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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hello, Groin, by Beth Goobie

Title:  Hello, Groin
Author:  Beth Goobie
Publisher:  Orca Book Publishers
Year: 2006
Pages: 271
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  8th-12th Grade

Plot Summary:
Dylan just wants to be normal.  She blames her bad hormones for the fact that instead of having sexual feelings for her popular, good-looking boyfriend, she instead has them towards her best friend, Joc.  Dylan tries to be turned on my Cam, but when she kisses a girl impulsively at a school dance she realizes that there is no going back for her.  While Dylan is working out her inner turmoil, she is also working on a book display for her school library.  Everyone thinks that her idea of a male and female cut-out covered in book titles is a great idea-until the principal sees the titles that she chooses to place over the cut-outs' groins.  He orders them removed, and this small act of censorship propels Dylan to develop and articulate her belief that whatever we are in our hearts and minds is also expressed through our sexuality.  It won't be easy, but Dylan knows she has no choice but to be true to herself.

This novel is a frank and honest look at one teen's journey to self-acceptance.  Dylan is not saddled with some of the same prejudices against homosexuality that plague the main characters of other books in this genre.  She even acknowledges and approves of the out lesbians at her school.  But when it comes to herself and her feelings she is ambivalent.  She loves her best friend, Joc, and is worried that her feelings for her will destroy that friendship.  She is concerned that her friends, the popular crowd that admitted her to their ranks as the girlfriend of one of the cutest boys in school, will reject her when they know.  She's worried that her family will feel differently about her.  Goobie does a good job of describing Dylan's inner life in a way that makes the reader really connect with her.  

Some reviewers have expressed a negative opinion about the fact that Dylan's coming out ends up being fairly rosy, but I would hope that as time goes on, and more and more people see that being gay is not something that is shameful or undesirable, more teens will have the same positive coming out experience that Dylan has.  I like the fact that the gay characters in this book do not turn out to be tragic.  It seems like in earlier literature with gay characters they are always the ones who end up alone, as though they have to pay for whatever happiness living truthfully briefly brings them.  The book's rather explicit sexual references make it one that is most suitable for older readers, but you can't fault the author for using Dylan's sexual feelings and experiences to set the stage for her decisions.  Teenagers are sexual beings, and to ignore that fact is to miss important opportunities for discussing sexuality and relationships is a way that will help them be healthy and happy.   

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

 Thanks to Sheila at One Person's Journey Through Books for hosting this weekly meme, letting book bloggers share what they've been reading.  I tell you, my reading has become so much more diverse since doing this whole book blogging thing!  Thanks to my fellow book bloggers for the inspiration and book ideas!

Another week gone, another week closer to going back to school.  Ah, well, at least I had a good reading week!

Children's/YA Books Completed This Week:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
(Review coming soon!)

Adult Fiction Completed This Week:

Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
(Review coming soon on Book Addict Reviews )

Books I'm Hoping to Get to This Week:

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (YA)
10 Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah (YA)
Mind of my Mind, by Octavia E. Butler

...and whatever else I decide to pick up off the shelf.  After a month of reading for class, I want to keep my options open!

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Escape from Saigon, by Andrea Warren

Title:  Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became and American Boy
Author:  Andrea Warren
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages:  128
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Age Level:  5th-9th Grade

In the terrifying days at the end of the Vietnam war, a young boy named Long was airlifted out of Saigon and taken to the United States in what became known as Operation Babylift.  Hundreds of war orphans were brought to the United States and adopted by loving families.  Long became Matt Steiner, and went on to become a valedictorian, athlete, and doctor with a family of his own. While this tale has a happy ending, one might not have predicted it based on his harrowing early years.  Long barely remembers his American father, but he vividly remembers his mother's suicide.  His devoted grandmother tried as best she could to take care of him, but when she became unable to support him any longer he was sent to live in an orphanage operated by Holt International Children's Services.  This agency housed him, provided schooling, and later made it possible for him to be adopted in the United States.  Finally returning to Vietnam in 1995, Long was amde to understand the sacrifices that his grandmother had made for him.

Warren has reason to be interested in this story of survival and triumph-her own daughter was also a child rescued in Operation Babylift.  And a very personal story it is.  Warren uses Long's memories, along with interviews and research regarding other adopted Vietnamese children, to craft a story that is powerful and engaging.  This is a story of a child at war, a child struggling to find his identity in his new land, a child who mourns the loss of his family while going on to become a success in his new home.  This story also details the challenges that Long had coming to terms with his mixed heritage, a theme that could speak to many biracial children in our school, who often don't see themselves represented in mainstream media.  The action is written in a gripping, engaging style that leaves the reader feeling as though they too have witnessed tragedy and incredible acts of heroism.  The passages detailing the airlift are especially gripping, and should grab the attention of even the most reluctant of readers.

Teaching Resources:
This book would make an excellent text to use in any study of immigration.  It is also a good book for teaching about the diversity of the American experience, as Long's journey is very different from most children in America.  Below I've listed some websites where you can find more ideas and specific lesson plans. 

Louisiana Reader's Choice Awards


Immigration and Diversity Lesson Plans

Friday, July 16, 2010

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher

Title:  Almost Perfect
Author:  Brian Katcher
Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Year:  2009
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Group:  9th-12th Grade

Plot Summary: 
This cleanly written, moving novel tells the story of Logan, a high school senior living in a rural Missouri town.  He's just broken up with his girlfriend of three years after finding that she cheated on him, and he is feeling at a loss as to how to move on.  In biology he meets Sage, a rare new student to his tiny high school.  Sage is like no one he's ever met before-she is clever, and beautiful, and dresses as though she is living in St. Louis, not small town Missouri.  He quickly becomes infatuated with her, but there are signs that something decidedly different is going on with her.  Her younger sister is strangely overprotective, and her parents won't let her have friends, never mind dates.  As Logan and Sage get to know each other better, and their feelings for each other deepen, Sage finally lets him in on her secret-she was born biologically male.  Logan's world is rocked, as he struggles to deal with the questions about his own identity that come from finding out Sage's secret.  Is he gay?  Will he ever be able to love a "normal" girl?  But eventually Logan realizes that regardless of Sage's biological sex, he is falling in love with her, and when Sage is the victim of a hate-crime, Logan decides he will stop at nothing to be with the girl of his dreams.

If  Luna, by Julie Anne Peters, tells the story of a young male-to-female transgender person's decision to come out, then Almost Perfect tells what happens next.  When Sage made the decision to live as a female, her family was so ashamed that they homeschooled her for five years.  Her father applied for a transfer, and the whole family moved to small-town Missouri so that they could protect Sage from what they assumed would follow her decision, and to protect themselves from ridicule and judgement.  Katcher does not romanticize Sage's family in any way.  Her father is borderline abusive, and clearly feels betrayed by his "son's" gender identity.  Her mother loves her, but has no idea how to support her in her decision to transition to female.  Her sister is alternately embarrassed and protective of her.  By the time she meets Logan, Sage has started taking female hormones and "passes" easily as female.  Logan is just your average high school athlete.  Raised in a society that holds little value for homosexuality and none whatsoever for transgendered people, he is at first repulsed by Sage.  Again, the author does a good job of portraying Logan without too much sentimentality.  He struggles with his feelings after Sage shares her secret, and he says some truly horrible things to her.  Eventually, however, he comes to terms with his feelings for her, and they are able to share a very brief time together.  Just as Logan starts to feel that he would be able to have a true, public relationship with Sage, she is the victim of a vicious beating, and it becomes clear to everyone that while Logan and Sage may be ready, society is not.  This is a classic "star-crossed lovers" tale-true love is thwarted by circumstances beyond their control.

Katcher did an excellent job telling this story without sentimentality or sensationalism.  It is not preachy or pedantic-the simple truths revealed in this story have no need to cheap gimmicks, nor does the reader need to be beaten over the head with them, for this novel to resonate with meaning.  This book helped me remember again that while I may not understand the feelings that lead someone to be transgendered, that doesn't really matter.  What matters is that I recognize each individual's right for self-naming, their right to live their lives fully as the people they believe themselves to be.

Teacher Resources: 
While I did not find any specific lesson plans or activities for this novel, I've listed some resources about teaching GLBT issues in the classroom below.

GLBT Stereotypes Lesson Plan 

Advocates for Youth 

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network 

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  I hope that everyone had a great weekend.  While I spent most of yesterday nursing a summer cold, I did get to spend Friday night and Saturday at a youth leadership event, where I got some good insight into the kinds of books that teens are reading right now.  I was telling them about the children's lit class I'm taking, and it started an hour long discussion on books they like or don't-very interesting stuff.  Reminded me why I've spent so much time reading young adult literature for this class.  These kids are dying to read good books that speak to their actual lives (though most of them also love sparkly vampires).

That event ended up being the perfect way to end a week of reading young adult stuff.  Here's what I got done this week:

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher (Review coming soon!)

Hello Groin, by Beth Goobie (Review coming soon!)

This coming week I get to go back to reading some adult titles as well, since my major book project is due today for my kiddie lit class.  I am hoping to get to:

Another Thing to Fall, by Laura Lippman
Wild Seed, Octavia E. Butler

I will also get to the following YA titles:

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

Have a great reading week, everyone!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

10,000 Dresses, by Marcus Ewert

Title:  10,000 Dresses
Author:  Marcus Ewert
Illustrator:  Rex Ray
Publisher:  Seven Stories
Pages:  28
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Grade Level:  1st-3rd

Plot Summary:  
Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows. . . . Unfortunately, when Bailey's awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. Quite the contrary. "You're a BOY!" Mother and Father tell Bailey. "You shouldn't be thinking about dresses at all." Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is touched and inspired by Bailey's imagination and courage. In friendship, the two of them begin making dresses together. And Bailey's dreams come true!

It is hard to find books with sympathetic transgender characters period, much less picture books.  That makes 10,000 Dresses a rare thing-a children's book that deals with trangenderism in a thoughtful and touching way, highlighting the misunderstandings that often go along with being transgendered in a way that younger children could understand, while showing that acceptance is the true hallmark of friendship. 

Ewert does a great job creating the tension between who Baily feels like on the inside and what people perceive her to be on the outside.  When Bailey thinks about herself, she thinks about the girl she believes she was meant to be.  When her family sees her, they see the boy she was biologically born.  When Baily tries to express how she feels to her family, the are unable to see past the biological boy to the girl inside.  Only her friend Laurel is able to see past the biology to who Bailey believes she is in her soul.

The illustrations are so cute, and Ray did not shy away from the biological reality that was Bailey's outer body.  The illustrations of Bailey in a dress very clearly look like a boy in a dress, not some miniature drag queen.  Her mother, father, and brother in the book are shown with their faces turned away, as though refusing to see Bailey as she truly is.  The only other face we see is her friend Laurel, who tells Bailey, "You're the coolest girl I ever met".  The final message of the book is one of hope and acceptance.

Teaching Resources: 
You can probably imagine that there are not exactly unit plans for this book waiting out there in cyberspace to be found.  The topic of this book is just too controversial for most schools or teachers to handle.  However, if you have smaller children and want them to be accepting of everyone, regardless of their gender expression, this is a great read aloud.  It would be a good way to start a discussion of transgenderism with older children as well, since it is so accessible.

The View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg

Title:  The View from Saturday
Author:  E.L. Konigsburg
Publisher:  Antheum Books
Pages:  160
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  4th-8th Grade

Plot Summary:
Mrs. Olinski couldn't tell you why she chose the four students she did for her Academic Bowl team, but Noah, Ethan, Nadia, and Julian were it.  As far as she knew they were not really connected to each other in any way.  But it turns out that they were-they called themselves the Souls, and every Saturday they met for tea.  And that wasn't their only connection-Noah was accidentally the Best Man at the wedding of Ethan's grandmother and Nadia's grandfather, Nadia and Ethan had bonded over saving sea turtles in Florida, and Julian started their group off with his invitation to tea.  The book traces their stories, as well as their journey to the state championships, in a fun, slightly quirky way.

OK, I want to say upfront that I enjoyed this book.  I thought the story was creative, and I enjoyed the quirkiness of each of the characters.  However, it won the Newbery Award in 1997, and I have to admit I don't really get it.  I guess that 1996 must have been a slow year for quality children's literature, because I didn't find the story nearly as good as, say, The Graveyard Book or Holes or The Giver

That said, the story is cute, and the themes of random acts of anonymous kindness is a good one.  The Souls go out of their way to do nice things for their teacher, without expecting anything in return.  They also allow each other to be themselves when they are together, and they keep their tea parties a secret so that no one at school actually knows how close they are.  The secondary themes of dealing with major life changes (divorce, marriage, family moving away) are dealt with honestly and sweetly.  Each of the characters is a child I would like to have in my class-kind, smart, and compassionate. And of course, friendship is also a major theme.  The Souls are bonded in a way that few people are, and completely supportive of each other.

The writing style is superb, as it always is with Konigsburg.  I especially like the way she uses questions from the Academic Bowl as the frame for telling the story of how the Souls got to know each other.  The books is a cleverly put together combination of present action and flashback that could make a good talking point if teaching the book as literature.

Teacher Resources: 
Planet Book Club Lesson Plans

Web English Teacher Lesson Plans

Teacher CyberGuide

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welcome Book Blog Hoppers!

It's time for the Book Blog Hop, hosted by Crazy-for-Books!  This weekly meme encourages book bloggers to connect and share ideas.  This is the first Blog Hop with the new blog, so I am very excited!

This week we had a question to answer in our hopper post, and that questions is...

Tell us about some of your favorite authors and why they are your favorites!

I already wrote my adult reader post at my other blog, Book Addict Reviews, so you can check that out if you like.  Since this is a children's/young adult themed blog, I'll stick with my favorite authors in those two categories. (Picking just a couple is not easy, by the way!  I have so many favorites! Grrrrrrr....)

Old Favorites!
Tomie dePaola-I think that all of his books are charming as all get out.  Did you know that he has written or illustrated more than 200 books?!?  The man is prolific.  His stories are touching, and his always puts his own special flair on his stories.  The fact that he is gay, and that he had the courage to write Oliver Button is a Sissy (based on his own experiences as a child) makes me love him even more! 

Katherine Patterson-Oh, how I cried and cried when Leslie dies in Bridge to Terebithia!  And Jacob Have I Loved had me wanting to live on an island and be a fisherman.  I just think that her books really touch on the vulnerability that we all have growing up, when nothing we do feels quite right and we are terrified of doing the wrong thing. 

Madeleine L'Engle-A Wrinkle in Time...need I say more?  Not if you are a science fiction fan like me, and this novel was one of my first forays into that world. 

New Favorites: 
Suzanne Collins-I love Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  The way that Collins is able to merge story lines of first love and teenage angst with real life or death situations and social justice commentary is stunning for a young adult novelist.

Alex Sanchez-I just discovered him while doing a project on GLBT themed children's and young adult literature, and I think he is great.  I just finished Rainbow Boys, which was so heartbreaking and joyous I laughed and cried, but my favorite of his so far is The God Box.  The way that he dismantles the Biblical arguments against homosexuality is a thing of beauty.    

Neil Gaiman-His books are creepy and skewed and irreverant and deep.  I love the way his mind works, and while I wouldn't want to live in the world according to Gaiman all the time, I enjoy my trips there through his books, both young adult and adult.

I Need My Monster, by Amanda Noll

Title:  I Need My Monster
Author:  Amanda Noll
Illustrator:  Howard McWilliam
Publisher:  Flash Light Press
Pages:  30 
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Level:  2nd-4th Grade

Plot Summary:
Ethan checks under his bed for his monster Gabe, and instead finds a note that says, "Gone Fishing.  Back in a week." Ethan begins to fret-how will be get to sleep without Gabe's comforting snorts, or the sound of his claws scratching the floor.  Various substitute monsters try to meet Ethan's exacting monster standards, but none are as good as his monster Gabe.  Turns out that things just weren't the same for Gabe without Ethan, either.  The fish just scare too easily.  As Ethan finally snuggles into his covers for the night, Gabe and Ethan are both thankful that they have each other.

As "monster under the bed" books go, this one is pretty adorable.  The illustrations are engaging, and sure to keep younger listeners occupied.  The text is clever, with the various monsters each having their own distinct personality that could be discussed with students.  It takes something scary, like the thought of monsters under the bed, and turns it into an integral part of childhood, something that we must give up (regretfully) as we grow.  The vocabulary is rather challenging for new readers, so this probably works best as a read aloud for younger children, though older readers should have little trouble.

Teaching Resources:

Monster Lesson Plans
I Need My Monster Activity Guide 

Teach With Picture Books 

Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez

Title:  Rainbow Boys
Author: Alex Sanchez
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Pages:  233
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  9th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
Rainbow Boys tells the story of Nelson, Kyle and Jason.  Nelson is the stereotypical gay male-a little swishy, with multiple piercings and multi-colored hair.  Kyle is a quiet, sweet boy, a swimmer on the high school swim team.  Jason is a popular jock, deeply in the closet.  When the novel begins, Nelson is completely out to everyone, including his very liberal mother who is the chairperson of the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).  Kyle is out to Nelson and the other teens in their GLBT support group, but not to his family.  He also is deeply infatuated with Jason, looking at his picture in the yearbook so often the page is fading.  Jason is dating Debra, and trying with all of his might to pretend that he is not having feelings for other boys.  When the other guys make gay jokes, or harass Nelson (whom they call Nelly), he laughs or turns away.  Finally he gets up the courage to go to a meeting of the support group, and is horrified to find Kyle and Nelson there.  When he runs, Kyle follows him.  The two boys strike up a friendship when Kyle agrees to help him with his math.  Slowly, as Jason spend more time with Kyle, he breaks up with his girlfriend and comes to terms with his true orientation.  Nelson, meanwhile, has decided that he is in love with Kyle, and tries to put the moves on him.  When that doesn't work, he descends into depression, binging and purging and having unprotected sex with an older man he met on the internet.  Afraid he may have contracted HIV, he sinks even lower, refusing to go to school.  Turns out that Nelson, who is so open about his sexual orientation, doesn't really know any more about how to go about this whole dating business than anyone else.  An act of gay bashing makes Jason realize that it is too dangerous not to stand up for himself and his friends, and leads to him finally coming out to his family.

If the above summary reminds you of a soap opera, you are not far wrong.  There are a lot of issues tackled in this book, from sexual orientation to gay bashing to bulimia to alcoholism.  Despite the somewhat soapish nature of the plot, the subjects are all handled in an honest way, without any sensationalism or gratuitous detail.  

Each of the boys comes from a very different family.  Nelson lives with his mother, and has almost no contact with his father.  Nelson's mother is the epitome of what gay-accepting parents should be.  She stands up for her son and his right to be who he is, and is actively involved in working for gay rights.  Kyle's parents are well-meaning, though his dad is constantly pushing him into sports.  That's the only reason Kyle joined the swim team, though he finds that swimming is something that helps him clear his head.  When he comes out to his parents, they are taken aback, and both of them struggle to understand how he became the way he is.  When push comes to shove, however, and they find out that he is being harassed at school, they stand up for him.  Jason's dad is an alcoholic-a violent one at that.  He found Jason and another boy experimenting when they were 10, and ever since he has called him pansy or faggot.  It is only after Jason brings Nelson and Kyle back to his house after they were jumped on the street, and his dad starts in on them, that he is able to stand up to him and tell him his deepest secret.  There's no storybook ending here-Dad does not suddenyl decide to go to AA and become a PFLAG member.  He leaves the family and disowns Jason.

It is this authenticity and honesty that makes the book so appealing.  Each of the boys could represent someone I know, or should I say that I know someone who went through what each of these boys did.  The characters are well-developed, and you feel sympathy for each of them.  The plot is well-paced, and the events feel real.  When Kyle's mom finds his gay porno mag, you wince right along with him.  When Nelson gets so depressed he can't get out of bed, you remember what being 17 was like yourself,  how intensely teens feel everything.  Sadly, the boys harassing Kyle and Nelson are also completely believable.  The book was written in 2001, but even with all of the advances in gay rights and awareness that have happened in our country since there are still too many boys like them in our schools.

Sanchez does an excellent job of balancing the personal stories of the boys and some heavily debated societal issues.  When the boys want to start a Gay Straight Alliance at their school, there is the expected opposition from religious groups.  The teachers ignoring the harassment the boys are getting, and in fact blaming them for it because they can't act more "normal", is something that is still true.  Parental acceptance of gay youth differs, though I like to think that more parents are supportive than there used to be.  Overall, this novel brings home the issues that gay teens face every day in a very accessible, personal way.

Teacher Resources:
The themes in this novel are very well suited to the teenage population.  The language is pretty salty, however, and there are a lot of homophobic slurs thrown in.  All of the language is used appropriately for the context of the novel, but it is something you would want to prep your students for ahead of time.  That said, I think that this novel would make a great addition to any study of social justice issues, tolerance, or coming-of-age novels. 

Teaching Tolerance: Hidden Homophobia

Ms. Henson's Class Cultural Studies Unit Plan

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The God Box, by Alex Sanchez

Title:  The God Box
Author:  Alex Sanchez
Publsiher:  Simon Pulse
Pages:  248
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  8th-12th Grade

Plot Summary:
Paul is a high school senior in a small Texas town.  He and his girlfriend Angie have been together since middle school, and they enjoy the same things-listening to their favorite Christian rock CDs, singing in the church choir, and being members of their school's Bible study club.  Paul tried not to worry about the fact that while he loves Angie, he does not feel the same attraction for her that most boys describe feeling for girls.  He prays on it most nights-prays that he will lose the "unnatural" feelings he has towards boys so he can be a good Christian.  Enter Manuel, new to school and the first openly gay teen Paul or his friends have ever known.  Manuel is also devoutly Christian, and Paul is thrown into turmoil.  Is it possible to be Christian and gay?  Slowly Manuel opens his eyes to new interpretations of the Bible passages that get trotted out to "prove" God's hatred of homosexuals, but it is not until one terrifying night that Paul decides that being true to himself as one of God's creations is the best way to honor his creator.

I loved this book, and I'm not even going to try to find some cute, book-reviewer way to say it.  I think that this book should be required reading in every Christian school/Sunday school/Bible study in the country.  If you looked up the definition of "Christian" in the dictionary, Paul's picture would be there.  He loved the Lord, and strove every day to live up to Jesus's standards.  He was kind, and compassionate, and actively engaged in his faith.  But he had been taught that his attraction for men negated all of the prayer and good deeds he's ever done.  Manuel slowly, one Biblical argument at a time, dismantles all of the dogma Paul had been taught.  Their Bible discussions are thoughtful and thought-provoking.  Manuel is not written as some raging queer radical-he's just an average kid, same as the rest, only comfortable enough with himself to live openly as gay.  Even in the face of taunts and danger (sounds a little bit like Christ himself, doesn't it?), he stays true to who he believes God wants him to be.  I really believe that this book put in the hands of the right child at the right time could literally save lives.

Teacher Resource:
Searching the web I found no lesson plans or discussion questions for this book, which I think is a shame.  I did find a whole host of gay-affirming Christian website, however, and was pleasantly surprised.  I also found a website called Beyond Ex-Gay that tells the stories of survivors of what they call religious abuse-that is, using religion as a cudgel to (sometimes literally) beat the gay out of you and make you heterosexual so you can be right with God.   Really fascinating stuff, though not terribly helpful for teachers except as background knowledge.  I think that this book could be taught in high school English classes, but I think that perhaps more importantly I think that it should be openly, easily available in any high school library for teens who are struggling with their faith and their orientation to find.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo

Title:  The Magician's Elephant
Author:  Kate DiCamillo
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Pages:  201
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Level:  4th-6th Grade

Plot Summary:
Peter, a 10 year-old boy living in the town of Baltese, is sent by his guardian, Vilna Lutz, to get bread and fish at the market.  On the way, he sees a fortuneteller's tent, with a sign promising the true answer to one question for exactly the amount of money that Peter was given.  Peter is torn-should he buy the food he's been sent for, or should he spend the money on getting the answer to a question that has plagued him his whole life-is his sister still alive? He decides he needs to know the answer, and enters the fortuneteller's tent.  The fortuneteller reveals that not only is his sister still alive-despite what his guardian may have told him-but an elephant will lead him to her.  Since this seems impossible, Peter goes away still conflicted.  Conflicted, that is, until and elephant comes crashing through the ceiling of a theater during a magic show, sending the whole town into a dither.  What follows is a sequence of events that is magical, fantastical, impossible-but what if?  What if?  Peter will need the help of a policeman, a noblewoman, a beggar, and a blind dog, but he will eventually find what he is looking for.

The only Kate DiCamillo book I had read previously was Because of Winn Dixie, and somehow I expected this tale to be much like that-slightly supernatural elements blended into a very real story.  Had I done any research on DiCamillo before reading The Magician's Elephant, I would have realized that Because of Winn Dixie is the anomaly in her bibliography. With novels like The Tale of Despereaux, about a mouse on a quest to rescue a princess, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about a small china rabbit that is passed from person to person, DiCamillo feels very comfortable in the land of fantasy.   The Magician's Elephant combines themes of family and finding where you truly belong with elements of magic to create a rather quirky book.

Peter himself is a strong, brave young boy, who stands up for what he knows to be true.  If only we were all so brave!  Despite knowing that what he imagines seems impossible to everyone else, he convinces them to help him with his steadfast resolve and belief in himself.  The story has a lot of longing-Peter's longing for the truth about his sister, and for the days when his parents were alive; the magician's longing to do one bit of extraordinary magic; the policeman's longing for children; Vilna's longing for great battles and says gone by.  Finally, it is the elephant's longing for home that drives the final sequence of events, the one that brings Peter and his sister back together into the waiting arms of their new family.

I suppose in the end that is the final message of the book-if you can dream it, you can make it be true.  Instead of saying "I can't", ask yourself, "What if?"

Teacher Resources:
 Reader's Guides from Kate DiCamillo's Website

Elephant Activities

Kate DiCamillo Discusses The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant Discussion Guide-pdf

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This is my first Monday post from this new blog.  If this is your first time here-welcome!  This blog is where I will review any and all children's or young adult books I read, and I will try to post teacher resources for the books when they exist on the web.

My week was very productive-which is good considering how much reading I still have to do for my children's literature class.  I read:

Baby Be-Bop, by Francesca Lia Block
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Luna, by Julie Anne Peters
The God Box, by Alex Sanchez
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Reviews for all of the above titles can be found on this blog.  I didn't get to any adult books this week, but if you want to check out my adult book reviews you can find them at Book Addict Reviews.

This week I need to read:

The View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg
The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo
Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
Almost Perfect, by Brian Kacher
Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block
Percy Jackson:  The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Title:  The Graveyard Book
Author:  Neil Gaiman
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages:  307
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Level:  6th-9th Grade

Plot Summary:
A man in black walks through a house in a small English village.  He is searching for a baby, a baby that he knew must be there.  As he searches, he passes a mother, father, and daughter-all killed by his hand.  He is Jack, and he was sent to this house with a job to do.  He catches scent of the baby, and follows the smell to a large graveyard at the top of a hill.  What Jack doesn't know is that he is not the only thing awake in the graveyard.  All of the ghosts have gathered, along with Silas, a mysterious stranger, neither living nor dead.  They have gathered to discuss the fate of the small boy that has toddled into their midst-do they keep him, therefore saving him, or do they leave him to meet his fate at Jack's hands?  When they decide to keep him, Jack is sent from the graveyard, but everyone knows that the boy, soon to be known as Nobody Owens (Bod, for short) will not be out of danger until Jack is stopped for good.  This is Bod's story-the story of a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard.

Now this is a Neil Gaiman book I can get behind!  I know that I read another of his books last week, and wasn't so jazzed by it, but this book is properly a book, and therefore already has a heads up from that modified pilot-script called Interworlds. The plot is creative, and once again Gaiman melds aspects of real life with fantasy in such a way that the whole seems completely believable.  I was totally drawn into Bod's world, and at times wished I had my own ancient graveyard to prowl around in, learning about the Romans and the middle ages and the Victorians from actual Romans, Victorians, and denizens of the middle ages.  Gaiman's style is quirky, and unexpectedly sweet, especially in describing the relationship between Bod and his guardian, Silas-who, for the record, can't be seen in a mirror, sleeps all day, and sometimes seems to turn into a large animal with wings that can fly.  Despite all of the sparkly or otherwise cuddly vampire characters recently, you somehow don't expect it of Silas.  The whole tone of the book is one of dark menace, but with a childlike playfulness that should be in contrast to the sinister mood but in fact compliments it.

The story does have a few weak points, areas where I wanted more back story or exposition. There are many mythical or supernatural beings mentioned and never fully explained.  And actually I think that Gaiman could have spent a bit more time on the motivation behind Jack's actions in killing Bod's family.  There is a reason given, but it is not terribly well-developed.  That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through the tombs!

Teacher Resources:

Online Quiz 

Learning Through Listening

Teachervision Book Discussion Guide

E-Notes: The Graveyard Book

Luna, by Julie Anne Peters

Title:  Luna
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Publisher:  Little, Brown, and Co.
Pages:  256
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  9th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
Luna is the story of Regan and her older brother Liam-or, should we say, her older sister Luna.  Ever since Regan was small, she knew that there was something different about her brother.  He always wanted to be the mother when they played house.  All of his friends were girls. One day, she comes back to their house unexpectedly, only to discover Liam dressed in their mother's clothes.  Liam is 100% sure that she is a girl.  Unfortunately, she was born in the body of a boy.  Regan agrees to keep her secret, covering for her whenever anyone might catch on to her true self.  As Liam/Luna gets ready to graduate from high school, she becomes more and more sure that she is going to have to come out as transgendered, or lose herself to depression or worse.  Regan struggles with her feelings about her brother-and herself.  What will people think of her if Luna comes out to live in the light?

There are not very many books that deal with the subject of transgendered people, and even fewer for young adults.  But Luna is a shining example of how deftly the subject can be handled for a younger audience.  Peter's has written a novel that is frank in its handling of the subject matter, not pathologizing transgenderism, but showing it from a very real place.  Her use of Regan as narrator gives the subject an interesting twist, because anyone who knows someone who is transgendered but struggles to understand exactly what they feel can see themselves in her.  It also provides an authenticity to the story, perhaps more so than if Luna had told it herself.  There is debate in the world of multicultural literature about whether people not belonging to the group whose story is being told should try to tell it, and the structure of this novel deftly avoids that controversy.  Of course, there are plenty of things that people could find controversial in this novel.  With its themes of self-acceptance, peer pressure, and family drama it could be any coming-of-age novel.  But we as a country are not terribly comfortable with the idea of transgendered people-especially male to female transgenderism.  The fact that Luna is able to transcend the doubt and fear, and find a way to be herself despite those that oppose her, is ultimately a story of triumph over the odds.  The journey that Regan takes through her unconditional love for her brother, and the lengths she is willing to go through to keep him safe, can teach us a lot about how to show loving acceptance for anyone in our lives struggling to be who they know they were born to be.

Teaching Ideas:
I was not able to find any web-based resources for teaching with this novel.  However, I think that it could easily be included in any unit of study that looked at themes of self-acceptance.  It could also be included in a discussion of social justice issues regarding the GLBTQ community.  It is certainly a book that I would recommend to any transgendered youth-it shows that they are not alone, and that there is hope.