Thursday, July 26, 2007
Quahogs (pronounced "co-hogs") are a big deal in this book. The author, Meg Cabot, writes The Princess Diaries books (which I think are great), and also a lot of other books for teenage girls. I think Meg Cabot is exceedingly smart and she knows exactly how high school girls think and talk. This book has lots of romance—Katie, our main character, actually is involved with three different guys during the course of this book (which is about one week in her life). Things get complicated in Katie's life when an old friend comes back to town. Four years ago Tommy did something unthinkable to the football players in this small town. Katie is trying to forget her own role in how Tommy was treated, but things are complicated by the fact that Tommy is now a really hot guy. I have to admit this isn't my favorite of her books. I think the main problem is that I didn't like Katie. She's a self-absorbed liar with nothing on her mind except hot guys ("McHotties"). Even though she learns some lessons in this story and discovers how not to be a "liar liar pants on fire," she still was a shallow character in my mind. But, that's not to say this isn't a sort of fun, mindless read, especially for girls who want some romance in their books. And if you read it, you will find out what a quahog is!
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Of the five Maud Hart Lovelace nominated books I read this week, this is definitely the best. At it's heart it's a story about a kid who must decide whether or not to tell the truth, when to do so will change the lives of his friends and family forever. Brady lives in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay and he has spent his life on boats exploring the waters of the bay. One day a kayak sinks and a four-year-old boy is killed. Brady tries to save his life, but it is no use. Later Brady finds out the disturbing truth about the kayaking "accident." If I say any more it will ruin the story. Brady is a good character—he's a believable 14-year-old making the toughest decision of his life. I appreciate that the author gives the story a full conclusion and doesn't make us wonder what happens in the end to Brady and his two best friends. I think this book will be enjoyed by lots of middle schoolers this year.
Here's one more Maud Hart Lovelace nominated book that I read last week. I'm kind of mixed on this one—I don't think it's a great book, but I was personally interested in the Appalachian Trail setting. Dani is only 12 but she has big plans. She runs away from home with the intention of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's running away for a reason—her family has fallen apart ever since the death of her older brother, who had muscular dystrophy. She also has a reason to run to the Appalachian Trail. It's where her parents met and she has heard about it all of her life. Dani's mother finds her on the trail right away, and the two end up hiking for a couple of months together. It's a time for both of them to face the past and to get ready for the future. It is a pretty predictable story about growing up and moving on, but the author made it interesting by weaving numerous details about the trail and its traditions. I would recommend this book for sixth grade readers, especially kids with an interest in the outdoors.
I have read five Maud Hart Lovelace Award nominees in the last week and so far this is the one I think my students will like the best. It's short and simple, but has an emotional impact that will resonate with middle schoolers. The setting is a Los Angeles high school where the students come from a variety of neighborhoods—some safe and some not. Emako Blue is the name of a girl--she's beautiful and talented, and everyone knows she will get out of the ghetto where she lives and make it big someday. Tragically, Emako is killed, and this book tells her story from the perspective of her best friend Monterey, a guy named Jamal who tried to be her boyfriend, a girl named Savannah who never liked her, and a guy named Eddie who was her friend. It's a sad story, but it will capture the interest of readers who might also learn what life is like for innocent teens living in South Central Los Angeles. This is a good one for reluctant readers.
Unfortunately, this is another Maud Hart Lovelace nominee that I am not all that excited about. It had some good qualities, and maybe some readers will enjoy it, but with so many outstanding books written for kids I have no idea how this book was chosen. The main character, Logan Moore, is something of a screw-up. He has a rotten stepfather, but he can't blame all his problems on that. The only thing he's really good at is training his new stray dog named Jack. However, it's not a good time to love a dog because a disease epidemic is being spread by dogs in the western U.S. and people are being ordered to kill their dogs to stop the human deaths that are occurring. Anyway, Logan runs away from boot camp (his stepfather forced him to go), meets up with his dog, and tries to save her life. My main problem with this book was that I didn't particularly like Logan. He was kind of a jerk, and he seemed immature and unrealistic for a character who was supposed to be starting high school soon. I guess this book is there for the dog lovers of the world, but beware--bad things happen to dogs in this story!
I will list the good qualities of this book first. It is set in Minnesota, around the year 1900, and the setting is a logging camp in the northern part of the state. Obviously the author did a lot of research on that era in history and filled the book with many details, including a lot of slang used by the loggers. I believe the descriptions of the camps and the jobs that were done are probably quite accurate. So I did learn something about that time in history. That's the good part. The bad part is that the book has no plot, and to me it seemed like an excuse to string together some charming, funny episodes in the lives of loggers. But that wasn't enough to make a good book for me. I didn't hate it, but I definitely didn't think it was a good enough book to make the Maud Hart Lovelace booklist, even though it was set in our state. I will be curious to see how kids respond to it this year since many of them will be reading it. Maybe they will prove me wrong.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I have high praise for this book because it made me run 6 miles. I listened to it on my iPod shuffle, which I only listen to while exercising, and it is only a really good book that gets me going for more than 4 miles. It had been a year since I read Dairy Queen, and this book brought back all the excitement I first felt about that book. D.J. Schwenk is rare book character—she's an athletic, dairy farming teenager with an uncommunicative family and a cool potential boyfriend. She doesn't really have anything in common with me, but Catherine Murdock gets into her head and heart and makes me care so much about her that I feel like I am her while I'm reading this book. I don't really want to give away the plot. In Dairy Queen D.J. decided to go out for her high school football team, and in the beginning she is doing just that. But a lot of changes happen in the fall that change things completely for D.J. There's humor (she's accidentally written up in People Magazine), tons of sports (football and basketball), friendship (her friend Amber has a new partner and they are friends again), romance (making out but not going out with Brian), and family (the Schwenk brothers are a big part of this book). I don't want to bore you here, just read this book. I know adults and kids of both genders who loved Dairy Queen and who will want to follow along as D.J. takes some big leaps forward in her life. As I said, this is for everyone, but is absolutely required reading for girls who are into sports. Don't miss it.
I thought I was being extremely cutting-edge reading this book. While I was in England I had an e-mail from friends telling about the "new Harry Potter" which was discovered by the same man who found J.K. Rowling. It will be published in February 2008 in the U.S., but is already out in paperback in the U.K. So I bought a copy and tried to read it on the plane. One week later I have finally finished it. I didn't really like it. It is kind of cool that the main character, Will, follows his father into a complex underground world with evil guards (called the Styx), strange technology and torture methods, and a sort of bizarro family, but there was nothing else to make me want to keep reading. I need characters to care about and I didn't find them here. I found Will to be uninteresting—he's an outcast because he is albino, and his only friend is fellow outcast Chester who is big and fat. Chester is no Ron Weasley, that's for sure. Will didn't have much of a relationship with anyone in his family, even his dad, who is really his only hope since his mom and sister are pretty worthless. So this book needed incredible action to keep my attention (I love Alex Rider, after all, and there aren't deep characters there). And the action didn't do it for me. The underground "colony" is deeply evil and there is no humor to cushion the tragedies that occur. Another problem is that the ending is unresolved—just a gateway to a sequel. I will be very interested to see if this makes a big splash in the U.S. I believe the authors received a huge advance for this book. I will also be interested in how they change it for U.S. readers—it's very British in ways that I think will have to be changed for American kids to follow along. I am predicting that this book will be heavily revised or that it will fail big time. For better underground worlds, read City of Ember or Downsiders, or Gregor the Overlander.
Monday, July 09, 2007
This book was supposedly written for young adults, but I would argue that it is really a book for people of all ages, especially for adults. It's definitely not aimed at middle school students even though the main character, Leisel Meminger, is of that age. It's an amazing, moving, wonderful book that gets more and more engrossing the more you read. Zusak chose to write about the Holocaust from the perspective of death, who isn't an evil character, he's just the one who is there to take people's souls away. Of course, death was very busy during World War II, but several times he noticed young Leisel Meminger, and he became fascinated with her story. Leisel, who is the book thief, is a German foster child in a poor family on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany. She has been given up by her mother and seen her brother die before her eyes. Her foster father, Hans Huberman, is goodness personified. Her foster mother, Rosa Huberman, is a stout, foul-mouthed, scowling woman with a great capacity to love. And her best friend Rudy Steiner is an indescribable companion whose goal in life is to be kissed by Leisel Meminger. Much tragedy befalls Leisel's family, but we get glimpses of their heroic kindness as they hide a Jew in their basement. Death is a cryptic, poetic, challenging narrator. I found myself reading and re-reading sentences to enjoy the images and the way the words were put together. Most of all I was moved by the humanity that death found on Himmel Street. It is a book that makes you cry at the evil in the world and also at the beauty that can live within the darkest circumstances. Recommended for mature teens and all adults.
It seems like I hear about new Holocaust books every day, but I'm not always motivated to read them because it's such a painful topic. Last year I skimmed this book and realized how good it was and we made it an option for our sixth grade historical fiction unit. This summer I listened to it on CD and it is incredible. It is classified as a fiction book, but it is based entirely on the author's aunt's experiences in the Lodz Ghetto during World War II. Syvia was four when her family was forced into the ghetto and almost 10 when the entire family was liberated. All of her childhood memories are of that ghetto where they suffered from hunger, cruelty, and overwhelming fear of being sent to death camps. The Nazis removed all children from the ghetto (telling parents they were saving them when they were really killing them). Syvia's father dug a grave for them and they hid in the cemetery. After the children were gone Syvia had to be in hiding from everyone. The book is very easy to read. It's told in verse form that is almost like poetry, but more like the thoughts and experiences of a young girl. I was horrified once again by what Hitler did to innocent human beings, and I stand in admiration of Syvia's family and how they survived. Recommended for readers of all ages.
This is a fun, funny romance that takes place at a special school that trains girls (who happen to be geniuses) to be spies and CIA agents. Cammie is an excellent student--she studies 14 languages, data encryption, and covert operations, but she's never lived out in the "real world." During a CovOps class outing she speaks with an attractive boy (against the rules!) and a romance begins, aided by her best friends Bex and Liz. The book is her Covert Operations Report that summarizes her semester and all the problems that arise as she tries to date Josh but not let him know she's a Gallagher Girl. There's not a lot of spy action (i.e. not for fans of Alex Rider), but there's lots of fun in a more chick lit kind of way. I already have an advance copy of the sequel that comes out in the fall of 2007 (Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy), so ask me if you want to read it early.
I have recommended this book to lots of boys who wanted to read about war, but I confess I had never read it myself. I actually listened to it on my iPod, which wasn't so great—somehow the horrors of the Vietnam war didn't go well with running around the lakes in the summer. But, it is every bit as good as I thought it would be, especially for readers who want to know what it was really like to be a soldier in Vietnam. Richie Perry, the narrator, is a smart African-American teenager who doesn't see a way to go to college, so he signs up to go to Vietnam. The dialogue between Richie and his comrades is vivid and realistic—Walter Dean Myers really has a knack for making characters come to life. He also has all the details of Vietnam embedded into the story—the jargon the soldiers used, the foods they ate, the routine of daily life (boring) contrasted with the horrors of going out on a mission. Of course, there is violence and colorful language, it couldn't be war without those elements. Other Vietnam War fiction books you might like are Cracker by Cynthia Kahodahata and Search and Destroy by Dean Hughes. Highly recommended for mature middle school readers interested in history or war.