Saturday, September 30, 2006

Time Travel

Bloor, Edward. 2006. London Calling.

Each life, in human history, begins when a person starts to walk down a path. At first it is the path that our parents tell us to walk down. Then we come to certain crossroads where we have two choices--remain on the one path or step off onto another. Sometimes our paths cross the paths of others at crucial points. This is where things can get uncontrollable, weird, unexplainable. There is a lot more you could say about life, but that's basically it.

History repeats itself only in that, from afar, we all seem to lead exactly the same life. We are all born; we all spend time here on earth; we all die. But up close, we have each walked down our own separate paths. We have stood at our own lonely crossroads. We have touched the lives of others at crucial points, for better or for worse. In the end, each of us has lived a unique life story, astounding and complicated, a story that could never be repeated.

John Martin Conway is an unforgettable narrator who takes us on his life's journey with all its unique twists and turns. His unusual story begins when he's in seventh grade at a Catholic school--All Souls Preparatory School. His friends and enemies start down a path that will lead some to respect and honor and others to shame and embarrassment. It all starts when Martin and his two friends get in a fight with the school bully Hank Lowery IV and accidentally end up damaging some school property. The problem? The school believes every word out of Lowery's mouth because his family quite literally funds the entire school. Sent into a deep depression, Martin spends the summer in his basement. And he probably would have continued down this dark path...until he receives a unique gift from his grandmother--the radio his grandfather took with him to London during World War II--a Philco 20 Deluxe. The radio with all its unique qualities (time travel) energizes him and gives him a purpose and a goal to accomplish. Could the answer for a happier future for his friends and family lay buried in the past?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Light Years

Stein, Tammar. 2005. LIGHT YEARS. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375830235.

Maya Laor is the narrator of LIGHT YEARS a novel dually set in Virginia and Israel. In alternating chapters, Maya reveals her past and shares her present experiences as a college student at an American university, the University of Virginia.

Maya's past is haunting her. Growing up in Israel, Maya was fully aware of the dangers that the Palestini/Israeli conflict presents. After all, she is fulfilling her years as an Israeli soldier. But through it all, Maya never truly thought that terrorism would effect her quite so closely. Her boyfriend, Dov, is killed at a restaurant by a Palestinian suicide bomber (along with six others).

LIGHT YEARS shares how Maya is able to blend her haunting past with a hope-filled future as she tries to figure out just where she belongs.

Also recommended is REAL TIME (2004) by Pnina Moed Kass and the nonfiction book UNDERSTANDING THE HOLY LAND: ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT (2005) by Mitch Frank.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Child's Perspective on Terror

Hanna Jansen's OVER A THOUSAND HILLS I WALK WITH YOU is a touching tribute to her adopted daughter who was orphaned in the Rwandan war. Based on her daughter's recollections of her childhood--memories both pleasant and bittersweet--Jansen weaves a tale of sorrow, hope, fear, joy, and love. For example, the early chapters of the book feature a young girl living life large. She is visiting her grandmother. She's playing with her cousins. She's fighting with her sister and brother. Her mom works outside the home, her dad is away a lot...and she has an incredibly whiny sister that she struggles with on a daily basis. She's vibrant and unaware that her world would change in just a few short years. Later chapters reveal the pain, the loss, the confusion, the fear of not knowing if one is going to survive another day. Witnessing such atrocities as seeing your parents and siblings killed by strange soldiers. Seeking help from family friends, yet being turned away because they don't want to risk dying too. Her survival story is inspiring.

The story is beautifully told, Jansen has done a great job here. Her book is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Mother's Legacy

Gantos, Jack. 2006. The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs.

Most people wouldn’t equate the word love with a curse. Love is a gift, right? Or is there such a thing as loving someone too much? Wanting to prove that horror stories don’t need “gothic” settings with harsh environments--like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein--Jack Gantos sets out to prove that nothing is scarier than a psychotic mind convinced that its genetically cursed and free from guilt since it’s playing out its predetermined role set by nature. But be warned, The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is not for the weak-hearted. (If taxidermy freaks you out, don’t even think about reading this book.) While I can’t say more about the book--I wouldn’t want to give away the ending--The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is a book that I know will appeal to some readers. (I am not one of them!!!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

School Shooting...

SHOOTER by Walter Dean Myers is a novel about a shooting at Madison High School. The story is revealed through a series of interviews, newspaper articles, police reports/files, and the medical examiner's report, and the killer's journal. Leonard Gray (white, 16) is a teen outsider. Not accepted by any peer group--whether the decision was his or theirs--he forms his own group--primarily with his best friend Cameron Porter (African-American, 17) and his girlfriend, Carla Evans (white, 18). Although both Carla and Cameron notice signs--many signs--that Leonard is more than a little off, they ignore the signs because Leonard consistently accepts them for who they are--and he just "understands" them. So Leonard is able to talk them into doing things that they don't quite like doing--such as going to the shooting range, and shooting brown bag targets in the woods (that they later found out where turtles from the pet store), and he even convinces Cameron to vandalize a church with him. Cameron admits he knew it was wrong at the time he was doing it--but he goes along with Leonard. The story is told primarily through interviews--like I mentioned--with Cameron and Carla. The account is not necessarily chronological either. It's not until the very end that the reader is able to place certain events in the order that they happened. The climax of the book obviously is when Cameron reveals how the events of the shooting happened....2 were killed (1 murdered; 1 suicide) and at least 5+ were injured. It's not your typical novel. The reader knows at the beginning that the shooting has occurred. And the novel is essential a report file on whose fault it was, if it was preventable, and how much risk is the school in for future occurrences of violence.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Real Time

REAL TIME is a novel by Pnina Moed Kass set in Israel and told by multiple narrators varying in age, gender, religion, nationality, and ethnicity. These people are brought together by a Palestinian terrorist (one of the narrators) blowing up a bus on a highway into Jerusalem. If I had to pick three main narrators--I'd pick Thomas Wanninger who is 16, German, and traveling to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz; Vera Brodsky who is 19, Russian Jew resettled in Israel and living/working at the kibbutz; and Sameh Laham, 16 Palestinian suspected terrorist. Of course, there are at least a dozen more voices that tell the story.

The novel is an honest look at terrorism, and the reality of living in a war zone. Tells all sides of the story--including the Palestinian view on why it is a GREAT thing to be a suicide bomber.

Anyway, I thought this novel is very UNIQUE. I haven't come across many novels set in the Middle East that discuss terrorism, threat of war....etc....

Sameh Laham--
Hard to think I scare anyone. I'm the dishwasher in the diner kitchen, the floor sweeper, the toilet bowl cleaner, I'm sixteen years old, and I live in a small village of Palestinian Arabs. It's not living in Zebedeid that makes me an illegal worker, it's my age. If I were over forty, with gray hair and a clean record, I would have a work permit and a magnetic card. I would swipe the card through the machine at the border, the machine would click, and I would be legal. You would see me, not see through me. Invisible, and I can earn only what my boss takes out of his back pocket. The cash he counts out is what I give my mother so we can all live: food for my two brothers and two sisters, my little brother's kidney pills, flour, oil for cooking, money for clothes. I don't need anything. My boss gives me old pants, someone's T-shirt, and whatever food is left over in the kitchen at the end of the day. All over the world sixteen is paradise, opportunity, girls, cars, everything. I watch television in Omar's house and see sixteen. Sixteen is the beach, your own room, a cell phone, surfing on waves that never end, different clothes for every day of the week, a refridgerator full of ice cream and chocolates, a mother who waits for you in a kitchen with a washing machine and a dishwasher, and a father who comes home from work. That is sixteen. Here sixteen is the magic age of death. No children, no responsibilities, no wife. A sixteen-year-old is a walking grave. Why give a job to someone about to die? Kids who explode themselves and kill Israelis have no future, so don't give them a future" (21-22).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Defining Integrity

Ray, Delia. 2006. Singing Hands.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1948, Singing Hands is a unique historical novel revealing insight into the hidden--and not-so-hidden prejudices of the times. Augusta “Gussie” Davis is the middle child of her family, not to mention the fact that her father is a well-respected minister...and you’ve got the perfect recipe for rebellious pranks and a summerful of trouble. “Up until the summer of 1948, when I was twelve, probably the worst thing I ever did was hum in church” (v). But there’s more to the story, her parents are deaf; her father ministers not only to the white community but to the black community as well. And his ministry doesn’t stop there, he pastors two churches in Birmingham, and a string of other churches in the South which he travels to during the week. He’s always on the road, never home. And even when he’s home...his attention is never on his hearing daughters. Whether Gussie’s behavior stems from wanting to get her dad’s attention OR is just typical growing pains, the readers will enjoy seeing her get in and out of trouble. Other characters play an important role in her journey to young adulthood as well, the family has two boarders living on the third floor: one, a retired English teacher who loves playing Opera music and runs a milinary shop, and the second a young war-widow who is the town’s librarian.

Singing Hands is the journey of one girl’s unforgettable summer where she learns not only about herself but gains a truer understanding of society as well.
American Sign Language
American Sign Language Browser (video clip dictionary of American Sign Language

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Silver Donkey

(The UK Book cover) Beware of any book that is a self-proclaimed classic. Candlewick Press’ The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett is one such example. The definition of pretentious is “making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)” or “expressive of affected, unwarrented, or exaggerated importance, worth or stature.” Originally published in Australia in 2004, The Silver Donkey is the story of two sisters, one brother, one runaway soldier, and one miniature silver donkey.

When Marcelle and Therese “Coco” find a ‘dead man’ in the forest they are eager to brag to their brother, Pascal, of their latest discovery--after all, it’s not something that any other child in the village could claim to have done. But wanting to doublecheck the facts before they tell anyone and everyone because it would be embarrassing to tell about a ‘dead’ man who was only asleep, the two go back to discover he is not dead...merely a blind man--a deserter from the army--on his way back home. Still the girls are proud to have discovered him. Their brother has never seen a blind man--let alone found a lost blind man in the forest. The three quickly become friends and their new ‘discovery’ turns out to be quite a storyteller. His stories are all fixated on donkeys. His obsession is seemingly founded on a small, miniature silver donkey he keeps in his pocket and holds for comfort.

(The Australian Book cover) The book alternates between four stories the soldier tells his young listeners--the sisters and finally the brother--and between the ‘present’ day action of the kids trying to find a way to help this blind man find a way across the channel so he can go home. (The novel is set in World War I). The ‘lesson’ of the novel: war is ugly; war is horrific; there is no glory in war.

(The American book cover)

The story in and of itself is not particularly a bad one. Yes, the writing tries a little too hard to be ‘old fashioned.’ And yes, the characters are a little one dimensional, but it wouldn’t be that bad a novel if it wasn’t trying so hard--from its elaborate design, green with silver gilding, to its glossy pages, its shiny silver end pages, its fancy fonts, its silver ribbon bookmark, it’s all much too much. (Not to mention its back cover promoting it as the next treasured classic.) The Silver Donkey is a nostalgic book for adults masquerading as a children’s book. Ultimately designed as a gift book that will appeal to adults to buy for the children and grandchildren in their lives, but may prove to young readers to be more of a bore than pleasure.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Napoli, Donna Jo. 2000. Beast.

Donna Jo Napoli’s BEAST is a modern retelling of the classic tale Beauty and the Beast told from the point of view of the Beast. Borrowing details from Charles Lamb’s retelling written in 1811, Napoli begins the story in Persia with a young prince named Orasmyn. After a religious mistake--sacrificing an animal unfit for sacrifice--the young man is cursed by a fairy “pari” and transformed into a lion. Told that only a woman’s love would break the spell, Orasmyn wanders Persia, India, and all the way to France making peace with his new self. Not expecting to ever even meet a young woman face to face--let alone try to woo her--he settles in an abandoned castle until one day...
While readers will always be familiar with traditional fairy tales, new retellings offer great pleasure adding new depth and perspectives to old stories.

Charles Lamb's Beauty and the Beast, 1811
SurLaLune: The Annotated Beauty and the Beast
SurLaLune: Modern Interpretations of Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and The Beast Home

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Super Powers in High School

HOW MY PRIVATE PERSONAL JOURNAL BECAME A BESTSELLER by Julia DeVillers is quite a fun little novel--or "teen fairytale."

Jamie Bartlett, is our heroine, she is your "typical" 14 year old dealing with peer pressure and questions of body image and self esteem. She accidentally becomes an almost overnight celebrity when her "journal" becomes the new IT YA book/novel.

Bartlett invents Isabella--a normal teenage girl who becomes a superhero IS when she sees social injustice. IS fights Myrna and the Evil Clique of Populors--the Backstabbor, the Gossipor, the Insultor, the Fashionistor, the Ostracizor, the Dietor, the Betrayor, the Best Friend Stealor (p. 14, 157). IS's weapon of choice is a flick of the wrist--which sends out rays of positivity.

One of IS's encounters is on page 68...

"Size zero is the only way to be," the Dietor said scornfully. "Why I'd be a negative number if I could!" The Dietor turned around to drink her diet soda and eat her single lettuce leaf. Then she gasped. IS! IS raised her fist and FLICK! the Dietor wasted nothing.

Of course, 90% of the book is not about the invented character of Isabella or IS--but is about Jamie. Jamie despite her success and newfound popularity--still has problems. Just because IS has superpowers doesn't make Jamie's life any easier. She still can't seem to win against the real life cliques she faces every day in high school. Although she does grow in confidence and self esteem as the novel progresses.

Jamie is a likable character--one that is very easy to relate to--no matter how old you are.

The novel is told in first person...with a conversational tone. Jamie addresses the reader as "you" and continually engages the reader. (Which I liked)

I thought this book dealt with real problems and issues in a fun way. While the "overnight" success of Jamie as an author is not quite realistic--the issues and problems she faces are quite real.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who's the fairest?

Harrison, Mette Ivie. 2004. MIRA, MIRROR. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670059234.

Mira and Amanda are two sisters with two different destinies who share a common bond: magic. Amanda has one desire: to become a powerful queen. Amanda will do anything to anybody to make sure that dream becomes reality--even if it means trapping her sister, Mira, in a "magic" mirror. Using the magic mirror, Amanda becomes the fairest in the land. Sound familiar? That's because Harrison's novel MIRA, MIRROR is a new twist on an old tale: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

But MIRA, MIRROR is not the traditional telling. In fact, there is hardly any mention of Snow White or any of her seven dwarfs. Instead, MIRA, MIRROR is the story of what happened a hundred years after the "happily ever after" ending of Snow White. It tells what became of the magic mirror. Alone and abandoned, Mira has almost forgotten what it means to be human. She spends her day hanging on an ivy-covered wall hoping that some day she'll be human again. But in her quest, she realizes that she is just as selfish and manipulative as her sister was.

Mira is found by a young girl, Ivana, who is escaping an abusive father and an arranged marriage. Together the two find themselves far away from their painful pasts and desperate to find new beginnings. Ivana wants the magic mirror to change her face so she'll be safe from the men in her past who want only to use her. Mira, of course, is using Ivana to get her across the country--and hopefully in contact with some magic she can use to transform herself back into a human. Both are in luck when they meet Talia and her father, a merchant, traveling along the road. Encouraged by Mira, Ivana tells a series of lies to convince the traveling pair that she is a merchant's daughter whose father was just killed by bandits when robbing their carriage. Talia's sweet and trusting nature convinces her father, despite his doubts, to take the girl along with them.

That night, the mirror does its work: it changes Talia's face into Ivana's and vice versa. Both Ivana and Mira are surprised when Talia does not protest the change. In fact, she is relieved to trade her plain face for Ivana's beautiful one. She's also relieved to be escaping from the marriage that her father had arranged for her! The father, Merchant Minitz, takes both girls home and soon they are one big happy family.

Mira learns--after time--that being human is more than having power over other people. While her previous experiences with humanity were full of bitterness, cruelty, and hate, she sees for the first time how two sisters should treat each other. She sees two sisters who love and trust one another. Something that her experiences with her sister Amanda had never allowed. Through her experiences as a magic mirror, especially in watching these two young girls, Mira learns what it means to be human.

MIRA, MIRROR is a clever and well-written novel. The characters are well-developed. Mira--both as a human and a mirror--possesses both good and bad character traits. While she is manipulative, selfish, and power-hungry, Mira at the same time questions her own motives and those of the people around her. Surrounded by the love and generosity of Talia and Ivana, Mira for the first time feels compassion, love, and a concern for others above herself. At one point, Mira would have sacrificed anybody or anything for the chance to be human again, but things change. By the end of the novel, Mira would do anything--even sacrificing her existence as a mirror--to protect the two girls.

MIRA, MIRROR is also an examination of how girls (young women) were treated in folk tales or fairy tales. Girls (and/or women) were generally either subject to their father, subject to a husband, or were witches--seen as evil, ugly, and animal-like. They did not have the option to be independent. By the end of most folk tales or fairy tales, the young girl gets married and supposedly lives happily ever after. Talia is a young woman who does not want to get married; she wants to be independent--she wants to become a merchant. Talia is a woman who is strong, confident, full of opinions, and wants to live her life her way.

MIRA, MIRROR is an enjoyable and satisfying read. I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers of all ages. There are many modern books--some YA and some adult--that are new twists on old tales. One of my favorites is a twist on Sleeping Beauty by Orson Scott Card called ENCHANTMENT. (ENCHANTMENT is an adult novel which can easily be read (and enjoyed) by young adults.) Fans of this book should definitely seek it out. For the young adult audience, Robin McKinley has written some great books including Spindle's End, Beauty, and Rose Daughter. For younger readers, Donna Jo Napoli has written many novels which are based on traditional tales (ZEL, BEAST, CRAZY JACK, THE MAGIC CIRCLE, SPINNERS). Jane Yolen has written some as well (for example, BRIAR ROSE).
Orson Scott Card official site

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spotlight on Laura Gallego Garcia

Laura Gallego Garcia won the prestigious El Barco de Vapor award at the age of twenty-one for her novel, Apocalypse, then won it again three years later for The Legend of the Wandering King. The author of fourteen published books, she is currently completing her doctorate in medieval literature at the University of Valencia. Laura lives in Alboraya, Spain. Two of her books have been translated and published in English.

About Laura Gallego Garcia
Official Laura Gallego Garcia site (in Spanish)
Spanish Lords, Swords, And Magic: An Article about Laura Gallego Garcia's work in Criticas

Garcia, Laura Gallego. 2005. THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING. Translated by Dan Bellm. New York: Arthur Levine (Scholastic). ISBN 0439585562

As a young man, Walid (Wah-leed) ibn Hujr dreamed of being a great man, a great ruler, and a great poet. He wanted to be loved, admired, appreciated, and respected. And since he was born a prince, son of King Hujr ruler of Kinda (in Arabia), he thought his dreams would be easily attained—especially since many thought he’d been touched by a djinn at birth. (Djinn being a genie). However, Walid failed to consider what fate had in mind.

A gifted and beloved prince, Walid was certain that he was the best poet in Kinda. Wanting to earn his father’s approval to go to Ukaz to enter a poetry contest, he organizes a smaller poetry contest for the kingdom of Kinda—arrogance and vanity assuring him that his winning is a matter of certainty.

However, when a peasant man—a carpet weaver—Hammad ibn al-Haddad, wins the contest three years in a row, the once magnanimous prince becomes embittered and resolves to make the peasant pay for his superiority. He forces the peasant to leave his home, his wife, and his three sons (a merchant, a shepherd, and his youngest son who has not chosen a career yet) to become the kingdom’s archivist and historian. He is told he must read and organize the kingdom’s archives (library). The task is monumental and overwhelming. He begs for mercy, but none is given. Walid does grant him this, however, if he can organize the archives and weave him a carpet, then he can be free to return to his home.

After four years, a thinner and wearier man presents himself to the King—Walid’s father having died in the subsequent years. Walid is surprised, yet wanting to remain a man of his word, he adds a stipulation to his earlier request: he must weave a carpet “that will contain the entire history of the human race” (62). Hammad is subsequently driven mad on his quest to create such a carpet, but in his madness finds unusual peace. Even Walid notices the change in him and becomes scared of him noting that there was something not quite human about him now. Once when Walid visited him in his workshop, Hammad tells him mysteriously, “Know that you are a mere mortal who has unleashed powers more terrible than a mighty storm, and that as a mortal, you cannot stop their wrath. Not anymore. It is far too late” (73).

After considering these seemingly prophetic words, Walid decides to release the man from his “curse” and allow him to go home. He opens the door to discover him dead, collapsed on the floor, and the completed carpet. One look at the carpet and Walid becomes convinced that the old man spoke the truth; in shame and fear, he locks the carpet into his secret room. But his life (and destiny) is forever changed. His kingdom begins to fall apart. His soldiers, his servants, his household begins to distrust him. Betrayal seems inevitable.

In the middle of the night, a former friend and advisor slip into the palace with two companions their goal to steal the king’s treasure. Instead of silver or gold, they find a carpet. The king is awakened by a nightmare about the carpet—and so being a paranoid man—he decides to make sure the carpet is still locked away. He discovers that his dream is all too true, just in time to receive a club on the head. As soon as he awakes, however, he dashes off to the stables for a horse so he can pursue the thieves; he’s still dressed in his nightgown!

Since his plan was foolhardy—to begin a dash across the desert without any provisions—it’s no surprise when he collapses in the sand certain that his death is hours away. He is saved by a stranger, an outlaw. But this close-call with death won’t be his last.

THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an adventure quest with unexpected twists and turns. As Walid sets out on his journey to recover the carpet and restore past wrongs, what he discovers is that it is never too late to change one’s self. It is an adventurous quest to restore and redeem his own life.

Set in Arabia in 6th century C.E., THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an exciting adventure story with probing questions. Is there such a thing as fate? Can a man ever truly make amends for his past mistakes? Is a man defined by his mistakes? Can a person really change his character?

First published in Spain in 2002, THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING has been translated into English by Dan Bellm. It is rich in pre-Islamic Arabic culture. An author’s note explains the time and culture which is depicted in the book. (Yes, the book is based loosely on a pre-Islamic legendary poet, Imru’l Qays.)

Garcia, Laura Gallego. 2006. The Valley of the Wolves.

I was first introduced to Laura Gallego Garcia's work when her book LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING was published in English last year. When I saw she had another book translated and published, I was quite excited. LEGEND had thrilled me last year, and I was hoping for more of the same. There was something about LEGEND that was was was was truly one of the best books I'd ever read. So perhaps I expected too much when I picked up THE VALLEY OF THE WOLVES.

The novel is fantasy. A young heroine is befriended early in her childhood by a playmate only she can see--a ghost--not that she'll know he's a ghost for quite a while. The two have a unique bond that makes it hard for her to relate to kids her own age. But her life, Dana is her name, changes when she is adopted by a mysterious sorcerer named Maestro. He takes her to live in a tower/castle which becomes surrounded by wolves at night. There she learns to become a sorceress. Her fellow companion--in addition to the ghost--is an elf. Not an ordinary elf, but a were-elf...who has the ability to keep the wolves from invading the tower.

Full of magic, VALLEY OF THE WOLVES moves quickly. She ages from 8 to 16 in two or three chapters. The Maestro remains ever-mysterious and untrustworthy. The truth is Dana doesn't know who to trust and who her allies are.

Perhaps the differences--besides subject matter of course--between The Valley of the Wolves and Legend of the Wandering King can be explained partly by the fact that Valley of the Wolves was one of Laura Gallego Garcia's earlier works written and published before Legend.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What are you afraid of?

Gallo, Donald R. ed., 2006. What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias.

With contributions from authors such as Neal Shusterman, Kelly Easton, Gail Giles, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, David Lubar, Angela Johnson, Joan Bauer, Ron Koertge, and Alex Finn, WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? is an incredible collection of short stories gathered around a central theme: phobias. You might be expecting to read a book about teens with a fear of spiders, heights, dentists, or one of the other 'common' phobias represented in the media.

In "The Door" Alex Flinn introduces us to Cameron whose phobia has grown increasingly worse until he cannot leave the house. What started out as a fear of going to school--after an incident with the school bully--slowly became a fear of leaving his neighborhood, then of leaving his yard, until finally he cannot even open his front door.

In "Calle de Muerte" Ron Koertge introduces us to Robert whose phobia is crossing the street. But with the help of a new neighbor--a young teen girl in a wheel chair--he is closer to getting off the curb than ever before.

In "Thin" Joan Bauer introduces us to a Deenie whose fear is gaining weight. Can she recognize the danger she is putting herself in before it's too late?

In "D'arcy" Angela Johnson introduces us to James whose phobia some readers may not be all that familiar with--string. But readers will see the extent of his phobia when he falls in love with D'arcy who loves to knit.

In "Claws and Effect" David Lubar introduces us to Randy whose phobia is cats. After a traumatic childhood experience, he has a lingering fear. But when his new girlfriend introduces him to "Johnny Depp" he has a choice...face his fear or lose the girl of his dreams.

In "Rutabaga" Nancy Springer introduces us to Lydia whose phobia is knives and sharp objects. With the help of friends, can she finally uncover the true source of her fear and overcome it once and for all?

In "Bang, Bang, You're Dead" Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple introduce us to Josh whose fear is speaking in public. Living in the shadow of his brother, Aaron, can Josh ever hope to succeed academically. . .especially since one of the requirements for completing 11th grade is making a speech in English class . . . and possibly the whole town if he is chosen to perform on Declamation Night.

In "No Clown Zone" Gail Giles introduces us to Will whose phobia is clowns. Once again the book shows a boy's phobias getting in the way of his love life. But are clowns really the only thing standing in his way?

In "Instructions for Tight Places" Kelly Easton walks the reader through what an elevator ride feels like to a person who is claustrophobic.

In "Fear-For-All" Neal Shusterman introduces us to Gavin whose enrollment at Bleakhaven Academy is a puzzlement to all--since he is the only student without a phobia--until one day his worth, his fearlessness, becomes terrifyingly clear to everyone.

The stories are well written and enjoyable. Common themes in the stories include friendship, first love, self-esteem, and self-acceptance.
The 24 Hour Phobia Clinic

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Is Ignorance Bliss?

For those who have ever pondered "Can what I don't know hurt me???" consider reading John Boyne's new book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Boyne, John. 2006. The Boy in The Striped Pajamas.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is either the best-worst book I’ve ever read OR the worst-best book I’ve ever read. There are many words I could use to describe this novel or “fable” by John Boyne. Powerful. Gripping. Emotional. Haunting. Tragic. Beautiful. Manipulative. Disturbing. Thought-Provoking. Challenging. Whether you hate it or love it, one thing can’t be is a novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. And how many ‘novels’ can you honestly say have that same effect?

What is it about? I’m not going to tell you. Not much anyway. Part of the intrigue of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is its ambiguous description, at least this was the case for me. I picked the book up and scanned the back cover looking for a description only to find: “The story of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about. If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter such a fence.”

For those with good deductive reasoning skills, the subject matter may be relatively easy to guess. Without even ‘cheating’ by reading any of the text, I was able to guess that perhaps--just perhaps--this Bruno was about to encounter one of the most horrific crimes against humanity in the twentieth century.

I have described the book itself. But I would like a chance to describe the book’s young hero. Bruno is the poster-child for innocence. He represents everything that is right with the world. Young. Naive. Innocent. Trusting. Care-free. Vulnerable. Honest. Gullible. In some ways The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a book about the very best in humanity colliding with the very worst in humanity...a novelization of humanity’s struggle with itself.

While The Boy In the Striped Pajamas is not for everyone--it requires a certain emotional maturity and stability--it is a beautiful book. Beautiful and awful at the same time. . . if such a thing is possible. It is a book that I know will haunt me for many years to come, yet I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Changing First Impressions

Sachs, Marilyn. 2006. First Impressions.

Can reading a piece of literature change your life? If you had asked our heroine, Alice Burns, she would have answered a resounding “no” . . . that is until one magical Christmas vacation. The book begins with Alice receiving devastating news--well, devastating news for an A student anyway--she has just gotten a C+ on her paper on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ever merciful, her teacher gives her a way to redeem her grade: reread the book and rewrite the paper over Christmas vacation for a chance at a better grade. While Alice hates the book--considers it a tragedy for “poor” Mary--she hates the idea of a C on her record more. Can reading the book with an open--even imaginative mind--change her life and the lives of those around her? You wouldn’t ordinarily think so . . . but Sachs weaves a magical and ultimately satisfying tale of family, friendship, and first love. Whether you’re a fan of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or just a fan of YA romance, First Impressions is an enjoyable read.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Elvis, Garth, Ashlee...

Westerfeld, Scott. 2005. Peeps.

Cal Thompson might seem like your average nineteen-year-old college freshman who is always ‘hungry for sex’ but looks can be deceiving. Cal’s secret, he’s parasite positive. A peep. Well, a carrier peep anyway. What’s a peep you ask? Well, they might commonly be called the ever-so-offensive “v-word”: vampire. Cal has superhuman enhancements: sight, smell, metabolism, speed, etc. But he has none of the bad side effects--cannibalism or anathema. (You see, the parasite controls your mind and one of the parasite's survival techniques is to make the host reject everything they once loved and treasured.) The only down side, Cal can never be with another woman’s too painful seeing ex-lovers become monsters he has to hunt down and lock up. Life is never boring though for a ‘hunter’ tracking down peeps and further outbreaks of vampirism. But one of his investigations leads him into great temption...

Peeps is an exciting book offering a little bit of everything to the reader...danger, adventure, romance, humor, and the truth. The truth? Yes, every other chapter describes the life cycle of an actual parasite and its positive and negative effects on its enviroment. The sequel, Last Days, was released on September 7, 2006.
Interview with Scott Westerfeld

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When history comes to visit...

Park, Linda Sue. 2006. Archer's Quest

Kevin is a young boy, Korean-American, who is just following his normal routine of doing his homework--his boring, irrelevant history homework--when history comes to visit him in a quite unlikely way. His baseball hat is quite literally lifted off his head by an arrow of a strange visitor who insists that he just fell off a tiger's back. Unsure whether to call 911 or assume it's a bizarre dream, Kevin goes along with the odd man's requests. As he begins to explain modern life--glass windows break when you try to shoot arrows through them--he determines that the only way to make his life return to normal is to figure out WHO this guy is and WHY he's suddenly in his room. This leads him to do research both online and in person.

The 'quest' is to find a way to send him back to his proper time. The solution--critical thinking skills, communication, math, and cultural research.

While ARCHER'S QUEST is not my favorite Linda Sue Park novel--her other works include A Single Shard (2001), When My Name Was Keoko (2002), and Project Mulberry (2005)--I think this modern-fantasy tale may prove interesting to young readers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brothers On A Quest

Brooks, Kevin. 2006. The Road of the Dead.

Ruben has always had a gift for reading other people’s thoughts and emotions. But he never expected to witness--at least paranormally--the rape and murder of his sister, Rachel. Thus begins THE ROAD OF THE DEAD...”When the Dead Man got Rachel I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering of the rain was going to stop” (1). The emotions which follow are overwhelming for him, after passing out he awakens to “the pain of a jagged knife ripping open my heart” letting him know that his sister is dead. “Her last breath had just left her. I could see it stealing away on the wind. I watched it floating over a ring of stones and through the branches of a stunted thorn tree, and then the storm came down with a purple-black light that rolled the sky to the ground, and that was the last thing I saw” (4). His gift--now a curse--leads him and his brother Cole on a dangerous journey to the town where his sister was murdered. Their goal to find their sister’s murderer and bring him to justice so they can have some peace and bury her body. It won’t be easy for the two since they are facing a corrupt police system and a town full of secrets that some are more than willing to kill to protect. The brothers will need supernatural trust to succeed, is Ruben’s gift enough to keep them both alive?

Author Profile: Kevin Brooks

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Family Legacies

Nelson, Suzanne. 2006. The Sound of Munich.

Siena Bernstein is a seventeen year old girl on a secret mission: while studying abroad a semester in Germany, she wants to find the man responsible for helping her father and grandparents escape East Berlin. Being half-German has never meant much to Siena, after all, her father died when she was a baby. She’s never known his family--or even if his family is still alive. But when her friend urges her to apply to study abroad in the Students Across the Seven Seas program, it’s an opportunity Siena siezes. Now she’s anxious to connect with her German heritage and perhaps learn a little about who her father was, what she doesn’t expect is to come to a new realization of who she is.The Sound of Munich is an entertaining YA novel with a heart. Siena and friends learn much about life, friendship, and perhaps more than they ever wanted about sausage.

Other titles in the series (S.A.S.S.) include

Getting the Boot by Peggy Guthart Strauss (2005)
Pardon my French by Cathy Hapka (2005)
Spain or Shine by Michelle Jellen (2005)
Westminster Abby by Micol Ostow (2005)
Now and Zen by Linda Gerber (2006)
Heart and Salsa by Suzanne Johnson Nelson (2006)

S.A.S.S. series from Penguin Group

Monday, September 11, 2006

Looking for Alaska...literally and figuratively...

I have two reviews for you today. One, Looking For Alaska, deals with a young man's coming-of-age struggle as he finds his place in the world. It is both humorous and philosophical in nature. The second, Alabama Moon, is another coming-of-age novel; however, Moon Blake is many years younger than Miles Halter and has an even longer journey he must take to make sense of his surroundings.

Green, John. 2005. LOOKING FOR ALASKA. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525475060 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is a coming-of-age novel starring Miles Halter and his eccentric cast of friends. Miles had always been different from his peers; for years he’d been searching for the “Great Perhaps” but he finally begins to understand the meaning of life when he ventures forth into the great unknown leaving his familiar home and school in Florida for his new life at a boarding school in Alabama. Miles, like all the characters in LOOKING FOR ALASKA, has his own eccentricities. Mile’s eccentric obsession—besides his love for philosophy—is his fascination with memorizing the last words of famous people. “It was an indulgence, learning last words. Other people had chocolate; I had dying declarations” (11). Miles, nicknamed, “Pudge,” is soon initiated into a close circle of friends including his roommate Chip Martin (the Colonel) and Alaska Young. It is his relationships with his friends—Alaska in particular—that will change his life forever.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is well written. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny such as when Pudge and his friends are playing pranks on their peers or pondering the glory of the bufriedo, a deep-fried burrito, and at other times deeply touching such as when Pudge and Alaska are discussing the meaning of life and what it means to truly live.

John Green's Weblog
John Green's Bio

Key, Watt. 2006. ALABAMA MOON. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ISBN 0374301840. [Suggested Grade Levels 6-9]

Moon Blake, a.k.a. “Alabama Moon,” is a ten year old boy who bears more weight on his shoulders than any child should ever have to endure. Raised in the forest by a father of questionable mental health, Moon knows more about nature and living off the land than almost anyone. But when his father dies due to complications from a broken leg--he refuses to have Moon seek help from the ‘outside’ world--Moon learns that what he knows about deers, snakes, rabbits, and squirrels won’t help him when it comes to surviving in human society. And human society seems to be a fate Moon can’t outrun as more people become aware of his existence. How can the state allow a ten-year-old-boy to run wild in the forest without proper care and schooling? But can a boy who has only been taught to mistrust and hate ever learn to trust and love other humans or is he destined to be a wondering loner like his father? His father’s dying words spoke to him of his dream that Moon would be able to make his way to Alaska and live free and strong with others ‘of his kind.’ As Moon struggles between awakening dreams of his own--friendship, love, and companionship with his peers-- and his father’s dying request, the boy becomes a strong and confident young man finally free to make his own decisions and merge his two realities.

Watt Key Official Site

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Historical Fiction for Young Readers

Laurence Yep and James Cross Giblin are two highly respected authors in the field of children's literature. This year each has written a historical novel for younger readers. The Earth Dragon Awakes is set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and is told from two young narrators. The book would definitely be appropriate for third to fifth graders. The Boy Who Saved Cleveland is set in Colonial America in 1798. This book would be appropriate for second to fourth graders. Both are good examples of how important quality fiction is for every age audience.

Giblin, James Cross. 2006. The Boy Who Saved Cleveland.

James Cross Giblin is known for writing extraordinary nonfiction books for young adults. His books have a reputation for being accurate, readable, and above all enjoyable.

THE BOY WHO SAVED CLEVELAND is a departure in some ways from your typical Giblin book. It is a fiction book for young readers--I'd estimate second to fourth graders. Definitely a "chapter-book" look and style to it, clear, easy-to-read, straight forward text, short chapters. Also, the book is fiction not nonfiction.

THE BOY WHO SAVED CLEVELAND is based on a true story of a young boy who saved his small settlement in 1798 from from a malaria epidemic. As one by one his family members and neighbors get sick it is his responsibility to take the corn to the mill to grind. Each day his burdens become heavier as more neighbors add in sacks of corn to be taken to the mill. This young boy has a great responsibility, and a newfound purpose. He is proud of his accomplishments...and is taking his first steps to manhood.

Overall, while not as 'fascinating' to adult readers like his YA books's hard to have a 'fascinating' chapter is an enjoyable read that I hope many children will enjoy.

The illustrations by Michael Dooling are also impressive.

Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes.

THE EARTH DRAGON AWAKES features parallel narration from two young American, one Chinese-American. Two different neighborhoods, but one terrifying crisis overwhelms them all.

Ah Sing is the houseboy to the Travis family, his son, Chin, is friends with Henry Travis. They both share a common passion: secretly reading 'penny dreadfuls' adventure stories full of heroes and action-packed adventures. But little do they know that the true heroes are much closer to home.

When the earthquake strikes, the young boys see their fathers revealed as true heroes. Fighting for survival, the city brings out the best and worst of everyone. Some see an opportunity to make profit, and others devote their time to helping strangers.

It is an exciting read for young readers.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Elephants On Parade

Today I am bringing you reviews of three nonfiction picture books on one of my favorite subjects: elephants. These three books highlight the talents and majesty of these magnificent animals. Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert tells the true story of how a team of talented individuals taught a group of fifty elephants an intricate (meaning complex) dance number. Elephants Can Paint Too by Katya Arnold explores the more artistic and creative side of elephants. The third book, An Elephant In the Backyard, shows an intimate picture of how elephants and humans live and work together in Thailand.

Schubert, Leda. 2006. Ballet of the Elephants.

BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS by Leda Schubert is a charming book telling the story of three talented men and fifty performing elephants. In April 1942, a unique show opened: Circus Polka, the brainchild of three men with very different backgrounds: John Ringling North, George Balanchine, and Igor Stravinsky. The book briefly describes the individual lives of the three men, the collaboration between the three men in the creative process, the training of the elephants in preparation for the show, and the show itself. The book concludes with background notes from the author which adds even more interest to the book. For example, the author notes that during her research she learned that "the elephants, even when they retired, so loved the ballet and were so well trained that they performed it all by themselves, without music." There is also a black and white photograph of the real performance!

Arnold, Katya. 2005. Elephants Can Paint Too.

ELEPHANTS CAN PAINT TOO is a great nonfiction book for young readers. Arnold takes a simple and informative approach to writing. “I teach in two schools. One is in the city. The other is in the jungle. Some of my students have hands. Others have trunks.” She then proceeds to show page by page the similarities and differences between teaching painting to human children and to elephants. Informative sidebars provide more information about elephants without interfering with the flow of the simple text. “Some students eat grass. Others eat peanut butter and jelly. But they all love cookies.” The corresponding side bar reads “Elephants are vegetarians that eat grass, leaves, twigs, and fruit. They also like human food, especially ice cream. Each day they eat about three hundred pounds of food (as much as twelve cows eat) and drink thirty-five gallons of water (as much as a whole bathtub full). They use their trunks to put the food into their mouths and to slurp up the water.” Arnold’s use of comparisons is useful for explaining things to both children and adults. Her writing can also be humorous, one sidebar reads, “Elephants have 150,000 muscles in their trunks. (Our entire body has only 639 muscles.) Some elephants hold the brush by wrapping their trunks around it. Others hold it inside their trunks. If an elephant throws the brush away or eats it, he probably won’t become an artist.” But by far the greatest highlight of ELEPHANTS CAN PAINT TOO are the photographs by the author, Katya Arnold. There is an author’s note providing more information about how you can buy elephant art and support the Asian elephants.

Sobol, Richard. 2004. An Elephant In the Backyard.

Set in Tha Klang, Thailand, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the latest photo essay picture book by Richard Sobol. Engaging text and photos invite children to explore a unique Thailand village where elephants play an active role in the human community. "Like most villages in Thailand, Tha Klang is filled with all kinds of people...But what makes Tha Klang different from other villages is that it has elephants, too. For the children of Tha Klang, elephants are part of their families." The heroine of AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the village's most famous elephant, Wan Pen. This special elephant is introduced as the four-legged sister of Jak and Muay. "She is friendly and gentle, happy to walk through the neighborhood with the children riding on her back, stopping to pick up friends who run alongside, eager for a ride." Full of factual trivia about elephants and Thailand, Sobol shows readers a whole new world where elephants walk on balance beams, play soccer with the local kids, and attend school--elephant school that is! "Her lessons look more like gymastics class. Even though she weighs as much as a car and has a big fat belly, she learns to balance and walk on narrow boards and steps. She can bow and kneel, dance and shake her butt, and even raise her trunk to say hello or ask for food or drink."

Combining interesting facts with engaging--almost unbelievable--photos, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is an enjoyable book for kids of all ages. Sobol also provides his readers with additional facts about elephants in his afterward.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Spotlight on Sarah Weeks

Name: Sarah Weeks
Born: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Resides: New York City

Picture Books: Crocodile Smile, 1994; Follow the Moon, 1995; Without You, 2003; Angel Face, 2002; If I Were A Lion, 2004; Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash, 1998; Mrs. McNosh and the Great Big Squash, 2000; Oh My Gosh, Mrs. MCNosh, 2002; I’m A Pig, 2005; Two Eggs, Please, 2003; My Somebody Special, 2002; Paper Parade, 2004; Overboard, 2005; Counting Ovejahs, 2006; Brass Bone, 2006; Ella, Of Course, 2007; Who’s Under That Hat, 2005; Be Mine, Be Mine, Sweet Valentine, 2006; Ruff! Ruff!, 2006.

Books for Young Readers: Beware of Mad Dog, 2004; Get Well Soon, Or Else!, 2004; Danger! Boys Dancing, 200?, Fink’s Funk, 200?, Tripping Over The Lunch Lady and Other School Stories, 2004; Baah Choo, 2005; Drip Drop, 2000; Splish Splash, 1999;

Books for Older Readers: Jumping the Scratch, 2006; So B. It, 2004; Guy Wire, 2002; My Guy, 2001; Guy Time, 2000; Regular Guy, 1999;

Official Site: Sarah Weeks
About Sarah Weeks by Pippin Properties, Inc.

Weeks, Sarah. 2004. SO B IT.

Weeks has created empathetic characters in Bernadette and Heidi. Heidi's narration is simply wonderful. Her voice is powerful and memorable. She seems honest and genuine in her narration--she is a character that lets you into her mind. She genuinely loves her mother "So B. It" despite her mental illness. Heidi's life isn't normal by any means--but Heidi doesn't complain--she's happy creating her own kind of unique family that embraces everyone's differences. The novel was memorable, enjoyable, and heartbreaking in some places. Heidi's loss is real, but the character is so strong--the reader knows she'll be able to survive. I absolutely loved this novel. Heidi is a girl who is gaining in wisdom. She knows that every person has their own weakness or flaw--and she accepts people as they are. She doesn't ask for what they can't give. While other girls might be embarrassed of a mother who is "mentally bum" since she only has a vocabulary of 24 words, one word "soof" not even being a "real" word, but Heidi, although she goes through times of frustrations, loves her mother unconditionally. It was just a sweet, moving, loving novel. Very well written. Definitely a must read for years to come. I hope it never goes out of print.

"I'd be lying if I said that given a choice, I wouldn't rather know than not know. But there are some things you can just know for no good reason other than that you do, and then there are other things that no matter how badly you want to know them, you just can't. The truth is, whether you know something or not doesn't change what was" (4).

Weeks, Sarah. 2006. Jumping the Scratch

Jamie Reardon is a our young narrator telling us about a painful chapter in his young life...and how his aunt Sapphy who has her own him 'jump the scratch' and move on in his life. You see, his aunt had an on-the-job injury at the local cherry plant. The head injury caused her to lose her short-term memory. She can remember things from before the accident, but very little if anything from after the accident. He feels that he can help her through this if he can find a way to 'jump the scratch' like he can do when he's playing a record. But the truth is, they both need help but don't know how to get it.

Jamie has a big, mysterious secret...that is only slowly revealed. His classmate, Audrey, is the closest thing he has to a friend. He relunctantly agrees to be hypnotized because he wants to forget his secret. The problem, it brings it clearly to the surface, and he can't help wanting to finally share it with someone. The solution. If you wanted to tell a deep secret but not have any consequences, you'd tell it to a person who would forget she ever heard it in half an hour or less. So he finds himself confiding in his aunt.

Enter the happy ending. Unburdening this weight from his soul helps Sapphy 'jump the scratch' in her own life. Both are able to live happily ever after.

I loved the book. I thought it was very well done.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Laughing All The Way

Behrens, Andy. 2006. All The Way.

Ian, Lance, and Felicia team up for an unpredictable road trip in Andy Behren’s YA novel All The Way. When Felicia and Lance return to town from their summer adventures, they try to cheer up Ian, who has had anything but an exciting summer working hard at Dunkin’ Donuts, by announcing that year’s plans for Lance-a-Palooza...their annual last fling of summer event. But this year Ian has plans of his own. You see, Ian is tired of being thought of as the “nice” guy...the gentleman...the sensitive guy who listens...this summer his goal was to imitate his friend Lance’s jerky behavior in the hopes that by the end of the summer, he’d lose his virginity. The problem, everyone in town knows him and would not be easily fooled. The solution, Ian determined, was to find a potential sex partner in an online chat room. The last weekend of summer Ian is filled with anticipation, if he can drive down to South Carolina from Chicago in time--before his “girlfriend” leaves for a semester in Spain...she promises to have sex with him. Enter in two sidekicks who make it their job to tease him relentlessly along the way, Felicia and Lance, and the reader is assured some lighthearted laughs along the way. I will not spoil the ending for you, however, readers may be able to predict this one soon enough after the journey begins. While very little is particularly “original” or “inspiring” in these characters and their friendship, All The Way is an entertaining long as you’re not easily offended.

For an equally funny but "cleaner" road trip book try HIT THE ROAD by Caroline B. Cooney.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Spotlight on Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata

Born: Chicago, 1956
Education: BA in journalism from the University of Southern California
Books: The Floating World, 1989 (adult); In The Heart of the Valley of Love, 1992 (adult); Kira-Kira, 2004 (young adult); Weedflower, 2006 (young adult), Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam, 2007 (young adult).

Honors for Kira-Kira:
Winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal
Selection of Junior Library Guild
ALA Notable Children's Books
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Award Winner
Blue Spruce YA Book Award Nominee (CO)
Booklinks Lasting Connections
Booklist Editors' Choice
Capitol Choices List (DC)
CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
Kiriyama Prize Notable Book
KSRC Middle School Titles - Top Pick
Librarians' Choices 2004
Nene Award Master List (HI)
NYPL "Books for the Teen Age"
Pacific Northwest Young Reader's Choice Award Master List
Thumbs Up! Award Master List (MI)

Official website:

Interview with Cynthia Kadohata: Cynsations: Quirky, thoughtful, angsty, joyous musings on all things life and book from a writer who finds her heroes in the sunshine and in the shadows written by Cynthia Leitech Smith

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Told with humor and honesty, KIRA-KIRA is narrated by Katie Takeshima and tells the story of one Japanese-American family's experiences in the fifties and sixties. The novel shares the family's experiences with poverty, prejudice, illness, and death as Katie's older sister is diagnosed with a terminal illness and slowly deteriorates before her family's eyes. It is both painfully poignant and honest and at times laugh out loud funny. The strength of Kira-Kira is the growth of the narrator Katie who ages from four to twelve during the course of the novel. As Katie experiences life's harshness from prejudice to poverty to being the victim of school bullies and teasing, her narrative changes. Her relationship with her sister also changes over time. As a child, she absolutely idolized her sister. She literally believed every word her sister told her. As the sisters grow up, however, Katie learns that things can't stay the same. Suddenly, her sister becomes more interested in spending time with friends her own age and even more shocking to Katie boys. Her sister no longer has time to play games with her; her interests have changed. It is about this time in her life, that Lynn becomes sick and slowly weakens and dies. Her sister's death leaves a hole in her life and Katie is unsure of how to cope with all the changes and losses in her life. The novel is one of strength and hope despite its sadness.

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata's first novel, Kira-Kira, was an impressive book. And Weedflower is equally impressive. This time the novel is set in the Southwest before and during World War II. Sumiko is a typically happy twelve-year old. While she feels awkward that she's the only Japanese-American in her class at school, she has not yet felt the harsh stings of discrimination...until a vicious birthday party. Soon after, I believe the same weekend, Pearl Harbor is bombed. Her normal life vanishes, no more more social life...only fear and anxiety as they wait to see what will become of them all.

It is a very heart-felt story of one girl's experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp. Definitely recommend it to everyone!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Food for the Soul...

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson

Parallel accounts of the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, are told alternately by Rosa Serutti and Jake Beale in Katherine Paterson’s latest novel BREAD AND ROSES, TOO. Jake is a young boy, a mill worker, who participates in the strike and is subsequently living on the street forced to steal food and money to survive. Rosa is a young girl. Her mother and sister are both mill workers who choose to strike even if it means present hardship because they believe strongly in their cause. In fact, Rosa is the one whose sign “We Want Bread, And We Want Roses, Too” ultimately becomes the slogan of the strike. Both narrators are torn in regards to the strike since its short-term effects are causing more hardship, more uncertainty, and more hunger. The two narrators are brought together in the story when concerned parents in the town send their children to various cities in the region who support the Union and its causes. Jake, an orphan, sneaks aboard the train and convinces Rosa to let him be her “brother.” She takes pity on him, and the two join forces for the duration of the strike.

Based on a historical event, BREAD AND ROSES, TOO, is an unforgettable novel recounting the injustice of the industrial revolution regarding its workers—particularly its immigrant workers—and the need for the Union to support and provide for its members assuring them of a better tomorrow. Set in the streets and tenements, it is a powerful portrait of poverty, hunger, and the fight for survival. It shows the strength of a community in supporting one another despite limitations and differences. It is a beautiful novel. While the strike itself plays an integral role in the story, it is in some ways a simple story of a young boy’s struggle to find himself, to find a place to belong, to find a family. To find rest.

Katherine Paterson's Official Site
Union Song "Bread and Roses"
Bread and Roses: The Strike Led and Won by Women
Bread and Roses: The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

Monday, September 04, 2006

Satin Chocolate-Covered Chicken Bones

Candy Darlings by Christine Walde

While Candy Darlings is not a YA book for everyone, its unique blend of candy, drugs, cliques, secrets, lies, and storytelling are sure to please some readers. A nameless first-person narrator befriends the school’s self-proclaimed outcast, Megan, as she faces off against MAL, a three-headed clique made up of of Malorie, Angela, and Laura. Megan is a free spirit. She is not afraid to be completely outrageous and unbelievable. Her actions often lead her into trouble, and she is unapologetic about her behavior. On top of your typical peer pressure, our narrator faces a troubled home life as well. Her mother died the previous summer and it would be an understatement to say that her and her father are dealing with their grief in compatible ways. It seems in her now crazy world that it is easier to communicate through stories than to actually speak the truth and face the harshness of reality. The ray of hope in the novel besides the girls’ friendship, is their relationship with an elderly woman named Edie who is a fellow storyteller and a candy freak. The truth is not always easy to discern, and that’s one of the messages of this book. And while much remains a mystery--for example the narrator’s name and age--what is revealed is a heart-felt emotion which rings with a truth all its own.

Houghton Mifflin's Brief Bio on Christine Walde

Sunday, September 03, 2006

New in Paperback...

Meyer, Stephenie. 2005. Twilight.

TWILIGHT is a great YA novel that successfully captures the "heart" of a teenage girl experiencing the dramas of daily high school life (and family life) and the dark and dangerous world of vampires. Bella Swan is the daughter of the town's police chief. She is new to the town, and on her first day of classes she notices one boy that stands out above all the rest--a loner with pale skin, purplish eyelids, and perfect face and body. As the weeks and months unfold, her "strange" attraction becomes harder and harder for her to deny. Stranger still is his reaction to her very presence. Sometimes he goes out of his way to avoid even being in the same room with her, and at other times he is a perfect gentleman. He even saves her life! As she begins to get to know her mystery man, Edward, she falls madly in love with him despite his warnings that they shouldn't even be friends...let alone romantically involved...but warnings go unheeded as this passion grows leading to a thrilling conclusion. The first in a series, Twilight is too good to miss.

Be sure to read my review of New Moon, the sequel, which I posted in August.

Twilights: For Over-Obsessive Twilight Fans

Twilight Lexicon

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Definition of Determination

Aftershocks by William Lavender

Jessie Wainwright is a stubborn, rebellious, opinionated, courageous, and undeniably likable character. The novel, Aftershocks, by William Lavender begins in 1903, our heroine is introduced early-on as a trouble-maker. Her family, wealthy and prestigious in San Francisco, cannot understand why this fourteen year old girl would ever want to bother with an education and medical school when she could easily make a good match and become a doting wife and mother. But Jessie's goals in life will not be dictated by her father, although she will outwardly submit for the sake of family unity. Thus begins one of the first themes of the book: discrimination against women, particularly women in the workplace.

The second theme of the novel is discrimination against the Chinese. While most wealthy families employed a "house boy" that was Chinese, they were very much looked down upon and viewed as dishonest and inferior. Ching Lee, the Wainwright's houseboy, brings his niece Mei to work as a maid in the household. She is instantly befriended by Jessie, and since she is a quick learner, she is respected by the other members of the family. Eager is one word to describe Mei. She is eager to please...and eager to become an American. Naively eager in some circumstances.

When Jessie's mother becomes ill, Mei moves into the attic room. Ching Lee is against this from the start--he knows no good could come from it--but the family insists. Mei loves living there, and she becomes more familiar with the family--in some cases way too familiar with the family. One night, Jessie hears noises coming from the attic room. Strange noises to her ear and lots of laughter...instantly suspicious of her older brother who has been flirting with Mei...she is shocked to see her father come stumbling out of the attic. Months later, Mei leaves the household along with Ching Lee without a word to anyone--but Jessie fears the true reason is that Mei has learned she is pregnant. Her search for Mei and Lee continues, until she accidentally stumbles into an opium house and is arrested. To say her parents were horrified would be an understatement, she is threatened with boarding school if she disobeys again.

1906. The San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires make the perfect plot device for moving this story forward and bringing everyone's secrets out into the open. Seeing Chinatown destroyed, Jessie can no longer avoid the obvious...she wants...she needs to find out what happened to her half-sister. In the chaos, she is able to slip in and out of the house and visit the refugee camps where the Chinese are staying...and it is here where the story really begins to unfold.

Aftershocks is a great read. Complex storylines, multiple climaxes and resolutions...and ultimately a very happy ending. Definitely recommend to lovers of historical fiction.

An Interview with William Lavender
The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco: The Great 1906 Earthquake and Fire

Friday, September 01, 2006

Waiting for A Memory

Bruchac, Joseph. 2006. Geronimo

Geronimo was a legendary figure in American culture, and during the last half of his lifetime, a tourist attraction wherever he went. And while Joseph Bruchac's novel GERONIMO describes this vividly, he also paints a portrait of a real man. Told through the eyes of "Little Foot" or "Willie" this fictional grandchild of Geronimo is responsible for passing on his legacy through the stories he shares.

"Remember That is what I now do. I tell the story as best I can. With each line of my tale I will place a kernel of corn on the ground. Then, when I am done, that corn will be there for you to pick up. Eat it and this story may stay with you as it has stayed with me. Do not fall asleep, or the story may be broken, as were our lives. Listen" (5).

While it doesn't follow strictly chronological guidelines, the main story takes place between 1883 and 1908. The heart of the story is the imprisonment of the Apache Indians--yes, I know there is a more descriptive, more accurate name, and their exile from their land in Arizona. They were deported by train, under guard, to camps and forts in Alabamba and Florida. The train carrying Geronimo became a tourist attraction at every stop along the way, and a money-making venture.

"'They are waiting for a memory,' Wratten said to me as we passed slowly by yet another great crowd of waving, shouting people. 'They want to be able to tell their children they saw Geronimo.'" (78)

The memories they make for themselves in their new homes were anything but pleasant. Full of hard work, sadness, depression, and disease--their camps were prone to malaria--they were often separated from their families...wives from husbands, and children from parents. Many children were sent to a school in Pennsylvania where many became sick with tuberculosis and died.

Woven into the stories of hardships and broken promises, are stories of the past both pleasant and bittersweet. Their days of peace and contentment, and their days of battle fighting the Mexicans and Americans.

Beautifully written, I hope this book finds its audience because it is a truly memorable book.