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.