Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recommends for Reluctant 13 y.o. Boys

For Aimee……Reading for a Thirteen Year Old Boy Who Isn’t a Book Lover

I admit….I became a school librarian out of my love of literature. If I could fill a library with historical fiction and poetry I would. The thing is most of the students I work with are not interested in either. Furthermore, they are often admitted “nonreaders”. I find myself looking for ways to get kids reading anything…..especially reluctant boy readers.

Below is an “off the top of my head” list of reading recommends from my super short time as a middle school librarian. However, I’m just getting started in this line of work. There are lots more great reads that moms, friends and other librarians can recommend. I hope they do! Please do.

Reluctant readers can be put off by text heavy pages. There’s tons of great reading material that isn’t word-dense that boys will read. Try the “cereal box” reading philosophy. If something interesting and short is out next to where they are eating, they probably will (don’t tell them that a librarian said it was ok to read and eat at the same place!)

·         Picture books – are often of a much higher reading level than what you might think. Great picture books for boys are by authors such as Chris Van Allsburg, Jon Scieszka, and Patricia Polocco.

·         Almanacs—especially illustrated almanacs such as Time Almanac for Kids

·         Photography Books

·         Record Books such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and others

·         Chicken Soup for the Soul books have lots of short and great inspirational stories

·         Short Stories – so many short story books are of those scary tales!

·         Cook Books –growing boys are more interested in food and maybe they will cook for/with you!

·         Audio books in the form of playaways, CDs or interactive e-books are a great way to take in a story.

Old Fashioned Chapter Books

·         Anything by Gordon Korman – a great new book and football story is Pop! Mr. Korman’s website is out of this world great for middle level readers. Go there!

·         Anything by Rick Riordan – The Percy Jackson series is just one

·         Hank Zipzer Series – funny books by Henry “the Fonz” Winkler about a kid with learning challenges

·         Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

·         Love that Dog! By Sharon Creech is a great book in verse

·         Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson is a non-fiction capturing the minds of boys everywhere!

·         Holes by Louis Sacher…even better than the movie…but watch the movie after reading!

·         Home of the Brave is a great book about a Somali “lost boy” who is new to the US

·         Breathe by Cliff McNish is a great old fashioned ghost story

And finally, the hard truth is that kids will read more if they see us reading too. We parents and adults have to be seen enjoying reading for them to catch the spirit too. Assign yourself some good middle level reading (trust me, so much of it is as good or better as stuff for adults) and allow them to “steal” a chapter or “read ahead”. Sometimes, that friendly competition can get something started.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to a Nation

When I finished listening to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing I found myself at a bit of a loss for explaining what the story is. I tried to explain to my eighth grade daughter in this way….it’s a historical science fiction of sorts.

Octavian is the son of an African princess re-named Cassiopeia by the white man who purchased her while pregnant and brought her to live at the Novanglian College of Lucidity in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 1700s. Octavian knows only an odd life of privilege and scientific observation as the college’s academicians are engaged in all kinds of ongoing experiments. Eventually, Octavian learns that he is the college’s largest and most valuable experiment….which is why I include science fiction to my description of the book. The pseudo-science of the 1700s is very much part of this novel.

The college sets out to observe whether or not African boys have the same capacities as white, European boys. Octavian shows not only at least equal ability but a tremendous capacity for learning the Classics, language and music. He also demonstrates a keen ability to observe in the scientific sense and  by scientific method. This is all well and good for Octavian and his mother until the college loses its funding source and must align itself with a corporation of southern businessmen who fund the college and re-direct the experiment of Octavian to prove that African boys have less capacity for thought, reason and learning than white European boys.

Octavian escapes the college just as revolution breaks out in  surrounding Boston. He has good reason to question what and for whom liberty is being fought for during his participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill as a runaway. After re-capture and return to the college, Octavian battles the desire to end his life, obtaining freedom through death--witnessed during his stint in the patriotic forces, and confronting his “enlightened” masters. When given an opportunity to escape to freedom again, will he take it?

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing earned the National Book Award in 2006 and many, many additional literature prizes. Much has been written about its unsettling gothic tone and unique look at the American Revolution and its portrayal of the lives of African Americans in our History. There are several links below that can shed better light on the book than I can. The best link, in my opinion, is the interview of the author by NPR about the book.

The Astonishing Life … is a great read for older teens, as M.T. Anderson intended as well as for adults fascinated with the Revolutionary War era. I think it would make a fantastic book for US History teachers to read and discuss….the tone, perspective and direction of the novel would definitely impact my teaching of the time period and events. I would ask students to consider more questions about freedom and property and enlightened ideals.

Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume I. New York: Listening Library, 2007. CD.

Additional Reviews and Interesting Information:

Fabulous Audio Interview of author M.T. Anderson on NPR

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scary School....looks like a great book for reluctant young readers

This is probably the most important book review of the summer…..and I haven’t  read the book! My ten year old daughter is a bit of reluctant reader. Oh, she has her head in a book all the time so long as it’s a comic book, graphic novel or an art book. She’s highly visual and a younger sister to a “super student and super reader," sometimes a tough act to follow as a little sis. She doesn’t  always see books or text heavy reading as “her department” in our family.

However, when I saw my ten year old absorbed in Scary School by Derek the Ghost….I took note. Scary School is a chapter book illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. As my daughter tells me, each chapter is told by a different member of the school community (we grown-ups know this as a multi-voice novel). The story was highly interesting, contained great graphics that my illustration-lovin kid likes and………led to a “secret chapter” that ends the book at the book’s website:

When my daughter went to the Scary School website she had to take a quiz on the book to gain access to the secret and final chapter of the story. This was quite enticing to my reader and she was excited to get to the website where she was laughing out loud at what she read there. There are lots of additional cool places for ten and eleven year olds to visit at the site: games, links, tour of the “school”, tour of the book, about the author and more. Even better, this is a book that appeals to boy and girl readers.

Now that my daughter has finished the book I’m going to grab it and see why it’s so cool. I hope other parentss of reluctant readers will find a way to introduce this book to their child(ren). I’d love to know what they think.

Scary School Book 2 comes out in June 2012. My daughter is already making sure that I know that so we can get it. I love hearing this from her!

Kent, D. Scary School. New York: Harper Collins Children, 2011. Print

Sunday, August 28, 2011

September is Library Card Sign Up Month

September is Library-Card Sign Up Month

This coming month, schools will be encouraging students to fill out applications for library cards at their local public library.

Some related links to get your student excited about going to the library:

Explore the public library that is home to lion cubs Lionel and Leona and their parents, Cleo and Theo, at this PBS Kids companion site.

This website, from the Library of Congress, offers a wealth of information about life, history, government, and culture in the United States. The online resources are searchable, or visitors can use the site map and index tools to locate information.

Presidential Libraries grade 7 and up

From the National Archives, this site links to ten Presidential libraries and two Presidential materials projects. The site includes Presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

This site promotes quality reading through book reviews, related games, author biographies and interviews, and more. Students can also learn how to set up a successful book club and find discussion guides for select books.

International Reading Association/National Council for Teaching English.   Thinkfinity. Verizon Foundation. 2010. Web. 28, Aug. 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak

Somewhere in the archives of this blog is a list of picture books to support Virginia’s Sixth Grade Social Studies curriculum. Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak will now be included. I LOVE this book nominated for a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award for elementary school students. Admittedly, I’m a social studies geek and partial to American Colonial history…..but even so, this book has much to offer kids from ages eight to ninety-eight.

Ethan is the printer’s newspaper boy sent out for deliveries of an important notice for Boston colonists on December 16, 1773. In the endpapers of the book, we see that he sets out at 5:30 am and doesn’t finish his duties until 9:00 pm when at the last of several meetings of the  he week, he is caught up in the Boston Tea Party.

What is lovely about this beautifully illustrated book are the many layers of information. Each stop on Ethan’s delivery route describes a different person that lived and worked in 1773 Boston. As the work of each man, woman, free person and slave are described, their attitude toward patriotic rebellion is related so that not only does the overall message of the book describe a historic event but it provides an complex understanding from multiple perspectives. The final words of the story, “WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?” lead the reader to question where this event led the American colonists. Brilliant! A short and age appropriate Historical Notes section gives the curious and more advanced readers additional facts and information. Also, brilliant.

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak reminds me very much of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, the 2007 Newberry Award winner and reads equally well. I’m not certain that every elementary school child would pick this book up for reading entertainment….since it is school related. However, it’s a tremendously entertaining way of learning history that I hope teachers will include in their classrooms.

If I were teaching colonial history to young children, I would ask small groups act out Ethan’s delivery of notices throughout Boston as well as the Tea Party itself. Children will get a flavor for how ancestors felt at the time of this critical event in our nation’s history. Colonial Voices would be a super addition to middle school and even high school library for low readers or new to English readers who need to catch up on American history in a short amount of time before taking those stressful state tests. Much can be explained about America’s rebellion of British colonial rule through the incident of Boston’s Tea Party.

There are some excellent sources on the web to find out more about this book and its author, Kay Winters, who has written many great picture books for children. Have fun with this one. I sure have!

Animated book chat/review for children of Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak

Author Kay Winters website, The Magic of Story, includes information about the author and all of her books. A kid and grown up friendly site:

Winters, K. Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. 2008. Print.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Clockwork Three

The Clockwork Three is a fantastic middle school read. It's fun stems from a blended genre of historical-fiction, fantasy and steam-punk.  

If you are new to the term steam-punk, I am too. From what I’m learning, steam-punk writing refers to stories set during Victorian times when steam power was the dominate energy source for industry, transportation and most of life. The time period is paired with a punk rock attitude toward an overly technological world. I’m still searching for a true understanding of the genre and am glad that Wikipedia has a page devoted to it for reference:

Author of The Clockwork Three, Matthew J. Kirby, based his book on a true historical account of a boy kidnapped from Italy in the 1870s, brought to NYC to play fiddle on street corners for the financial gain of his padrone.  However, as the three main fictional characters of the novel, Giuseppe, Hannah and Frederick, find each other and work to solve each other’s problems, elements of fantasy and steam-punk enter their world as well. The story is full of running down the street suspense and kids triumph over all with smarts and pluck sentiment. Fun!

I cannot wait to introduce this book to middle school students—especially readers who also enjoy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. An automaton has a key part to play in both books. Historically, automatons were a fascination for people in a pre-computer age of the 1800s. The works of Charles Babbage's, ground breaking work of the time is mentioned in The Clockwork Three for those interested in the infancy of computer technology.

For super readers, The Clockwork Three is a quick read as they will not want to put the fast paced story down. I’m thankful to Elizabeth Jones at Stonewall Middle School for recommending it to me as that kind of book. She is right!

The Clockwork Three has earned tons of great reviews and is beginning to show up on readers choice award lists and others. Check out more about the author and the book at the website links below:

Interview with author, Matthew J. Kirby:

Matthew J. Kirby’s blog:

Wikipedia’s information about the book:

Kirby, M. The Clockwork Three. New York: Scholastic Press. 2010. Print.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drita, My Homegirl

Drita is ten and a refugee from Kosovo. She has endured much in her homeland but is fortunate to be able to immigrate to America. Immigrating to New York City is not an easy task, however. First, Drita must move into a very small apartment and learn a new language, enroll in a school of many different customs and cultures….not to mention try not to upset her mother who is clearly dealing some sort of emotional breakdown as a result of life as a refuge.

Maxie is a popular, fast talking, smart and funny African American girl who has a challenging past of her own. Despite the fact that she’s on track for becoming a comedienne, she misses her mother who died in a car accident. Grandma seems to become the boss of her life and worse, Maxie’s Dad is dating a woman he wants his daughter to meet...not Maxie’s idea of what life should be.

In either an act of necessity or brilliance, Miss Salvato, the girls' fourth grade teacher, assigns Maxie the story of Drita’s journey to America as a Social Studies project. How on earth can Maxie study a girl who doesn’t even speak English?! “It will be a wonderful challenge for you” says Miss Salvato (21).

Maxie and Drita alternately tell their stories throughout the book to help readers understand how the girls struggle to build common ground. By the end of the story we are proud and delighted to have seen the birth of their friendship. The voice of each girl is distinct and believable. Readers come to like both girls and are proud of them as they present a shared final chapter in the form of a social studies project. This book would be especially good for elementary age girls learning about classmates who have immigrated from another country. It would also make an excellent read aloud book.

Jenny Lombard is a New York City public school teacher that just couldn’t allow the amazing stories of her students go without telling in the form of a book. Drita, My Homegirl is her first novel. Hopefully, it won’t be her last. This book has been nominated as a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice for elementary school. It is on the readers choice lists of twenty other states. Wow. I'd say it's worth a read!

Author Jenny Lombard’s website gives background for herself, her students and how this book came into existence:

Lombard, J. Drita, My Homegirl. New York: Puffin Books. 2006. Print.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Food for Thought: YA Literature and Religion.....touchy, touchy

The topics of religion and literature has always been interesting to me.

This YALSA (Young Adult Library Services--a part of the American Library Association: blog post has much food for thought and lists of award winning books for teens that relate to religion.

To go straight to the lists of books links, scoll to the very end of the post.

Happy Reading

The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution. by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace is a fabulous book by Sally Gardner. It is  also a nominee for a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award in the High School category. However, I know this book is in the middle school library where I work and I'm delighted that it is.

The Red Necklace is a story of the French Revolution that involves love, intrigue, deception, evil and a bit of magic. Even though the book reads like a good ole fashioned romance, the main character is a teen gypsy boy of uncommon magical talent who uses it for good as the tide of Revolution carries away logic and reason in 1792. The main character is so interesting and real that the book has great potential as a guy AND girl read. I recommend it for readers in grades seven and up.

A quick search of google didn't turn up any awards for The Red Necklace. However, the author has a website and interesting blog. On her blog, I read a speech that she had given to prize winning authors at a school. Her speech was as much for the students not winning a prize that day as the winners. Ms. Gardner also discussed difficulties in her life overcoming dyslexia. Wow! This author who spun a wonderful, page-turning, magical tale of the French Revolution spent time in her life unable to read?! Amazing. I can't wait to read a bit of this action packed book to middle schoolers and then let them know it was written by a woman who once could not read...and struggled to learn how. This kind of triumph really does inspire students.

Check out Sally Gardner's website to see publicity for The Red Necklace, its sequel The Silver Blade and more books that are in the works from her. I will be looking for The Silver Blade as I must know what happens to the main characters I came to love so much in this book.

Gardner, S. The Red Necklace: A French Revolution Story. New York: Speak. 2007. Print.

I love this list inside the front cover of the book--historical novels:


Aurelia by Anne Osterlund
A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
General Winston's Daughter by Sharon Shinn
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson
Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris
Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells
The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn
The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli
A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
Wolf Queen by Tanith Lee

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Our Library of Congress is a great resource for reading

I have never spent enough time exploring the Library of Congress website. It's just full of great, free reading resources for all ages, but especially for teens.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

When the Whistle Blows

If I could get a bunch of boys ages ten and older and my Dad to read one book of fiction and then be a fly on a wall while they talked it over, it would be When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton.

Slayton’s book, a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice nominee for middle school books, is touching and funny and sweet and mischievous and sentimental and much more. The story, told in vignettes, relates Jimmy Cannon’s life from 1942-1948 in a rural West Virginia railroad town. Each story is set on All Hollow’s Eve which happens to be Jimmy’s father’s birthday, the annual meeting of an Irish secret society, every kid’s favorite holiday for spookiness and pranks….and another significant event that you’ll have to discover when you read the book.

The more Jimmy’s world stays the same, the more change we see in the six Halloweens of his adolescence. We witness the decline of steam engine dominance in West Virginia and the US and our modern life coming down the tracks in a way we wish we could slow up a bit.

As an adult reader, I love the concept of When the Whistle Blows. Slayton’s stories are from her father and grandfather. We feel her become a part of their world in a way most men of those times did not allow women folk to do. I feel similarly to my Dad and grandfathers. I can never be fully part of their world….but the stories they’ve given me of their lives and times allow me a presence that I cherish.

The very best description of When the Whistle Blows is given in a youtube video by the author in her own words on her terrific website. Take a look!

Slayton, F. When the Whistle Blows. New York: Philomel. 2009. Print.

Another great feature in the edition of the book that I read is the Other Books You May Enjoy list inside the front cover….books similar in “feel” to When the Whistle Blows

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (I loved this book)
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristen Levine (wonderful story)
The Desperado Who Stole Baseball by John H. Ritter
The Last Newspaper Boy in America by Sue Corbett
The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
Sticks by Joan Bauer
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two tidbits

I'm in the middle of listening to a fabulous story written for grown ups.....loving these books on CD this summer. My four mile walk with my dog is so fun!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a great read about life on the German occupied channel islands of England during WWII. The story is told through letters of members of the society. I really feel like I'm getting to know a town of people. Great read for adults....but there's nothing in it so far (I'm 3/4 through) that makes me think a YA reader wouldn't also enjoy the story. There is no content too disturbing or inappropriate for readers age 12 and up.

Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. New York: Random House. 2008. Audio.

Tidbit #2. There is a giveaway promotion for this newly published YA novel. If you like mysteries, "like" this author on facebook and click on the give away link in the left margin of his book's page to enter the giveaway contest. I did. Good luck!!/mickeybolitar

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

There are some things you should know about the main character of Ways to Live Forever. Sam is eleven years old. He collects stories and fantastic facts. He’s writing a book about his life…..and by the time you read his book, he will probably be dead (4).

Sam has terminal leukemia. However, he is a philosopher and scientist. He’s not going quietly into that good night. He’s questioning his illness and his dying and conducting experiments all along the way with his best friend, Felix who is also terminally ill. He makes up lists….his bucket list is great one…..and questions that nobody ever answers about death for children and sets off to find the answers through ordinary and amazing experiences.

Through Sam’s illness and death, young readers (I recommend this book for grades 4-8) get a tender and real view of childhood cancer that isn’t sugared up or softened in a way that adults would do to spare children painful reactions to a difficult subject. Rather, the story depicts a child’s way of living on his own terms, passionately, nobly and with lots of action. We love Sam’s journey through his illness because he lives as best he can. We cry when Sam dies and see that he has  indeed invented some ways to really live forever. The book is also easily read. The reading level is low enough that younger readers can enjoy the story of very complex concepts.

Ways to Live Forever was written by Sally Nicholls in England and reflects life there. It might throw a few readers but not terribly. The book is for adults as well because we can learn what kids with terminal illnesses need and want—less visiting and gifts, more doing and memory making!
Ways to Live Forever is a new movie. See the trailer at:

Sally Nicholls is a very young writer just beginning her career. Visit her website:

Ways to Live Forever has won several awards in Europe:
  • The Waterstone Children’s Book Prize 2008 (British)
  • 2008 Glen Dimplex Writer’s Award (Irish)
  • 2008 Luchs des Jahres (German)
  • 2009 Concorde Children's Book Award (British)
  • Shortlisted for the 2009 Manchester Book Award (British)
  • 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Nominee for Middle School Readers
Nicholls, S. Ways to Live Forever. New York: Scholastic. 2008. Print.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

One cannot be the rock and the river.

In 1968 America, civil rights activists are working against a growing tide of youngsters who are not seeing a changed society as fast as they would like. Sam’s mother and father are staunchly committed to non-violence and the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Sam’s father is famous as a civil rights activist and speaker, in his own right, in their home city of Chicago. Dr. King is a family friend and comes to dinner for his mother’s chicken pot pie.

However, Sam’s elder brother, Steven a.k.a. “Stick” has just joined the Black Panther Party and Sam is witness to his friend Bucky’s unjustified brutalization and incarceration by the police. Tensions in Chicago spill over into violence as news of Dr. King’s assassination spreads. How can Sam be the son his parents raised him to be, Stick’s younger brother and Bucky’s friend? Sam’s world suddenly fills with impossible choices.

The Rock and the River is a page turner, an intense and crucial story—I’d put it in a “must read” category for young people. The book would work especially well with Virginia 8th grade history and civics curriculum. I have never read a better fictional story to illustrate the emotions and stresses of living in 1968. Even though the main character in the story is in early high school, I will be talking up this 2012 Virginia Readers Choice nominee with as many middle school students as I can. They will “get” this book.

The Rock and The River author, Kekla Magoon, has a wonderful website friendly to teen readers. I love that the site is geared for her readers and not literary critics or influential adults.  YA readers that enjoy this book should check out her website and books.

The Rock and the River has won many distinguished awards and recognitions. This is an author to know and keep up with.

The Rock and the River has earned:

  • Winner of the 2010 Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award by the American Library Association
  • 2010 NAACP Image Awards nominee, for "Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens"
  • 2010 ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2010 ALA Notable Books for Children
  • A 2009 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • 2009 Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Teens
  • 2009 Booklist Top Ten Debut Novels
Magoon, K. The Rock and the River. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Practical non-fiction reviews for pre-teen and teens

    These look good! Any book that teaches young people about credit, credit cards, budgeting etc. in a way that they will read is good for us adults that don't always teach all that they need....and could use a few lessons ourselves.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Too busy

    I've been grumping lately.....I don't know where I got the idea that summer was supposed to be a slower time of year than the rest.....but it's NOT TRUE!  During the school year, I push projects and ideas I have off toward summer because there's supposed to be time to get things done then. Nope. Summer for me is being available to four children...that I love...and want to be available to. However, this means all that time I thought I would have is still a day dream. sigh.

    Thank goodness for books on CD. I'm as embarassed as happy to report that I've finally gotten around to The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book took the world by storm in 1982 when I was still in high school. I simply never got around to it in college or later and now am enjoying it. There's not a thing I could say that hasn't been said about this amazing story. My impression of it all is summed up in the word intense. I'm so glad I've finally gotten around to this story.

    I wandered over to Alice Walker's incredible website. It contains her blog and much, much free poetry. For sure, I'll be back there to soak up some poetry and learn more about the author and her writings.

    Maybe after this next week of camp---four out of six of us are registered for camp and three of us are registered for two camps next week--things will settle down so that I can get back into the book that I can turn the pages of. I miss them.

    Walker, A. The Color Purple. New York: Recorded Books. 2010. Audio.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    My Vacation Reading

    On vacation I listened to a book and read a book. Both are for grown-ups and good stories. But, I think I’ll go back to YA books.

    Little Bee by Chris Cleave is an incredible journey of two women who become friends through a traumatic circumstance. Little Bee, a young Nigerian girl, is witness to atrocities committed by government soldiers securing land upon which newly discovered oil fields lay. Because she is witness, she is targeted for death. Sarah Sommers is a hip British magazine editor on holiday in Nigeria trying to save her marriage. When the women meet, they are bound together in a terrible event that will require them both to seek the strength of the other to survive.

    As Little Bee tells her story she admonishes: “We must agree that scars are beautiful. Scars are beautiful because the wearer has survived. Likewise, stories, even difficult ones are beautiful because the teller has survived to tell the tale.”

    Little Bee takes readers from Nigeria to England back to Nigeria through the journeys of an illegal alien and a wealthy woman. It’s tough to consider how much or little we in the modern, civilized, first –choose your adjective—world do or not do for the less fortunate. This fiction book was very prickly to listen to.

    More about Little Bee:

    Little Bee has earned the praise of many in the publishing world:

    * Shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel Award

    * Nominated for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book

    * Long listed for IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

    * A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

    Cleave, C. Little Bee. Connecticut: Tantor Media. 2009. Audio

    Burning Bright is written by Tracy Chevalier. The essential question of this book is fascinating. What was it like to live in England during the time of William Blake? Of course, the answer is not easy. Industrialization was beginning to drive the lives of thousands and across the channel; France was caught up in its Revolution. Poets such as Blake respond to their times as poets do….without the benefit of freedom of press.

    “Tyger tyger burning bright”

    Blake’s story is told through the eyes of neighbor children caught up in lives of their times. I picked this book up because Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. She wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring. However, this book didn’t hold me as others as hers have.

    More about this book and author Chevalier:

    Chevalier, T. Burning Bright. New York: Dutton. 2007. Print.

    Friday, July 1, 2011


    Truth: I didn’t get around to making dinner because of football—the TV wasn’t even on. If you know me, you know this is weird. I’m the kind of gal that would rather cozy up to an old episode of Lawrence Welk than a football game but Gordon Korman’s YA novel, Pop kept me in the game and I read through to the end of the story, hungry children all around me, and no mom that made dinner. OOOOPS! Thank heavens for cereal and a large jar of peanut butter.

    The Story:
    Marcus Johnson is a pretty good football player from Kansas, uprooted the summer before his junior year of high school to a school that has just celebrated a perfect, undefeated season. Marcus wants on the team….but why would the team want to mess with perfection and take Marcus on…especially as Quarterback? They already have a star quarterback who led the team to its undefeated status.

    The lonely situation of being new kid in town and wannabe for the school team leave Marcus with a lot of time alone…which leads him to Three Alarm Park to practice his passes. One day Charlie shows up and Marcus begins practice sessions like he’s never known. Charlie, is a man in his fifties but unbelievably good at passing, tackling, running, jumping—all things football. He loves to hear the “pop” of a good tackle. Charlie is so good, that at school practice, a super-conditioned Marcus gains the attention and respect of stand-off-ish players and the head coach.

    Marcus wonders what’s up with this old man, Charlie. Who is he, why is he so good at football and why does he keep showing up to run drills with a kid he doesn’t know and refuses to call by the right name? Why do town shop keepers let Charlie just take stuff without paying? Why does Charlie pull weird sophomoric pranks that Marcus gets in trouble for and not own up to them? Answers to these questions have to do with being a small town hero, NFL retiree and Alzheimer’s disease...perhaps not in that order or in the ways a reader might expect.

    For lovers of the game, Pop delivers complex football story, strategy and “game think”. Pop is also a page turner! There is drama in this book that keeps the reader hanging on for a resolution and just when there is resolution, a surprise ending keeps one turning until the very last page.

    Pop is a nominee for the 2012 VA Readers’ Choice Award for middle school. I think it’s got potential. However, this book is a true YA story. The mindset is high school. One of the cheerleaders in the book has the “hots” for Marcus and that’s described in appropriate older teen terms. Many sixth graders could read through that and not blink an eye….but there are plenty of sixth graders who would shy away from that kind of story. There’s nothing over the top to worry to worry about. There’s one super short make-out scene that wouldn’t even cause a blush. It’s just that the voice of the characters and feel of the story is truly YA.

    I loved Pop and am so glad I can now recommend a football book to kids who love the game.

    Korman talks about Pop and how the story came to be in this short video:

    Gordon Korman is one of those super-writers for young people. He’s got over fifty successful published books under his belt and there’s no sign of him slowing down. His website is fun, fascinating and full of cool information. The official Gordon Korman website is at:

    Korman, G. Pop. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2009. Print.

    Readers' Choice Awards and Other Awards in Kid/YA Lit categorized by state

    This is a great website for Teacher Librarians or any folks looking for good children's and YA literature because it is a list of links to Readers' Choice Awards and other book awards by various criteria for all the states in the U.S. that have such awards.I love to get ideas on what's "in" and considered noteworthy for young people's reading these days from a site like this:

    Author Cynthia Leitich Smith maintains this website and it's a fairly popular and well known site for authors and readers.

    Thank you to Robert Joyce of the Virginia Educational Media Association (soon to be The Virginia Association of School Librarians) for sharing this link with me.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Some fun e-books

    There are some e-books at this middle school library webpage that can be read over the summer.....grab an ipod, ipad, i-gizmo or some other gizmo to take a peek at these titles:

    The password is provide so that it's open to all.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Heaven is for Real

    Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

    OK, so I just read this super little book that wasn't even on my stack of "going to reads". My sister-in-law gave it to me to read and pass on to my mother-in-law the next time I see her, But THEN, my twelve year old daughter swiped it off the counter and read it before I could even get it to my bedside table stack.

    My daughter and I had a really neat conversation about this book. It reminded me of  when I was twelve and read a then very popular book about life after death experiences. With great excitement my daughter told me the basic story of how a four year old boy, the son of a pastor, has a critical health emergency and during it visits heaven and then returns. After the boy recovers, he makes very matter of fact statements about being in heaven, sitting on Jesus' lap and coming back to his father because Jesus was answering his Dad's prayers. Once my daughter told me that much and I enjoyed the enthusiasm of her telling, I knew I had to read it right away so I could be part of the fun too.

    The stories that Colton tells his Dad are amazingly biblical and not in the experience of typical or even exceptional four year olds. For a pastor who believes, as in....he's a Wesleyan PASTOR who believes in Christianity.....there are moments of new knowledge and understanding that occur in talking to his son  that are astounding. Despite the fact that Todd Burpo never set out to become an author, the sermons that result from all his talks with his son become a beautiful testimony that he is encouraged to write out.

    I won't ruin the fantastic details of the story by giving anything away....but it's kind of like Junie B. Jones likes to say, "wowee wow wow!" And, if heaven really is like this little boy describes, I need to just calm down, live in the love and quit worrying so much about all the things I find to worry about in a day...including what heaven means for me. Heaven is for Real has a similar in feel to Kent Gilges' message of hope. I'm glad I got to read the two books close together.

    The book costs less than $10 in paperback from Wal-Mart, is a great two hour read for summer time, lay by the pool reading and just a cool book that can be shared with a friend.

    If you can't get ahold of the book, there is a great Youtube telephone interview of Todd Burpo:

    Heaven is for Real is a book with a definite religious point of view. I'm more than comfortable with the Christian perspective presented. A few minutes of listening to the Youtube video will let you know if the book is for you or not.

    I'd love to know what my friends think about this book. If you read it, let me know!

    Burpo, T. Heaven is For Real. Nashville: Tommy Nelson, 2010. Print.

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    The Little Women Letters

    This looks good! Click on the title: The Little Women Letters to see the link:

    I remember reading Little Women and loving it. If I were a Language Arts teacher, I'd be all over this one....but do teens read Little Women any more? They should.

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Bystander, an outstanding read

    Bystander, by James Preller has been nominated for the 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award….and deserves it.

    Bystander is a book I could gush about. The basic story involves Eric, a seventh grader new to town, meeting the biggest bully at Bellport Central Middle days before school begins. However, Griffen Connelly is astoundingly charming, cool, popular….almost charismatic. When Eric actually begins school it seems a blessing that he’s quickly accepted into Griffen’s crowd at lunch. However, Griffen is not what he appears to be and Eric finds himself witnessing Griffen’s mean streak and dishonesty.

    Despite the fact that the school is involved in an anti-bullying campaign, it’s extraordinarily difficult for Eric or anyone else to untangle themselves from Griffen’s web enough to stand up to him. All the seventh graders know the answers to questions posed by teachers and counselors about bullying…but what can they do when caught in the situation themselves as either a bully, victim or bystander? The real answers away from adults are much harder to come by.

    Eventually, Eric comes to realize, “I’m just as bad as the rest of them.” (p. 86) But, before Eric can turn things around he finds himself attacked and at the center of Griffen’s cruel attention. An on-the-ball Language Arts teacher gets to Eric and his friend Mary with a frank talk about bullying with specific examples from history and some sharp quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that begin to steer Eric’s thought in a different direction. He knows he has to do something about Griffen but, what?

    Will Griffen be able to come to terms with his part in being a bystander and a victim? Will he be able to confront Griffen in a positive and effective way? Will he survive seventh grade?

    One of the best aspects of this book is that is that the conflict is resolved by the characters as real-life kids would without the help of adults or parroting of lessons learned in anti-bullying class. For sure, there are some aspects of the way Eric deals with Griffen that parents and teachers need to at least ask their young readers about. But, the fact that Eric does take action in his situation is important.

    Bystander is unquestionably a book for Middle School students. The voice and feel of the book are very middle school. I hope that I can encourage middle school students that I know to read this book. It is a wonderful YA read bursting with discussion opportunities and teachable moments. And, I think Bystander is a very strong contender to win Virginia Readers Choice Award.

    Bystander has been nominated for Readers Choice Awards in several states:

    -Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont)

    -South Carolina Junior Book Award

    -Kentucky Bluegrass Award

    -Oklahoma Sequoia Book Award

    -Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List

    -Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Master List

    A great Youtube trailer for Bystander can be seen at:

    A Discussion Question Guide can be seen at:

    Author, James Preller’s website has a lot of great stuff about Bystander, his life as a writer and information on more books that he’s written:

    Preller, J. Bystander. New York: Feiwel & Friends: 2009. Print.

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    what took me so long?

    We're just tipping into the first full week of summer and I've been to the public library three times. This is good. Summer reading is an activity that all my kids and I enjoy. I have to thank my daughter Jenna for bringing home a really great graphic novel: The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook.

    Usually, I don't read the comic books, junior manga or graphic novels that my kids bring home. I'm delighted that they are reading them.....but graphic novels slow me down. I don't want to have to look at all the pictures to get the story. I just want to read the words and get the story that way.

    The Secret Science Alliance and the Copy Cat Crook was different in that once I started reading it I just settled into the fun of the story of three kids with passions for science and inventing. Greta, Ben and Julian are all much so that they try to hide it so as not to be considered too geeky by their peers at school. The three work on their inventions in a secret underground lab that they have built and hang out in. While they are building, each of them helps the others not feel so geeky or out of step with their real worlds...very positive message for kids that like learning.

    One day, one of the inventions devised by the S.S.A has literally landed them inside the confines of a local research laboratory where a grouchy old scientist steals the kid's notebook of invention ideas while shoo-ing them away as silly, prattling children. However, the kids soon learn that the scientist begins to rip off their ideas, gaining fame and fortune. In the process of stealing their prized notebook back, the kids discover that grouchy Dr. Stringer is planning a heist of the city's history museum. Quickly, the kids devise a plan to not only get their notebook out of the clutches of the mean old copy cat scientist but to foil the heist and save the day.Will the kids accomplish the tall order of all their plans and remain a Secret Science Alliance? Only those who read the book to its conclusion will find out.

    The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook is a book that each of my kids brought to me and said, "Mom, you've gotta read this one." I'm glad I did. I love that this book makes it cool to be smart and that the heroes are regular kids, worried about being geeky but supported in their love of learning by their friends. It's a great message inside a very cool book full of diagrams, maps, sidebars, charts....all sorts of cool graphics that make the book feel like a scientists invention notebook. I don't know what took me so long to pick up one of their graphic novels to enjoy.....some of them are really cool books!

    The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook has earned the following awards:

    Book List “Top 10”

    Cybils Award …an award for graphic novels

    YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

    New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

    Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee

    Davis, E. The Secret Science Alliance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Sweet Picture Book

    Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy is a fun and fact filled story to read. Pop! takes readers back to Depression Era days to a tiny gum and candy factory on the brink of closing down. Employees were trying lots of different formulas and flavors to try to come up with some sort of break through wow-gum that would save the company.....when little ole Walter Diemer in the accounting department got involved with all the fiddling around. The rest, as they say, is history as Double Bubble was invented and not only saved the company but became one of the world's most popular gum choices.

    There's lots more details in the book about where gum came from, why it's pink, how the new gum was introduced to the world and what Walter's life was like after his stupendous invention. The book answers all those questions inventor-type kids really want to know about a thing like gum.  At the end of the book are a bunch of cool facts about Walter, who turned out to be a pretty neat guy, and gum throughout history. A kid can learn a thing or two from Pop! I also love how the author backs up her delightful picture book facts with a ton of great resources for further reading or research. This is a book I'd love to share with elementary and middle school students. We checked Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum out of our local library. I hope it's in your library too!

    McCarthy, M. Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum. New York: A Paula Wiseman Book, 2010. Print.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Does My Head Look Big In This?

    OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming… going off on creative writing tangents based on personal angst. Although, I’m just about to leave India in Eat, Pray, Love….and well, that’s just a whole discussion and then some I’d love to have with someone right there! I really should join a book club one of these days.

    Does My Head Look Big In This? Is a wonderful Young Adult novel by Randa Abdel-Fateh. This is the first book that I can remember reading where the heroine is a young Muslim woman. As a middle school teacher-librarian this is important to me….and I hope important to more young women of all backgrounds because we don’t often get to see female Muslim heroines unless they are depicted in extreme circumstances.

    Amal is a feisty, smart, argumentative, ambitious young girl who at the age of seventeen decides to take her faith seriously by wearing a hijab, Muslim female head covering, in her average teenage life in Melbourne, Australia. Although she knows that she will face some questionable looks, negative remarks, sterotyping and possibly racism, it’s important to Amal to be authentic in her identity as a Muslim, Palestinian-Australian girl. Amal makes many discoveries in her new life under the veil….some of them she expected….many of them surprises. By the end of the novel, readers are satisfied that Amal has grown as a person and as a Muslim through her experience...."all this time I've been walking around thinking of become pious because I've made the difficult decision to wear the hijab......But what's the good of being true to your religion on the outside, if you don't change what's on the inside, where it really counts." (333)

    What I especially enjoyed in this story is that by seeing the world through Amal’s eyes, under her hijab, are the many layers of being Muslim and of Middle Eastern descent. As our heroine struggles with her new visibility, she becomes sometimes a willing and many times an unwilling representative of her religion and culture to her peers. It’s a lot to go through when also dealing with boy crushes, make-up, keeping up with Cosmo, sleepovers, pimples and studying for tests at school! Amal teaches us that Islam has many aspects and that its doctrines are not what we think we know from our media. She also learns much about what it means to be Australian when viewed by so many of her compatriots as an outsider.

    Throughout her typical, busy Junior Year, Amal, carefully thinks about how wearing hijab might or might not be part of the experience. We learn that being a teenage Muslim girl is a lot like being a teenage girl of any religious background….and that’s cool.

    Does My Head Look Big In This? is Abdel-Fattah’s first book. It’s won several awards including: Australian Book of the Year Award 2006, Notable Book of the Children’s Book Council 2006, on the long list of books considered for the UK Galaxy Book Awards 2006 and on the short list of books considered for the UK Grampian Children’s Book Awards 2006. This author has written several more books about identity issues for Muslims and specifically Palestinians. More about Abdel-Fattah can be learned at her very informative website:

    Abdel-Fattah, R. Does My Head Look Big In This? New York: Orchard Books, 2005. Print.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    A dead Shuffle, Alchemy, The Book With No Words and an ipod Touch

    I’ve heard that there are no coincidences…..and if this is true, I’m a lucky girl because my ipod Shuffle died two days ago.

    Last week, I shared this wonderful, touching, full of hope book; A Grace Given by Kent Gilges. One of the quotations in that book that author shares is from Pearl S. Buck; “There is alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it can, does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.”

    The word and idea of alchemy has haunted me since reading it. I’ve pondered it as I wash dishes, walk the dog, weed jellybean garden III. I’m sort of stuck on it. Usually, the best way for me to unstick from anything is to write about it in some way. Alchemy, the ancient art of combining metals to produce gold, or the philosopher’s stone and elixir of life, is rich in history, analogy and a precursor to modern chemistry—lots there to consider and imagine.

    My fascination led me to Wikipedia, again. I’m a terrible school librarian for my love of Wikipedia. It’s just so loaded with information and tidbits and links to other pieces of information and tidbits and more links….bad that it can be changed by the readership or anyone with an agenda. We don’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a true scholarly authority because of its changeability. But, its good in that Wikipedia’s accuracy is similar to Encyclopedia Britannica (Study Wikipedia as Accurate as Britannica and handy for ridiculously curious people stuck on a word like alchemy!

    Funny that at the bottom of my of my library bag was a playaway book of Avi’s The Book With No Words. This playaway (an MP3 player loaded with a single book) had been in my bag for weeks, renewed by me again and again as one of those stories I was getting too after A Grace Given. The book is a gothic tale about an alchemist. Perfect! The Book With No Words goes right along with my thirst for ideas, words and images of alchemy. Furthermore, the story is great! A thirteen year old servant girl named Sybil, a talking raven and a desperate green-eyed boy join forces to discover Master Thorston’s alchemy secrets before evil Master Bashcroft steals all the riches for himself. In the mix is a mysterious and frightening monk, Wilfred, whose knowledge of The Book With No Words is deadly serious. It’s a great story and perfect for Middle School Age kids who love a gothic world, good vs. evil and stories that give one the shivers. But, that’s all I can say about the book because at the beginning of chapter 4 the playaway went caflooey! It broke and I won’t know the rest of the story until I get back to the library and check the old fashioned book with words to find out what happens to Sybil, Odo the raven and Alfric the green-eyed boy. My ipod Shuffle is dead….so I can’t even load the story onto that from the CD version to listen to as I walk the dog, wash dishes or weed the garden. This must mean I need an ipod Touch.

    See, an ipod Touch can serve as an ereader and audiobook player along with soooo many other things. Doesn’t it seem necessary that I ensure being able to finish my story on a new and surely reliable piece of technology such as an ipod Touch? It makes sense to me. So, I’m now shopping around for an ipod Touch.

    I’ve wanted an i gizmo for a while now….the justification for why I must purchase one right away seems clear to me--dead Shuffle, broken playaway, little time to run to the library. There are no coincidences, right?

    If you can discern the book review in the midst of this rant, pat yourself on the back. Your reading of this journey to an i Gizmo is a bit of alchemy all its own.

    Avi. The Book Without Words. New York. Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. Audio.