Friday, October 29, 2010

Cinderella (As If You Didn't Already Know The Story)

Brenda Ensor's version of the classic Cinderella story has enough clever gimmicks to appeal to a middle grade reader who needs those devices to hold her interest. There are silhouettes throughout the novel and Cinderella writes scrawling letters to her mother and signs them Cupcake. It also seems to be updated to more modern times, although it is difficult to tell.

I hesitate to completely recommend it for a reluctant reader, because it also mixes in a lot of complex vocabulary, such as hoi polloi and ramifications. I wonder if these intimidating words would inspire someone to keep reading or frighten her off. Still, I think it is a book that will attract younger readers and is a fun addition to a bookshelf.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Carrie Diaries

I have been wanting to read The Carrie Diaries for a long time. I really like Candice  Bushnell's writing style and love YA novels and "Sex and the City". I didn't realize that there was much of an overlap there, but obviously there must be to necessitate a book about Carrie Bradshaw's senior year of high school.

I wondered how much sex would play into the novel, as it was such a huge part of the television series. It is definitely much-discussed, but Carrie remains a virgin. There is also some drinking and smoking, but nothing too shocking or different from any other novel for teenagers.

What I love best about this novel is how young Carrie grapples with feminism. She is fascinated by feminist authors and works very hard to be independent, but also struggles with her attraction to a guy who doesn't treat her very well. She has some of Carrie's classic insights into relationships, such as "Just because someone is a girl doesn't mean she can't be tough and practical and have adventures. That's the way most girls are-- until they get around guys." She is more of a role model than the television character and more likable as well. I would definitely add this to my classroom shelf, just keep in mind who is checking it out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ottoline Goes To School

I love books that take place in an alternate version of our world, where people live in museum-like hotels or mansions, where they have long and complicated names like Cecily Forbes-Lawrence III, where characters have quirky hobbies or jobs like 'collectors'. Books like The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and now Ottoline Goes to School.

Chris Riddell's intricate drawings bring humor to the story of Ottoline, a privileged girl whose parents are off exploring the world, leaving her home with a mysterious sidekick named Mr. Munroe. When she meets Cicely, an amazing storyteller with seriously absent parents, she is inspired to follow her to boarding school.

Ottoline's adventures at school would be fun for elementary school students who are ready to imagine how school could be different. It would be a great bedtime story or a classroom read aloud. The repetition of certain lines will inspire struggling readers and the gorgeous illustrations will have all readers peering intently at the page.

PS. It's my birthday! Time to order myself some books!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lock and Key

I am a huge Sarah Dessen fan so I was thrilled to load the audiobook for Lock and Key on my ipod before moving to Korea. While I usually love Dessen's protagonists for being so real, I was not won over by Ruby, the damaged loner of this book.

Ruby has good reason to distrust others: her alcoholic mother abandoned her and she recently moved to the mansion of her sister Cora, whom she hadn't seen for ten years. Still, Ruby's prickliness can get old, especially when she just happens to end up in an amazingly supportive community: a terrific school, an enthusiastic brother in law who invented a fictionalized version of facebook, a kind, athletic neighbor who would inevitable become a crush, and a capable sister. Usually Dessen's characters have a sharp wit and an interesting hobby, plus quirky friends that move the plot along. Lacking these things, Ruby Cooper was a downer.

I still consider Sarah Dessen to be one of the best authors of authentic teenage dialogue, so recommend this book to fans of hers. If you haven't read any of her other books though, don't make this one your first.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We Were Here

My first novel by Matt de la Pena definitely won’t be my last. I love when a book takes me completely by surprise. I’ve had We Were Here kicking around my bookshelf for awhile. I brought it to Korea and am so glad I did.

When Miguel is sentenced to a group home for an unnamed crime, he is completely alone and hopeless. With nothing to lose, he teams up with Mondo (a psychotic Asian-American) and Rondell (an African-American with a low IQ) as enemies and friends to escape their home and head to a greater life in Mexico. Along the way, their personal demons catch up with them and the adventure is not what they expected it to be.

De la Pena brings an unexpected grittiness to the teenagers’ stories. Several times I had tears in my eyes because of the brutal lives that they unfairly had to live. Miguel, in particular, is a character that evokes sympathy. Through his diary entries, the reader watches him learn to love reading, relate his life to classic novels, and come to grips with the greatest mistake of his life. I loved the peek into the lives of teenagers in group homes and am interested in reading more about them.

Befitting its subject, the novel has curses, allusions to sex, and descriptions of abusive families. Teenagers will be drawn to de la Pena’s style and won’t be able to put down We Were Here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The English Roses: Friends For Life

My school in Korea has a very small selection of English books: some Amelia Bedelias, all the Harry Potter novels (yes!), everything by Roald Dahl, and Madonna's The English Roses series.

I had heard of these books before but never seen them. I read Friends For Life in about twenty minutes today. I wouldn't really call this writing because it is really just filling in the blanks from the perspective of five different characters: the posh one, the sporty one, the smart one, the fashionista, and the serious one. While it was fun to breeze through and see which of these fifth graders wants to meet Stella McCartney (ha!), I was disappointed that the girls really didn't show a combination of the traits. I would hate for a nine year old to lock herself into being the brainiac or the jock (as the book calls them) and not realize that you can be both.

Still, this novel may be useful in my EFL classroom, where students could read a selection as a model, and then fill out a similar survey on themselves, pushing to use longer sentences and more complex vocabulary.