Friday, December 31, 2010

Bait, Alex Sanchez

Title:  Bait
Author:  Alex Sanchez
Publlisher:Simon and Shuster Children's Publishing
Year: 2009
Pages:  239
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  7th Grade and Up

Diego MacMann is in trouble. At 16, he faces juvenile court, charged with assault. He just can't control his fists, especially when he feels that his masculinity is threatened. Anger-management classes have failed, and now this earnest young man teeters between self-loathing and defensive pride. Hope comes unexpectedly when he establishes a bond with Mr. Vidas. The probation officer asks questions that challenge Diego to examine his motivations and his emotional life. How does he feel about his absent birth father? The stepfather who committed suicide? The gay student who looked at him that way just before Diego punched him out? The third-person narrative keeps readers one step ahead of Diego as he unravels the effects of abandonment, poverty, and sexual abuse on himself and his struggling family. (from Amazon)

One of the things that I like best about Alex Sanchez as an author is that he shows such a clear sense of the issues teenagers deal with on the journey from childhood to adulthood.  As someone who works with teenagers as a youth advisor, Sanchez's characters and situations feel authentic in a way that some young adult authors can't seem to manage.  I also respect the fact that when he takes on an issue, whether it is the experiences of gay youth, or, in Bait, the devastating results of childhood sexual abuse,  he provides the reader not just with all the gory details, but with moments of transcendence and redemption that take the story from sensationalized stereotype toa deeply moving snapshot of the human experience.  Unlike many books on sexual abuse, Bait does not focus on the act of telling the truth as its culminating event, but on the difficult process of dealing with the emotions and patterns of behavior left in the wake of such violence.  There are no platitudes in this novel.  All along the way Sanchez shows how incredibly difficult the journey back to wholeness is for children who have been broken in this way.  But in Mr. Vidas, Diego's probation officer, Sanchez created the perfect model of what a supportive adult looks like.  And while most of the other adults in Diego's life let him down one way or another, you can't help but hope that all of the Diegos in the world will find their own Mr. Vidas.

Teaching Resources:
Alex Sanchez's Website 
Teenreads Author Profile 
Dunebrook Lesson Plan in Child Abuse 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title:  Chains
Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Antheum
Pages:  320
Year:  2008
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Age Level:  6th Grade-10th Grade

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.(from Goodreads)

Laurie Halse Anderson does an excellent job in Chains painting a picture of just what freedom means, to a country and to an individual.  Perhaps there are other novels that combine the issues of slavery with Revolutionary War history, but if there are I doubt they do it as deftly as Anderson does.  Isabel's story provides a depth to the story of the start of the Revolutionary War that few other books, with their focus on the Patriots as good guys and British as bad guys, achieve.  Told from the slaves' perspective, the fact becomes clear that what "liberty" and "freedom" meant to the Patriots was not something that was extended to women, or to Africans.  In Madam Lockton, Anderson creates a truly despicable villian, and her malice towards Isabel creates a tension and suspense that makes the novel fly.  This is a great read for students studying the American Revolution-as a companion to non-fiction texts on that period in history I can see it leading to many interesting discussions with students.

Teaching Resources:
E-Notes for Chains 
Simon and Shuster Reading Guide 
Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson-ReadWriteThink  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper

Title:  Out of My Mind
Author:  Sharon Draper
Publisher:  Atheneum
Pages:  295
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  5th-8th Grade

Melody is 11 years old, and she has never said a word.  Born with cerebral palsy that has left her unable to walk, speak, or control her limbs, she has lived her entire life unable to communicate with her parents or teachers.  But that doesn't mean that she doesn't have plenty to say.  Her physical limitations hide mind with a photographic memory, the mind of an extremely smart girl frustrated by people's perceptions of her as retarded.  Finally, in fifth grade, she gets a classroom aide who sees past her disability, and together they get her the technology she needs to communicate.  To everyone's surprise but her own, Melody qualifies for her school's academic bowl team.  But what should feel like the answer to all of her prayers for recognition and acceptance is just the start of the battle to show the world who she is inside.

This book was recommended to me by a very dear friend with excellent taste in young adult literature, so it is no real surprise to me that I enjoyed this book.  But really, enjoyment does not begin to describe how I feel about this book.  As a special educator, I have constantly fought to get my students recognized for what they can do, rather than always focusing on what they can't.  Melody's story is like the fulfillment of every dream I have ever had for my students.

I literally read this book in one sitting.  As Melody described her challenges, I felt her frustration.  When she described her family, it was with a clear understanding that they were flawed, but doing the best they could.  When her mother tells off the doctors and teachers who underestimate Melody, I cheered, even though she herself underestimated her brilliant daughter.  When Melody "speaks" to her parents for the first time, I cried.  And when she in confronted by students and teachers at school who see only her physical limitations, I had a sudden urge to punch something.  

This is no after-school special, however.  There is no heart-warming moment where suddenly everyone has an epiphany about how special Melody is.  The kids don't suddenly start inviting her to sleep-overs or making play dates.  Things do not turn out perfectly for Melody, but that is part of what makes this book so powerful.  It is about more than just gaining the acceptance of others-it is about learning to accept yourself.  Part of the lesson that Melody has to learn is how to deal with her loneliness and frustration, and not let it turn into self-pity and self-loathing.  Draper's portrayal of Melody and her experiences feels all the more authentic for not turning out picture perfect.  And all children, regardless of the challenges they face in their lives, need to see that failure, or exclusion, does not have to mean the end of your hopes and dreams.

Teaching Resources:
Sharon M. Draper's Website 
Lessons on Teaching Acceptance of Disabilities  

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer

Title:  The Mailbox
Author:  Audrey Shafer
Publisher:  Yearling
Pages:  192
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Range:  5th-8th Grade

Gabe is an 11 year old boy who has seen a lot in his short life.  After his mother died when he was two, he was bounced around from foster home to foster home until his Uncle Vernon, a reclusive Viet Nam veteran, was located when he was nine.  Two years later, Gabe comes home from his first day of sixth grade to find his uncle dead.  Wracked with grief and unsure what to do, Gabe does not report the death, and leaves for school the next day as if nothing has happened.  When he returns home at the end of the day, his uncle's body is gone, and there is a mysterious note in the mailbox that says, "I have a secret".  Thus starts a mailbox correspondence between Gabe and the mysterious stranger-and a journey towards finding the one person who needs him as much as he needs them.

I picked up this book on an impulse from the book fair at school, and I am so glad that something told me to check it out.  The story is compelling, and the characters are complex and flawed in a way that just begs discussion.  Uncle Vernon's misanthropic veteran is a gruff old man with many, many scars.  It is fair to say that most of him never came out of the jungle.  Gabe is a confused, frightened boy with scars of his own.  All of the more minor characters are completely believable and well-written. 

This is the first middle grade novel that I have seen that deals with any aspect of the war in Viet Nam, and it does so with a real sense of compassion for the veterans who fought there, while at the same time highlighting how war damages those who participate in it.  Not one of the veterans who is featured in the book has been able to entirely leave the experience behind them-and Uncle Vernon and the mysterious stranger are perhaps more damaged than most.  The book also deals with the foster care system and the effects on children who are bounced around from home to home.  Gabe himself had been through a sort of war before he came to his uncle, and he was also scarred by the experience.  It explains why he told no one about his uncle's death-he did not want to go back to not ever being secure in where he would lay his head that night.   

There is some raw language (though no actual swear words) and mature subject matter in this novel, but the readability is pretty low, so I'd say this book would be good for mature 5th and 6th graders, average middle schoolers, and high schoolers who need high-interest, low readability.

Teacher Resources:

The Mailbox Classroom Guide

William Allen White Book Awards Discussion Guides

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Boy Who Dared, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Title:  The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Hitler Youth
Author:  Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Publisher:  Scholastic
Pages:  174 plus about 10 pages of photos and a timeline
Genre:  literary non-fiction
Age Range:  6th Grade and Up

The year is 1933, and the world is in the grip of the Great Depression.  Germany is especially hard hit, after paying reparations to the rest of Europe after World War I.  Helmuth Hubener is a German schoolboy, playing with toy soldiers on the floor of his small Hamburg apartment, while outside brown shirted men in jackboots have parades in support of their new chancellor, Adolf Hitler.  At first Helmuth is taken in by the shiny uniforms and nationalist pride-until his Jeweish neighbors' shops are burned, and more and more freedoms are curtailed for everyone.  Forced to join the Hitler Youth, he grows more and more angry, until one fateful decision leads to his imprisonment and execution.

Even though this is billed as a novel, I am going to call it literary non-fiction.  It reads more like a biography than a novel, and while I'm sure some of the events are completely made-up, there is enough non-fiction here that I am not comfortable calling it fiction.

This book is sparsely written, at times almost too sparsely.  Yet Bartoletti does a good job of setting the mood of Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s.  Without going into too much technical detail, Bartoletti lays out some of the reasons that the Germans turned to Hitler in the first place.  She also shows how the media can be used to incite fear and manipulate people into doing things that go against their nature. The characters are portrayed thoughtfully, with care given not to stereotype.  When Helmuth rejects the Nazis at first, it is just as much because of his dislike of his stepfather as it is about being uncomfortable with the Nazi's restrictive laws.  So often in Holocaust literature the German people are shown to be either indifferent to or in favor of the racism and hatred spread by the Nazi's.  This book shows that some people did try to stand up, and that not every German was in love with Hitler.  Helmuth's character is influenced strongly by his brother Gerhard, who is a voice of reason during Helmuth's teenage years.  Gerhard, however, counsels following Hitler's laws in order to be a patriot (and good Mormon).  In the end Helmuth cannot.

This book would make a good companion book to Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.  While most Holocaust fiction focuses on the events around the Jewish internment in concentration camps (and rightly so), there is a place in young adult literature for stories of the ordinary Germans who tried to stand up to the Nazi's.  

Teacher Resources:

Scholastic Discussion Guide 

E-Notes Study Guide 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Title:  Where the Wild Things Are
Author:  Maurice Sendak
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages: 48 
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Group:  K-3rd Grade

Plot Summary:
Max is a very naughty boy who makes mischief in his wolf costume.  When his mother calls him a wild thing, he says he is going to eat her up, and gets sent to bed without supper.  In his room, he imagines an incredible journey to the land where the wild things are.

I realize that this book is probably not new to anyone reading children's book blogs, but with the movie that came out last year and the season, I thought it was time to pull it out and use it in the classroom.

This book is just charming, from beginning to end.  It is old enough now that some of the langauge is starting to sound quaint rather that realistic, but Sendak did such a good job creating the atmosphere of the book that even the words that are not  familiar to students (mischief, gnashing, rumpus) don't take away from the sense of fun and adventure.  My students love Max, and they are inspired to use their own imagination from seeing him use his.

Teacher Resources:
 Because I teach in a school where we are not allowed to celebrate Halloween with the students, I have to be creative when it comes to honoring the spirit of the season for my non-fundamentalist kids, and respecting the wishes of the non-celebrating families.  I'm doing a monsters theme right now, but none of the books are specifically Halloween stories, nor do they contain spells or witchcraft of any kind.  Where the Wild Things Are is my whole-group text for this unit.  Below I'll list some of the activities that I am doing with it. 

  • Vocabulary-I've been modeling reciprocal teaching a lot this fall, and my students are almost ready to go it alone.  For this book, I read the book aloud, and they concentrated on Clarifying, one of the steps in reciprocal teaching.  They were to write down words or phrases that were confusing to them.  As we read, if we got to a word that I knew was unfamiliar to most of the class, I would do a think aloud to model thinking about the word, and how to complete their Clarify box on their reciprocal teaching sheet.  That is where the words mentioned above-mischief, gnashed, and rumpus-came from.  We discussed the words and their meaning as part of our after-reading activity.
  • Sequencing-I created a list of ten events from the story that are discreet enough for a sequencing activity and put them on notecards.  I then copied the pages of the book that show those events, minus any text.  The students will get into cooperative groups, decide what order the events belong in, and glue the picture and events in order on a long piece of bulletin board paper.
  • Guided Drawing-My students often have fine motor and concept development deficits, so I like to do guided drawing activities with them so they can see how more complex pictures are made using simpler shapes.  I do a step-by-step drawing demonstration, with the students copying each step as I complete it, and in the end we will all have a picture of one of the wild things!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shredderman: Secret Identity, by Wendelin Van Draanen

Title:  Shredderman:  Secret Identity
Author:  Wendelin Van Draanen
Publisher:  Random House
Pages:  144
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Group:  3rd-6th Grade

Plot Summary:
Nolan is the school nerd-at least according to bully Bubba Bixby.  No matter how many times Nolan tells his teachers and parents about the mean things Bubba does, they never catch him in the act.  So when Nolan's teacher Mr. Green assigns a newspaper project in class, Nolan knows just what he wants to do-an investigative report on Bubba, proving once and for all what a bully he truly is.  But how to do his assignment without getting pounded?  Well, he needs a secret identity, of course, and, a website devoted to all things Bubba, is born.  But will it help bring truth and justice back to Nolan's life?

This is the first in a series of four books by Van Draanen telling the story of Nolan and Bubba.  It is charming.  As a teacher, I've known a few Nolan's in my time-smart, socially awkward, unassertive.  I have never known one to solve their problem in such a creative way as Nolan, however.  Once he makes the decision to catch Bubba in the act with his secret camera, he begins to change from the scared, meek computer nerd into a more confident, assertive young man.  Nolan's message is that if he had a superhero trapped inside of him (his superpower-using his noggin!) then so do you, third through sixth grade reader.

I use this as a read aloud, and this year my students are eating it up!  They have already asked me to read the second book, Shredderman:  Attack of the Tagger as soon as we finish Secret Identity.  I consider this high praise, given that I have read very few series books over the years where the students were clamoring for more-Series of Unfortunate Events being the exception.  My boys especially really get into Nolan/Shredderman, and given some of the recent talk about the reading crisis for boys it's always good to have male-centered titles for upper elementary and middle grade readers. 

Teacher Resources: on Random House 

Live Oaks Media Shredderman Activity Guide 


Monday, September 6, 2010

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind, by Judy Fincher

Title:  Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind
Author:  Judy Finchler
Publisher:  Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages:  32
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  2nd-4th Grade

Plot Summary:(from Goodreads)

Miss Malarkey can make a reader out of anyone.

Principal Wiggins promises to dye his hair purple and sleep on the school roof if the students read 1,000 books this year. Miss Malarkey is determined to find the right book for each student so they’ll participate in the school program, and learn to love reading. She’s got a tough audience — video game fanatics, artists, sports lovers — nonreaders all. But she won’t give up until Principal Wiggins can flip his purple wig. 

If you are looking for a good back-to-school book to read with your class, add Miss Malarkey to your list. This picture book, suitable as a read aloud for ages seven through ten, is sure to please both students and teacher.  This year I used this book to introduce how to find a just right book with my students.  They are all reluctant readers, and they could appreciate the narrator's trouble finding a book that held his interest.  This book also pokes slight fun at the "No Child Left Behind" law, by turning something that causes a lot of stress for teachers and students alike into something fun and funny.  I especially like that this book makes a point of addressing what so many children seem to believe-that it's not cool to like reading.  The narrator thinks that he and his friends are all on the same page when it comes to what they would rather do-play video games.  But when his friends start discussing the books they are reading instead of shooting monsters, he realizes that not reading makes him the odd man out.

Teacher Resources:
Books by the Month Idea   

Author Information from Bloomsbury Kids 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

At last the wait is over!  Wednesday evening, I came home from class to find my copy of Mockingjay waiting for me in the mail. 

In case you have been living under a rock when it comes to the latest in young adult literature, Mockingjay is the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I reviewed the first two books in the series, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire here.  The trilogy tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old living in District 12 of Panem-what was once the United States.  Her life, and the lives of everyone in the districts, is closely controlled by the Capitol.  The populace is left half-starved and completely oppressed.  Once a year, just to prove how powerful it is, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games, in which teen-age tributes fight to the death to earn their districts extra food for the year.  The event is televised all through Panem, and is required watching.  When Katniss, who volunteers to be a tribute to save her younger sister, finds a way to outsmart the system, she becomes a threat to the Capitol, and sets in motion a chain of events that leads to an uprising.

(If you have not yet read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and want to, I suggest you stop reading now, as I cannot guarantee there will be no spoilers in the following review.  You have been warned!)

This is where Mockingjay picks up.  While Katniss deals with the physical and emotional aftermath of her time in the games, the rebels try to groom her to be their symbol-the mockingjay, which has come to mean freedom to the people of Panem.  Katniss is ambivalent about being used by the rebels, and is desperately worried about Peeta, the second tribute from District 12, who was captured at the end of the Hunger Game in Catching Fire.  Finally, her desire for revenge against the cruel President Snow causes her to throw in the with rebels.  With her best friend Gale by her side, she tries to outsmart the Capitol-and the rebels-in order to avenge the brutalities visited on her, her family and friends, and her district, and maybe just free Panem from tyranny while she's at it.

That summary feels pretty weak, but I am afraid that saying too much will ruin something for someone, so it'll have to do.  Because the fact is, if you know too much about the events of the book prior to reading, there is no way that the story can pack the same emotional wallop that it does on a cold read.  I was wrung out after finishing-in a good way, if there is such a thing.  Granted, I pretty much read it all in one sitting, but I don't know how I could have put it down.  And I am not really going to go into the state of the Peeta/Katniss/Gale triangle.  That, too me, is the least that this series has to offer.  Suffice it to say that regardless of what "team" you are one (and could we stop making everything about teams, like it's the Superbowl or something!), you will find very few happy endings in Mockingjay.

What made this book feel different for me than other books with similar topics is the way that the horrors of war are portrayed.  There is no sentimentality here.  All of the characters, but Katniss, Gale, and Peeta especially, are horribly damaged by the war-body, mind, and spirit.  Collins does not try to sugarcoat the effects of war on human beings.  People go crazy, people are wounded, people die.  For periods of the book some of the characters are basically living on anti-depressants and other psychiatric drugs.  I don't see how anyone reading this book could possibly believe that war is somehow glamorous, as some books/movies seem to imply.  Despite the horror and pain, Katniss and the others somehow manage to keep going-a greater testament to the human spirit than the glorified warriors of other novels, I think.

I also liked the theme of media manipulation.  Both the Capitol and the rebels use propaganda films to sway the populace.  There is a certain amount of "wagging the dog", and ultimately the novel shows how almost anything can be spun to prove almost anything.  I think that is not so different than what happens in today's media.  Just think about a political campaign.  There is so much conflicting information presented in campaign ads, it is impossible for both sides to be telling the truth.  Or think about famous scandals.  A well placed apology or public conversion can change a scoundrel into a repentant saint  we are all too quick to forgive-especially if they shoot a basketball real well or starred in a movie we really liked.  The fact was that no one who wasn't "in on it" had any idea what the true agendas of either the Capitol or the rebels were, including Katniss, who was once again manipulated for someone else's purposes.

I Love Lists!

This list was posted today on The Wormhole.  Since I am a sucker for lists, I just had to pass it along.  Given my new pledge to reconnect with YA literature, I though I should give myself a little test to see how out of the loop I am-I actually don't think I'm doing too bad!  The ones I've read are in red (get it?).

Persnickety Snarks List of Top 100 YA Novels (2010): based on a reader poll conducted for five weeks between April and May 2010. Over 735  respondents shared their top ten YA books from all over the globe; 80% were female.

1. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorceror's) Stone - J.K. Rowling
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Northern Lights (The Golden Compass)- Philip Pullman
6. The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen
7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
8. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
9. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
10. This Lullaby - Sarah Dessen
11. Looking for Alaska - John Green
12. Just Listen - Sarah Dessen
13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
14. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
15. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
16. On the (Jellicoe Road) - Melina Marchetta
17. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
18. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling 
19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
20. Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen
21. Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
22. Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead
23. Graceling - Kristin Cashore
24. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
25. Sloppy Firsts - Megan McCafferty
26. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
27. Alanna: The First Adventure - Tamora Pierce
28. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
29. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
30. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
31. A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray
32. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden
33. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart
34. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
35. The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin
36. Paper Towns - John Green
37. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
38. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
39. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - Betty Smith
40. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
41. Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen
42. The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman 
43. Evernight - Claudia Gray
44. Sabriel - Garth Nix
45. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling
46. Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl 
47. Forever - Judy Blume
48. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith 
49. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine
50. The Princess Diaries - Meg Cabot
51. Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli
52. Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones
53. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
54. Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick 
55. Saving Francesca - Melina Marchetta
56. Second Helpings - Megan McCafferty
57. Dreamland - Sarah Dessen
58. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer
59. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
60. Fire - Kristin Cashore
61. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier
62. Weetzie Bat - Francesca Lia Block
63. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
64. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta
65. How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
66. City of Glass - Cassandra Clare 
67. Keeping the Moon - Sarah Dessen
68. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
69. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging - Louise Rennison
70. If I Stay - Gayle Forman
71. The King of Attolia - Megan Whalen Turner 
72. Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson 
73. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast - Robin McKinley
74. The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley
75. Feed - M.T. Anderson
76. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - Ann Brashares
77. Go Ask Alice - Anonymous 
78. Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr
79. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
80. Someone Like You - Sarah Dessen
81. The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan
82. Jacob Have I Loved - Katherine Paterson
83. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness 
84. Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder
85. Shadow Kiss - Richelle Mead
86. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi
87. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green 
88. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
89. A Ring of Endless Light - Madeleine L'Engle
90. Glass Houses - Rachel Caine
91. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party - M.T. Anderson
92. Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech
93. Whale Talk - Chris Crutcher
94. Perfect Chemistry - Simone Elkeles
95. Going Too Far - Jennifer Echols
96. The Last Song - Nicholas Sparks 
97. Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
98. Hatchet - Gary Paulsen
99. The Pigman - Paul Zindel
100. The Hero and the Crown - Robin McKinley
In case you were counting, that 32% of the list.  And not just the titles that have been around since I was a young adult-I've read some of the newer ones too.  Go me!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Title:  This World We Live In
Author:  Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher:  Harcourt Children's Books
Year:  2010
Pages:  256
Genre:  Science Fiction/Dystopian
Age Level:  7th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
This World We Live In continues the story of two families after a meteor hits the moon, changing its orbit and causing its new gravitational pull to start tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions all over the world.  The narrator of this book is the same as the first book in the trilogy, Life As We Knew It, Miranda.  Her family-her mother, two brothers, and cat-have survived the winter, with the help of the food the government has been delivering to people still living in her area.  Most of the people in their small town have either left or died.  The weather is getting marginally warmer, and the days are longer, if still gray with volcanic ash.  They occasionally have electricity for a few hours at a time.  During one of those days when the electricity is working, something miraculous happens-the doorbell rings.  Standing outside are Miranda's father, step-mother, new baby brother, and a small band of survivors, including a boy about Miranda's age named Alex.  The two groups try to decide how to live on the extremely limited resources they have, and start sending the young people out to scavenge in empty houses for anything usable.  Miranda soon realizes she has feelings for Alex, and when a tornado rips through what is left of their town, she is forced to make a decision that could change all of their lives.

When I read Life As We Knew It, I literally could not put it down.   The story of Miranda's family was fascinating to me.  One of the things I loved about the first book was the way that Pfeffer showed that there would be a slow breaking down of society, and I especially liked that she did not write a story about how suddenly we would all turn into raving lunatics with guns shooting each other over a can of cat food, which is what so many dystopian novels or movies portray.  I personally think that humanity is better than that.

This book was just as gripping, but much less satisfying in the end.  Once again Pfeffer's writing style, and the authenticity of Miranda's character, made me feel like I was reading a real journal by a real person.  Sometimes that format can feel contrived, but not in this case.  I was glad for the addition of new characters-while the first book showed the slow narrowing of their world to just the sunroom and the four of them, this novel highlighted our need to be part of community.  I did not read the second book in the trilogy, The Dead and the Gone, so I'm sure that some of my disappointment is due to not knowing what happened to Alex and his sister Julie before they joined up with Miranda's father and his group.  Because after getting every detail of every day of the beginning of the crisis, things seemed to jump around a lot in the second half of this book.  I couldn't understand why Alex was so insistent not to stay with the group, or why Miranda's step-mother was so attached to Julie.  But that slight dissatisfaction, of my own making, really for not reading the second book, was nothing compared to the end.  I want more!  I want to know where they go and what happens to them!  I searched the internet last night looking for anything that could tell me if this series is going to continue, and given that everything I found-including the author's blog-lists it as a trilogy I guess I'm out of luck. From a teacher's perspective this is not necessarily a bad thing-it can lead to great discussions and writing projects about what becomes of them and America in the future.  But from a reader's point of view-I'll always wonder what became of them.

Teacher Resources:

Official Readers Guide for Trilogy  

This World We Live In Book Trailer 

Interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Title:  Life As We Knew It
Author:  Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher:  Harcourt Children's Books
Year:  2006
Genre:  Science Fiction/Dystopia
Age Level:  6th-12th Grade

Plot Summary:
At the end of her sophomore year in high school, it seemed as though all Miranda's teachers could talk about was the impending collision of a meteor with the moon.  But that event barely registered with Miranda-like most 16 year olds she was more concerned with boys, her friends, and getting her driver's license.  But when the collision occurs, much more powerful than anyone predicted, it causes the moon to go off it's axis.  This in turn causes tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and drastic weather changes.  As the things that Miranda has always taken for granted start to disappear (like electricity, fresh food, and water), she is at turns angry, petulant, and finally resigned to the fact that life as she knew it is over.  But she discovers that she is stronger than she imagined as she discovers what this new life might be about.

My book club decided to read this book, plus In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke, as our August book clib books.  So while most book clubs were probably reading light, beachy reads, we were reading about the end of civilization as we know it-TWICE!  As my best friend said, it sort of made you want to start hording canned food and bottled water by the time you were done.  But both books were so well done that I can't really complain too much about the subject matter.

As the mother of a 16 year old myself I can tell you that Miranda's voice on this book rings completely true.  At times completely self-absorbed, and at others seeming too mature for her age, Miranda deals with the crisis in the context of the things she knows best-her friends, her school, her family.  Like In a Perfect World, this story is really a multi-layered structure.  There is the science fiction story of the crisis and it's aftermath, there is the family drama of Miranda's relationship with her mother and father, who is remarried and not living with them at the time of the meteor collision, and there is a coming-of-age story complete with that make or break moment where Miranda's ability to handle what this new life throws at her leaves her a more mature, wiser person.  Pfeffer handles all of these matters authentically and with style.

One thing that I appreciated about this novel, and the reason that I think you could use it as young as 6th grade, is that rather than show the world descending into violence and madness after the collision, it shows what I consider to be a much more realistic view of the slow disintegration of our societal institutions and culture.  People do not immediately get guns and start shooting each other over a can of tuna-though they do start to gather resources and hide them away.  People are wary of each other, but not hostile for the most part, and that feels more right to me.  Outside of urban areas where violence seems to sprout up for much less reason than food shortages, in the more rural parts of the country where the story is set, I like to believe that in the event of a crisis of this magnitude people would be more likely to try and work together and help each other than lock themselves away and shoot on sight.  Maybe that's just me being overly-optimistic, but that's what I want to believe, and maybe believing will make it true!

Teaching Resources:

Susan Beth Pfeffer Resources 

Scholastic Study Guide

Discussion Guide

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's Time for the Hop!

Welcome Hoppers!  The Friday Book Blogger Hop is a chance for book bloggers to visit new blogs and spread the word about their own.  Hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books.  Visit her blog for rules!

This weeks question-who is your favorite "new-to-you" author?

I have a couple.  One is a new-to-me author, but she's been around a long time, Octavia E.Butler.  She's a black, female, science fiction author, making her rather unique in the science fiction world.  So far I've read and reviewed The Fledgling, Wild Seed, and Mind of My Mind for my adult blog, Book Addict Reviews.

My new favorite young adult author is Alex Sanchez.  I discovered him when I was doing a project on GLBT literature for a class.  I've reviewed his books Rainbow Boys and The God Box.

Thanks for "hopping" by!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Missing, Book One: Found

Title:  The Missing, Book One: Found
Author:  Margaret Peterson Haddix
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster
Year:  2008
Pages:  314
Genre:  Science Fiction
Age Level:  4th-7th Grade

Plot Summary:
One night a mystery plane suddenly appears at a gate at a small airport.  There is no pilot or crew on board, but there are 36 babies.  Fast forward 13 years, and young adoptee Jonah and his new friend Chip start getting letters telling them that they are part of the Missing, and that someone is coming back to get them.   This starts Jonah, his sister Dana, and Chip on an investigation that leads them to a terrifying truth-and to a place that none of them every imagined they'd be.

Haddix's books are always interesting, with twists that I as an adult reader don't always see coming.  Her Shadow Children series remains one of my favorite fantasy series, even compared with adult series.  She does not disappoint with Found.   I'm not giving too much away to say that from the second page, when the plane appears with the words Tachyon Airlines on the tail, I knew we were dealing with a time travel story.  Other than that, I had literally no idea where Jonah, Chip, and the others came from until they explained it at the end.  Do you know how rare that is-that as an adult reader I can't see the plot of a young adult book coming a mile away?  The action is well-paced, and the story is balanced nicely between what Jonah is feeling about events and the events themselves. I'm curious to see how the rest of the series plays out, since I'm not entirely sure where she's going with it at the moment-which is also a rare gift. 

Teacher Resources:
This book has great opportunities for discussion-about adoption, or time travel.  Students could research the historical figures mentioned in the book, as well.  Below are a few sites I found with activities for this book.

Wild Geese Guides: Found 

Elementary Library Ideas

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I had a successful week in both the Young Adult and Adult genres!  It finally feels like summer to me-I have no real responsibility for anything other than making sure the grass doesn't completely cover my house and perhaps making a meal or two for a couple of weeks.  I'm making a serious dent in my quest to read 100+ books this year!  Here's what I read this week!

The Missing, Book One:  Found, Margaret Peterson Haddix
(Review Coming Soon on Second Childhood Reviews)

Here's what I have on tap for this week:

Shutter Island, Dennis Lahane
Bait, by Alex Sanchez (YA)
Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA)
The Battle of Jericho, Sharon M. Draper (YA)
The Law of Similars, Chris Bojalian
In a Perfect World, Laura Kasischke
I hope everyone has a great week!  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Title: Ten Things I Hate About Me
Author:  Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher:  Orchard Books
Pages:  304
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  7th-10th Grade

Plot Summary:
Jamie is a 10th grader at a high school in Sydney, Australia.  Like most high schoolers, she has the usual worries about boys and grades and being popular.  Unlike most teenagers, she is also hiding a secret.  For as long as she can remember, Jamie has hidden the fact that she is a Lebanese Muslim. Her real name is Jamilah, and she is afraid that if everyone at school knows that she is really a "leb" or "wog", as they call the Muslims in their community, her friendships and relationship prospects will be over.  In the years following 9-11, it seems to Jamie that everywhere she goes she hears negative stereotypes about Muslims, and she experiences racism herself.  Thing is, she loves being a Muslim, and is proud of her cultural heritage, even if it causes her father to be overprotective to the point of paranoia!  When she makes an online friend named John, she unburdens herself, and shares all of her worries about her friends finding out her embarrassing truth.  In the end, she has to make a choice-is it Jamie or Jamilah that she wants to be?

This book intrigued me because I could not remember reading anything like it before-the story of a Muslim dealing with the aftermath of the racial backlash after 9-11.  I didn't realize at the time that the story was set in Australia, but that just made it more interesting to me.  The fact that 9-11 had such a global impact was not news to me, but this was the first time I felt like I got a glimpse into how people in other countries reacted  not just immediately after the event, but even years later.  

I think that the story of Jamie/Jamilah is one that is at once uniquely Muslim and at the same time universal.  I mean, we all deal with identity issues throughout our lives, but especially during adolescence.     Each of us has something that makes us different, or at least that's how we feel.  What makes the story uniquely Muslim is the fact that it is Jamilah's ethnic, cultural, and religious identity that is what makes her different.  Most of us don't have to deal with being a religious/ethnic minority in addition to the other trials of adolescence, and most of us do not have to carry the baggage of Islamic fundamentalism as we move through life.  Even with this fairly weighty subject matter, the book is easy to read, and the story is not preachy or too angsty.  Jamie/Jamilah is an engaging character with a good sense of humor.  The insights into her life as a Lebanese-Muslim are interesting, and show a culture rich in family tradition and love.  Jamilah's over-protective dad is not portrayed as some woman-hating fundamentalist, but his character does provide insight into the clash of cultures that are inevitable when people emigrate to places with such different values.  All in all, I think that the writing is excellent, and I would recommend this book to anyone looking to understand Muslim culture, or any teen working through their own identity issues.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Book Blogger Hop

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new book-related blogs that we may be missing out on!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!  
The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 200 links every week!! 
To add your own link, go to Crazy-for-Books


I just finished Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah (which I will review soon!).  I'm reading Duma Key by Stephen King for my adult read (you can see my other adult reads at Book Addict Reviews).  I'm going to start Found, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  I loved her Shadow Children series, and a good friend of mine has been telling me for a while to read this new series.  But that was before I rededicated myself to reading children's and young adult lit again.  Now I'm ready!  I am also almost finished the the audiobook of Kissing Kate, by Lauren Myracle.  It's the story of Lissa and Kate, best friends who's friendship is put to the test when Kate gets drunk and kisses Lissa (and I mean kisses Lissa!) at a party.  That act forces both girls to try to come to terms with their feelings for each other, their feelings (or lack thereof) for boys in general, and what this will mean for their friendship and future.  It's OK so far-I'm not liking it as much as some of the other GLBT books I've read recently, but it's helped me get through a couple of long car rides, so I suppose it's served its purpose.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There's a Bird on Your Head, by Mo Willems

Title:  There's a Bird on Your Head
Author:  Mo Willems
Publisher:  Hyperion Books for Children
Year: 2007
Pages: 64
Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Age Level:  Pre-K to 2nd Grade

Plot Summary:
Piggie is an optimist, Gerald the Elephant is a pessimist.  Piggie finds the humor in a situation, Gerald the Elephant worries people will laugh at him.  These two friends couldn't be more different, but they seem to compliment each other perfectly.  When Piggie tells Gerals that he has a bird on his head, he runs away screaming, and the funny begins.  While Piggie keeps Gerald updates about the bird, they try to figure out what to do.  Turns out the only thing worse than having one bird on your head is having two!

As with all of Mo Willem's books, I was completely charmed by this story!  Piggie and Gerald are good friendship models, and the way that they are drawn is so simple yet completely unique and wonderful.  Willems does a great job showing emotion in his characters through a simple eyebrow angle or mouth movement.  Children who enjoyed having the Pigeon books read to them will really like being able to read this to themselves.  There are several other Piggie and Elephant books in the series, which is good because the repetitive, patterned nature of the text provides great scaffolding for early readers.  There is also a recognition on the part of the author that adults will be reading this book as well, and he throws in a little bit of humor especially aimed adults reading with their kids.

Teaching Resources: 
This book is a good fluency builder for early readers, and it is entertaining to boot, unlike some early reader books that have contrived stories built around sight words or word families.  The format of the book, written in a statement/question/statement pattern is good for teaching early readers about the meaning of punctuation.  Below I've listed some teacher resources from the web.

Elephant and Piggie Event Kit from Mo Willem's Site 

Mo Willems Author Study

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Title:  Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Author:  Rick Riordan
Publisher:  Disney Hyperion
Year:  2006
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Age Level:  4th-8th Grade

Plot Summary:
Let's see if this sounds familiar to you.  A young boy living in a terrible family situation learns that he has special powers when someone comes to take him away to a place where he will learn about his powers with other special children.  While there he discovers that someone very powerful wants to kill him, and the only way that he can survive is to go on a quest to find a magical object.  With him on his quest is an awkward, bumbling boy and a super smart girl.  If you think I'm describing Harry Potter, you are right!  But I am also describing the basic plot of The Lightning Thief.  Percy discovers that he is the son of the god Poseidon, making him a demi-god.  He goes to the camp at Half-Blood Hill to learn about his powers, where monsters try to kill him.  Seems that the gods think that he has stolen Zeus' lighting bolt, the most powerful weapon in the universe.  In order to save himself and stop a war between the gods, he must go down to Hades itself to retrieve the weapon and save the day. 

I found it pretty funny that the director of the movie version of this book was the same man who directed the first Harry Potter movie.  I know that Riordan has stated in interviews that this novel started out as a bedtime story for his son with ADHD, but the parallels are just too close to be completely coincidental.  I'm not saying that Riordan plagarized-this is a new take on a "classic" tale.  Trouble is that the "classic" tale of Harry Potter is a little too new for me (and other's, I'm sure) not to make some comparisons.  Riordan is not the first author to make a clone of a successful series, of course.  The number of Twilight clones out there in the young adult world boggles the mind.  Unfortunately the basic plot is so closely related to Harry Potter that it distracted me from the story.

That said, lots of kids LOVE this series, and I can understand why.  I may have been distracted by the similarities to a certain young wizard with a lightning-shaped scar (seriously, lightning), but I still enjoyed this romp through Greek mythology.  Riordan does an excellent job of balancing exposition with action, creating a novel that is by turns exciting and thought-provoking.  Percy is a very likable character, and as a special education teacher I appreciated that they took his dyslexia and gave it a purposeful explanation.  Fully getting into this story did require a certain amount of knowledge of Greek gods and goddesses, but having loved those stories as a child myself I had no problem following the many characters, both central and tangential to the main plot.  In fact, the mythological aspect of the book is what saved it for me, turning it into something that I could see using in the classroom much easier than the much-challenged Potter series.  This novel provides readers with a jumping off point for learning more about the ancient stories of mighty gods and the heroes of a distant age.  I suppose that explaining the many instances of rape and incest in the original Greek myths would be problematic, but from a very shallow perspective there are many opportunities to get kids engaged with some of the oldest stories in Western civilization.

Teacher Resources: 
The Lightning Thief Lesson Plans 

Discussion Guide from Scholastic

The Lightning Thief: Teacher's Guide