Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Addie's life is just not right. She lives with her mom in a tiny trailer by the railroad tracks while her beloved stepfather and half sisters are living several hours away. Her mom isn't physically abusive, but she frequently leaves Addie alone in the trailer for longer and longer periods of time. Addie makes friends with Elliott and Sula who work at a nearby gas station and they become important to her and they are there when her mother is not. Addie just wants a "normal" life but doesn't see a way to change the way things are. This is a gentle book with a character with whom you can empathize. It has some sadness, but ultimately is hopeful and heartwarming. A good choice for 4th-6th graders.
Do you like reading about what people's lives were really like? Do you want to know what Abraham and Mary Lincoln were like as human beings? Do you wonder how they treated their kids, how they treated each other, and what other people thought of them? The detail about the Lincolns in their public and personal lives is what makes this book fascinating. Every page is stuffed with photos and captions and text about every imaginable aspect of the Lincoln's lives and relationships. It's much more than a scrapbook, however. Fleming did a huge amount of research and arranged information into short, readable segments that could be browsed or read straight through. Abraham and Mary were both complex people. Mary's behavior, especially, is puzzling, but she was certainly not the lunatic that some believed she was. And it's hard to imagine a person sacrificing more of himself for what he believed in than did Abraham Lincoln. It's a nice complement to Lincoln through the Lens, which has less of the nosy details of life but has photographs and insights of its own. If you like this style, read Our Eleanor, also by Candace Fleming. It's fabulous.
I thought I knew some things about Abraham Lincoln, but I have learned a lot more after reading a couple of new and outstanding nonfiction books. This one focuses on the role photography played in Lincoln's life and it includes many large, well-captioned photos to go along with the clear, concise text. The focus on photography is the author's slant, but Lincoln's whole life is covered in this gorgeous book. Each two-page spread deals with a portion of Lincoln's life in words, photographs, and includes a relevant quotation from Lincoln, so it's a book that's easily browsed. However, if you want to really understand Lincoln through his photos, read the whole book. I would not be surprised to see this win the Sibert Award. Highly recommended for readers from 6th grade on up through adulthood.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Author Michael Dahl loves mysteries and has written the fantastic Finnegan Zwake series of middle school mysteries. Curtains! is easier to read, but still includes many clever clues and tricky red herrings, and keeps you guessing up to the end. The mystery takes place at a high school during practices for the musical. First a heavy stage light falls to the ground, almost hitting and killing the director. Next a wall falls on one of the student actors, and then another actor's costumes are destroyed. Clearly someone wants to ruin the show. The culprit could be one of many people, and Kyle and Mindy systematically go through the suspect list and look for motives and opportunities. Published by Stone Arch Books, the target market for this title is reluctant readers. However, it would be a shame for this book not to be in the hands of a wider audience of mystery readers. It would be a good choice for elementary or middle school students who like traditional mysteries and it would be a great vehicle for a teacher wanting to teach kids the elements of a mystery. It's also a fun introduction to "The Queen of Crime," Agatha Christie. Keep writing mysteries for middle schoolers, Michael!
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
The editor of this book defines Hip Hop as "poetry with a beat" and this collection has a wide range of poems mainly written by African American poets and writers. Artists range from Queen Latifah, Kanye West, and current rappers to Harlem Renaissance great Langston Hughes. I found it to be a really interesting collection of poems and I enjoyed listening to the accompanying CD which includes a selection of the poems read by the authors and other performers. I think the primary audience of this book will be elementary school teachers who want to pick and choose poems to use in their classrooms. A child who picked up this book thinking it would be all hip hop will be disappointed—it's all rhythmic poetry but much of it is more traditional poetry, some without a strong rhythm or any obvious connection to modern hip hop and rap. Quite a few of the poems are more mature and could be appreciated by older kids and teens, but the cover illustration and many of the illustrations in the book make it appear more juvenile than I think the book really is. Elementary teachers will love "The Rosa Parks" and "from Principal's Office." My personal favorite is "Dat Dere" and I can't get that song from the CD out of my head. School and Public Libraries will want to purchase this, but get it in the hands of teachers so that it gets used and appreciated.
This true story about the horrors of war was not written for teenagers, but it's a story that mature teens could understand and learn from. Ishmael, a 12-year-old boy from Sierra Leone was caught up in a horrible civil war in the 1990s. With his village destroyed and his family missing he tried to escape on foot with some other boys. Average citizens feared groups of boys because they thought they were part of the rebel army. Members of the actual rebel army looked for young boys to force them into serving as soldiers. With no where to go and everyone after him, Ishmael makes it to a village and finds out that his family is alive and nearby. Unfortunately, they are brutally murdered by rebels just before Ishmael arrives in their village. From that point, Ishmael joins the Army and becomes a brutal killer himself. He spends a few years this way before a United Nations group "rescues" him and gets him back on a better track. It's a gripping and heartbreaking story that people should know about so that maybe it will never happen again.