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.

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