Wednesday, February 28, 2007

CCBC Choices 2007 Announced

The CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center) has just released its "best of 2006" list. You can read the list here.


New (c2006) Books for Children and Young Adults Recommended by the
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
School of Education, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Selected by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren,
Hollis Rudiger, and Megan Schliesman

CCBC Choices is the CCBC’s annual best-of-the-year list. The final CCBC Choice 2007 publication will include annotations and recommended ages for all of the books on the chosen, as well as an author/title/subject index, and a commentary on the publishing year. CCBC Choices 2007 will be available at the CCBC after March 3, 2007. (See the back page for information on obtaining CCBC Choices 2007.)

The CCBC is a noncirculating library for adults of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The CCBC is also supported by an annual contract with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Division for Libraries, Technology, and Community Learning.

CCBC Choices 2007 will be available after March 3. Copies will be available at the CCBC at no cost. For information on how to have a copy sent to you, go to

Members of the Friends of the CCBC: you will automatically receive a copy by mail at that time as a membership benefit. To join the Friends of the CCBC, Inc., write to the CCBC requesting a Friends membership flyer, or print out a membership form from the CCBC website at

The publication of CCBC Choices is underwritten by the Friends of the CCBC.

Unlike other 'best' lists, the CCBC has been broken down into unique categories: "The Natural World", "Seasons and Celebrations", "Folklore, Mythology, and Traditional Literature", "Historical People, Places, and Events", "Biography and Autobiography", "Contemporary People, Places, and Events", "Issues in Today’s World", "Understanding Oneself and Others", "The Arts", "Poetry", "Concept Books", "Picture Books for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers", "Picture Books for School-Aged Children", "Books for Beginning and Newly Independent Readers", "Fiction for Children", and "Fiction for Young Adults."

Titles you'll recognize on the list: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (as if the book needed another honor or decoration), American Born Chinese by Gene Yang, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, along with some of my other favorites of the year: Rash by Pete Hautman, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, King Dork by Frank Portman, Last Days by Scott Westerfeld, Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Julia's Kitchen

Ferber, Brenda A. 2006. Julia's Kitchen.

There are not enough words to describe how much I loved Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber. I enjoy much of what I read. I love many. But there are a few that touch my heart and I know that I'll always alwayslove. Julia's Kitchen is now one of them. It is the story of a young girl, Cara Segal, as she goes through a heartbreaking journey of grief and sorrow when her mother and sister die in a fire. When we first meet Cara she is happy and carefree. Having stayed overnight at a friend's house she is unaware that her life is forever changed. One phone call changes everything. Suddenly a happy family of four is a confused and grief-stricken family of two. Having been her mother's pet, the two liked to bake together, she is struggling trying to connect with her father emotionally. Her mother, Julia, owned her own catering business "Julia's Kitchen" and Cara loved helping her mother. Now she's vowed never to eat another dessert. Cara's journey of how she learns to live again, love again, believe in God again, and yes, even bake chocolate chip cookies again is unforgettably touching. And there is even a recipe for those cookies in the book!

Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner 2007

VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2006

Junior Library Guild Selection 2006

Monday, February 26, 2007

Each Little Bird

Wiles, Deborah. 2005. Each Little Bird That Sings.

Comfort Snowberger is a young girl who has seen a lot of death and life in her time. Her parents own the town’s funeral home. And in her ten years, Comfort has attended almost 250 funerals so far. But when the deaths become those of two beloved family members instead of strangers or acquaintances, Comfort begins a different journey. She thinks she knows everything there is to know about grief, but when she loses her great-uncle, her great-great aunt, and her dog all in the course of six months...things become chaotic. Emotionally turbulent. Comfort doesn’t know how to deal with what life is throwing at her. First she loses people that are close to her, and then her best friend Declaration begins changing--acting strange--hanging around with different kids--even teasing and tormenting her. This is a novel about how to cope with all of life’s difficulties.

2005 National Book Award finalist
Golden Kite Honor Book
Bank Street Fiction Award
E.B. White Read-Aloud Award
Booksense Top-Ten Pick
Borders Bookstores "Original Voice"
Junior Library Guild selection
IRA-CBC Children's Choice
Arizona Young Reader Award Master List
Indiana Young Hoosiers Master List
Iowa Choice Master List
Virginia Readers' Choice List
Texas Bluebonnet Master List
Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Master List
Tennessee Volunteer Master List
Maine Student Book Award Master List
Rhode Island Student Book Award Master List
Kansas -- William Allen White Student Book Award Master List
Alabama Emphasis on Reading Student Book Award Master List
Delaware Blue Hen Book Award Master List
New Hampshire Cochecho Reader's Award Nominee
New Hampshire Great Stone Face Award Master List
Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee
Kentucky Rebecca Caudill Award Nominee
Hawaii Nene Award Master List
California Young Reader Medal Master List

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Storm Thief

Wooding, Chris. 2006. Storm Thief.

Orokos is a chaotic place to live--but it’s also the only place to live--at least that is what everyone young and old has always been told. But is that just one of the many secrets or lies that is being told to the public by the Protectorate? Rail and Moa are our young hero and heroine whose lives depend on what they don’t know. In this futuristic society there are three kinds of people: the wealthy citizens who live in fine houses, the so-called ‘worthless’ contained in the ghettoes, and the Taken. Rail and Moa are from the ghettoes. Forced into a criminal lifestyle to survive--everyone from the ghettoes has to make hard choices--Rail and Moa are thieves on a mission. But when they decide to deceive their boss--the crime lord in this ring of thieves--they have more trouble than they ever could have imagined. STORM THIEF is an action-packed book full of surprises. Facing a wide range of enemies and dangers--both natural and supernatural--the two have only one another to rely least until they find a community offering a different hope for the future.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Wooding, Chris. 2005. POISON.

Once upon a time there was a young lady who lived in a marsh, and her name was Poison. Life in the marsh--or the Black Marshes--isn’t exactly exciting. Sure, it’s full of dangers...swamp fever, poisonous creatures of every shape and size, etc...but what Poison longs for is real adventure. She wants to venture outside her community in the marsh. She wants to see the world outside. What’s left of it anyway. Set perhaps centuries after a disastrous war--the Many-Sided War--humans have become divided, weak, and fearful. They’ve gone to hiding in the mountains and living in marshes. Poison knows what is expected of her: to marry and have children year after year the rest of her life. But Poison wants more...needs more. But even with this dream for more, Poison never actually expected to leave her life in the village and go on a quest like in a storybook. When her younger sister, Azalea, is kidnapped by the Phaerie Lord she sets out on a mission to bring her back. Along the way she meets some friends and makes some enemies. One thing is certain: Poison’s life will never be the same once she ventures outside the Realm of man and into the Realm of Phaerie.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Booth, Coe. 2006. Tyrell.

I didn't know what to expect with Tyrell. Typically I pick up a book and get an impression of whether I'm going to like it, love it, or hate it. Not that my impressions are ever foolproof. I often prove myself wrong. I like to be suprised. Still, you can't help as a reader judging a book by its cover. Reading the back of the book, reading the flaps, reading other reviews...and compiling a first impression of sorts. I had heard some great things about the book. So I knew I wanted to read it. But I just want to say how impressed I am with this novel. It is a great book. It has done something that few books can do: create multiple characters in a love triangle that are all equally likable and that you can really relate to and understand their point of view.

Tyrell is a young man who has a lot of hard decisions to make. His father is in jail. His mother and his younger brother are depending on him to help them out of their difficult situation. At the moment, they are homeless and depending on the government to place them in shelters or housing. Their current environment couldn't get much worse. They are living in a run-down hotel that is roach-infested. We're not talking a few roaches now and then. We're talking major roach infestion. They're everywhere and in everything. There is no escape. There is no way to make their hotel room any cleaner. Any nicer. Set during the winter, this new placement is supposed to be temporary, but temporary turns into weeks. He has dropped out of school. He is trying to find a way to support his family that is legal--relatively legal--and not dangerous. He has a turbulent relationship with him mom at best because they disagree on so many things. For example, she doesn't care HOW he brings the money home. She would rather her son be a drug dealer or pimp or both instead of having to find a minimum job wage herself. She feels she is too good to do something menial. She also has no problem doing drugs, drinking, and leaving her young son (maybe seven or eight) at home alone for hours or even a day or so. Often, she'll disappear without warning Tyrell first. So he might be out visiting friends thinking his mom and brother are at home....only to return late that night or the next morning to find his brother has been there alone and scared. Tyrell's girlfriend is a big influence on him. She's his reason for living almost. He lives to love and protect her. But when the relationship begins to break down, he finds comfort and friendship with another girl. A girl who understands him. Who knows what it's like to have so much pressure. Who knows what poverty is like. Who knows about hard choices. Who doesn't judge him. Who doesn't preach at him to be different. To be better. Yes, Tyrell's life is all about hard choices.

Depicting multiple relationships (family, friends, love interests), Tyrell is a wonderfully human novel. Very well-written. Very enjoyable. These characters become people you know and care about.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Green Glass Sea

Klages, Ellen. The Green Glass Sea.

Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during World War II, THE GREEN GLASS SEA tells the story of two young girls--Dewey and Suze--whose parents work for the government on a top-secret project called Project Manhattan. Told that they are working on the gadget that will end the war, the children are confused by their new surroundings but soon become accustomed to its strangeness. Suze and Dewey are both outsiders. But it takes three-fourths of the novel for the two to become friends. In fact, Suze is one of the girls that torments Dewey and makes fun of her for wearing a leg brace. But Suze slowly becomes compassionate during the course of this novel. Dewey is a unique character. A tomboy. A wanna-be mechanic/inventor. She loves to build. She loves to take things apart. She loves math and science. The Green Glass Sea is an interesting novel. It has strengths, but it also has weaknesses. For example, Ellen Klages shifts between a wonderful style where the reader can see and feel and know what the characters are doing and a horrible style that is very didactic, very out-of-body, very removed, very distant, very awkward. What’s worse is that the first thirty-seven pages of the book are written in that style. But if you’re patient, it does get better.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (Viking) is the winner of the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The award is presented to a children's or young adult book published in English by a U.S. publisher and set in the Americas.

Preview of Green Glass Sea, and the place the illustration comes from

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Raider's Night

Lipsyte, Robert. 2006. Raider’s Night.

First of all, I should probably mention that I am not really a sports person. So I checked out RAIDER’S NIGHT without really reading what it was about, I chose it simply because it made the Librarians’ Choices 2006 list. So when I read that it was a book about football players doing drugs and taking steroids, I was skeptical at best. But it is a well-written novel. If a writer can make me look past the fact that most of the action occurring revolves around sports--whether it is playing, training, or talking--then it is saying something. Seriously. So I was pleasantly surprised that I got anything positive from this novel. Now I know there are many people--adults and teens--who would seek out a sports related novel on purpose. They would actually like it because of the content instead of in spite of the content. But let me begin. Matt Rydek is one of the captains on his football team. It is his senior year, and as the school year approaches he is more than ready for the upcoming season. True at one time he would have preferred playing baseball to football, he has found something he excels at. Thanks to a little help from a fitness trainer who keeps him and his team well supplied with prescription painkillers and steroids. But as training season begins, Matt has no idea what is ahead of him. When his co-captain--an obnoxious jerk--Ramp rapes (with a baseball bat) one of the sophomore students newly transferred to the school and the football team, Matt is one of the senior witnesses. And perhaps more importantly, as captain of the team he bears the responsibility of seeing that justice is done. The rest of the players were blindfolded. Thus begins Matt’s ethical and moral dilemma. Does he ruin the team’s season before it really even gets a chance to begin? Does he throw away his opportunities to impress college scouts? Does he let down the whole team? the whole administration? the whole student body? Does being a team player mean looking out for the whole team? or for each member of the team? As his selfishness wages war with his conscience the reader is along for the ride. What are the consequences of staying silent? And what will happen if he comes forward?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nick and Norah

Cohn, Rachel and David Levithan. 2006. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist won the 2006 Cybils award in the YA fiction category. Its competition was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (a more serious book), A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (a more melodramatic book), Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (a more family-friendly book), and Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (a harsher and more violent book). Of the five books, I can honestly say that I truly enjoyed four of them. (Don't get me started on A BRIEF CHAPTER OF MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE). But before the Cybils announcement, I had not read Nick & Norah. It was on my stack of to be read books. So with the announcement, it became top of my list.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that in the past few weeks the Middle_School_Lit group on Yahoo has been discussing profanity in YA books. I am not making the connection that Nick & Norah's is a Middle School book--it isn't--but I just find it interesting to be reading all these postings about what is and is not authentic. And what should authors and editors do about profanity. Should they have more? less? the same? Does profanity make a book authentic? Does profanity establish characters and personalities? Are authors being more creative by using profanity or less creative? Is it harder to not use profane language and keep a book clean? If authors know that using certain words will make it offensive why do they keep using them? Do they not care? Are they making an artistic statement? I will add this to the debate. As a reviewer, how much is too much profanity? In a book of 183 pages--for example--how many times should you reasonably expect to see the f word??? 10? 25? 50? 100? Not even close to the number of times that Cohn and Levithan use it in their collaborative work of fiction NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. (Don't believe me, check out page 95 where it occurs 26 times). My question when does excessive (and I would argue that 26 times on the same page is excessive) use of profanity lower the quality of a book? The more profanity is used, the more redeeming, the more satisfying the other elements of the book have to be to make up for the fact that it's so profane. At some point you've got to ask yourself, are these characters just one dimensional characters that like to use the f-word over and over and over and over again for apparently no reason whatsoever? Don't they ever say or do anything else? Isn't there more to a person's character than a particular word??? Is profanity really artistic? Is the best an author has to offer the reader?

I will say this. I read NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. I enjoyed Nick & Norah NOT because of the profanity but in spite of the profanity. I didn't enjoy it enough to want to buy it. And I'd hate to have to hear an audiobook of this one. But it had a good story at heart. Nick is a young guy, a bass player in a band. A band where he is the only straight guy. So he's playing at a club and he sees his ex-girlfriend in the crowd. He begins to lose it. It's been three weeks since the break-up and he's still not over her. The thought of her still gets to him. Upsets him. He told her never to come see him play again, and so obviously she had to come and bring along her new boy toy. Enter Norah. Norah is at the club with her friends. She sees the band. She's hanging out at the bar afterwards, not drinking but watching her friend drink herself silly. Nick joins her at the bar after his band finishes up. The next band is on stage, and everything is going fine until....Nick sees his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend heading his way. He panics and does the first thing that pops into his head. He turns to the girl next to him and says: Will you be my girlfriend for the next five minutes????? The big question that starts a long, quirky nighttime adventure between two young strangers.

The characters were even likeable. While they surrounded themselves with the party crowd who drank, did drugs, smoked, etc...Nick & Norah weren't into underage drinking or illegal substances. And as much as the book uses the f-word, there is very little sexual content (the actual act) in the book. Plenty of references. Some temptation. A few very racy scenes that are not going to sit so well with some readers. And a lot of scenes of questionable taste. I can't see the scenes with the transvestite strippers dressed as nuns stripping to Edelweiss and Climb Every Mountain going over so well with some readers. The truth is there is so much that could just as easily offend as entertain. It could go either way.

If you're offended by profanity, gay clubs, stripping transvestites, underage drinking and partying, sexual references both heterosexual and homosexual...then this book is NOT for you.

The developing love story, the relationship as its being formed, is a good one. Nick and Norah are made for each other. It just depends on how much you're willing to put up with to get to that conclusion. For me, NICK & NORAH was like LOVE ACTUALLY. Love Actually was a movie I bought without seeing it first. I had no idea of the content. Did not like 95% of the movie. There were only two possibly three storylines I cared about. The rest was absurd, offensive, distasteful, excessive nonsense. I liked the Colin Firth storyline where he falls in love with a foreign woman and has to learn the language so he can go back and propose to her. And I liked the widower and his young son storyline where they are coping with loss and death and discovering how to live again. The rest of the stories ranged from awful to nasty to pointless to stupid.

I should also mention since I'm focusing on what not to like in the book. That I actually LIKED elements of the writing style. I thought some of the sentences that weren't filled with profanity were actually quite beautiful and rhythmic. Very musical. Very enjoyable. But I think at least one of the authors got confused into thinking that profanity WAS the style of the novel instead of just a minor part of the style.

I am ticking, I am the pulsing, I am underneath every part of this moment. We don't have a drummer....I am the generator. I am listening and I am not listening because what I'm playing isn't something I'm thinking about, it's something I'm feeling all over. All eyes are on us. Or at least that's what I can imagine in my stageblindness. (1)

I throw the chords at them, I drench them in the soundwaves, I am making time so loud that they have to hear it. I am stronger than words and I am bigger than the box I'm in, and then I see her in the crowd and I fall apart. (2)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Black Duck

I've mentioned this before, but let me repeat myself...a test of a good book...particularly a good historical fiction book is when the reader picks up a book ABOUT a subject or event that they have had little or no interest in reading about before and having the book completely draw them in. In that regards, BLACK DUCK by Janet Taylor Lisle is a great book.

Lisle, Janet Taylor. 2006. BLACK DUCK.

On December 30, 1929, the Coast Guard killed three suspected rum-runners on the vessel Black Duck which they claim failed to stop (and surrender) when warning shots were fired. This newspaper account in the Newport Daily Journal introduces us to the book Black Duck. David Peterson is a young boy in town looking for a story. He dreams of one day being a journalist. And he is looking for any chance to get away from the family business of lawn care. So David is a boy on a mission:

A rumrunner had lived in town, one of the notorious outlaws who smuggled liquor during the days of Prohibition, that was the rumor...Someone said to ask at the general store across from the church. It would be a miracle if the man was still alive, David thought. He'd be over eighty. If he were anywhere, he'd probably be in a nursing home by now. But it turned out he wasn't. He still lived in town. Ruben Hart was his name. The number listed in the telephone book doesn't answer. There is an address, though. (3).

Looking for a story to report, he finds so much more. He finds a story that has yet to be told. Ruben Hart was just a young boy at the time. He had no intentions of participating in anything illegal. Witnessing anything illegal. But sometimes you don't have a choice. When Ruben and his friend discovered a dead body on the was the beginning of a sometimes dangerous, sometimes exciting adventure. It is book about decisions. Ethical decisions. Moral decisions. Taking a stand. Is Ruben the kind of boy who sees things as black and white? Or is he the kind of boy who sees a gray foggy area between the two? Friendships of all sorts will be formed and tested throughout the course of the novel.

The framework of the story is integral. Ruben is fleshing out stories that no one else knows. He's going beyond the meager facts of a few newspaper articles. He's going back to the beginning...well his beginning of the story. As he shares his story from the summer of 1929 through that fateful December day, he's sharing his life story with David. It's a process that is connecting the two, forming a new friendship. Fulfilling needs neither one was aware of. But it's a beautiful thing. A healing thing.

Behind the scenes of my reading (selection) process....OR why I loved to be surprised

Here are four of the reasons why I picked up this book I was uninterested in...
1) It appeared on Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2006
2) It appeared on the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA 2007) list
3) It appeared on the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2006 list
4) It appeared on the Texas Lonestar Reading List for 2007-2008.

The fifth reason I picked up this 'uninteresting' book was because it was available at my local library and it was one of the few 2006 titles left on the shelves. (At least that I hadn't already read in previous months.)

My only other exposure to this book was by reading The Golden Fuse Awards 2006. (Fuse #8's personal picks of the year.) It was mentioned as one of the books in the category of: The "Kids Really Want To Read About This?" Trend.

So I knew when I saw the book on the shelf that I would check it out. I knew that I would read it. But I didn't expect much from it. I didn't expect to hate it. But I didn't expect to love it either. Here is what the back cover says:

What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wondered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.

It is further described in these ways:

History and mystery collide in a gripping saga of rum-running on the Rhode Island coast during the 1920s.
Inspired by very real accounts of the Black Duck, a legendary rum-running boat that worked the New England shores during the era, Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle has written a colorful, original work of historical fiction.

Those blurbs and the cover weren't enough to catch my eye. But as previously stated the fact that it appeared on four "best of the year" lists convinced me that this was a book worthy of review for this blog.

Let me just say how wonderful it was to be surprised by a book. I didn't just like BLACK DUCK. I absolutely LOVED Black Duck. I thought it was great. I loved so much about it. I loved the framework of the story. I loved the intergenerational aspects of the novel. I loved the storytelling format of the novel. Most of all I love how this novel unfolds bit by bit. Even though as a reader you know you're building your way up to the killing/murder on December 30th....the story was suspenseful to me. You still didn't know the how or why of it. The characters were wonderful. You saw how everyone was struggling. On one hand, money was scarce. It was not easily come by. Yet by either looking the other way or pretending you didn't see what you saw you could make a few bucks OR you could even go so far as to help the bootleggers and make enough money to support your whole family. A hard choice. Do you watch your family live in poverty...always wanting or needing a little more than they have? Is it better to follow the laws? Or do you adopt the philosophy...well what is it really hurting anyone if I break a few laws now and then. Half of Ruben's neighbors seemed to be on the side that was beyond bribery or temptation. Half were not. But there were very few truly bad characters. Everyone was doing what they felt was right for them. They might not be understood by the other side. But they were following their own consciences. Some decisions. Some actions had some unpleasant consequences. But it was always a very thoughtful (thought-filled) book.
Interview with Janet Taylor Lisle about Black Duck

(I also just learned that it was A 2006 Junior Library Guild selection.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Boyce, Frank Cottrell. 2006. Framed.

Framed is a fun little adventure set in Wales. In a somewhat boring town where not enough news happens in a week that makes it worth the while to publish, Dylan and his family accidentally add more life and flair to life than the town has seen in generations. Dylan’s family owns a gas station. But with the town losing its residents quickly--Dylan finds himself the only boy left in town--business isn’t going well. But all that changes when strange cars and vans begin going up the mountain. What could all those cars be doing going to the abandoned mines? Why are they fencing the top of the mountain off? Is it a new criminal hideout? Or are they hiding a priceless treasure of their own? Dylan and his family flirt with the criminal lifestyle in this often funny novel.

HarperCollin's Author Page on Frank Cottrell Boyce
Frank Cottrell Boyce is a screenwriter whose films include Welcome to Sarajevo, Hilary and Jackie, 24 Hour Party People, and Millions, which was also his first book. Framed was inspired by a news story he’d read in an old scrapbook: During the Second World War, a collection of valuable paintings from the National Gallery was hidden in a slate mine for safekeeping. He couldn’t resist imagining how all of that great art might have affected the people who lived near the mine. Mr. Cottrell Boyce lives with his wife and seven children in Liverpool, England.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I Am The Messenger

Zusak, Markus. 2005. I Am The Messenger.

Set in Australia, I AM THE MESSENGER is a charmingly odd story of how one man learns some important life lessons over the course of a year. Nineteen or twenty years old and a cab driver, our hero, Ed Kennedy is not on the fast-track for success. In fact, most of his friends would nominate him as one of the laziest men ever. But things begin to change when Ed begins receiving some strange mail. Messages on aces. But perhaps I’m jumping ahead, Ed and his friend witness a bank robbery. During this robbery, Ed inadvertantly plays hero and ends up with the gun while the robber makes a very botched escape. After the robbery, things really begin to change. He’s the headliner in this small town. A real hero, at least for a week or so while everyone’s talking. But then he begins receiving strange, cryptic messages on playing cards. What could the messages mean? And is his life in danger if he ignores them? Who is behind this elaborate scheme? As he ‘delivers’ each message--each unique message--Ed begins to realize certain things about himself, his family, his friends, his life. I AM THE MESSENGER is an odd but enjoyable mystery.

At the age of 30, Zusak has already asserted himself as one of today’s most innovative and poetic novelists. With the publication of The Book Thief, he is now being dubbed a ‘literary phenomenon’ by Australian and U.S. critics. Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a 2006 Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. He lives in Sydney.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Book Thief

Zusak, Markus. 2006. The Book Thief.

Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief has already been recognized as one of the best young adult books of 2006. It was nominated for the 2006 Quill Awards in the Young Adult category (along with Dairy Queen, Elsewhere, King Dork, and Eldest) although it didn’t win that particlar prize. It has won the Kathleen Mitchell award--an award given for literary merit by a writer aged thirty or under at the time of publication. Also Zusak was chosen as one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Young Writers of the year for The Book Thief. (In case you didn’t know, he is Australian.)

What is it about?

In the author’s own words “It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.” Narrated by Death--yes, the grim reaper finally gets a voice--it tells the story of a young girl, Leisel Meminger, growing up in Munich, Germany, in the late thirties and early forties. Practically abandoned by her mother, she is sent into a foster home where she meets a harsh but loving mother and a friendly accordian-playing father who teach her a lot of important life-lessons."

Although it is quite a long book--or perhaps just its subject matter makes it seem so long--I do recommend it to others. Particularly those interested in this time period.

These are the honors that I am aware of for The Book Thief

  • Librarians’ Choices 2006,
  • BCCB 2006 Blue Ribbons,
  • SLJ Best Books of 2006,
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Books 2006,
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year,
  • Horn Book Fanfare 2006,
  • Amazon’s Best Books of 2006,
  • 2006 Quill Book Awards Finalist,
  • Cybils Finalist in YA Fiction,
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice 2006,
  • Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2007,
  • BBYA Top Ten,
  • BBYA 2007,
  • the Association of Jewish Libraries inaugural Teen Book Award
  • Jewish National Book Award (in the Young Adult \ Childrens’ division)
  • Tayshas Reading List 2007-2008

His first novel, I Am The Messenger has won several awards including:
WINNER 2006 - Michael L. Printz Honor
WINNER 2006 - Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
WINNER 2005 - Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year - Children
Winner 2003 - Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia

Since reading this book in November 2006, I have since had the wonderful pleasure of listening to THE BOOK THIEF on audio book. It is read by Allan Corduner and produced by Listening Library. I have only this to say: Death has never sounded so good. Everything seemed to work better for me. My interest was more focused than when I was reading it--which is extremely unusual for me when it comes to audio books. It seemed more beautiful, more haunting. And I loved the occasional accordion. Overall, I thought it was beautifully done. One of the best books I've ever listened to quite honestly.

And further searching reveals he also narrates the KEYS TO THE KINGDOM series by Garth Nix and the SEPTIMUS HEAP series by Angie Sage.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Spinelli, Jerry. 2003. Milkweed.

Milkweed is a wonderful fictional account of the Holocaust. Set in Warsaw, Poland, our narrator is at first a nameless thief--a thief without a past, a family, or a name. Adopted by sorts by a gang of thieves--who steal to survive--he makes his way into the world. As he learns from the world around them, from his gang, from the people he encounters, he learns a few things. One, it is never a ‘good’ thing to be a Jew. It is dangerous if people think you’re a Jew. You get beaten up. You get killed. So his friends--one friend in particular, named Uri--makes up a story for this homeless boy. He’s a gypsy--being a gypsy is slightly safer than being a Jew--but not much. His created identity is Misha Pilsudski. But that is only one of the names he’ll wear throughout his life. Misha (formerly Stopthief) as the war progresses becomes a skilled smuggler who goes back and forth between the Jewish ghettos and the city. It’s a dangerous lifestyle. But these are dangerous times. Can anyone really be safe? In this harsh novel, our narrator learns some of the cruelties of life along with some of the small joys and pleasures. He learns to create and mold his own identity from the wreckage.

I think of all the voices that have told me who I have been, the names I’ve had. Call me thief. Call me stupid. Call me Gypsy. Call me Jew. Call me one-eared Jack. I don’t care. Empty-handed victims once told me who I was. Then Uri told me. Then an armband. Then an immigration officer. And now this little girl in my lap, this little girl whose call silences the tramping Jackboots. Her voice will be the last. I was. Now I am. I am. . . Poppynoodle.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The 2006 Cybils Announcement

The OFFICIAL announcement

Fantasy and Science Fiction: Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3) by Jonathan Stroud
Fiction Picture Books: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
Graphic Novels (Ages 12 and under): Amelia Rules! Volume 3: Superheroes
Graphic Novels (Ages 13 and up): American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
Middle Grade Fiction: A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz
Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult: Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
Non-Fiction Picture Books: An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston
Poetry: Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman
Young Adult Fiction: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Fever, 1793

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2000. Fever 1793.

Set in Philadelphia in 1793, FEVER follows the spread of yellow fever within the community through the eyes of a young girl, Mattie (Matilda). Mattie's family owns a coffeehouse. At first, when the epidemic first begins their side of town has not been effected yet. In fact, their business is booming because people are scared to go to certain streets/places in town. But all that changes as the disease makes it way through town. Young, old, man, woman...all are at risk...all are at danger. Mattie is no stranger to danger as she watches her mother get sick. Soon her and her grandfather are packing up what they can and trying to leave town. There is a family in the country where they feel they'll be safer. But are they taking the danger with them into the country? Is any place really 'safe' with an epidemic this size? The novel traces the epidemic from August to December. It is a personal, emotional journey of struggles, sorrows, and endurance.

This book pairs excellently with the nonfiction book An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Returnable Girl

Lowell, Pamela. 2006. Returnable Girl.

Ronnie Hartman is a troubled thirteen year old. Abandoned by her mother, rejected by her aunt and uncle, and passed around from foster home to foster home, she is unhappy, angry, bitter, and dishonest. Feeling that even being on her ‘best behavior’ isn’t good enough to get her a real home and family, she’s determined to be wild, reckless, and free. Obeying no one, living only for herself. She thinks love is the most risky thing you can do. Stealing and lying are nothing...but loving, trusting, being vulnerable. It’s foreign territory for her. Can her new foster parent break through to her before she makes a mistake she’ll end up regretting forever? Is there a way to reach her before she reaches rock bottom? RETURNABLE GIRL is a year in the life of an unforgettable narrator.

Returnable Girl has:

Won a place on

American Library Association
2007 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Been selected for the
Cleveland Public Library

Columbus Library TEENSCONNECT "Fearless Female" 12/06

Monday, February 12, 2007

Black Mirror

Werlin, Nancy. 2001. Black Mirror.

As Black Mirror begins, the reader meets Frances, a teen girl who is struggling with accepting her brother’s tragic death from a drug overdose. Both were attending the prestigious private school--on scholarship--Pettengill. Unity. Patrick Leyden. The man whose ‘generous’ nature has led him to not only start such ‘excellent’ educational endeavors as Pettengill School, but whose other charities involve feeding and clothing the poor and homeless. Who could not love such a man? A young man. An attractive man? Frances, that’s who! Frances from the young age of fourteen has distrusted Mr. Leyden. Distrusted Unity. Watching her brother worship Mr. Leyden is almost more than she could stand. Seeing him hang on his every word while at the same time living a dangerous drug-filled lifestyle. Is there a connection that most cannot grasp? How could such an ‘involved’ young man become addicted to drugs? As Frances tries to track down the ‘why’ of her brother’s exciting and dangerous adventure begins.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Double Helix

Werlin, Nancy. 2004. Double Helix.

Enter a world full of secrets. Eli Samuels is a young teen--recent high school graduate--who almost out of the blue gets a dream job offer. Spend a year working at Wyatt Transgenics, a job offer typically reserved for those with a master’s degree at least. But Eli isn’t your typical teen. And Dr. Quincy Wyatt is not your typical employer. Eli’s father knows that some things are too good to be true--particularly in the case of Dr. Wyatt...a name from his past he’d rather forget. But some lessons you’ve got to learn for yourself. As Eli begins his new job, he begins to get suspicious when his new employer wants to be his friend and start hanging out with him...just what does Dr. Wyatt want with him?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rules of Survival

Werlin, Nancy. 2006. The Rules Of Survival.

Okay, I admit it. This is the first Nancy Werlin book I’ve ever read. But it won’t be my last. Since reading The Rules of Survival a week or so ago, I’ve read Double Helix and Black Mirror.

The Rules of Survival is a powerful first person narrative of a young boy’s troubling life in an abusive home. As the oldest child, as the ‘man’ of the house, he felt responsible from an early age for the well being of his two younger sisters Callie and Emmy. Their mother was wild, unpredictable, emotionally unstable, verbally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive as well. Fear is something he knows inside and out. His life is ruled by fear.

Matthew’s Rules of Survival:
1) Sometimes, the people who mean you harm are the ones that say they love you.
2) Fear is your friend. When you feel it, act.
3) Protect the little ones.
4) If you coped before, you can cope now.
5) Always remember: In the end, the survivor gets to tell the story.

It is a story told retrospectively. Our narrator, Matthew, has aged from twelve or thirteen to the age of 18. As he’s preparing for college, he’s trying to sort out the last few years and make sense of everything that has happened. It’s a chronicle of his healing process.

Powerful. Emotional. Great writing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Author Spotlight on Nancy Werlin

Nancy Werlin was born and raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA and now lives near Boston. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Yale. Since then, she has worked as a technical writer and editor for several computer software and Internet companies, while also writing fiction. Nancy Werlin is the author of numerous YA thrillers. Her works include The Rules of Survival, Double Helix, Black Mirror, Locked Inside, The Killer's Cousin, and Are You Alone On Purpose?

Author Interviews
Not Your Mother's Bookclub, December 2006
Cynthia Leitich Smith's Interview with Nancy Werlin, July 2006
Chatlog with Nancy Werlin from YAAuthorsCafe, May 2004
Cynthia Leitich Smith's First Interview with Nancy Werlin, 2001

Articles by Nancy Werlin
Nancy Werlin: Get Thee To A Bread Store (NPR), 2006
Working With Fear (Hornbook), 2006
The Subconscious and the Writing Process (Hornbook)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Book of Everything

Kuijer, Guus. 2006. The Book of Everything.

About the Author:
Guus Kuijer is one of Holland's most celebrated children's book authors, with published work spanning short story collections, novels for children and adults, stage plays and television scripts. In 2005, The Book of Everything won the Flemish Golden Owl Award and the Dutch Golden Pencil Award. Guus has been nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, to be announced in March 2006.

John Nieuwenhuizen has translated six novels from the Dutch language, including Falling, The Baboon King (winner of the prestigious Mildred L. Batchelder Award for translation) and And What About Anna?. In 2005 John was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Translation Prize. His translation of Ann Provoost's In the Shadow of the Ark is on the long-list for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

The Book of Everything is an interesting book. Relatively short. Very readable. Thomas is a young boy with a troubled life. He sees things others doesn't. You could say he has an active imagination. Some of his visions insert beauty where there is none. Other visions seem to fulfill his deepest and most secret wishes. His father is awful. He beats his wife. He is verbally abusive to his whole household. He is as tyrannical as they come. No wonder Thomas has to keep a journal of his wishes and 'visions' of sorts. In his 'Book of Everything' he creates his own world. And in this book he writes his greatest wish--besides the obvious that he wants God to bring down the plagues of Egypt on his father--he wants to be happy when he grows up. Throughout the course of the book, he meets a few people who encourage him and guide him on his journey to happiness. He's told that the key to being happy is to no longer be afraid. But how can he no longer be afraid when night after night he watches his father be a horrible person? Yelling, snapping at his family, hitting his mother.... It seems like an unending nightmare. Will he ever wake up? Will he ever be happy? Will his family ever have peace?

I can admire many aspects of THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING. I can see why some people really love this novel. But I must admit that I have some hesitations about it. You see there are two representations of God in this novel. The 'God' that this horribly abusive, strict, tyrannical, hateful man worships. The 'God' who feels it's okay to beat your wife and children and subject them to emotional and mental torment. The 'God' who says that men have the right to rule over women and women deserve to be treated as 'less than' because they are the 'weaker sex.' The second representation of God is one held by the boy, Thomas. He begins having 'visions' or 'conversations' with Jesus. But let me tell you now it's not the Jesus from Christianity. It's not the Jesus of the Bible. This Jesus is wasted. Perhaps thats the wrong word. He's a guy who knows nothing, sees nothing, does nothing. He isn't powerful. He isn't comforting. He borders on sympathetic--but only just barely. He isn't all-knowing. He isn't a Savior. He has this laidback "whatever" kind of philosophy where he just doesn't care or pay attention to the world. And as far as him being the son of God...well this 'Jesus' claims to be on bad terms with the father ever since that whole nailed to the cross thing. In fact this 'Jesus' claims that God the Father is missing, lost, hasn't been seen or heard from in quite a fact 'Jesus' has almost come to the conclusion that God the Father is dead. I find offense...take offense at BOTH representations. I would be offended if only the first 'God' was represented in this novel. I would be offended if only the second 'God' was represented in this novel. It is one my pet peeves in literature when God, Christianity, religion is inaccurately, horribly rendered or portrayed. So often they get it wrong, and they get it wrong on purpose. These books mock what should be kept sacred. And for me any book that uses Jesus as a character and gives him dialogue that is purposefully mocking, sacrilegious, wrong, offensive...should come with a warning label. I know that some people won't be offended by this religious imagery. They'll enjoy it even. Maybe even laugh about it. But I know other people will be offended. And since you can't look at the cover or the flap or even the one sentence summary of the book and get an accurate view of what the novel is like...I just wanted to say that the THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING isn't a book for everyone.

Note: I don't really really believe in warning labels on literature. But I don't believe in false advertising either. And this book, in my opinion, gives off the impression that its friendly to faith. It says it's a book about God. It says it's about a boy's conversations with Jesus. What they don't tell you is that the God of the Bible will be horribly mocked and misrepresented. However, in the book's defense, it does occur to me just now that both the father and the son could be presented as having imaginary relationships with the gods of their own creation. So perhaps no one was trying to say that either one was THE god of Christianity. That would make some sense, and it would take the offensiveness down a notch or two. But some hesitation still remains.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Ultimate Teen Reading List?????

One of our goals each month is to inspire you to read --- and to keep reading. We have found that required reading lists for school --- especially summer reading lists --- are not exactly inspiring. Thus we have created what we think is the Ultimate Teen Reading List --- over 250 titles that we think are perfect choices for reading and discussing. Our dream is that schools will use this list to help them make their own for summer reading, or even better, suggest that students just read what they want from this list.

How did we create our list? We compiled entries from readers who weighed in with their selections and we also asked our staffers for suggestions. Titles range from young adult books to books that we read on adult lists that we think would be enjoyed by teens.

Thanks to all who participated in this project, which spurred a lot of conversation about books. We encourage you to share this list with your teachers and fellow classmates, as well as librarians.
Downloadable PDF of 'Ultimate' Reading List

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Orbis Pictus Awards Announced!

Read the official press release

The Award Winner: Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery
In Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, Montgomery and Bishop continue their outstanding collaboration to introduce readers to scientists at work. They document their participation in an expedition to the rugged and remote cloud forest of Papua New Guinea in search of the elusive and fascinating Matschie's tree kangaroo. Biologist Lisa Dabek heads a team of scientists from around the world who work with local guides to locate the creatures and fit them with radio collars to learn more about them. Montgomery describes both the hardships and exhilaration of the expedition while Bishop's photographs capture the expedition in splendid detail. The Quest for the Tree Kangaroo has also been a SLJ Best Books of 2006, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2006, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book 2007, and an ALA Notable Children’s Books 2007.

The Honor Books:
Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe
Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
John Muir: America's First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky
Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty
Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon has also been honored by being a Kirkus Reviews Best Books 2006, a Cybils Finalist in Nonfiction, a Robert F. Sibert Award 2007, an ALA Notable Children’s Books 2007, and a BBYA (Best Book for Young Adults) 2007. Freedom Walkers in addition to being named an Orbis Pictus Honor book has also been chosen for Librarians’ Choices 2006, SLJ Best Books of 2006, Kirkus Reviews Best Books 2006, Horn Book Fanfare 2006, Cybils Finalist in Nonfiction, Notable Children’s Books 2007, BBYA 2007. Something Out of Nothing was also a BBYA 2007. Gregor Mendel also appeared as an ALA Notable Children's Book 2007.

Orbis Pictus Recommended Reads:
  • An Egg is Quiet by Diana Aston
  • Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum
  • Owen and Mzee by Isabella Hatkoff
  • Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Delores Johnson
  • Rescues by Sandra Markle
  • Saving the Buffalo by Albert Marrin
  • The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin and Ela Wiessberger
  • Construction Zone by Cheryl Willis Hudson, photographs by Richard Sobol

Penny From Heaven

Holm, Jennifer. 2006. Penny From Heaven

Barbara Ann Falucci is eleven going on twelve. Half-Italian, she splits her time between visiting her Italian Catholic side of the family and her mother’s side of the family that were just ‘plain American’ and Methodist. The sides don’t necessarily get along well together. Called ‘Penny’ ever since she could remember, she is enjoying living life to the fullest in the summer of 1953. Playing with her cousin Frankie, listening to ball games with her Uncle Dominic, and surviving her sometimes chaotic life at home with her mom and her grandparents--Pop-pop and Me-Me. Not to mention her dog, Scarlett O’Hara who has a way of making life even more messy--literally. But life is good. This is a family-friendly title. Full of life’s ups and downs. An enjoyable treat. And definitely worthy of the Newbery Honor.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hattie Big Sky

Larson, Kirby. 2006. Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Brooks is a sixteen year old orphan that has been passed around from one distant relative to another. She's always felt like she was 'Hattie Here-and-There'. A girl without a home. A girl without a family. All that changes when she receives a letter.

Being of sound mind, I do hereby leave to Hattie Inez Brooks my claim and the house and its contents, as well as one steadfast horse named Plug and a contemptible cow known as Violet. -- Chester Hubert Wright, Uncle to Hattie Inez Brooks P.S. H--Bring warm clothes and a cat.

Knowing that this could be her chance--her big chance--to find her place in this world, Hattie agrees to move to Montana and finish proving her uncle's claim. She expects the work to be hard, but she's used to hard work...even if it's not quite the same kind. Here she will deal with blizzards, livestock, plowing, planting, harvesting, fencing, etc. It seems the work never ends. But the strange thing is out here surrounded by the big skies of Montana she is not alone. She's never felt so alive. So welcome. So happy. Tired, exhausted, and happy...the months pass. Does Hattie have what it takes to finish proving the claim? Can she survive the harsh environment? Can she make it financially?

Set in 1918, during World War I, the novel presents what life was like at home during the war. Hattie corresponds with a soldier, a childhood friend, whom she ever so secretly wishes would be more than a friend when he returns. Also in her new home in Montana, Hattie befriends a German family. These neighbors know what it means to be in need. Yet they give wholeheartedly to their young neighbor. Their friendship teaches her so much. She cannot understand why the other neighbors openly despise this German family. Discrimination and prejudice are just the beginning. Life is becoming dangerous for Germans and German-lovers.

Hattie Big Sky is a great book. I loved it!
Interactive Reader's Review of Hattie Big Sky

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky

Ever wondered what it would be to grow up in a town with a population of 43 people? In THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron, the reader gets a guided tour of life in a small, desert town by our young narrator...Lucky. Lucky isn't lucky. Not in the traditional sense at least. She hasn't hit rock bottom, and in fact, she thinks that might be her biggest problem. She knows from eavesdropping on all the various twelve step programs that you have to hit rock bottom before you find the 'higher power' you need to turn your life around. Lucky has never known her father. He divorced Lucky's mother before she was born. And Lucky's mother? You guessed it, has died tragically after a storm while taking a barefoot stroll when she stepped on a downed power line. Lucky's guardian is her father's ex-wife. His first ex-wife. Brigette was leaving in France--she is a French woman after all--when she got the call that her ex-husband needed her to come to California to raise his daughter from his second marriage. What was supposed to be temporary--just until she could be placed into a traditional foster care--became more long term. Thus the sign 'population 43' still rang true despite her mother's death. Readers are introduced to Lucky, Brigette, and a cast of townspeople...some quite colorful such as Miles who makes cookie runs each morning going from house to house to house--or business to business--begging for cookies. Like most books dealing with orphaned/abandoned children, Lucky spends a great deal of time wondering what will happen. Will Brigette adopt her? Will they stay in Hard Pan, California, despite the snakes and scorpions? Or will Brigette return to France and send Lucky into foster care?

The Higher Power of Lucky is the Newbery Award winner this year (2007). And while you almost hate to criticize an award-winner, I have to say that there are better books, more charming books even, on this topic that were written this past year. Foster care was a HUGE theme in 2006. The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes and Home and Other Big Fat Lies by Jill Wolfson were excellent. Outstanding even. Just truly beautiful books. Different from each other. But wonderful in their own unique way. And I've read the two Newbery Honor books PENNY FROM HEAVEN by Jennifer L. Holm and HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Both of those books were outstanding. Great books. Books that I hope will become classics. But The Higher Power of Lucky doesn't seem like a classic or a future classic to me. It isn't outstanding. It's good. It's not a bad book by any means. But it's not a book that grabbed me. Of the four other books I've mentioned--The Road to Paris, Home and Other Big Fat Lies, Penny From Heaven, Hattie Big Sky--I've not only loved but I've been recommending to everyone I know. They're just so good that I can't stop talking about them. They're books I would want to read and reread and own. The Higher Power of Lucky was a good read once...but I'm not sure I'll ever have the need to read it again. So in conclusion, it's a fine book. There were enjoyable aspects of the book. But it is--to me at least--a forgettable book.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Way With Words

Wolfson, Jill. 2006. Home and Other Big, Fat Lies

Whitney is a narrator with a way for words. A foster kid all her life--from two months of age--she is as prepared as she'll ever be for her new foster home in the country.

Let's say you're a kid who's small for her age and some other kids who are way overgrown decide it would be the most hilarious thing in the world to shove the new kid in the house into the clothes dryer and slam it closed. I can tell you how to get out of that dryer by kicking and screaming bloody murder so that the foster mom with the bald spot on the top of her head rescues you in front of the entire snickering ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha house full of kids. I can also give you the complete rundown on the most common varieties of foster parents you're likely to run into. Like the look-on-the-bright side ones who go on and on until your head is ready to explode like a potato in a microwave about how lucky you are that you weren't born a foster kid in 1846. Or the one... (3).

Full of advice on how to survive the worst, she is unprepared to give advice on how to expect the best. Hope is a dangerous thing when you're a foster kid and Whitney doesn't want to take any chances on getting hurt.

When she arrives in her new home, in her new town, Forest Glen, she's more than a little restless. And when she throws up in front of her new family right off (minutes after getting out of the car) she's not off to the greatest of starts...

In case you ever need to know, here's what you do when you arrive at a new foster home and the foster mother is rude and you don't know the rules and you're laughing because you don't know what you're feeling and a psycho dog is waiting to attack and there's a kid there who hopes that you drop off the face of the planet: You don't knock. You open the door. And even though you know you don't belong here any more than you've ever belonged anywhere, you walk in like you own the place. (24)

Starting sixth grade in October isn't the easiest way for a new kid to transition, but Whitney does her best and doles out more advice:

Number one: Aim for immediate high noticeability. It doesn't matter what kind. Just get noticed. Be a soldier parachuting into the middle of a battlefield, landing in the muck with a big, fat smack of your shoes. Ta-da! I'm here! That's my style. Don't wait for them to sneak up and ambush you. They're going to call you a weirdo anyway, so be THE weirdo. Be it proudly...Like I said, you can get noticed or--strategy number two--you can let yourself be one of those faceless, gutless, voiceless kids and cross your fingers that you're off to your next foster home before anyone even notices you exist. By the way, I don't recommend the second choice. You will bore yourself to death. Besides, you might think that you're safe. But watch out. They'll find you. And then, you're dead meat. (50-51)

But Whitney's luck may have just changed. Suddenly, in this new school she finds out she's not alone. There are other kids in her class--five or six at least--who are all foster kids. It seems the whole school is full of foster kids. Kids who understand her. Who know the rules of how to survive. Who welcome her. Life has never seemed so good...but can it last???

I mentioned that Whitney has a way with words. I wanted to pull together some examples:

From her conversation with Honeysuckle and Josh--two of the foster kids in her sixth grade class--
Honeysuckle explained, "The social worker said that if Josh sets his mind to it, he can get into Stanford. Stanford's a big college. It's hard to get into." I drummed my fingers on the box [the box Josh is hiding in and has been hiding in since the beginning of the school year] "Must be one of those optometrist social workers." "Optimistic," Honeysuckle tried to correct. "No, optometrist. That social worker needs to get her vision checked." I turned back to Josh. "No offense, kid. This thing about getting into Stanford? It looks like you're having trouble getting through sixth grade." (90)

From her conversation with Striker, her foster brother
I told Striker that of all the members of the Nature and Ecology Club, I was the only one who hadn't been incriminated by him. "Intimidated," he said. "Incriminated means there's evidence that you're guilty of a crime." "I mean incriminated. You made everyone feel guilty just for being alive. (156)

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

DiCamillo, Kate. 2006. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
This week you’ve noticed that sometimes I begin reading books with slight traces of prejudice...I can judge a book on its cover...(or by what it says on its cover)...or based on what I’ve heard about it from other sources. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If a book is being praised by everyone as the best book the world has ever makes me slightly skeptical. It’s like the book-world goes through phrases where certain books and authors are above criticism. They’re considered supreme. To disagree with their pronouncement that the book is perfect...simply shows your ignorance. There were two books this year that everyone seemed to be talking about: one was Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, the second was the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Well, for those that might have missed my ongoing scorn of Octavian Nothing, let’s just say that something quite different happened when I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a book that is about one china rabbit’s adventures in a sometimes harsh world. He is commissioned by the grandmother for her granddaughter, Abilene.
Once, in a house on Egypt street, there lived a rabbit who was made entirely of china. He had china arms and china legs, china paws and a china head, a china torso and a chino nose. His arms and legs were jointed and joined by wire so that his china elbows and china knees could be bent, giving him much freedom of movement. His ears were made of real rabbit fur, and beneath the fur, there were strong, bendable wires, which allowed the ears to be arranged into poses that reflected the rabbit’s mood--jaunty, tired, full of ennui. His tail, too, was made of real rabbit fur and was fluffy and soft and well shaped. The rabbit’s name was Edward Tulane, and he was tall. He measured almost three feet from the tip of his ears to the tip of his feet; his eyes were painted a penetrating and intelligent blue. In all, Edward Tulane felt himself to be an exceptional specimen. (5-6)
He has everything a fine toy could want: fine clothes, a fine pocket watch, a girl who loves him, a nice home, a place of prestige among the other toys, and the love of his owner. Abilene loves him. Dotes on him. Treasures him. Yet Edward who has never known any other kind of life is unappreciative. It’s not that he dislikes his owner. The fact is that he’s disinterested in humans altogether. Preferring one over another has never occured to him. He has no love. He has no hate--unless its for neighboring dogs who try to pee on him or carry him in their mouths--or for thoughless maids who vacuum his ears and have the audicity to place him on the shelf with other dolls. He is not an emotional rabbit.
But that is just his first stop on a long journey. His starting place. When Edward accompanies the family on an ocean voyage, his luck begins to change. In the following days, months, years, even decades...his whole world is turned upside down over and over and over again. What he learns are valuable life lessons. What it means to love. What it means to lose someone you love. What it means to grieve. What it means to hope and despair. What it means to be content. What it means to be compassionate. He learns to be content with whatever his lot is in life. To be happy with the small longer is pride in possessions or appearance of the utmost importance. Gone is his dignity. Gone are the days when he could gloat and brag. Whether he is filling the need of an elderly couple who treat him like a young child...or comforting a dying girl in her last days on earth...or companionship for a hobo and his dog...or joy for a young boy as he dances for crowds. If there is a human emotion, he’s felt it. He’s learned through experience what it is to be alive. Here is his journey: the good, the bad, the ugly. Full of sadness, disappointment, heartbreak, despair, but also full of hope and love and joy.
I must admit that for me this book is all about the ending. Yes, Edward Tulane suffers. He suffers a lot. The moment things begin to look up, the moment that he’s happy and all is right with the world, that’s when his world is turned upside down again. Yet, Edward Tulane NEEDED a happy ending. The world wants a happy ending. In life there are times of suffering that no one can really explain away. No one can take the pain away, but to live life without hope of a better tomorrow seems worse than not living at all. Hope is needed. Love is needed. Edward Tulane illustrates this perfectly.
All that being said is Edward Tulane a book really for children? Or is it a children’s book for adults? I can only say this. I loved it as an adult, but I think its darkness would have frightened me as a child. Would it frighten every child? No! But for some--like me--there were places and feelings that I was not ready to go. The fact that this poor toy rabbit suffers one torture after another...that the book depicts death, loss, hate, and wouldn’t have worked for me then. It would have been disturbing to me. (Heidi was disturbing to me as was Wizard of Oz). But for the right child, this is a great book. Not every children’s book can be loved and appreciated and treasured by adults....this one can.
Does this mean that this book is the most perfectly perfect book in the whole world? No. I still feel no one book is ‘perfect’ for everybody. Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs. Everyone has different tastes. Different life experiences. Different backgrounds. But I can see why some people are putting this one on the top of their ‘best of 2006’ lists.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Fanboy vs. King Dork


The title of the book I’m reviewing today is in full: Larklight: Or the Revenge of the White Spiders!: Or To Saturn’s Rings and Back!: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Furthest Reaches of Space.
Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

Reeve, Philip. 2006. Larklight.
I remember in elementary school having an end of the year awards ceremony where each child received a certificate reflecting their ‘character.’ If Larklight were to receive an award, here are some possibilities: ‘Best 8-Legged Villains’ ‘Quirkiest Flying House’ ‘Longest Chapter Titles in A Work of Fiction’ etc. What is Larklight about you may be wondering?
It’s a historical science fiction/fantasy title. Set in the Victorian era, it answers the question...what could have happened if scientists like Isaac Newton had discovered space flight. The answer, the British would have sought to colonize and rule outer space much like she was known for colonizing earth. (Hence, the saying that the sun never sets on the British empire.) Arthur “Art” Mumby and his sister Myrtle live with their father in a rather unique house ‘Larklight’ that orbits the moon, I believe. With robotic servants and ancient gravity devices, the house is unique in many ways. When our story begins the children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a visitor. But with the arrival of this visitor, the danger and adventure begins. With aliens of every shape and size, some ‘good’ and some ‘bad,’ the two must find a way to save the British empire before its too late. Art loves living in space, but Myrtle wishes for a simpler life in British--particularly London--society. For those who can suspend their disbelief of absurd and silly adventures defying everything we know about the world we live in, Larklight is sure to entertain. If you’re looking for a fantasy world where pirates and aliens interact...this might be your dream come true.