the Storyboard conference but panics when he realizes that he might meet Rebecca in person.

Connection:  For other stories with a protagonists on the autism spectrum, try reading Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery or Suzanne Crowley’s The Very Ordered Existence Merilee Marvelous.

Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

partly-cloudy-poems-love-longing-gary-soto-hardcover-cover-artby Gary Soto, p. 100 – Grades 6-9

Told from the point of view of both teen boys and girls, these poems capture the sweetness, heartache and confusion of young love.  This meaty yet easy to read collection is divided into two sections: “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs” and “A Boy’s Body, His Words.”

Consequence
When a stone bridge fails,
you can rebuild it with your hands.
With love, when it falls,
The rocks shoot sparks.  Gossips
Gather at the river’s edge,
Skipping stones across the water,
Asking intently, “Who brought it down?”

Connection:  For another book of poetry dealing with teenagers try Paul B. Janeczko’s Proposterous; Poems of Youth.

Knucklehead

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

KnuckleheadBy Jon Scieszka.  p. 106 – Grades 4-7

Have you ever wondered where the author of the Stinky Cheese Man gets his wildly hilarious ideas?  Well, this very funny autobiography of Jon Scieszka will answer that question.  Scieszka grew up in a family of six boys, and the stories he tells about his childhood include listing all the swear words he knows for his parochial school nun, charging the neighbor kids money to watch his little brother eat cigarette butts, and playing a game called Slaughterball.  Caution:  includes some bathroom humor.

Connections:  Other humorous memoirs include How Angel Peterson Got His Name by Gary Paulsen, Chicago Days and Hoboken Nights by Daniel Pinkwater, Living Up the Street by Gary Soto, Oddballs by William Sleator, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan, and the country vet books by James Herriot.  Check out this video of Jon Scieszka.

The True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

homerfiggby Rodman Philbrick.  p. 244 – Grades 5-8

Like adventure?Enjoy humor?Interested in American history, especially the Civil War?Then this is the book for you because it has lots of all three.Orphan Homer P. Figg runs away from the cruel uncle who is raising him after this guardian illegally sells Homer’s older brother Harold into the Union Army.In his quest to rescue his brother, Homer has many dangerous, but also hilarious, adventures along the way.Homer is a chronic liar and his ability to stretch the truth gets him both into and out of some very tight spots.This is a fast-moving tale filled with interesting characters, many surprises, and lots of twists and turns.

Connection:  For other humorous adventures with historical American settings, try Sid Fleischman’s Bandit Moon and Jim Ugly, Walter Dean Myers’ The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Antsy Does Time

Monday, June 15th, 2009

antsy does timeBy Neal Shusterman, p. 247 – Grades 6-9. 

If you enjoyed meeting Antsy (Anthony Bonano) in the Schwa Was Here, you’ll love encountering him again in this humorous teen novel in which he gives Gunnar Umlaut a month of his life.  When classmate Gunnar tells Antsy that he only has six months to live, Antsy draws up a contract giving Gunnar a month of his life, which earns him the attention and a kiss from Gunnar’s gorgeous older sister.  Soon other kids and even the principal want to donate months of their lives to Gunnar.  Time passes, and Gunnar isn’t showing symptoms.  What’s up?

 

Connection:  Other humorous novels where schemes get out of hand are The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman, The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian, and Peeled by Joan Bauer.

Hippie Chick

Monday, June 15th, 2009

 hippie chickBy Joseph Monninger, p. 156 – Grades 7-10.  

 Independent, free-spirited Lolly runs into serious trouble when she takes her little sailboat out one evening in the Florida Keys.  Her boat capsizes, and as the sun sets, she realizes that no one knows where she is and that her chances of survival are slim.  Terrified of sharks, she nearly freaks out when something smooth and large bumps up against her legs.  It turns out to be a manatee.  Clinging to its back, Lolly travels with the manatee and its companions to a mangrove swamp.

 

Connection:  Other novels about special human-animal relationships include The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse, Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allen Eckert, and Eva by Peter Dickison.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Best bad luckby Kristin Levine, p. 264 – Grades 6-9

While many of the townspeople in early 20th century Moundville, Alabama were shocked at the arrival of the new African-American postmaster, twelve-year old Dit was disappointed when he realized the postmaster’s child, Emma, was a girl rather than the playmate he had been hoping for.  Adventuresome Dit is sure that he will never enjoy spending time with bookish, refined Emma, but he grudgingly shows her around and eventually the two end up finding common ground in the digging of a fort in Dit’s favorite hill mound.  With the start of school in the fall, Dit comes to more fully understand the realities of the Jim Crow laws as Emma is forced to go to a different school and his buddies tease him about their friendship.  Racial tensions in the town really erupt when the the town’s African American barber is charged with a crime against the overtly racist sheriff, and as witnesses to the crime, Dit and Emma can’t help but get involved.

Connection:  For another story about a friendship challenged by racism, read Tony Johnston’s Bone by Bone by Bone.

Alligator Bayou

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

alligator bayouby Donna Jo Napoli, p. 280 – Grades 7-10

Fourteen year-old Calogero lives with his four uncles and one cousin in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana at the end of the 19th century.  He has left his four year-old brother behind in Sicily after the disappearance of his father and the death of his mother.  At a time of strong anti-immigrant sentiment and Jim Crow laws, the Sicilians are being forced to keep separate from not only the white but also the black members of the community.  Calo’s secret crush on an African American girl, Patricia, and the success of the family’s produce market provide the fuel to feed the flames of racism in this small town.

Connection:  The King of Mulberry Street is another novel, by Donna Jo Napoli,  that describes the experience of Italian American immigrants (in New York City).

Thirteenth Child

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Thirteenth-Childby Patricia C. Wrede, p. 344 – Grades 6 & Up

Eff and her twin brother Lan live in a magical, alternative version of the the western frontier.  Eff is born the thirteenth child, a position that is thought to bring bad luck to the family, while her brother is lucky 14 and the 7th son of the 7th son, a position that brings extraordinary magical power.  The family moves from the civilized and secure east  to the western frontier where a magical border keeps dangerous creatures like the dreaded steam dragons away from the settlements.  Despite her difficulties learning and controlling magic, Eff’s teacher Miss Ochiba teaches her not only Avrupan magic but also the Hijero-Cathayan and Aphrikan styles.  An expedition to the settlements outside the Great Barrier Magic tests her magical skills.

Connection:  For another story that brings a magical alternative to a historical setting, try reading The Water Mirror by Kai Meyer.

Wintergirls

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Wintergirlsby Laurie Halse Anderson, p. 278 – Grades 8 & Up

This novel, for mature readers, tells the story of Lia who has just found out about the death of her once best friend, Cassie. While they were friends, both girls suffered from eating disorders: Lia- anorexia and Cassie- bulimia. On the night of Cassie’s death, Lia received 33 phone calls and messages from Cassie… all of which Lia had left unanswered. Lia’s family (too busy mother, distant father and clueless stepmother) are concerned that the news will send Lia over the edge again and back to New Seasons the rehabilitation center she has already visited twice.

Connection:  For another story that shows a teen dealing with the death of another teen read Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.

Freefall

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

freefallby Anna Levine, p. 250 – Grades 8 & Up

As Israel and Lebanon engage in battle, eighteen year-old Aggie is simultaneously preparing for high school graduation and her two year, compulsory service in the Israeli army.  Thoughts of kisses and crushes compete with concerns over inadequacies.  She thinks she wants to be a member of the elite, women’s combat unit rather than be stuck in a desk job, but members of her family are making her question her capabilities.  Her best friend’s older brother, Noah (a combat soldier) is showing particular interest in her trials at the physically and mentally challenging boot camp.  Aggie gets a taste of the front line when she goes north to help one of her buddies from boot camp.

Connection:  Another love story with war as the backdrop (in this case the Civil War) is Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells.

The Hunger Games

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

the-hunger-games1by Suzanne Collins, p. 374 – Grades 7 & Up

In this book, for mature readers, what was once the United States is destroyed by climate change and war and is replaced by Panem with its wealthy rulers in the Capitol controlling twelve neighboring districts.  Each year the districts must pay tribute to the Capitol by sending two of their teens (12-18) to fight to the death in the Hunger Games, which is televised and must be watched by everyone (think Survivor with weapons and a manipulated environment).  Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister as the tribute from District 12 (the poorest district) when her sister’s name is pulled in the lottery for the 74th Hunger Games.  Since her father’s death in a mining accident, Katniss has had to work hard so she and her family could survive, but in the Hunger Games she will be facing tributes who have spent their lives training for this event.

Connection:  Other examples of survival fiction that will keep the reader on edge are  Deathwatch by Robb White and The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  –CRW

Highlight:  Watch this video interview with Suzanne Collins.

Rules

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Rulesby Cynthia Lord, p. 200 – Grades 4-7

Twelve-year-old Catherine’s brother (David) has autism and regularly does things that embarrass her, so she creates more and more rules for him to live by.  She also fiercely defends David from bullies like Ryan who lives on their street.  During the summer Catherine goes to her brother’s speech therapy appointments and meets Jason, a boy with cerebral palsy who uses a book of words and pictures to communicate.  Catherine’s friendship with Jason grows as she adds new (hip) words and pictures to his book.  A new girl, Kristi, moves in next-door, opening up the possibility of a new special friendship, but Catherine is not sure whether or not to trust her new friend when Kristi shows an interest in the bully, Ryan.

Connection:  The main character in Gennifer Choldenko’s novel Al Capone Does My Shirts also has a sibling with autism. — CRW

Graceling

Monday, May 4th, 2009

graceling__spanby Kristin Cashore, p. 471 – Grades 8 & Up

CYRM NOMINEE 2011

This  award winning first novel by Kristin Cashore will have mature readers begging for a sequel.  The king of Middluns first identified Lady Katsa’s “grace” when she killed a man at age 8, and he has been using her special talent to keep the people of his kingdom and the surrounding six kingdoms in line ever since.  Lady Katsa rebels against the bullying king by secretly forming a council to protect those who have been treated unfairly throughout the seven kingdoms.  The rescue of a neighboring king’s kidnapped father leads Katsa on a quest to find his captor, with the help of his grandson, who has an interesting “grace” of his own.

Connection:  This book might appeal to those who enjoyed the combination of fantasy and romance in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books or the strong female protagonist in Garth Nix’s Sabriel series.  — CRW

Snow Falling in Spring

Monday, May 4th, 2009

snow falling in springby Moying Li, p. 176 – Grades 6-9

At the start of her autobiography, Moying Li is living happily in Beijing with her well-educated, extended family in a large house surrounding an open courtyard.  During the transformation of the Great Leap Forward the courtyard contains a huge brick furnace and family and friends work endlessly to melt down scrap metal to produce steel.  The Cultural Revolution bring changes that the author first tries to embrace then needs to protect herself from.  The Red Guards attack her teachers, send her mother to the countryside to teach,  take her father off to a labor camp and destroy his library.  Throughout the book, Moying Li’s dedication to her family, friends and education is never compromised.

Connection:  For further reading on this time period in China’s history, read the memoir, The Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang or the fiction title, Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine.  –CRW

Ghostgirl

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

ghostgirlby Tonya Hurley, p.328 – Grades 7 & Up

It is the first day of her junior year and Charlotte is geared up to shift from ignored wallflower to part of the in-crowd.  When she gets dream-guy Damen as her physics lab partner, she thinks that the stars have finally aligned. As they leave the classroom with Damen asking her to be his tutor, Charlotte chokes on a gummy bear and dies.  Caught in the world between life and eternity, Charlotte and her new Dead Ed. classmates find out that they have some unfinished business before they can really move on.

Connection:  For another book about high school and struggles with popularity try reading, She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva –CRW

Cheater

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

cheater-michael-laser-hardcover-cover-artby Michael Laser, p. 231 – Grades 7 & Up

Karl always gets straight A+s and is tired of being labeled a geek. He is offered the chance to join the “in” crowd when super-popular, Blaine asks him if he would like to join their high-tech organization of cheaters. He flatly refuses until the super-strict vice principal sets up harsh new anti-cheating consequences and makes an example of one of Karl’s childhood friend.  Karl then sees joining the cheaters is his chance to be the hero.

Connection:  For another book that deals with the issue of peer pressure, try reading Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Koman –CRW

Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

chainsCheck out this new historical fiction title from a favorite author:

Chains, p. 316 – Grades 6-10

Highlight:  Watch this great interview (from Reading Rockets) with Laurie Halse Anderson talking about her life and her books.

Gossamer

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

gossamerby Lois Lowry, p. 140 – Grades 4-7

This is the story of “Littlest One,” a young Giver learning how to bestow dreams.  She is trying to save an 8 year-old boy (a victim of abuse who is currently in foster care) from the nightmares brought on by the Sinisteeds.  The stories of the boy, his foster care mother, and his rehabilitating mother are all told through the gathering of fragments (short memories) collected by touching the objects of a person’s life.  This is a beautiful quiet story that looks at the fallout from child abuse and the challenges of foster care.

Connection:  Another great book by this author is The Willoughbys– a darkly humorous story about two children left with a nanny by their neglectful parents.

Highlight:  Check out this interview with Lois Lowry from Reading Rockets.   –CRW

Hitler’s Canary

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

hitler's canaryby Sandy Toksvig, p. 191 – Grades 5-8

Bamse, just 10 when the Germans invaded Denmark, is coming of age during the occupation.  He must decide whether to follow his brother in working with the Danish Resistance or listen to his father and stay out of trouble.  His mother’s acting career and her theatrics provide the structure for the story as well as drama and comic relief.  Bamse comes to realize that not all German’s are bad nor all Danish good, and why his friend Anton’s participation in the resistance is particularly dangerous/courageous.  The author’s note explains what parts of this work of fiction come from her own family’s experiences.

Connection:  This book might appeal to those who enjoyed Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  –CRW

Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest

Monday, April 27th, 2009

71YrBlUUGRL._SL1052_by Matt Haig, p. 316 – Grades 4-8

Twelve-year-old Samuel and his sister Martha (who has recently become selectively mute)  find themselves living on the edge of a mysterious forest in Norway after the sudden, tragic death of their parents.  Samuel is having trouble adapting to this new strange environment and his quirky aunt’s long list of rules, including the most important – “NEVER – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – GO INTO THE FOREST.”  The forest contains dark and dangerous creatures as well as a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Aunt Eda’s husband, Uncle Henrik.  Samuel is forced into unlocking the mysteries of the forest when he has to save his sister, who also inexplicably disappears into it one day.

Connection:  This story might appeal to those readers who enjoy spunky orphan stories like Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.  –CRW

The Porcupine Year

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Porcupine Yearby Louise Erdrich, p. 193 – Grades 5-8

This third book in the series that started with the Birchbark House can stand alone.  Omakayas is twelve as her family is forced,  by increasing numbers of white settlers, to move westward through northern Minnesota from their original home on Madeline Island.  The story picks up quickly with Omakayas and her younger brother being swept far down river through raging rapids.  The family faces many dangers (human, nature and animal) while Omakayas moves through the uncharted territory of womanhood (changing relationships, responsibilities and romance).

Connection:  Another story of personal growth along with voyages and travel is Sharon Creech’s Ruby Holler.  –CRW

Peace, Locomotion

Monday, April 27th, 2009

peace locomotionby Jacqueline Woodson, p. 136 – Grades 4-7

In this companion to Locomotion, Lonnie Collins Motion (aka Locomotion) helps his sister Lili remember life before their separate foster care placements by sending her letters filled with memories of the past triggered by his day to day experiences.  Both Locomotion and Lili are happy with their foster care families, but miss their parents and being together.  The letters start to focus on the importance of peace and the realities of war as Locomotion becomes more aware of his foster brother who is in the army.

Connection:  This quick read might appeal to those who like Shooting the Moon by O’Rourke.  –CRW

Highlight:  Watch this great interview (from Reading Rockets) with Jacqueline Woodson talking about her life and her books.

Masterpiece

Monday, April 27th, 2009

masterpieceby Elise Broach, p.292 – Grades 4-8

Marvin (a beetle and the narrator of the story) lives under the sink in the house in NYC where James lives with his mother,  step-father and baby brother.  Marvin remains hidden with his family until one day he uses ink from James’ new pen and ink set to make the boy a birthday drawing.  Their growing friendship and Marvin’s drawing talent lead the two to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and into a mystery around some missing Albrecht Durer drawings.

Connection:  The talented bug is remniscent of The Cricket in Times Square, and the mystery surrounding the art brings a couple of books to mind: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and  Chasing Vermeer.  –CRW

Seaborn

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Seaborn, p.201 – Grades 6-9

Sixteen-year-old Luke would rather stay home and fish than go on the annual trip with his family on their small, cramped sailboat.  Luke decides he has no choice but to go when his mother walks out out on them.  The two decide to explore the Gulf Stream rather than sticking to the islands off the coast of Massachussetts and run into trouble when an unexpected storm blows in.

Connection:  This quick read is a good choice for fans of Gordon Korman’s Dive, Everest & Island series.  –CRW

Out of Reach

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

out-reach-v-m-jones-hardcover-cover-artby V.M. Jones, p. 264 – Grades 6-9

Thirteen-year-old Pip McLeod is tired of his father’s pacing, yelling and disappointment at his soccer games.  He is tired of being compared to his super-athletic, older brother.  He wishes that his best buddy, Katie, would start looking at him as something more than just a friend.  The construction of a new sports facility in the neighborhood provides the walls for Pip to climb to reach his true potential and find himself.  This import from New Zealand give a glimpse daily life in that distant land and is a good choice for readers looking for a different kind of sports book.  –CRW

Suck It Up

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

suck it upby Brian Meehl, p. 318 – Grades 7 & Up

After graduating from the IVLeague (International Vampire League), Morning McCobb gets the opportunity to be the hero he had always hoped to be… rather than just the skinny, awkward teen he will eternally be.  The president of the IVLeague offered Morning the chance to be the first vampire to reveal himself to “lifers” (humans) in the hopes that humans and vampires can live together in harmony.  Morning is thought to be the perfect canidate since he only drinks a soy-based blood substitute rather than the farmed animal blood that most Leaguer vampires drink.  A potential love interest and an angry “loner” (non-league vampires that still drink human blood) make the challenge of convincing humans that vampires are friends even more difficult.

Connection:  This book is a good choice for those interested a lighter version of Twilight, told from the vampires point of view.  –CRW