Saturday, December 27, 2008

One False Note by Gordon Korman (39 Clues #2)

The adventure continues in this book, the second of ten books in the 39 Clues series. Korman is such a fantastic writer, I feel that he really didn't give this book his all. I'm not asking for reality here, after all the plot is pretty far-fetched to begin with, but is it necessary to throw in an extra four or five harrowing situations? Would the unsuspecting boat guest really have picked the exact pillow cushion that the kids needed and throw it back at the last second? Would a famous figure really have been delivering a coded message in the famous line that got her killed? The plot would have been adventurous enough without those over the top details. The book was a little thin, so I feel Korman was forcing adventurous situations to add more "meat" to the book when we really needed more story. The characters were much more developed the first time, although it was nice to get to know the kids "au pair" (as they like to call her) this time around. Although it was an enjoyable read, it wasn't as good as the first, and if this series didn't have the cards and online games to go with it, I'm not sure it would last 10 books if they continue like this.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

School Library Journal Best Books

School Library Journal has released its Best Books 2008. There is also a Best Books for High School Students.

Check it out!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Reads

Thanks to a friend of mine, I discovered a fun site called Good Reads. It's kind of like Library Thing, but I think it has more search functions. It's built a little like Facebook and has a Facebook app as well as lots of other functions. I haven't even begun to explore it all yet because I've been too busy entering books. You can have friends that you share lists with and groups that you can join, so you get lots of good reading ideas. If you're interested in more, let me know!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Book Fair

Well, I didn't get much reading done because we had our monster book fair last week. We aren't going to hit anywhere near last year's sales, but we had a tremendous turn out nonetheless. I picked up some books for myself and paid attention to what the kids were getting. I can't wait to read Inkdeath, and I also got the second 39 Clues book. At WalMart the other day, I grabbed Tales from Beadle the Bard by JK Rowling because for some crazy reason, Scholastic does not have it on their book fair. The kids picked up Deep and Dark and Dangerous, Found, Elephant Run, Listen, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Seekers, and Marley. Some of those I've already read, some I will have to pick up. I also plan on reading/listening to Twilight. Santa got me a combination Christmas/Birthday present, an iPod touch, so I'll have to download Twilight and see what all the fuss is about.

I will have lots more to say next week after I get a chance to read some. Hang in there and Merry Early Christmas!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

The third book in the "Inheritance Trilogy" (or as most people will identify with it, the Eragon books), was mostly satisfying. I very much enjoyed the story-lines, and the deepening of the characters. I could have done with several less long and detailed fight scenes though. Especially the ones between Roran and the empire. You can go with Eragon not being killed because he has magic, but come on...193 soldiers, with a hammer? I suppose if I am suspending belief for dragons and magic, I can suspend disbelief for Roran and his hammer. But it's a little to convenient for Paolini I think. It's like an easy out for him to say, "Wow...Roran lived...again!" But oh well, that's really a minor quibble.

I'm impressed with Paolini's devotion to the world of Alagesia. It echoes of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars how he devotes an entire section of the end of the book to the analysis of the language and how he encourages one who is interested to further study the originating languages (dwarf, elvish, urgal, etc.) I can't believe that the book was supposed to be longer. For one thing, what the heck else could he have added to the story?! And for another, it could not have handled anything else.

I hope there is some restraint in the fourth book with regards to the battles, but I'm sure there will be a few good detailed ones as Eragon and his companions must march on toward killing "King" Galbatorix. We'll see how long it takes Paolini to craft the next story.

On a side note, I can't wait to pick up the third Corneila Funke book, Inkdeath. (I can't think of the name of the series right's not her third book, just the third in the series). I might just have to ask for it on CD for Christmas!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Missing Book 1: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Wow. This book was pretty good. I wasn't really expecting anything when I opened this. The book fair rep sent it to me so that I could preview it and book talk it before the fair. I'm still trying to figure out a good way to book talk it without giving anything away! At the end of the first 10 pages, there's quite a kicker. I immediately took the book to another teacher and said, "Read the page ten." She shook herself after she read it and said, "Creepy."

The descriptions that jump into my head right away are "Lost" and "Quantum Leap". (Remember that show?) So I can definitely say this is Science Fiction. But I was a tad surprised with the direction the book took at the end. I expected more of the "backstory" to the mystery to be dragged out and have that be the focus of the series. Clearly, the series is going to continue with the backstory still there intact, but the main characters having varied adventures.

I'm not describing this book very well, but I don't want to give anything away! It was very good, but I felt the writing was a little forced at the end of the book. Haddix was trying too hard to wrap up the backstory before the end of the book. Since this is a series, she could have left a few of the questions unanswered in this book and come up with better explanations for them in the second book. But all in all, this was a great read and the kids will really enjoy it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

Although this is on our State Children's Choice Awards for next year, I read this because one of my friends said, "You have to read this. It's creepy." She's now reading it at recess time with her fourth graders who want to and they are loving it.

Seriously. I met Mary Downing Hahn briefly at the autograph session when she won our state award for The Old Willis Place. She is this little petite older lady with gorgeous flowing script. How can these creepy stories come out of a sweet person like that?! I think this story is scarier than the Old Willis Place. I might have to make it an optional book with my 4th and 5th graders next year, as I can see some being too scared when reading it. It's a pretty typical ghost story, and fairly obvious to us adults what's going on, but it might be too much for some students. Still, the voice Downing gives her characters strikes a chord, even with us adults.

I also got a few new books in the mail. They are going to be on the book fair, so I got some to preview and book talk before the fair. I picked up Margaret Peterson Haddix's new book "Found: The Missing - Book 1". I didn't get very far yet, but dang...I didn't need to. The first ten pages made me think the kids are going to gobble this one up. I'll tell you more about it when I finish.

Other than that, I've been terribly busy. Most of my reading has been magazine and scrapbooking things. Although, I did leisurely read some books from an older series called Myth-O-Mania. Very light-hearted reading, but I had one from the series and never read anymore. I found them at the public library a few weeks ago.

I will check back later when I've read more of "Found"!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

39 Clues by Rick Riordan

I read what is sure to be the breakout book of the season. If you haven't heard about it, 39 Clues is going to be a 10-book series. (Why have just one book anymore?!) Each book will be authored by a popular intermediate/young adult author. The first is by Rick Riordan, and the second, which comes out Dec. 2nd is by Gordon Korman. Each book comes with a pack of clue cards and extra packs of cards can be purchased separately. You can go online and register yourself and your cards and compete to win prizes by solving mysteries.

The story itself is worth the read. My description of it is: The Westing Game meets National Treasure meets Series of Unfortunate Events. (With maybe a little Pokemon thrown in to cover the card thing!) I really enjoyed the read and look forward to the next one, though we'll see where I'm at by number 10. The third book in the series comes out in March and is by Peter Lerangis.

Of course, I'm a sucker for mysteries and puzzles to solve, so the website is an added bonus. Check it all out at

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Interesting Thoughts

I read a very interesting article on one of the School Library Journal blogs the other day. It is a great discussion of the Newberry Award and its staying power.

Looking at the list for our state children's choice awards, I'm thinking the same thing for our award. There are many authors on the list who have been on the list within the last two or three years. How do you balance exposing readers to something new with the "popular" items? Hmmm...tough dilemma.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sooo bad at blogging...

I'm am so bad at blogging apparently. I have read a lot of books in the last month. But, I just can't seem to make the time to blog. I even got my blog unblocked at school, but I feel like I shouldn't post entries unless it's lunch time. And you know how fast lunch at a school goes!

I've read several of the Sisters Grimm books. They continue to be enjoyable, but now there's a while time travel element to them that I'm not sure I like.

I read a book called Evil Genius. It had gotten a lot of press at conferences last year, but I wasn't sure it was appropriate for my students' level. While I really enjoyed it, I think I was right. It wasn't quite for my students. Certainly for middle school it would be o.k. It is about a gifted student who gets sucked into a school that teaches about world domination...and all the crimes and violence that goes with it. I was hoping the "evil is bad" message would come out sooner and stronger than it did to override the violence and little bit of language in it. Then I could justify having it in the library. But, I just don't think it's for the intermediate level.

I started reading Eggs by Jerry Spinelli. It's o.k. I'm not really thrilled about what I've read so far. Right away it sort of hit me like Stargirl, but with none of the finesse. The writing in this one seems forced so far. Maybe I need to give it a little more time though.

I know I'm missing a few books, but I can't think of what they are right now. I'll need to go peruse the shelves at school and try to remember.

Next on my list are Brisingr (the third in the Eragon series, I even bought it on CD!), Theodosia: Serpent's Chaos, and The New Policeman.

Check in later. Hopefully sooner than this last time!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fried Brain

I can't believe how long it has been since I posted! I have read quite a few things, but the beginning of the school year has been so busy, that I haven't had time to post. I did think about it a few times while at school, but ironically, my own blog is blocked at school. (I didn't really think my principal would feel it vitally important to the curriculum to unblock =) )

I read lots of things in the past several weeks though. I read a The Treasures of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It was an o.k. book. Not much too it. I felt the focus should have been more on the climax and the amazing treasure, but all of that lasted about four pages. It will still keep the attention of some younger readers who don't expect much out of a book. I read the first book in the Gilda Joyce series: Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator. That book had surprisingly more bite to it than I expected. It certainly had a depth to it that I wouldn't have pegged from the covers. I might read the others in the series, but I have so many other books to read!!! I started the new Sisters Grimm book and an interesting book called Framed. I think this book has real promise. Quirky characters, mystery, and crime, I'll have to see where it goes. Luckily, I have silent reading "duty" for three pretty good classrooms, so I can actually get a few pages read during the day. That's a bonus! I also read the second Penderwicks book. It was still good. Fans of the first will certainly like the second. But it has a Disney sort of Parent Trap feel to it that I wasn't totally keen on. Lawn Boy was a very easy read that I think reluctant boy readers will really enjoy. Regarding the Bees is another great visual mystery from Kate and Sarah Klise. If you liked the first several by these authors, you'll like this one.

Of course, I looked at a few picture books too. And the Train Goes... has great rhythm and pace to it. I thought my 2 1/2 year old would enjoy it.
Casey Back at Bat was awfully cute and funny.

My boys at school jumped all over the newest Young Bond books and of course, the new Alex Rider book, Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz. Interestingly, The Invention of Hugo Cabret has still been a hot choice and I ended up using Scholastic points to get a second copy.

Speaking of, I got a great little tech tool from the Scholastic Instructional Resource Catalog with my points left over from Book Fair. It's an .mp3 player/recorder that has two sets of headphones and jacks and is super easy to use! It's even supported by Overdrive, which a lot of libraries use for the audiobooks. I wish I had more of them. The potential for using it for fluency and podcasting is so great! I wouldn't recommend buying it from Scholastic though. It's about $100 more from them than it is online other places. The representative tried to tell me that the others online only have one pair of headphones and this one has two, that's part of the difference. But I looked at ones with two sets and they weren't much more than $140. And you can't tell me that a second set of headphone (regular, plain headphones) is $100. That's ridiculous!

I'll try to keep up better on my blogging. I'm sure I'll be back soon with more books I've read!! Happy Labor Day!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Christmas in August

I headed to school today to try and get ready for school. It was like Christmas for me! Eleven whole boxes of books from two different companies for me...uhhhh...I mean the students to read. Two of the boxes were nonfiction books, mainly about sports teams and other sports. We were in dire need of updating our sports section. The other nine books were from Follett and were a variety of fiction and nonfiction.

I used a couple of sources for ordering this year. A huge source was the BER Best New Books for Children workshop I attended. Judy Freeman put on the session I attended and it was awesome. We received a huge book with annotations and activities for over 100 books. And she was very dynamic. I also collected newsletters on children's books from Borders and a local bookstore. I also attend sessions at our Educational Media conference every year that focus on the summer reading club and best new children's books. The best part is that Follett will take those lists that I receive and put them into TitleWave for me to add to my orders. And the BER guide gets put on TitleWave every year. Ordering was a snap. And this year I even sprung for the covering and barcoding. So my books were almost shelf-ready when they came.

If my library circ station hard drive hadn't crashed, I'd be sitting pretty! Oh well, at least I have an excuse for bringing more books home with me!

Here's a sample of what I brought home. (Remember, I love mysteries and fantasy...) Enola Holmes, Gilda Joyce, Evil Genius, Roddick Rules, Framed, Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, Nixie's Song (Spiderwick), and Magyk. is coming too fast!

Seer of Shadows by Avi

In taking a break from grading, I decided to pick up this book. Perhaps it was because it was around midnight; perhaps it's because I'm a weenie when it comes to ghost stories, but I was slightly spooked. Slasher movies, monster movies...those don't seem to scare me. But put in a ghost, especially a fairly understated ghost, and I'm freaked.

Avi's storyline, for the most part, contains that understated ghost idea. Where the ghost is hovering in the shadows. An angry ghost and a boy with a unique talent make for a great tale...until Avi gets sort of "Stephen King" toward the end. The end felt a little too rushed and perhaps that's why it came off as a typical horror flick climax. The last part of the book that is more like an epilogue brought back some of the spooky flavor, but I wasn't as thrilled with it in the long run because of the climax scene.

Not a bad read, but next time I'll try to save the ghost stories for the daytime!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley

I realized I skipped this book in my blogging. I finished several days ago. If you liked the first, you'll like this. It was a good book, with possibly more heart than the first book in the series. A nice take on fantasy and fairy tales, pulling them into modern day society. As a little girl, I loved fantasies (unicorns were pretty predominate in my decor) and mysteries. This book blends the two of them together and I enjoy it for a nice read. If you don't like fantasy, you won't care for this series. And if you are tired of reading books that turn into a series, you won't like this one either. All in all, though, I found it to be a good book and ventured out to the bookstore to find the next in the series. Alas, they were out.'s on to another book that's waiting on my shelf!

23 Things from School Library Journal

School Library Journal is running a 23 Things initiative. If you are interesting in learning about web 2.0 technology check out the blog.

If you are interested in finding blogs about books, check out the participating blog listing ( and Michael's link from Alice Yucht. Both have lots of good book blogs listed.

I tell you, between Michael's blog, "Tame the Web", Stephen Abram's "Stephen's Lighthouse", and David Warlick's "2 Cents Worth" (by the way...where's the darn cents symbol?), my curriculum is building and building for the teacher/librarian technology class I teach. They are tremendous resources if you are interested in this sort of thing!

Children's Choice Picture Books

I didn't want to create ten posts over each of the picture book nominees for the state children's choice awards, so I've just decided to do one monster post on all of them and give you the highlights.

By far, I think the favorite book will be Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds. It is fun and colorful and makes you hungry. =) The animals in the book are very reminiscent of Click, Clack, Moo. Including an ornery set of mice that seem to be running quite the racket! This is my prediction for the winner this year.

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen will also be a hit with the kids. All of them will love hearing about the fun extravagant (and unrealistic) details the main character is adding to his car. I think that you ought to hand out pencils and paper with this book, as every kid is going to want to draw their own car after reading it!

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen is sweet and touch and every librarian will love it. Kids will also like the idea of tame and well-meaning pet lion.

Fancy Nancy is already an instant class with little girls and if they have anything to say about it, this book will be high up there on the final list.

If you want a creative way to teach some math skill and work fairy tales in, The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini is perfect. Another fun and humorous book, this will be a great curriculum aide for teachers. Money counting here we come!

Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven will be another great curriculum enhancer. The story of a Little League All-Star team from the 50's, this book focuses on racial inequality and has so many options for tie-in literature! I can't wait to share this one with my social studies teachers.

Three books, while o.k. books just didn't seem to have the pizazz the others did. Lucky by Jean Craighead George is a nice state tie-in, but the writing leaves something to be desired. "Cute" and "nice" are the two words I used to describe Duck and Goose by Tad Hills. There's not too much to this story, but it's cute. A book that seemed to be selected more for the adults than the kids is Nothing to Do by Douglas Wood. The message is plain, sometimes we gotta take time out to stop and smell the roses. But I'm pretty sure that students won't grasp this idea too easily. It's something that really seems to be learned in hindsight.

Finally, my rant about Honey, Honey, Lion by Jan Brett. I like Jan Brett, I really do. But this book really disappointed me. Honey Badger and Honey Bird have a symbiotic relationship. And one day Honey Badger gets selfish and keeps all the honey for himself. He doesn't really pay attention to Honey Bird's upset squawks, so the next day, Honey Bird leads Honey Badger straight into a mean lion that chases him and scares him. In fact it mentions something to the effect of, "That's the closest any animal can get to an angry lion and live to tell about it." The rest of the animals are amused and call out to each other to watch out for Honey Bird. Hmmmmmmmmm....... Great lesson I want to teach my son. Share or you'll get eaten by a lion. If someone doesn't share with you, it's o.k. to be really mean to them. If someone has something scary and mean happen to them, it's funny because they probably deserved it. My son was really excited to look at the pictures and name all the animals, but after that, I took the book back to school. I wasn't going to read him the story. (I know...I'm a grouch.) I was really disappointed this was selected as a nominee.

That's all of them. Check back in May to see if my predictions are right: Chicks and Salsa and If I Built a Cart will be at the top of the results!

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Another book...another series. *sigh* Fortunately, I think I will be able to resist the pull of reading the next book in this series. It wasn't a bad book. In fact, I think there will be plenty of kids who like it. It's just a bit too sci-fi for me.

I knew I was in trouble when I was getting towards the end of the book and there was still a major reunion missing from the story. I thought, "It's never going to get wrapped up." Then I saw the back of the book. (I sometimes skip the back of the book so that I can form my own opinion.) It mentions the sequel coming out in Spring 2009. Drat. I wanted resolution now and not to have to read another long book to get it!

The book is rather long and it has a very intriguing feel about it. I fluttered back and forth between comparisons: City of Ember...Gregor the Overlander. I also was reminded of a play that I performed at Spanish camp one summer (yes...I was a nerd). I have no idea what it was called, but it involved a couple going exploring in some caves and finding a race of people inside. While the story is definitely well-crafted, it just wasn't the first thing I'd choose to read. But young adult sci-fi fans will definitely enjoy it. I'd stick with recommending this book to my upper elementary (HAL 4th and 5th) and junior high students. I think it's too much (and too violent) for younger kids.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


My wiki on the state children's choice awards is up. It's not pretty yet, but it's up. If anyone wants to contribute, feel free! If you don't know the link or want to know the link, email me and I'll let you know!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Calder Game by Blue Baillett

It's been quite a while since I read the other books in this series. This one seemed uneven in it's writing compared to the first two though. Once again, Calder, Petra, and Tommy are off on an adventure that involves art and history. This time, they travel across the ocean to England.

Very early on, we learn that Calder is in trouble. That he has disappeared from the town where he was staying in England. Baillett's writing about the disappearance often comes across as overly dramatic and unnecessarily graphic. No reader would believe for an instant that Calder is anything but alive. So it seems very out of place to have the characters constantly thinking about death, blood, and murder. I found myself skimming quite a bit either to skip passages like that or to rush past all the word games that Baillett tries to play. She seems to be forcing meaning into words that don't belong.

Baillett's strongest writing occurs when she is describing the art work in the book. The Calder exhibit at the Chicago museum is the best part of the book. The excitement and vividness that she captures in this section make you believe the rest of the book will be as fun to read. Unfortunately, that chapter occurs at the beginning of the story and the writing never matches that level again.

Baillett would do well to focus her next effort on more of the artwork, less of the danger and word-play. She also needs to focus on the relationship between Tommy and Petra and Mrs. Sharpe and the children, for it is here that her writing is stronger.

All in all, not a bad read, but disappointing consider the hype with which the first book in the series was received.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Some minor changes

I'm taking a blogging class today and learning all about my blog. Anyone can comment now on the blog. =) You don't have to have an account to do it. I also have some other little elements that I've figured out. I have a counter and am showing blogger backlinks, etc.

The Dante Club

Update....The Dante Club has been moved to the bottom of the pile. I read the first several pages and it was so gruesome, I had to move on. I hope to actually get to it at some point as the writing seemed decent, but I wasn't really in the mood for it. =)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

It's been a year since I read (and listened) to the first book in this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series. I have a fondness for high ability students and when I was younger always wanted to be the Nancy Drew of my neighborhood. Being smart and bold enough to solve mysteries.

This book continues the adventures of our whip-smart adventurers in order to save their closest ally, Mr. Benedict. All of the kids have grown up and finally found homes, but they still remain kids and face fears that typical kids do.

This book is full of heart and adventure with touching moments and scary events. I think I even enjoyed this book more than the first since the characters seem to have even more depth and emotional connection than the first. You can even read this book without reading the first one and still highly enjoy it!

This gets a starred review from me!

Changing Tides: A Gates Family Mystery by Catherine Hapka

In very similar fashion to the other Gates family mystery book, we follow the Gates family as they chase a historical mystery set in early America. This time, we are traveling back to the roots of America to the Jamestown colony. I am oddly fascinated with the Roanoke story and this book promised some allusions to it. Briefly mentioned as one of the clues, we focused much more on Jamestown than anything else. The clues were more easily solved in this book than in the second one, but still not something you could totally on your own.

Continuing to be enjoyable, I think these books will be great for my young history buffs. Maybe not the most meaty of books, but more educational than some of the other things they might pick up!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Taking Care of Moses by Barbara O'Connor

"Randall Mackey has a secret". So starts this story. Randall's secret has to do with an abandoned baby that's tearing up his small community. Everyone is fighting over what should be done with the infant boy that was left in a box on the steps of church. But Randall knows who left the baby.

This book is a great little tale that discusses the balance between right and wrong. (This isn't a heavy book...the wrong isn't too dramatic here. And the characters aren't planning all out war or anything.) With lots of strong examples of voice, O'Connor takes the reader on Randall's journey when deciding what he should do.

"What would you do if some bad stuff started happening and you could make it stop if you told a secret? Only, if you told the secret, then something else bad might happen?" In one of the best scenes in the novel, Randall looks for guidance. And although he doesn't get an easy answer like he'd hoped, it certainly puts him on the road to doing the "right thing".

A quick and lighthearted read with just a dose of morality, Taking Care of Moses will certainly be popular in the nearby state for which it is a Children's Choice nominee.

I'm done!

I'm done with the State Award books! Yay, yay! Now on to the ones I want to read...

Wing Nut by MJ Auch

This is another book that I feel the students might pass over. It's a shame too because the characters are so likable and the story is very enjoyable.

Grady and his mom are moving on to yet another new town. Ever since his dad died, Grady's mom Lila, has been hopping from town to town with Grady. When they end up in rural Pennsylvania, a not-so-kindly older man takes them in. Charlie Fernwald's main objective by having Lila and Grady stay with him is to get his son off his back about having a caretaker. But in the end, Charlie, Grady, and Lila find much more in each other.

Of course, this is sentimental and pretty unrealistic. I think even most people in small towns today wouldn't be this trusting. But it gives you warm fuzzies anyway. And don't we all need those once in a while?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Satch and Me by Dan Gutman

I'm almost done with the state award books and then I can read the books I really want to read. Unfortunately, my class starts next week and there's a little thing about my dad getting married....sooooooo...we'll see where I end up with my reading list.

Just like the rest of the books in this series, Satch and Me has our main character, 13-year-old Stosh, traveling back in time to meet a famous baseball player. Stosh and his coach Flip decide to try and discover who the fastest pitcher in baseball ever was. After some research, they decide Satchel Paige is the one they need to focus on. Adventure and good historical information follows as Gutman takes Stosh ans Flip back to 1942 and the Negro League. A pleasant read, this book would catch any young sports fan's attention. While it's certainly not the book with the most bite, it will entertain many of my students.

I'm a purist and I was a little disappointed that Gutman allowed some of the ending to happen the way it happened. The whole time travel thing is a little messy and for someone who watched Star Trek TNG with my mother, I like a little more thought about what happens when messing with the world's time line. But that's also probably why I don't read the whole series of these! All in all, it was a good book though.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Out of Order by Betty Hicks

This is another of the state award books for this year. It was an o.k. book. Awfully predictable and a bit unrealistic about the kids, but nothing majorally wrong with it.

Perhaps I wasn't really in the mood to read the book, but I was trying to take my mind off the tragedy at the Boy Scout camp nearby. So I turned to my favorite escape, a book.

This story focuses on a family that has recently "merged". There are now four siblings where each had two. (Well, one had three before leukemia claimed the oldest brother.) Obviously, there are relationships that need to be worked out before harmony can exist. I feel slightly as though Hicks missed the boat on some of the harder hitting issues, just barely grazing over them. But, if she was going for a light-hearted look at step-families, than she achieved that. Some kids might feel though that the possibly unrealistic happiness that evolves in the family is something they should be able to achieve in a short time themselves. In fact, it may take some families a much longer time to feel like a close and true family, and certainly it wouldn't happen in a few short months.

Out of Order was an o.k. read. But it's not my top choice to win the award.

Midnight Ride: A Gates Family Mystery #2 by Catherine Hapka

I love the National Treasure movies. To this day, I'm conviced that's where we came up with the name for our son. I love mysteries, I love the idea of a treasure hunt, and when you put that with history, it makes it all the richer. So when I saw this book at Borders, I scooped it up right away.

It was very enjoyable. Nothing like the movie, mind you. I felt that the treasure hunt went along in the same vein for too long. Hapka could have changed things up a little here and there instead of having the characters find a piece of paper and solve a riddle every single time.

And while I enjoyed the riddles and mystery, the references were difficult enough that I would have had to sit and Google every clue and still would have had trouble figuring out what they meant. I like to be able to solve a little of the puzzle myself. (Perhaps if I'd paid more attention in American History class...instead of wondering how many years it took my teacher to work the groove into the floor where he shuffled his right foot back and forth while lecturing...I would know more of the details.)

All in all, I think this will be a good series, especially for those interested in the movies. I just hope that Hapka gets a little more creative and intricate with the clues and treasures.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

I've come to accept that my students don't generally vote for the books that I seem to think should win the state award. Listening for Lions is one that I think will get missed by the students, but I really feel is an excellent book.

Complete with an orphan, tragedy, villains, love, and redemption, this book reminds me of a very Dickens or Austen sort of tale. The portion of heroine Rachel's life that takes place in England certainly ensures the tone echoing these great authors. However, over a third of the book takes place in Africa and the quality of the writing and character development still make me think of great classic literature.

Rachel's story is sad and touching; satisfying and full of vivid description. I can easily see why this book was an International Book Award winner.

If you like historical fiction, Dickensian literature, or just good stories of a soul triumphing over adversity, than this will be an excellent read.

The Name of the Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

An intriguing cover, this was another one of book fair reads. Lemony Snicket impersonations are fairly common nowadays (as mentioned in the last post). But this book takes a pinch of Snicket and a good dose of Blue Balliett (Chasing Vermeer) and mixes it into a great story.

As in most good stories, an unlikely friendship drives the action when two kids set out to solve the mystery behind the "Symphony of Smells" that the heroine's antique collector uncles have purchased. Adventurous and humorous with themes of friendship and courage running throughout, this book was an enjoyable read. And it looks like No. 2 (If You're Reading This It's Too Late) will be out in October. Hopefully, carried at the book fair again!

The Silver Spoon of Solomon Snow by Kaye Umansky

This was one of the books that I picked up at our book fair. I put off reading it for a while, not prepared for another bad Lemony Snicket imitation. Although I don't think kids will jump on this book, it wasn't as bad as I feared. Umansky has a fairly pleasant writing style and doesn't try to bog it down with the quirky observations that no one but Snicket can seem to pull off.

Ten-year-old Solomon Snow lives a pretty paltry existence. We find out in the opening scene that Solomon was abandoned and the home of the washer woman and her drunk husband. Content, and not very bright, his parents live their life hand to mouth, literally, slurping their pottage straight out of the bowl without even a spoon to call their own. Soon after finding out about his abandonment Solly meets Prudence, whose family has its own world of problems, and they embark on a journey to find more than what's offered to them in their little village.

Of course, Umansky plans a series of these books, but as of now, there are only two books. It isn't something that I would bump to the top of my To Read pile, but if I got my hands on the second one, I would certainly read it to find out what becomes of Solly, Prudence, and others they meet on their journey.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

When everyone is raving about a book, I usually put off reading it and then end up loving it when I finally do read it. That's what happened with this book. I actually listened to most of it on CD on the way to and from Tennessee and within the first 5 minutes I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued.

Lilly's mother died several years ago in a tragic accident and her father is a harsh, abusive man. Set in the tumultuous civil rights era, Lilly goes to town with her African American nanny and ends up in a disastrous situation that sets her off a quest to find more about her mother. She ends up at a bee farm with some of the most motherly figures she's ever had in her life.

This book was heartfelt and cleverly crafted with a lot of the charm of the south, but the unrest that fits the time period. (Be aware that some of the language in the novel would not be appropriate for school settings, although young adults would certainly enjoy this novel.) Although my husband said the narrator sounded like Dolly Parton and he wouldn't be able to stand it, I enjoyed the story so much, I had to stop myself from going out to buy the book when I already had it on CD. I picked up another Sue Monk Kidd book, but this one sounds like more of an adult story, with a woman a monk and a longing for love. We'll see if it can hold a candle to Lilly's story.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander Mccall Smith

I picked up this book in a bargain bin, and although it wasn't horrible, I can see why it ended up there.

The "lady" in question is an African women who has started a detective agency in the bush of Africa after her father's passing. The biggest mystery she sets out to solve is who the daughter of a wealthy Indian man is seeing. Much more time is spent on that than on the story of the kidnapped child or, for that matter, the emotional development of the characters. Sometimes, an author surprises you with their ability to write a character of the opposite sex so well. Smith didn't succeed in doing that here. Although it wasn't bad enough for me to put it down, (I was stuck in a dorm room in Tennessee looking after a bunch of junior high students), when I saw that there were three or four more books written about the same characters I almost groaned. There is no way this book would hold itself in a series. But at least I had something to do in the dorm, even if I won't ever read the rest of the books.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Children's Choice State Award Books

Our state nominates 10 books in each of 3 categories for the state awards. My building covers two of those categories, picture books and intermediate chapter books. I try to read them all every summer. I won't subject you to the picture book reviews, unless one really hits me as good, but I've summarized the first several intermediate books that I've read. (Six down...four to go!) Here we go...

Anna's Blizzard by Alison Hart

I'm not really big on historical fiction. For some reason, I don't seem to get into it as much as other types of books. But once I started Anna's Blizzard, I couldn't stop. Anna is a very likable character. Not that great at school, but has a lot of spunk and spirit. She is also pretty smart about life on the prairie. When a blizzard hits her town while she and several other students are at their one-room school, Anna ends up in more of leadership role than she ever had before. There was enough action to keep me interested and plenty of character development to keep me rooting for an upbeat end to the disaster.

We sure saw our share of snow this winter and this book will get students talking about their own adventures in the wintery weather. I think this book will appeal to many different types of students and has the potential to be a dark horse in the kids' voting.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Everyone knows that in life there are rules you have to follow. But for some people, following those rules is difficult. Like Catherine's brother. David has autism and Catherine is living with all the difficulties that presents not only for a family, but for a junior high student. One day, Catherine meets Jason, who has difficulties of his own. And Catherine begins to recognize that sometimes following the "rules" means you compromise yourself.

I really liked the message in this book. Catherine is a real student trying to balance her own wants and desires with her family's responsibility for her brother. Although she sometimes is nicer than I would imagine some kids would be, she gets angry, gets selfish, makes mistakes, but also learns her lesson. This story is great to share with classes to bring up the topic of people who are "different" from them, in many senses of the word.

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

A cat book! Several of my students were very excited to see a book with a cat in the mix of Golden Sower books. Whittington certainly provides a good mix of animals to entice some of the kids, but I don't know that the story will hold their attention all that long. Whittington, the cat, moves into a barn full of discarded animals..."...". The animals are often visited by Ben's grandchildren, who are being raised by Ben and his wife. Tim struggles with school and if facing some difficult prospects in school. Whittington (the cat again) tells the story of his relative who made his own way in the world. While this portion of the story is interesting and has enough adventure in it, the present day situation doesn't really develop much. And the transitions between stories could confuse some struggling readers.

While I enjoyed the book enough to read all the way through, I don't know how well it will hold the attention of intermediate age students.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

Have you ever wondered how your dreams make their way into your mind? Why do we sometimes have nightmares instead of pleasant images? The answer, according to Lois Lowry, lies in the beings that are responsible for our night time thoughts.

Gossamer is a very different novel in typical Lois Lowry fashion. It doesn't have quite as much meat to it as some of her books, but there is an undercurrent of seriousness to this book. Littlest One is one of the beings that move around our homes at night and touch the items that we keep around us. These items are filled with memories that are absorbed by the beings. Littlest One and her mentor gather happy memories and use them to create dreams that they breathe into us while we sleep. But not all the beings are so benevolent. Some make it their duty to bring nightmares. And for one little boy and his guardian, the nightmares are coming. Littlest One needs to try as hard as she can to make them stay away.

I enjoyed this book, but I wonder how my students will react to such an abstract idea. I forsee my higher ability students getting more out of this book than the others. There is a lot of wonderful visual imagery though, and I could see some great writing prompts beginning here.

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

I admit it. I cried. Hard.

This book is so bittersweet. And it really struck a chord with me.

Comfort Snowberger's family runs the funeral home in small tow Snapfinger. Comfort understands death pretty well and has a tremendous family to support her. But at the beginning of the story, she faces it a little closer to home when her Great-Great Aunt and Great Uncle, who are the matriarch and patriarch of the family, pass away.

Comfort faces many hurdles over the next several months, including dealing with a best friend who is suddenly not the same person she was before.

The AR reading level on this book is a 4.5, but it does deal with death which could be overwhelming for some kids, especially if they've lost a loved one recently. Comfort's feelings are so real though, they provide a great chance to talk about how that separation makes you feel. "I longed for all that I lost," said Comfort.

There is also a very strong voice in the book. With sayings like "tuner fish sandwiches" and "all the messy glory", the text might be a little harder for some students to grasp. Although the words are readable, the meaning behind these phrases might take them longer to figure out.

This was only the second nominee I've read, but I loved this book. Although it doesn't wrap things up in a nice neat little package, it resonates so truly with life while maintaining a colorful and interesting voice, that it is irresistable.

One warning: Have a box of tissues ready!

Room 1: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements always has fun and exciting books. From being lost in the woods to taking on the entire school system, his characters are always ready to do the right thing, no matter what it means for them.

In this book, Ted is no different. When he sees a face in the window of a supposedly deserted house, he's bound and determined to find out the story behind it. What Ted gets himself into is a little bigger than he ever expected.

The action in this story isn't as exciting as some of Clements's other books, but it is an enjoyable read. I was a little disappointed with the ending; I wanted more action and resolution. But the ending is certainly realistic.

The obvious opportunity here is to talk about one room schools and small town communities. If you live in a more urban part of the world, these concepts might be sort of foreign to your students. The story in this book opens up a different world to many people. It also gives students a chance to talk about the war and supporting soldiers regardless of your view on the war. Although Clements barely touches on the issue, dealing with death is definitely a topic that many students in this age range are just starting to grasp. This book would allow them to see some of the effective and ineffective ways to deal with loss.

A quick and fairly satisfying read, Room 1: A Mystery or Two is a solid choice to include in this year's nominees.