Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Genius of Suzanne Collins

I find it almost embarrassing to write this post.

Okay, I'm just going to come out with it: I just now read the Hunger Games trilogy.

I read SO MANY glowing reviews of these books that I was prepared for a letdown. Nothing can live up to this kind of hype right? Um, wrong. These books are fantasmagoric. I spent my Christmas vacation inhaling this trilogy. I'm totally ready for a movie, lots of fan fiction, and taking quizzes about what my Hunger Games nickname will be. Yes, there is really a way to figure out these things.

If you haven't read these books, no matter who you are, boy or girl, YA freak or foe, you need to go pick them up now.

P.S. There's a Hunger Games drinking game. Tee hee.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This Librarian's Quick Picks: High School Edition

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography
by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Genre: Graphic Novel


An account of Anne Frank's life and her diary, as well as the Frank family's history before and after their time in the secret annex.

Why you'll love it:
  • The detailed and sympathetic portrayal of the Frank family puts Anne’s diary in a broader context.
  • Provides a history of the rise of the Nazi party and the implementation of its policies, alongside descriptions of how this affected the Franks.
  • Anne and Margot are depicted as normal, thoughtful children. Readers will easily relate to the girls’ reactions to their family’s travails.
  • The illustrations clearly express the characters’ emotions. Maps and diagrams, integrated into the artwork, help readers to understand the progress of the war and to envision the annex.
  • Carefully researched: the book was written with the help of the Anne Frank House, which also provided Frank family photographs that are reproduced in the back matter’s detailed chronology. Drawings of the annex are partially based on information from the Anne Frank House’s virtual museum.

The Miracle Stealer
by Neil Connelly


Andi wishes people would leave her brother, a so-called "miracle child," alone. But if they won't, she'll find a way to make them.

Why you'll love it:
  • A gripping opening scene sets up both sides of the conflict. Is Andi’s brother, Daniel, a miracle child, or a child being exploited?
  • Daniel’s backstory borrows from the amazing but true 1987 news event of ’Baby Jessica.‘ “The men around Daniel’s hole were on their knees, and one of them began to cry. The miners’ efforts had caused the hole to cave in. My three-year-old brother was now buried alive.”
  • Neil Connelly doesn’t shy away from complicated and uncomfortable topics. As Andi’s protectiveness of her brother turns into something more desperate and flailing, The Miracle Stealer blurs the lines between anger, certainty, and devotion.
  • A shocking climax offers Andi a chance at peace, but sidesteps any definitive answers about Daniel’s nature or the possibility of miracles.

    Prisoners in the Palace
    by Michaela MacColl
    Genre: Historical Fiction


    Little does Liza suspect that her new job as Princess Victoria's maid will entail spying and protecting Victoria from her own mother.

    Why you'll love it:
    • A fast-paced book filled with romance and intrigue and populated with convincing characters, from servants to royals to street people.
    • By using Liza—a maid—as the narrator, Michaela MacColl highlights the inequities of classism, and shows that everyone, whether they're famous or not, has historical significance.
    • It's interesting to see Princess Victoria, who became a famously cold, rigid queen, depicted as a seventeen-year-old trying to find her way in the world. She's a believable combination of bratty teenager, tender-hearted benefactress, and frightened young woman.

      I Will Save You
      by Matt de la Pena


      Kidd, unhappy with his life in a group home and job at the beach, learns lessons about identity, love, and friendship through his relationships with Olivia, a rich girl from Cardiff, and Devon, a mysterious teen driven by a death wish. 

      Why you'll love it:
      • A haunting and mysterious prologue sets just the right tone for this novel of startling revelations, striking imagery, and profound emotion.
      • Devon is a vulnerable, endearing narrator with a pitch-perfect, contemporary teenage voice.
      • I Will Save You touches on weighty themes—including post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and family violence—but does so sensitively and without melodrama.
      • The shocking conclusion will inspire much thought and discussion.

      Wednesday, December 22, 2010

      The Four Month Challenge - Part 5

      After OD'ing on challenges at the beginning of 2010, I dropped them all and read just what I dang well pleased for the greater part of the year. That was fine and all, but then I entered the full-time working world and my reading time was pretty much zapped. No reading time = a very cranky Amanda.

      All this to say, I think that having a reading challenge will help me carve out my reading time more deliberately in 2011, making me a happier person. I've participated in another Four Month Challenge, and they are great fun. The reading is across the board, and it's whatever you want to make of it.

      The challenge runs from December 1st, 2010 - March 31st, 2011.
      Here are the categories:

      Read a book by your favorite author
      Read a YA book: Catching Fire by Collins
      Read a book written in 2010 Mockingjay by Collins
      Read a book with a color in the title: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
      Read a book set in any country other than your own: A Christmas Carol by Dickens

      Read a book with any ‘family’ name in it.  Eg: Father, daughter, uncle, etc.
      Read a book you’ve read before
      Read a fantasy book: Soulless by Gail Carriger
      Read a book a book you’ve been meaning to read for ages: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
      Read a book set in the same country you live in: Beautiful Darkness by Garcia and Stohl

      Read a book written before you were born
      Read a book suggested by a blog
      Read a book set in a country/place you’d like to visit: Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
      Read a book about a person who is still alive (Memoir, bio, auto-bio, etc): Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind by Philip Done
      Read a book that is the first in a series

      Read a book about a person who is passed (Memoir, bio, auto-bio, etc): Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Newman
      Read a classic you’ve never read before
      Read a book you need to read for another challenge
      Read a book of short stories
      Read a book with a food in the title

      Thursday, December 16, 2010

      This Librarian's Quick Picks: Middle School Edition

      Cloaked in Red
      by Vivian Vande Velde
      Genre: Re-imagined fairy tale


      A kidnapping woodcutter; a werewolf grandmother; a sentient cloak: all these and more are characters in eight variations on Little Red Riding Hood.

      Why you'll love it:
      • Vivian Vande Velde imbues each story with originality, humor, and creepiness. Despite the tales' shared elements—and their origins in the classic Little Red Riding Hood—they are all fresh and unique.
      • The diverse perspectives from which the fairy tale is retold are fascinating and surprising. For instance, Red Riding Hood's cloak narrates the story in one version, and in another, Vande Velde casts the woodcutter as the villain.
      • Perfectly exemplifies just how interesting and distinct variations on a theme can be.

      The Scorch Trials
      by James Dashner
      Genre: Mystery/Adventure


      The Gladers have survived the Maze. Now they must cross the Scorch, a dangerous wasteland, in the second installment of the Maze Runner trilogy.

      Why you'll love it:

      • Fans of The Maze Runner will find themselves captivated by the second, even darker, installment of the series. James Dashner introduces new, terrifying creatures, impossible-seeming challenges, and surprising twists.
      • The characters’ constant life-or-death decisions will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
      • While Thomas recovers memories of life before the Maze, some questions are answered even as the central mystery deepens.


        As children in southern Sudan, John and Martha faced violence, hunger, disease, and exhausti

        Score!: The Action and Artistry of Hockey's Magnificent Moment
        by Mark Stewart and Mike Kennedy
        Genre: Sports nonfiction


        How did the Stanley Cup become hockey's greatest prize? Which team's fans sometimes toss an octopus on the ice? Text and photographs describe some of the greatest goals in the history of professional hockey, profile top players, and provide facts about the sport.

        Why you'll love it:
        • As with their previous entries in this compelling series, the authors focus on a game's most exciting moment—in this case, the hockey goal—making it fun to read about the sport.
        • List-based chapters, including "Power Plays—10 Unforgettable Goals" and "Tickling the Twine—The Most Remarkable Scoring Plays," keep historical accounts lively and succinct.
        • The book's clean layout includes plenty of full-color, game-action photographs as well as fascinating images from hockey's earliest years.
        • Score! will appeal to both hockey novices and devoted fans.

        Thursday, December 9, 2010

        This Librarian's Quick Picks: Upper Elementary Edition

        How Tia Lola Learned To Teach
        by Julia Alvarez


        When Tía Lola is invited to teach Spanish at Miguel and Juanita's school, Miguel worries how everyone will react to his wacky non-English-speaking aunt.

        Why you'll love it:
        • Julia Alvarez integrates Spanish throughout the story in a natural way, incorporating meanings without interrupting the flow of the narrative.
        • Chapters each begin with a fun, plot-related saying (”The sleeping shrimp is carried away by the current,” for example), in Spanish and English. The sayings are gentle lessons for Tía Lola’s niece and nephew—and for the reader.
        • Readers will recognize and/or identify with some of Miguel and Juanita’s feelings and experiences. At school, fifth-grader Miguel wants to fit in. Meanwhile, Juanita, in third grade, has a hard time paying attention in class. At home, their parents have recently divorced, and their papi is getting remarried. Miguel gradually comes to accept—and appreciate—that Carmen will be a permanent part of their family. 

          Soar, Elinor!
          by Tami Lewis Brown
          Genre: Biography


          In 1927, many people thought females shouldn't fly. Still, sixteen-year-old Elinor Smith became a licensed pilot, then performed a seemingly impossible aerial maneuver.

          Why you'll love it:
          • A fascinating look at a lesser-known female aviator.
          • The details of Elinor Smith's preparation make it clear that her gutsy feat required careful planning, precision, and quick decisions, while the historic flight is portrayed with immediacy.
          • Gives readers a sense of the culture and excitement surrounding aviation in the 1920s.
          • François Roca uses varying perspectives in his vibrant illustrations to fully depict Elinor's flight, giving not only Elinor's view from the cockpit, but also the vantage point of onlookers from the Manhattan Bridge and from the deck of a ship in the East River.
          • The back matter provides information on Elinor Smith's subsequent aviation accomplishments and describes the author's first-hand research. 

            True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know): Amelia Rules!
            by Jimmy Gownley
            Genre: Graphic Novel


            Amelia's eleventh year begins with a wonderful birthday party, but things quickly go downhill. Aunt Tanner would usually help--but she is hardly ever around.

            Why You'll Love It:
            • Jimmy Gownley continues with his signature mix of seriousness and humor: complex relationships between well-drawn characters combine with lightness about the difficulties of growing up.
            • Has a slightly more sophisticated look than previous books in the series, as Amelia deals with more grown-up problems, such as having a crush and doing poorly in school. She also confronts the loss of childhood things, including the clubhouse she once shared with her friend Reggie.
            • Amelia’s beloved aunt Tanner plays a large role in this story. Tanner follows her dreams, dispenses advice, and ultimately leaves home to go on tour.
            • The art is colorful and dynamic, with text and characters often extending outside of their panels. This book will not stay on the shelf at my library!!!

            The Ghostwriter Secret: The Brixton Brothers
            by Mac Barnett
            Genre: Mystery


            Just after Steve Brixton opens his detective agency, he receives a letter from mystery writer MacArthur Bart. Before Steve can reach him, Bart vanishes.

            Why you'll love it:
            • A wonderful send-up of Hardy Boys-style detective stories. Steve's antiquated slang and his heartfelt belief in such mottoes as “Ace sleuths must always keep their cool—even when the danger is red hot!” are endearing and funny.
            • Though intentionally campy, the book also offers a genuinely compelling mystery, with ample surprises for Steve and readers alike.
            • Steve's best friend, Dana, is a comical foil, providing plenty of deadpan humor during his many attempts to talk sense into Steve. And Dana is easy to relate to, often acting as an audience stand-in by expressing doubt about Steve's absurd crime-fighting methods.

            Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start
            by Bob Raczka
            Genre: Nonfiction


            See the evolution of seven artists including Dürer, Picasso, and Dalí by viewing works they made as children and masterpieces they created as adults.

            Why You'll Love It:
            • It is inspiring to see their childhood work, and to note the talent they had from a young age. As Bob Raczka points out to readers, “make sure your parents save a few of your favorite art projects. Who knows, maybe you’ll grow up to be a famous artist!”
            • Full-page biographical sketches of the artists focus on their childhood interest in art and their early training.
            • Captioned reproductions of three works by each artist include a childhood piece and an iconic piece for which they are known. The progression of their work, often within a short period of time, is fascinating.

            Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures
            by Rebecca Johnson
            Genre: Nonfiction


            Based on real journeys undertaken for the 2000-2010 Census of Marine Life, this book documents the discovery of fascinating new ocean creatures.

            Why You'll love it:
            • Vivid color images of a stunning variety of marine creatures, such as the barreleye fish, which has a transparent head, and the rainbow-colored squat lobster, will capture readers’ attention.
            • Helpful diagrams show where in the world particular species were found, and in what type of ocean habitat.
            • Without being heavy-handed, the descriptions of marine life and the interdependence of animals demonstrate the precarious balance of underwater environments, and the need to conserve them. 

            Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
            by Jeff Kinney


            In his latest diary, middle-schooler Greg Heffley chronicles his search for a new best friend after a falling out with Rowley. With family members urging him to become more responsible, Greg decides that he's not in a hurry to grow up.

            Why You'll Love It:
            • This Wimpy Kid installment is just as funny as the previous books, with illustrations providing many of the punch lines. Greg’s attempt to get the family’s housekeeper to do his laundry, for example, leads to a hilarious standoff.
            • Greg is getting older, and the situations covered here—learning about puberty in health class, having a pimple, and attending family gatherings—will be familiar to middle-grade readers.
            • Jeff Kinney explores the tenuousness of being a preteen and a middle child. Greg realizes that people no longer consider him cute: his little brother, Manny, is the center of attention in the Heffley family, and a younger boy is chosen over Greg to become the next spokesperson for Peachy Breeze Ice Cream.
            • Greg’s take on posting pictures online is amusing and timely, as he tries to look like he’s having “a total blast” by editing himself into photos of pillow fights and conga lines. A cautionary message about sharing too much information on the Internet—via Greg’s older brother Rodrick’s wild photographs—is presented humorously, but effectively.

            by Patricia Reilly Giff
            Genre: Historical Fiction


            Even though they are separated by centuries, Elizabeth feels a kinship with her ancestor, Zee. Elizabeth's present-day story alternates with Zee's story.

            Why You'll Love It:
            • Although Elizabeth and Zee's stories are separated by centuries, the girls have many similar traits and feelings—such as their impulsive actions and carelessness, and the guilt they feel when they disappoint their families—providing a sense of the continuity of the human experience.
            • Zee's story is compelling, with interesting Revolutionary War-era details, gripping moments in battle, and grievous loss.
            • Elizabeth's developing relationship with her aunt, Libby, is realistic and heartwarming.
            • Readers may be inspired to seek out their own family histories after following Elizabeth's search to discover more about Zee's life.

            Friday, December 3, 2010

            This Librarian's Quick Picks: Elementary Edition (K-3)

            The Desperate Dog Writes Again 
            by Eileen Christelow


            Emma e-mails "Ask Queenie," an advice column for dogs, when her owner George begins spending too much time with a new girlfriend.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Emma's misinterpretation of events and her attempts to oust her owner's new girlfriend from their lives—by stealing cookies and e-mailing an advice column for dogs, among other things—are hilarious. Equally entertaining are comments from an also-exasperated cat, the canine columnist's responses, and the girlfriend's dog's enthusiastic friendliness.
            • Eileen Christelow's energetic comic-book-style artwork effectively illustrates Emma's unflagging approach to her chosen task.
            • Children may identify with Emma's feelings of jealousy and her concern that a new family member will take her place in George's life.

            Doggy Slippers
            by Jorge Lujan
            Genre: Poetry


            A collection of poems about pets inspired by children who sent the author humorous anecdotes about their pets.

            Why you'll love it:
            • An unusual approach to the subject matter: children contributed to the book by sending Jorge Luján ideas over the Internet.
            • The artwork has a childlike aspect that mirrors the poems. Isol incorporates scribbles and colors that often stray outside her drawn lines. A muted palette also contributes to the unique and memorable illustrations.
            • The clever, accessible poems offer moving descriptions of everyday interactions between children and their pets. For example, “Life is good. / Kitty makes it better / when things go wrong.”

            Hamster Magic
            by Lynne Jonell


            When the Willows move into a new house, Celia, the youngest of four children, traps an enchanted hamster, who reluctantly agrees to grant the children one wish in exchange for his freedom.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Lynne Jonell interweaves magical (animals that can talk and grant wishes) and realistic elements into an entertaining story.
            • Celia is amusing and convincing as a large-dog-sized hamster. Though she can still speak, she otherwise acts as a rodent would, with a sudden affinity for gnawing on wood, eating nonstop, and running wildly in circles. “You don't know how it feels!” she tells her siblings. “I’m a hamster! I was born to run!”
            • Younger siblings especially may relate to Celia’s feelings about being tired of being the baby of the family and being ignored just because she’s the smallest.
            • Perfect for readers who have recently graduated to chapter books. The satisfying ending leaves room for a sequel.

            Sunday, November 28, 2010

            Guess who's getting hitched?

            This girl!

            Aaron proposed Sunday afternoon, and we're getting married October 2011. Whoo-hoo!

            Tuesday, November 16, 2010

            This Librarian's Quick Picks: High School Edition

            The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans
            by Rick Geary
            Genre: Graphic novel


            A graphic novel account of the serial murders committed by the Axe-Man of New Orleans between 1918 and 1919, in which the victims were slain with their own axes.

            Why you'll love it:
            • The book begins with a short, informative history of New Orleans, providing context for the story that follows.
            • Black-and-white drawings, reminiscent of woodcuts, lend a period feel.
            • Each murder is presented clearly and in detail. The overall mystery of the cases and the atmosphere of the Big Easy after World War I also come across well.
            • While most of the murders remain unsolved, Rick Geary presents an interesting possible solution to the string of killings. 

            Three Black Swans
            by Caroline B. Cooney
            Genre: Fiction


            When sixteen-year-old Missy Vianello decides to try to convince her classmates that her cousin Claire is really her long-lost identical twin, she has no idea that the results of her prank will be so life-changing.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Three Black Swans is a paean to sisterhood and family--whether biological or not.
            • Chapters end with cliff-hangers that defy readers to put the novel down.
            • Teen readers will find that Caroline B. Cooney is a writer who understands the important role technology plays in their lives. Her characters use Facebook, YouTube, and data-ready cell phones to piece together clues and reach out to one another.
            • As is the case in many of Cooney's books, the most resourceful, resilient, and generous characters are minors. Their inspiring qualities make their travails that much more heartrending and moving. 

            No Safe Place
            by Deborah Ellis
            Genre: Fiction


            Three young migrants who seek safe haven in England end up adrift in the English Channel.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Deborah Ellis tackles important issues--poverty, war, immigration--in a fast-paced story.
            • No Safe Place encourages readers to ask what circumstances might lead a person to enter another country illegally.
            • The three main characters undergo inspiring transformations. They begin as lone operators--children whose lives have taught them to mistrust others--and by the end have learned how to become a makeshift family.
            • The descriptive language throughout is concise. Ellis does a good job of establishing the settings, which range from war-torn Baghdad to Calais, France, to a Russian military school. 

            Blank Confession
            by Pete Hautman
            Genre: Fiction


            In separate narratives, Mikey Martin and Shayne Blank tell how Shayne ended up in the local police station, confessing to murder.

            Why you'll love it:
            • The first chapter quickly sets up two intriguing mysteries--who is Shayne Blank, and whom did he kill?
            • Pete Hautman's snappy dialogue has the rhythm and spontaneity of real conversation.
            • Mikey Martin is a unique character with a vigorous, endearing voice. His and Shayne's unlikely friendship is memorable and often moving.
            • Blank Confession is more than a whodunit; revealing vignettes and flashbacks, combined with precise details, deepen the characters' personalities and add emotional weight to the story.
            • Short chapters, parallel narratives, expert pacing, and concise prose build suspense throughout the novel until the riveting end. 

            Girl Parts
            by John M. Cusick
            Genre: Science fiction


            The lives of David, wealthy and popular but still lonely, and Charlie, a soulful outsider, intersect when Rose, the female companion bot Charlie's parents buy to treat his dissociative disorder, forms a bond with David.

            Why you'll love it:
            • A remarkable debut that matches a smart, provocative premise with an affecting coming-of-age story. Plus, with an eye-catching cover and tight plotting, this book will appeal to dedicated and reluctant readers alike.
            • The humor is pitch-perfect--pointing out the absurdities of falling in love with an android without undermining the poignancy of the boys' (and Rose's) emotions.
            • John M. Cusick does a masterful job describing Rose's expanding consciousness. And as her feelings toward David and Charlie evolve, they mirror those of a teenager experiencing first love--and its miseries.

            Tuesday, November 9, 2010

            This Librarian's Quick Picks: Middle School Edition

            The PS Brothers
            by Maribeth Boelts
            Genre: Fiction


            Sixth-graders Russell and Shawn, poor and picked on, work together scooping dog droppings to earn money for a Rottweiler puppy to protect them from bullies, but when they learn the puppy's owner is running an illegal dog-fighting ring, they are torn about how to respond.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Russell and Shawn are wonderfully realistic characters with emotions that ring true.
            • The boys genuinely want to do the right thing, and they are creative and resourceful in accomplishing their goals.
            • Short chapters, plus ample suspense and humor, will keep readers turning the pages.
            • The dog-fighting operation that the boys discover doesn't appear in the book as just a topical reference; the crime is one part of a larger story. 

            by Gordon Korman
            Genre: Fiction


            Griffin Bing is in big trouble when a Super Bowl ring disappears from his middle school's display case, replaced by Griffin's retainer, and the more he and his friends investigate, the worse his situation becomes.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Clever humor permeates almost every scene, often delivered through carefully chosen details and the clash of characters' points of view. For example, Detective Sergeant Vizzini, who has visited the Bing household on several occasions to investigate Griffin, remarks on the color of the new curtains, and Savannah can't understand how animal control officials can miss the "kindness and passion" in her gigantic Doberman's "big, beautiful eyes."
            • While Gordon Korman masterfully juggles complicated plot threads laced with unexpected twists and turns, the action and meaning are always clear.
            • This fast-paced kid-pleaser is just as strong as the first two capers, Swindle and Zoobreak.

            The Dead Boys
            by Royce Buckingham
            Genre: Thriller


            Timid twelve-year-old Teddy Matthews and his mother move to a small, remote desert town in eastern Washington, where the tree next door, mutated by nuclear waste, takes its energy from children, and the friends Teddy makes turn out to be dead.

            Why you'll love it:
            • The premise of a tree consuming twelve-year-old boys because it was mutated by exposure to waste from a nearby nuclear plant is unusual and creepy, yet surprisingly plausible.
            • A fast-paced and tightly constructed plot. The suspense begins immediately and builds as Teddy meets the other boys in town and can tell that something isn't quite right. 

            by Laurie Halse Anderson
            Genre: Historical fiction


            Separated from his friend Isabel after their daring escape from slavery, fifteen-year-old Curzon serves as a free man in the Continental Army at Valley Forge until he and Isabel are thrown together again, as slaves once more.

            Why you'll love it:
            • This worthy sequel, part of a planned trilogy, has a complex, engrossing plot that contains abundant action, daring, and pathos.
            • Deeply moving, with characters whose fates readers will care about and a strong overall message about the meaning of freedom and free will.
            • Whereas Isabel narrated Chains, Curzon is the storyteller in Forge, providing a new perspective. Curzon's voice feels authentic, and his account includes plenty of comic relief, despite the brutality of his life.

            The Crowfield Curse
            by Pat Walsh
            Genre: Fantasy


            In 1347, when fourteen-year-old orphan William Paynel, an impoverished servant at Crowfield Abbey, goes into the forest to gather wood and finds a magical creature caught in a trap, he discovers he has the ability to see fays and becomes embroiled in a strange mystery involving Old Magic, a bitter feud, and ancient secrets.

            Why you'll love it:
            • William lives in a fantastic realm where magic and religion combine, and only some can see all that the world really holds. Pat Walsh uses this eerie setting--as much a character as any other in the book--to great effect, heightening William's sense of unease.
            • Walsh's precise, detailed writing is wholly immersive, making it easy for readers to put themselves in William's place.
            • Jacobus Bone and Shadlok are wonderfully complex antagonists, in large part because they continuously shift between being villainous and sympathetic.
            • The book's ending hints at a sequel continuing William's surprising, intriguing adventures.

            by Cornelia Funke
            Genre: Fantasy


            For years, Jacob Reckless has been traveling into another world through a magic mirror. When his young brother Will follows him and becomes cursed, they must find a cure.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Jacob's desire to save his brother Will, together with his feelings of guilt for his part in bringing about Will's curse, provide Jacob with compelling motivations.
            • The story begins in the middle of the action, filling in the backstory as necessary, making Reckless a fast and exciting read.
            • At certain points, such as Jacob's confrontation with a character called the Tailor, the story is thrillingly scary.
            • Readers will enjoy identifying the reimagined fairy tales incorporated into the novel. 

            Brain Jack
            by Brian Falkner
            Genre: Science Fiction


            In a near-future New York City, computer genius Sam Wilson manages to hack into the Telecomerica network and sets off a chain of events that have a profound effect on human activity throughout the world.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Smart, likable characters fill the book with colorful, quick-witted dialogue.
            • A fascinating look into a future in which video games are the street drug of choice and a terrorist attack has wiped Las Vegas off the map.
            • Brian Falkner has a talent for bringing technology to life. He writes about hacking in terms that make it exciting, visceral, and easy to visualize.
            • Brain Jack encourages readers to think about the hidden costs of new technologies.
            • The cyber-thriller's twists and turns will keep even the least tech-savvy reader entranced. 

            The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton
            by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
            Genre: Biography


            Discusses the personal life, correspondence, and other details of the life and work of American writer and designer Edith Wharton.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge recreates the staid, hierarchical world of Edith Wharton's youth. Readers will sympathize with the stultifying expectations to which Wharton was subjected and will root for her to overcome them.
            • Wharton's curiosity and humor come across clearly, both in anecdotes told about her and through the use of quotes.
            • Edith Wharton's friends and family members are vividly portrayed. Wharton herself is shown to be a loyal and devoted friend.
            • The risks that Wharton took in order to be a writer show both reading and writing to be exciting, potentially transformative activities. 

            by Brendan Halpin
            Genre: Fiction


            Fourteen-year-old Amanda and her best friend Lena start high school looking forward to playing on the varsity soccer team, but when Lena makes varsity and Amanda only makes junior varsity, their long friendship rapidly changes.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Amanda's blended family is involved in her life in a refreshing and realistic way.
            • Effectively contrasts the coaching styles of "scary, crusty" Ms. Keezer and the tough but understanding Coach Beasley.
            • The reader feels the intensity of Amanda and Lena's friendship and experiences its painful unraveling up close, from their first awkward silence, to Lena's carelessness toward Amanda's feelings, to Amanda's confusion and anger.

            Monday, November 8, 2010

            Books By Theme: Going On A Quest

            "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
            ~ Martin Buber (1878−1965), Austrian-born Jewish philosopher

            The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time
            by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson

            Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck book cover Benjamin HersonCalling all grammar geeks--The Great Typo Hunt is the travel book for you! Having just attended his 5th college reunion, editor Jeff Deck felt like his classmates were making the world a better place, while he wasn't. What could he do? Why, correct grammar across America, of course! And so, accompanied by friends, Deck traveled cross-country, correcting spelling and punctuation errors on public signs along the way. This "illuminating hybrid of travelogue, English usage textbook and sociological experiment" (Washington Post) will please anyone who likes road-trip books or despises missing apostrophes.

            The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction
            by Glen Chilton

            Curse of the Labrador Duck by Glen Chilton book coverThe Labrador Duck has been extinct for over 100 years--less than a dozen old eggs and 50 or so stuffed birds are all that remains. In this fast-paced, amusing account, ornithologist and leading expert on the species Glen Chilton explains how he became obsessed with the bird and traveled over 82,000 miles to visit places with ties to the long-gone avian. From Paris to Prague, London to Long Island, Chilton examines taxidermied ducks and has amazing adventures, such as wading unclothed in a glacier-fed stream. If you enjoy this "entertaining and educational travelogue" (Publishers Weekly) and would enjoy reading about birders traveling the U.S., try Luke Dempsey's A Supremely Bad Idea.

            Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play
            by Danny Wallace

            Friends Like these by Danny Wallace book coverBritish humorist and TV host Danny Wallace had a bit of a crisis as his 30th birthday approached. He realized that he'd become something of an adult (i.e. he ate healthy and had throw pillows on his couch)--and was shocked by the idea. At the same time, Danny's parents sent him a box of his childhood things, including an old address book. The aging Danny then had a brilliantly quirky idea: he'd track down long-ago childhood friends, no matter where on earth they were, and hang out with them. Though this isn't your traditional travelogue, armchair travelers--especially those approaching a milestone birthday, such as 30 or 40--will enjoy this trip around the world and into the 1980s (like, totally!).

            Sunday, November 7, 2010

            Reading Goals, 2011 Style

            I attended the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference Friday and Saturday, which was just the refresher I needed to get pumped about my reading for next year. I attended many great breakout sessions, but one that particularly stayed with me was Terri Kirk's 'Great Reads for Teens'. I am at a K-8 school, but most of my 7th and 8th graders are beyond 'middle school' literature. They want straight-up YA, so I want to deliver. Terri Kirk reads about 100 books a year, primarily YA since she is a high school librarian.

            I love that my kids assume I've read all 10,000 books in my library, and I wish it were true. No, my goal is not to read every book in the library this year. I wish. Instead, I'm going to focus on the 2011-2012 Volunteer State Book Award Nominees for the 4-6 and 7-12 grade brackets. The list is as follows:

            VOLUNTEER STATE BOOK AWARD--Intermediate Division (Grades 4-6)
            Baskin, Nora Raleigh.  Anything but Typical Simon & Schuster, 2009. 5/5
            Berlin, Eric.  The Potato Chips Puzzles.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.
            Clements, Andrew.  Extra Credit.  Atheneum,  2009.
            Feldman, Jody.  The Gollywhopper Games.  Greenwillow Books, 2008.
            Giff, Patricia Reilly.  Wild Girl. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.
            Jonell, Lynne.  The Secret of Zoom.  Holt, 2009.
            Kehret, Peg.  Runaway Twin.  Dutton, 2009.
            Klise, Kate.  Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetary Road.  Harcourt, 2009.
            Korman, Gordon.  Swindle.  Scholastic, 2008. 3.5/5
            Mass, Wendy.  11 Birthdays.  Scholastic, 2009.
            McKinnon, Hannah Roberts.  Franny Parker.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.
            Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Faith, Hope, and Ivy June. Delacorte,  2009.
            Parry, Rosanne.  Heart of a Shepherd.  Random House, 2009.
            Paulson, Gary.  Mudshark Random House, 2009.
            Petersen, P.J.  Wild River.  Delacorte, 2009.
            Pitchford, Dean.  Captain Nobody.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.
            Rollins, James.  Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. HarperCollins, 2009.
            Smith, Roland.  Tentacles.  Scholastic, 2009.
            Stewart, Trenton Lee.  The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Little, Brown, 2008. 4/5
            Tubb, Kristin O’Donnell.  Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different.  Delacorte, 2008.

            VOLUNTEER STATE BOOK AWARD--Young Adult Division (Grades 7-12)

            Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. Viking Juvenile, 2009.
            Brown, Jennifer. Hate List. Little, Brown Books, 2009.
            Bunce, Elizabeth C.  A Curse Dark as Gold. Arthur A Levine, 2008.
            Chima, Cinda Williams. The Demon King. Hyperion, 2009.
            Dashner, James. The Maze RunnerDelacorte, 2009.
            Fleming, Candace. The Great and Only Barnum. Schwatz & Ward, 2009.
            Forman, Gayle. If I StayDutton, 2009. 
            Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl. Beautiful Creatures Little, Brown, 2009. 3/5
            Herlong, M.H. The Great Wide SeaViking, 2008
            Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009. 
            Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Henry Holt.
            Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds.  Faith, Hope, and Ivy June. Delacorte, 2009.
            Osterlund, Anne. Academy 7. Speak, 2009.
            Padian, Maria.  Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress. Knopf, 2008.
            Reinhardt, Dana. How to Build a House.  Wendy Lamb, 2008.
            Ryan, Carrie. The Forest of Hands and TeethDelacorte, 2009.
            Smith, Roland. I, Q: Book One: Independence Hall. Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.
            Smith, Sherri L. Flygirl. Speak, 2009.
            Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.
            Stork, Francisco.  Marcelo in the Real WorldArthur A. Levine, 2009.
            Stiefvater, Maggie. Shiver. Scholastic, 2009.                    
            Westerfeld, Scott.  Leviathan.Simon Pulse, 2009.
            Whitman, Emily.  Radiant Darkness. Greenwillow, 2009.
            Yancey, Rick. The Monstrumologist. Simon and Shuster, 2009.
            Zarr, Sara. Once Was Lost.Little, Brown, 2009. 5/5

            ~ For my own sanity's sake, I'd like to mix in some adult fiction and nonfiction throughout the year.~

            Tuesday, November 2, 2010

            This Librarian's Quick Picks: Upper Elementary Edition

            The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
            by Barbara O'Connor
            Grades 4-7


            After Owen captures an enormous bullfrog, names it Tooley Graham, then has to release it, he and two friends try to use a small submarine that fell from a passing train to search for Tooley in the Carter, Georgia, pond it came from, while avoiding nosy neighbor Viola.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Barbara O'Connor's writing is immediate and engaging, with a beautifully evoked setting.
            • A pitch-perfect depiction of the summer activities and adventures of a group of kids.
            • Well-drawn characters, especially crotchety secondary characters Earlene, the woman who has worked for Owen's grandfather for ages, and Joleen Berkus, the woman who bought the house where Owen and his parents used to live.
            • The kids' interactions feel authentic. Owen, Travis, and Stumpy's feelings and attitude toward Viola are believable, as is their eventual change of heart, while Viola's persistence is admirable.

            Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-Wiener
            by Ursula Vernon
            Grades 3-5


            When Danny Dragonbreath's best friend, Wendell the iguana, is bitten by one of the hot dogs from his school lunch, he begins to turn into a were-wiener.

            Why you'll love it:
            • An appealing format seamlessly marries pages of text with graphic-novel-type illustrations, which propel the story forward. Ursula Vernon's bold art--using only red, green, and black--is simply drawn and striking.
            • The author makes an unlikely scenario believable in large part by the strength of her characters. Danny, who welcomes adventure at every opportunity, and Wendell, who is more reserved, are a great pair.
            • Vernon has a gift for dialogue, and the two friends' interactions are consistently amusing.
            • Readers need not know other books in the series to enjoy this one. 

            Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything
            by Kathleen Krull
            Grades 3-6


            In the thirteenth century, Kubla Khan ruled the largest empire in the world. Known equally for his indulgences and policies, his reign lasted thirty-four years.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Incisive, well-researched text brings the mysterious and legendary Kubla Khan, his family, his court, and his empire to vibrant, exuberant life.
            • Stunning, detailed drawings recreate the Mongolian world of Kubla Khan, from intricate palaces inlaid with jade and decorated with phoenixes to battle scenes that feature hordes of charging horses and their militant Mongolian riders. The map on the endpapers shows the tremendous span of the Mongol Empire.
            • Kathleen Krull takes care to highlight Kubla Khan's cruelties as a military leader and the innovations such as paper currency, accurate calendars, public education, and waterway development that were realized under his direction.

            There's a Princess in the Palace: Five Classic Tales
            retold by Zoe B. Alley
            Grades 2-6


            Cinderella, Snow White, and three other well-known princesses share a surprising connection in these fairy-tale retellings presented in comic book format.

            Why you'll love it:

            • The heroines of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Frog Prince, and The Princess and the Pea are linked together to hilarious effect.
            • Running commentary throughout by two mice (who serve as the horses for Cinderella's carriage in the first story) adds to the fun.
            • Clever dialogue integrates modern turns of phrase and neatly refreshes the classic tales.
            • This book is big! The graphic format has massive kid appeal. Amusing details in the illustrations invite careful study. 

            The Drained Brains Caper: Chicagoland Detective Agency, #1
            by Trina Robbins
            Grades 4-7


            Required to attend summer school after moving to Chicagoland, thirteen-year-old manga-lover Megan Yamamura needs help from twelve-year-old computer genius Raf to escape the maniacal principal's mind-control experiment.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Trina Robbins cleverly mixes classic crime-story tropes--an evil villain who reveals her plans to the hero, crime-solving partners who initially don't get along--with unique elements, such as Bradley the talking dog and Raf 's computer program that saves the day.
            • The manga-influenced artwork is eye-catching, with clean lines and uncluttered panels. The action is clearly depicted and easy to follow.
            • Raf is a bit of a nerd, and Megan loves haiku. These characters aren't typical heroes, but they act heroically. Kids will be able to both relate to and look up to Megan and Raf.

            Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
            by Laban Carrick Hill
            Kindergarten-Grade 4


            Dave, a potter who lived in South Carolina in the 1800s, carved poetry onto his pots, an act of tremendous courage for a slave.

            Why you'll love it:
            • An inspiring and moving look at how a slave found creative expression.
            • Bryan Collier's affecting illustrations show a world rife with contrasts. Dave is set against a backdrop of anonymous slaves and their dehumanizing work, drawing attention to the importance of the survival of Dave's story, art, and poetry.
            • The lyrical writing and striking, textured artwork pair together to skillfully depict the process of throwing, shaping, and glazing a jar; to readers, it will seem almost as if they are watching Dave create his pottery in real time. 

            Case Closed?: Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science
            by Susan Hughes
            Grades 2-6


            Was Egypt's first female pharaoh murdered? Did the city of Ubar vanish without a trace? Science has helped solve these and seven other archaeological mysteries.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Susan Hughes has chosen a collection of disappearances that range from ancient to recent and from small-scale (a single missing mountaineer) to catastrophic (entire cities).
            • Hughes employs clear, accessible language and explains both the technology and research utilized by experts to locate their missing quarries.
            • Not all the cases featured in the book have been solved, which will give readers the chance to test their imaginations and develop some theories of their own.
            • Michael Wandelmaier's detailed illustrations cleverly reimagine the past, while full-color photographs showcase modern-day expeditions and researchers. 

            Red Zone
            by Tiki & Ronde Barber
            Grades 2-6


            Ronde and Tiki's excitement over the approaching state championship football game turns to worry when there is a chicken pox outbreak at school.

            Why you'll love it:
            • Each playoff game requires the team to reconfigure and compensate for the latest stricken teammate. As time passes, the boys all wonder who will be next, creating suspense.
            • Although Tiki and Ronde are the team's stars, each victory is achieved by everyone working together.
            • The novel captures the boys' stress about not disappointing the school now that they are "sentimental favorites" (according to the newspaper) rather than underdogs.
            • Provides a satisfying follow-up to Go Long! and Wild Card--and to the Eagles' eventful season. 
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