Friday, January 19, 2007
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop
I had never even heard of a tree kangaroo before I read this beautiful book. It's a mysterious and endangered species that only lives in a remote part of New Guinea. This is really a book about how scientists do their work, and how exciting it can be to discover new things. A group of American scientists join up with some people from New Guinea to go deep into the forest and look for tree kangaroos. They live in tents in rather miserable, wet conditions, but they are fueled by their excitement to find and track these animals. They capture a couple of them and put computer chips and radio collars on them so they can be studied in the wild. Their habitat is vanishing and their live are in danger, so these scientists are really on a mission to save the tree kangaroos from extinction. The photography is stunning, but I did wish for even more photos of the tree kangaroos rather than of the surrounding forest. Read this if you like animals or if you dream of making discoveries of your own.
It seems like nothing to us that astronauts have been to the moon, but back in 1969 it was miraculous. The whole world watched, and it was not guaranteed that the astronauts would make it back alive. Lots of books tell about the three astronauts and their experience, but no other book tells about the 400,000 other people who made it happen. This book has big, beautiful photographs of the voyage, and interviews and information about all kinds of workers--the people who sewed the space suits, designed the parachutes, created the lunar module, and programmed the computers. One really interesting part of this book is that it describes all the points when things almost went wrong. Several times they almost gave up and didn't make the landing. This is a book that's fun to browse or to read all the way through.
If you are interested in magic chances are you know something about Harry Houdini. He is the most well-known American magician of all time, and he is most famous for his amazing escapes. This is a guy who would lock himself upside down in a barrell full of water and somehow free himself minutes later. He could get out of any handcuffs or chains, break any lock, and swallow hundreds of needles. This book won't tell you how he did his tricks, but it tells you how he performed the biggest trick of all--turning himself from a poor, short, immigrant kid into a wealthy and legendary magician. If you want to know about him, this is the book to read. The author, a magician and writer himself, even knew Houdini's wife, Bess. I have to confess that I think the writing in this book is often overdone--too full of colorful language and strange metaphors, but it is entertaining and you will learn a lot.
A high school girl has a secret that has made her best friend hate her. She is isolated and alone, but through the course of a school year she learns to face what happened to her and become a stronger person. Sounds a lot like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, doesn't it? Yes, there are similarities, but Just Listen is at it's heart a different book. It is really about how a true friend can change your life, open you up to new things, and help you do what's best for yourself. Owen, the big guy with the iPod, and Anabel, the teen model, are an unlikely pair. Owen has "anger issues," but is completely honest. Anabel, who should be angry, keeps everything inside. This book also has mean girls, an anorexic sister, and some romance. It is a mature book, but one that I highly recommend to 7th and 8th grade girls.
Everyone has heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith? They were teenagers who, like Rosa Parks, refused to give up their seats on the bus. Freedom Walkers is the story of all four of these people, and thousands of others who came together to fight injustice. For over a year the African American people of Montgomery, Alabama refused to ride city buses. Many were poor and had to get to jobs that were miles away, but they walked and car pooled and got to work some other way. At night they came together at meetings throughout the city where they inspired and encouraged each other to continue the nonviolent struggle. There were bombings, people went to jail, and it took a long time to win, but they did. I read this book and admired these people--even wished I could have been one of them just to be a part of something so big and so right. Russell Freedman is an outstanding writer--if you want to know more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this is the book to read.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Gilda Joyce is a high school freshman and self-proclaimed "psychic investigator." She agrees to attend a private girls school called Our Lady of Sorrows simply because she hears rumors of it being haunted by the ghost of a student who drowned there several years in the past. Gilda is smart and sassy, but doesn't make many friends because she is busy investigating the haunting and finding out that Delores's death might not have been an accident. Rather than doing psychic investigations, Gilda does real detective work and uncovers a secret society called The Ladies of the Lake. This is a combination high school girl book/mystery that will be enjoyed by middle school girls. It did make me want to keep reading, but I did think it was too long and could have been shortened and made better by a good editor.
Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries books, has a knack for writing books about ordinary high school girls and how they really think and talk. In this book, Steph Landry has been harassed for five straight years by Lauren Moffit, queen of the school. Just before her junior year, Steph acquires a book called How to be Popular, and uses its tips to transform herself into the most popular girl in school. But her popularity lasts one week before she is challenged to be true to herself and not to Lauren and her fabulous boyfriend. Readers know all along that Steph is fine just the way she is, and that her best friend Jason is probably going to turn out to be her soul mate, but it's fun to read about all the twists and turns. I don't think this is Meg Cabot's best book (honestly, I think the first few Princess Diaries were fantastic and deserve some literary respect), but it's a fun story for girls in grades 6-9. I also recommend Teen Idol, Avalon High, and All American Girl, all by Meg Cabot.
This is book three in the Cirque Du Freak series that is extremely popular with middle school kids (mainly guys). I confess that this is the first one of the series that I have read all the way through, and I read it because someone in my Prime Time class challenged me to read it for the Winter Reading Challenge. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was boring! I was surprised at how little action there was except right at the end when Darren comes up against the evil Vampaneze. I also thought the writing about Darren's romance with Debbie was terrible--no real kids would talk that way. I think it's great that kids love these books, but they are not for me! I'd much rather read a vampire book with better characterization like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
I can't say too much about this book without giving away some of it's secrets. It is about an innocent 9-year-old German boy living during World War II. Bruno doesn't understand why his father's job has forced his family to move to "Out With" and he doesn't understand who all the people are that live behind the fence near his house. He does know that he would like to have some companionship, and he makes a good friend who happens to live on the other side of the fence. At times I thought Bruno was just too unbelievably innocent, but this book is supposed to be a fable, so you just have to suspend your disbelief and let the story take you to it's devastating conclusion. A very interesting read, especially for middle school readers with an interest in the Holocaust.