Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ten GREAT books nominated for Virginia Readers Choice 2011

Oh, the things one can accomplish on an unexpected snow day! I haven't posted to this blog in weeks and weeks….and today I offer ten great books. But, I'm cheating a little since this list of titles is all part of the Virginia Readers Choice Contest….where all of the annotated titles below are taken from.

Whether you live in Virginia, or not, the following books from this year's Virginia Readers Choice nominees are worthy reads for Middle School students or adults. This spring, young people age 12-14 will have an opportunity to vote on their favorite book from the list. The book that wins the most votes across the state will be "the" Virginia Readers Choice of 2011. More about the contest can be learned at http://www.vsra.org/VRCindex.html .

I've read all of the books. My pick for the win from my perspective as an adult is The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. This book is the oldest story in the world told in a new way through the circumstances of a pregnant and abandoned cat that makes a best friend of and home with an abused and neglected hound dog. As with any outstanding book, the story is far from simple. There are more stories, woven in and out of the animal story that call to mind biblical Eden, Gaelic lore, Native American legend, Greek mythology…and it all works. T4 and Little Audrey are also books that as an adult, I connected with. I highly recommend them to those deep thinking reader/writer girls that get into a good story and stay in it in their heads for a while. Also, T4 is a novel in verse and they are simply my favorite novels to read.

However, I don't' get to vote in this contest. Middle School age kids (home schooled kids can vote in the contest at their local public library) who have read at least four of the titles are eligible to vote. Because sixth and eighth graders can be so very different in their maturity levels and points of view, making a prediction of the winner based on a young person's vote is tricky. Also, I think that the titles are more "girl" reads than boy reads…except for The London Eye Mystery, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had and Breathe. If the boys vote in this contest my prediction is that The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd will win the prize….but we will see. What I liked most about The London Eye Mystery is the way the main character's "weakness" due to an un-named syndrome that must be Aspergers gives him an acute ability for detective work. Reading this book was a wonderful way of experiencing how being different can create unique gifts and talents often overlooked by we who consider ourselves normal.

I'd love to hear from Middle School age students or adults that have read any of these books. The following is copied and pasted directly from the Virginia Readers Choice website http://www.vsra.org/VRCindex.html on 1/18/11.

1. After Tupac and D Foster. Jacqueline Woodson,

Putnam Young Adult, 2008.

What the unnamed narrator of this book and her best friend Neeka have in common with D Foster is a love of the rap music of Tupac Shakur. The friendship of the three girls, and the understanding of the difficulties in D Foster's life in the foster care system, is set to the themes of Shakur's life and lyrics. This fictional account delicately explores issues of race and oppression as well as the tremendous power of rap music in giving voice to a generation of young people.

2. All of the Above. Shelley Pearsall, Little Brown, 2008.

Mr. Johnson, a veteran math teacher, realizes his class is totally unmotivated. He challenges them to create the world's largest tetrahedron, breaking the former record of 4,096 smaller pieces comprising a seven foot tall tetrahedron. James, Marcel, Sharice, and Rhondel agree to stay after school to work on the year- long project. These unlikely partners grow to know and like each other, Mr. Johnson, and even math itself. Based on the true story of an inter-city Cleveland middle school project completed in 2002, the author presents a sincere and humorous narrative about the human spirit and the ability of all children to achieve.

3. The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. Kristin Levine, Putnam, 2009.

Dit Sims is excited to hear the new postmaster has a child his age. He is shocked to learn that not only is she a girl, she is black, and his total opposite. Emma is brainy, doesn't fish, and doesn't play baseball. They become fast friends, and work together to save Doc Haley, the black town barber, when he shoots the local sheriff in self defense. Set in small-town Alabama in 1917 and inspired by the author's true family history, this fictional story presents a heartfelt portrait of a brave friendship and the perils of small town justice.

4. Breathe: A Ghost Story. Cliff McNish, First Avenue Editions, 2009.

When twelve-year-old Jack and his mother move into an old farmhouse in the English countryside, Jack discovers he can communicate with the resident ghosts, and inadvertently establishes a relationship with a twisted spirit that threatens to destroy both his mother and himself. Weakened by asthma, Jack risks fatal consequences with any physical exertion. It will take all of his resources to save himself and his mother from the evil spirit. This is a sensational ghost story that is full of suspense and it will capture the interest of all readers!

5. The Girl Who Could Fly. Victoria Forester, Feiwel & Friends, 2008.

Piper McCloud has an extraordinary talent – she can fly! Her parents think she should behave "normally", so they home school her and try to keep her on the farm. When her secret is revealed, she is carried off to a government facility and subjected to harsh punishments and constant testing to discover her secret of flight. Piper soon realizes the "Institute" is a horrific place and she works furiously to free herself and others from the evil director. This unforgettable fantasy speaks to the bravery and courage of adolescents – even those without the extraordinary gift of flight.

6. Little Audrey. Ruth White, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Audrey's family lives in a coal camp in Southwest Virginia. Her father works in the mine and spends his weekends drinking. Her mother does the best she can but is often depressed. Audrey likes school and her teacher, but is often hungry, and always wishing life would improve. In this autobiographical work, set in 1948 Appalachia, author Ruth White recounts the everyday trials of life through the voice of Audrey, her older sister. The book presents a highly accurate, if somber, picture of life in the Appalachian coal mining communities in the mid-1900s.

7. The London Eye Mystery. Siobhan Dowd, Random House, 2008.

When Ted and Kat are asked to take their cousin Salim to the London Eye observation wheel, Salim goes inside one of the capsules, but never comes out. Ted and Kat have to work together to find Salim. Ted, who has Asberger's Syndrome, is able to use his unique reasoning skills to find out what happened to Salim. The book is an engaging mystery that will hold interest until the final pages.

8. Shooting the Moon. Frances O'Roark Dowell, Atheneum, 2008.

Jamie Dexter comes from an Army family. Her older brother T.J., eager to please his father chooses to enlist instead of going to college. He becomes a medic at Phu Bai during the Viet Nam conflict. In addition to writing home, T.J. sends undeveloped rolls of film to Jamie, who learns to develop them and take photographs of her own. The issues of war, family relations and self-reliance are seen through the eyes of a teenage girl.

9. T4: A Novel. Ann Clare LeZotte, Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

In Nazi Germany, the disabled were destined to be destroyed at Hitler's Tiergartenstrasse 4, or "T4". Paula is a thirteen-year-old deaf girl who narrowly misses being picked up in a Gestapo raid. She escapes to a series of hiding places aided by a priest from the local church and a kindly retired teacher. Paula tells her story in a series of free verse poems which appeal to all readers. This work of fiction presents an important lesson on the dangers of being "different" in an oppressive society.

10. The Underneath. Kathi Appelt, Simon & Schuster Children's, 2008.

Two parallel stories connect as a cat and her kittens befriend a dog and a shape-shifting water snake. Through the medium of talking animals and magical serpents, the author of this fantasy addresses basic issues of good and evil in an appropriate manner. Excellent illustrations by David Small bring this fantasy to life as the story unfolds.

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