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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