Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

I began interning as a Library Media Specialist in a middle school this week. One of the interesting tasks that I learned was how to process books to be shelved. I couldn't resist checking out Chasing Lincoln's Killer over the weekend. The beautifully crafted end papers portray historical primary source documents and photos that establish the book as non-fiction. The author also states:

"This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during
the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic.
In fact, all the text appearing within quotation marks come from
original sources….What happened in Washington D.C. in the spring of 1865,
and in the swamps and rivers, forests and fields of Maryland and
Virginia during the following twelve days, is far too incredible
to have been made up."

I'm glad that the author included the above statement….because the book reads like a fictional story and it would be easy to imagine that the author filled in some of the details with historical guesses. However, all the details of the story including the description of the bullet hole in Lincoln's head, the savage attack on Secretary of State Seward and the words of J.W. Booth as he breathed his last words are recorded in sources verified by the author. I love this book for the history it presents to young adults and the spinning of the story in a way that holds a reader's attention. This book is author James L. Swanson's first for young adults and is based upon his best selling adult book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. It's true that fact is more often than not, stranger than fiction. This book is great for tween to teen boys and girls, interested in history and drawn to non-fiction….and those that would be enjoy studying the map at the end of the book find all the points of intrigue described in the tale.

Swanson, J. Chasing Lincoln's Killer. (2009). Scholastic Press. New York.

Blown Away!

Oh my goodness…..what a book! I picked up Blown Away because it is a contender for this year's Virginia Reader's Choice Award in the Elementary category. I was happily reading through a sweet story of a boy named Jake, his friends Mara, a mule named Jewel and her best dog friend Ruby and an old man named Sharkey. Jake's life revolves around his family and his friends in the 1930s Florida Keys. Not surprisingly, the story paints sunny mental pictures of sand, shore, fishing and sweet life in a small, remote town until……the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 blows through and gives the story its title. By page 148 I was so convincingly wrapped up in the monster hurricane that I couldn't put the book down until I finished it on page 250. Wow! This is an incredible story about a "storm of the century", government response and the combination of fate, circumstances and "grit" that enable people to survive the strongest forces of nature. I was impressed by and touched by the role poetry played in this story…a very nice way of integrating emotions of the characters in good and challenging times.

After the hurricane, Jake must do what he can to save his family with some unusual help from his friends. The author thoughtfully provides readers with details that are true about the history and facts the story were based on. Blown Away is a great book for boys as the main character is a thirteen year old boy. I'll be waiting to see if Blow Away wins a prize in Virginia this year.

Harlow, J. Blown Away. (2007). New York. Aladdin Paperbacks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Catching Up ….. post vacation thoughts

Whew! I needed a vacation from my vacation. Since last writing, my family went to Colorado for a vacation and our cousin's wedding. We slid into home the night before school started. Thank goodness my kids are well versed in the "drill" of our school routine and had backpacks packed before we left the state. While on vacation I finished a great book and returned home to start another. Both books are worth talking about.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a fabulous book….I loved it even though from chapter one, I knew I would need a box of tissues to get through it. I laughed out loud many times as the story of a family was told through the eyes of the family dog from puppy hood to old age and "evolution". The story of the crows was so funny that I'll never be able to look at the birds in quite the same way again! Even though this is a fictional novel for adults, it would make a great YA book in a high school collection. My eleven year old read it ahead of me after our Nana suggested that she might like it. By the end of the book there were definitely some scenes that I thought were beyond her maturity level….but we talked about them and she doesn't appear to be warped or damaged by reading them. She's actually more mature than I'm ready for her to be anyway! Because of the aspect of race car driving and the dog narrator is male, this is a super book for teen boys. And, despite the need for a box of tissues, there is a very satisfying ending to the story that isn't cliché or predictable.

Nothing But the Truth by Avi is a book that my eldest brought home from her first day of 7th grade as a Language Arts assignment. It's an older book….published right around the time that I remember stories told by multiple points of view was a popular method of novel writing. The story does indeed present a middle school controversy surrounding the singing of the Star Spangle Banner through the viewpoints of students, teachers, administrators, parents and members of the press. The ending is purposely left open for the reader to decide what will happen…which is perfect for discussion of facts and opinions among middle school students. I was very glad to have read this novel. Avi is a major author in children's literature and I haven't read much from Avi yet. I will definitely read more.

Stein, G. The Art of Racing in the Rain (2009). Harper Paperbacks. New York

Avi. Nothing But the Truth (1993). Harper Collins Children's Books. New York