Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Truth About Forever

I read the first fourteen pages of The Truth About Forever during Quiet Reading, and when the period was over, I stood up and announced, "You guys are going to love this book!" During my next free period, I immediately added a huge stack of Sarah Dessen books to our wishlist.

This novel about a summer in the life of Macy details her struggles to live up to the expectations of her mother and her perfect boyfriend, while she slowly realizes who she really is. The characters are extremely well-written. I love Caroline, the bad girl older sister, who has matured into the loving adult that holds the family together. Macy's new friends in the catering company where she works are just fantastic. I would happily read an entire novel on each of their lives.

The love story in The Truth About Forever is innocent and unfolds beautifully. There are some curse words and underage drinking in the book, but I can easily justify those sections to any 8th or 9th grade parents. I am so excited to have found another great, prolific author to add to our library.

And that is a month of daily book reviews . I loved challenging myself this way; it was both a lot more difficult and more fun than I expected. I am going to ease into writing a book review whenever I finish a book, rather than every day. I'm hooked!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Feathers

I didn't think I liked Feathers, but what do you know, I recommended it before the end of the day today. I've never read any Jacqueline Woodson novels before and randomly added this to our amazon wishlist based on the cover. I breezed through the book in an afternoon, puzzling over the different aspects of the story.

The author said she wrote the book to tell about the different ways people find hope (the title is a reference to the Emily Dickinson poem, Hope is the thing with feathers). The Bahamas is a religious country and Feathers showcases a character for whom the church gives hope. This will make my students and their parents happy. I really enjoyed the relationship between Frannie, the protagonist, and her older brother, Sean. Their relationship was realistic in its frustrations and its small joys.

I thought it was interesting that the story was set in 1971. This is not a time period that grabs middle grade readers; the only importance is that there is an added element of racial unrest in the story. I don't think the time period adds anything to the story, rather I think that slang like "jive" and "cat" may turn off readers.

Still, I was able to recommend the book to a sweet seventh grader who is a little lost right now and could use a sweet, optimistic story about hope. It always helps to have a book fitting that description in the wings (pun totally intended).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas

I am a fortunate woman that Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas is the main text that my seventh graders are using in one of my classes right now. This field guide has been essential in our Field Trip Series class, where our seventh graders learn about marine ecology, as well as how to snorkel. Yes, one of my classes is weekly snorkeling lessons in The Bahamas with hilarious ten year olds. Don't hate!

This reference book is used by serious divers and fish lovers; it is also an amazing way to teach students more about nonfiction reading and how to use scientific texts. We've covered everything from using the table of contents, how to identify fish that one has spotted, and how to organize nonfiction writing to provide information. It is on the expensive side, but is really invaluable in teaching our students about the amazing place that they live.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Love That Dog & Hate That Cat

My students love Sharon Creech and eat her books up like peas and rice. Love That Dog and Hate That Cat are wonderful books to recommend to reluctant readers. The books are a series of letters that Jack, a young boy who hates poetry and misses his deceased dog, Sky, writes to Miss Stretchberry, his teacher.

The books are quick reads, even slow readers can zip through one in a day and then return the next day for a new one. My seventh grade students make a link in a construction paper chain every time they finish reading a book. When one of the slower readers can make two links in one week, they are ecstatic.

Sharon Creech introduces poetry from William Blake, Robert Frost, and her beloved Walter Dean Myers in an accessible way and shares copies of all the poems referenced at the back of the books. Although the books are far below their reading level, I will share pages of them when teaching poetic elements to my ninth graders next year. I have a feeling they will sneak to finish these books like I recently caught a ninth grade boy doing with Amelia Bedelia.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Celebrate Reading Everywhere!

These are photos of the ceiling in my homeroom's bathroom. In a fit of procrastination, I cut out the titles of my students' favorite books and strung them on string between the walls. The morning after I hung them, the girls in my homeroom were squealing and pushing each other aside to see the decorations. A lot of them were proudly listing the books that they had read that were displayed. The photos do not do the display justice, it looks really cool! It takes a long time to do, but the good news is that imperfection doesn't matter--the homemade touch makes it even better! 

The Adoration of Jenna Fox


What a clever book! I really enjoyed reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox because it was genuinely gripping and had plot twists right up until the final page. While I suspected some things from the start (which I announced to my classes today),  I didn't see many of the surprises coming. That is an awesome feeling.

Mary E. Pearson is such a smart woman, writing a story that appeals on so many different levels. My students probably won't follow the science, but will be staying up late to find out what secrets Jenna's parents are keeping from her. On the other hand, more mature readers will be impressed by the juxtaposition of Thoreau's Walden and ethical issues of biotechnology and what is 'real' and 'pure'. Lovers of bittersweet moments will revel in the final chapter, which had me closing the book slowly and saying "hmmm" in the best possible way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Island of the Blue Dolphins


Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of the greatest novels ever written for intermediate readers. I prefer to teach reader's workshop, but I always save a place for Where the Red Fern Grows and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Scott O'Dell's story of Karana's eighteen years alone on an island crushes and inspires the seventh graders every year.

That's right, eighteen years on an island. Along the way she experiences death, friendship, forgiveness, and respect for nature. These are beautiful themes that are easily understandable through O'Dell's story. When Karana decides not to hunt for otters anymore, it makes sense to my students because they are her friends. There is no moralizing, just perfect sense.

My students are always amazed to learn that Island of the Blue Dolphins is fifty years old. Maybe because they too live on an island with not much to do, they always want to know if it's a true story (I find that is when you know a reader is hooked; when they desperately want what they are reading to be true). It's always fun to read the historical afterword (has that phrase ever been uttered?!) and discover more about the real 'Karana'. This is a wonderful book to read aloud with a loved one. Enjoy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Maze Runner


This is a time when my impression of a novel really does not jibe with the common opinion. I have heard a lot of hype that The Maze Runner is action packed and fast-paced. There was action, but it felt like it wasn't leading anywhere.

In Chapter 28, Thomas, the main character who is plunged into this strange new world, finally breaks down and shouts at people to start giving him answers. I wanted to pat him on the back, after twenty-seven chapters of wanting to strangle him for not insisting on some background as to why he was in the Glade and what was going on. My students are not going to have the patience to wait until the resolution, which comes after about 430 pages. I usually love dystopian teenage novels, but I really could care less about the sequels that will follow.

While I was reading The Maze Runner, I couldn't help but think of The Lord of the Flies, with its warring boys and struggles for survival and dominance. But that book is far superior in character development and depth. Thomas, Newt, Chuck, Alby, and the rest of the characters are unlikable and flat as they should be, knowing nothing but their first names. If this was James Dashner's intention, he succeeded on that front. This novel was placed on the new books shelf of our library with no fanfare from me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dread Locks


There are two different times that Dread Locks will be really enjoyable to young readers. The first is right before a unit on mythology; the second is right after.

As soon as I saw the cover and learned that Neal Shusterman would be taking on mythology and fairy tales in his Dark Fusion series, I knew that this remake of the Medusa myth would be a treat for my students. If a reader is unfamiliar with mythology, they will be genuinely confused by what is different about Tara Herpecheveaux (I guess unless they speak French), rich boy Parker's new friend. Once a student has read The Lightning Thief or learned about Greek myths, he or she will feel so excited to have figured out the plot. I love having my students come to me feeling smart, using their background knowledge.

My students would read anything with the words 'dread locks' in it; they are obsessed with rastafarians. This book is held proudly as they walk between classes, it is coveted by others. I breezed through it, there was nothing very surprising to me and I doubt that it will hold the attention of older readers who have discovered genuine thrillers like The Hunger Games. Still, it's a fun introduction to mythology and re-emphasis that myths are a part of our common culture.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Graceling

I loved Graceling!

I have been savoring this book for awhile but also trying to cram reading time into every possible minute, offering to cover people's Quiet Reading slots, planning extra Reading Workshops, skipping dinner outings, etc.

I loved this novel even more than its companion, Fire. One of the reasons is that its protagonist, Katsa, is far more likable than Fire. Super active is always more fun that super gorgeous (remember that, kiddos!). Kristin Cashore's seven kingdoms fascinate me. Learning more about gracelings and the evil Leck in particular had me carting this 470 page tome wherever I went.

Really, the main reason to love this novel is the character Po. From his silver and golden eyes to his pirate-like looks and fighting skills, he is the character that I longed to learn more about. It's rare to find a romantic lead like Po in a book; I am excited to discuss him with the other readers.
I read this series out of order; Graceling was published before Fire, but they really can be read in either order, with only one minor spoiler. Bitterblue, set six years after Graceling, is currently being written. I am checking my watch and tapping my foot impatiently.

PS. To the right is the UK cover of Graceling. I prefer this cover to the US version. What do you think?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flush


Flush is an extremely fun book. I taught it twice to my students and they enjoyed the story of Noah, a boy with an out-of-control eco warrior father. Noah’s father sinks the casino boat belonging to Dusty Muleman, one of the greatest-named antagonists I’ve come across. Noah, his spunky sister, and a cocktail waitress named Shelley have to get proof that Dusty is the bad guy, while dodging bullies, strangers, and reporters. The antics are hilarious and disgusting, often at the same time.

Carl Hiassen has a gift for crafting unsavory characters that are somehow likable. For example, Lice Peeking (again with the names!) is a terrible boyfriend to Shelley, but a character that the reader really loves. Noah's father is a criminal with an insane temper, but everyone ends up rooting for him. I love it when an author can flip your expectations so thoroughly.

Flush is my favorite of Hiassen’s books for younger readers, which include Hoot and Scat. The Key West setting is close enough to The Bahamas to excite my students, and the marine waste issue is close to our hearts. It ties in well with science class and the only reason I don’t teach it anymore is that I have moved on to more of a workshop model in my classes. I highly recommend Flush.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have To Kill You

I really wanted to like I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You. The concept, a boarding school for girls training to be spies, has so many amazing possibilities. It’s where I wish I had gone to high school. Plus, the covers (with their faceless girls in school uniforms) are a real knockout. I was so excited when I learned that someone donated these books from our wishlist.

Unfortunately, I’d Tell You is nearly impossible to get through. The story is slow (how can that be? Ally Carter is writing about teenage girl spies!) and the love story takes forever to progress. There are very few surprises along the way and the characters are caricatures—stereotypes that no one really fits into. It’s not just me; my students usually end up abandoning these books as well. I wish that we had only added one book from the series to the wishlist and that the $20 that were spent on the other two could be spent on extra copies of The Hunger Games or the Angela Johnson novels that keep “disappearing” as quickly as we buy them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hatchet


Hatchet is clutch. This is the go-to book for my outgoing boys who don’t like reading. When they come to me in the seventh grade, utterly confused as to how to select a book, this is the novel I press in their hands.

Brian Robeson’s travails in the wilderness is something that readers can really connect to. It’s interesting that I, nor my students, have never had to survive in the wilderness, yet we relate so well to Brian. I was right beside him when he was sick from eating too many berries. I was as ill as he was from the bugs and the sun. I felt his fear and his elation.

Gary Paulson is brilliant for giving the readers more and more Brian books. They are a gateway drug to the adventure genre. Any other books that I park near The River and Brian’s Return get gobbled up as well.

This is one of my top ten essential books for a middle school library.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

City of Bones


The donation of City of Bones coincided really nicely with the beginning of Grade 9's science fiction and fantasy unit. This was, by far, the hottest title in the class, being traded back and forth between the guys. One even read the series out of order because he couldn't wait to begin. Ah, the power of a good cover and positive peer reviews.

Instead of telling you about the plot--you'll enjoy it--I want to rant a little bit about relationships in YA books. Must there always be a best friend character that is secretly in love with the protagonist? And by secretly, I mean everyone knows except our fair hero. Is this a very common circustance? I am scanning my high school friends in my mind, wondering if any of them were secretly pining away for oblivious me! I have to ask my students tomorrow if this is common. At my school the gender representation is not remotely equal (one class has only three boys, another has only two girls), so it may be different.

Anyway, I enjoyed this novel. There were some surprises and some plot twists that were a mile coming. I am not dying to read the two sequels, but that is probably just as well because the kids can't stop reading them. Nothing wrong with that!

Monday, January 18, 2010

100+ Reading Challenge

I just signed up for the 100+ Reading Challenge on J. Kaye's Book Blog. I will bag 100 books easily this year and it will be fun to keep track of them. My students will love to see this list, as I have them keep a list of the books they read.

I Am Not Joey Pigza

I love Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza books. The latest, I Am Not Joey Pigza is a bittersweet addition to the series. Joey's positive attitude and lovable out of control nature are back in full force. I really take the character of Joey straight to my heart. He reminds me so much of so many kids I know that I often laugh out loud at his antics. His sweet attitude helps balance out the shambles that his parents consistently make of his life.

His awful father, Carter Pigza, is back with a new identity and another chance from Joey's fool-of-a-mother. The terrible ideas that Carter comes up with hurt my heart, seeing Joey fall for them over and over again, even though that tiny voice in his mind tells him, "he's going to let you down." At one point, Joey's father says that everyone deserves a second chance. Joey's response is "But what if your second chance ruins my first chance?" Little, beautiful moments like that break my heart. Jack Gantos' writing is able to make me burst out laughing and then tear up, often in the same page. Everyone I have recommend the Joey books to loves them as well. You're next.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Janes in Love

"I'm multifaceted, mom," says Sporty Jane in Janes in Love. Really? Because the fact that people refer to you as Sporty Jane refutes that! Janes in Love confirmed what I suspected when I read the first book in the series: I'm not a fan.

All the same characters are here and none of them has branched out from their respective arty, scientific, athletic, dramatic, and 'average' roles. Cecil Castellucci should have focused more on character development, rather than trying to cram so many storylines into a short graphic novel. The author tackles anthrax attacks, agoraphobia, crushes, Sadie Hawkins dances, guerilla art, development, and many other topics. I would have preferred if the storyline was limited to the guerilla art and the love lives of the Janes. Instead, we get a jumbled and overly ambitious pile of confusion.

I won't be ordering any more books in this series for our library. Skip it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shiver


I knew I wanted to read Shiver the minute I saw its gorgeous cover. It includes everything that I am interested in in a cover. Happy me, the story inside was really satisfying as well.

Probably inspired by the success of Twilight, this novel tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, this time a teenage girl and the yellow-eyed wolf/boy that saved her life when she was a child. Every time the weather heats up, Sam changes from human to wolf; eventually, he will stop reverting to his human form. Each chapter begins with the temperature, building suspense.

Something I really appreciated about this novel was that the narration. The chapters alternate between Grace and Sam's points of view. Don't we all wish we knew what Edward was thinking in Twilight? With Sam, we understand and begin to love him for it. I also really enjoyed that the couple got physical fairly early in the book. Four novels in the Twilight saga was just a really long wait!

There are some definite flaws in the narration. Grace's relationship with her friends isn't realistic. The explanation for why Grace didn't become a wolf was ludicrous (how could an eleven year old get locked in a car?) and the novel dragged a bit at the end (although that may have been because I wanted to know what happened immediately). Still, I am looking forward to the release of Linger, the sequel. I can't help but include that cover as well!

Friday, January 15, 2010

"ME!"


There is nothing better than when I hold up a book and my students go nuts, based on the cover alone. When I brought out Homeboyz, Wayde did a little dance and then proceeded to spend Quiet Reading time cackling to himself over the book. I would write a review of Alan Lawrence Sitomer's novel, but I can't get it away from the boys at my school.

Eventually, I'll get one up on Homeboyz. Until then, yay, they're reading!

Airhead


What can I say? I like candy.

Airhead is never going to be a classic. It's a book that I have to specifically tell my students not to write about in their SSAT and boarding school essays. But, it is a book that they enjoy enough that they would like to write about it. They light up when they talk about Emerson, an ordinary girl, who becomes trapped in the body of a supermodel (don't ask).

I try to read almost all of the books that come through our library, but I pay definite attention to books with a leggy model on the cover and a not-very-encouraging title. I found Airhead to be a fun book that will fit in nicely with the Princess Diaries books that Meg Cabot writes. There is a whole crew of girls at my school who will love this book, which does include some good vocabulary words in it. Plus, there is a reference to Eleuthera in it, which must be a first for young adult books. I'm not whole-heartedly endorsing this novel, but I do think it is worth having in your library.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Magician's Elephant

Kate DiCamillo has a gift.


This is a woman who can craft absolutely beautiful stories that I care so much about. I had been anticipating The Magician's Elephant for so long, as had my students. There is a real melancholy about her writing that fascinates me, because it is rare in books for this age group.

She also works with the most fantastic illustrators. All of her books have illustrations with gauzy, ethereal drawings that really compliment her stories.

The major themes in The Magician's Elephant, as in DiCamillo's other books, are hope and faith. I love the faith that Peter, the protagonist, maintains against all odds. Also, there's nothing better than a story where many different plot threads tie together beautifully at the end.

Read this!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Plain Janes

My students love graphic novels so much that the majority of them are in tatters, with their covers taped on multiple times. They live for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Boneville, but there aren't too many graphic novels in our collection geared towards girls, except Queen Bee (lame). They are going to be psyched that The Plain Janes exists.

This is the story of a girl named Jane who moves to a new town and, while welcomed into the popular crew, decides to befriend some misfits (all named Jane) and do guerilla art. There are many aspects of this story that my students will be unable to relate to (guerilla what?!), but Jim Rugg's illustrations will keep them interested and turning pages.

I was disappointed that the Janes were stereotyped and that the main Jane was the only one with a multi-faceted personality. Still, the sequel Janes in Love arrived the other day and I am curious to see if it expands on the other Janes more.

PS. There is a tsunami watch in The Bahamas right now, so I am blogging this in advance...I really want to post every day this month. Is that weird?!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Princess Bride


If you loved the movie, you'll love William Goldman's book. And how could you not love the movie?

I am beyond enamored with both the film and novel version of The Princess Bride. There is something beautiful about having a screenwriter write a novel. The imagery is incredible, the reader feels like she is actually in the story with Westley, Buttercup, and Inigo Montoya. I breezed through this book in one day, even though it is a very lengthy tome. The cinematic pacing (and my ability to recite the movie verbatim) sped things along. The most interesting thing is that it never gets old! As soon as I finished reading the novel, I wanted to go watch the movie.

I am going to be pushing this book very hard to all of my fantasy readers. The prospect of saying "Does anybody want a peanut?" to all my students is just too enticing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I have been dying to read Carrie Ryan's novel for a long time. The title alone sends shivers down my spine. The imagery had my imagination reeling and when I learned that it was about zombies called the Unconsecrated, I was psyched.

At first, The Forest of Hands and Teeth reminded me of the movie "The Village". I really enjoy it when you think something is happening far in the past and then realize it is modern (sorry if I spoiled the movie or the book for you). The main character, Mary, is interesting because she has lost her faith in God (something that may be challenged at my school), but is actually the most faithful and hopeful character, never giving up on the possible existence of the ocean and a world beyond the forest.

Ryan's descriptions of the Unconsecrated had me so curious. Actually, so many of the institutions in the novel (the Sisterhood, the Guardians, the Return) had me wanting to read an entire book about their history. Some of my students may not like this book...they prefer their undead with a dash of neon and glitz. The true horror fans, thought, will rattling the fence for their turn to read this.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Shark Girl

Shark Girl is a book I worried about ordering for our library. In The Bahamas, we are constantly seeing sharks and other marine life. In addition, SCUBA is a requirement for all 9th graders at our school and our 7th graders snorkel weekly. I was concerned that reading a book about a girl who loses an arm in a freak shark attack would freak out many readers.

Still, I kept hearing great things about Kelly Bingham's book. When I saw it on a list of books that my hero, Nancie Atwell, recommended, I knew it needed to be added to the wishlist.
The writing style of this book will really appeal to my students. It flows with Jane's thoughts, letters received, news articles, and other writing styles. It is a quick read but very gripping. There are so many things that I never thought about when someone loses a limb. One particularly moving scene has Jane trying to make scrambled eggs for the first time, using the new equipment in her kitchen that is designed to help people missing limbs. I was so sad for all that this girl had lost, while admiring her bravery.

It's not a perfect book, but it was affecting and impossible to put down. The week after I finished it, there were several bull sharks hanging around our usual dive spot. I decided not to dive that week.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January's Sparrow


January’s Sparrow is a book that I will be integrating into our class’ study of slavery. My students connect really well to picture books that contain the historical content we’re studying. The fact that they usually have a happy ending also helps temper the heavy topics. You don’t want eleven year olds to feel completely hopeless!

Patricia Polacco’s story is unique in that it encompasses a long period of time. The book actually seems to have several different plots, surrounding the lives of slaves who have escaped to Michigan from Kentucky. It is a sweet story, but also has gory details about the beating of a slave. Readers who are very young will be frightened and in need of explanation. This is definitely a book that you should read with a child.

The illustrations in January’s Sparrow are so special. The reader can see all of the strokes that went into the drawings. The expressions on the characters’ faces are beautifully rendered and remind me of the happiness I felt when I saw the recent “Curious George” movie. It’s nice to see artwork that is not computer-generated.
January’s Sparrow is a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Catching Fire


Since I wrote about The Hunger Games, I figured I would tackle its sequel, Catching Fire, right away. There is always that fear that the sequel won't be as good as the original (Hello, New Moon), but that's not the case with this novel. Right from the start, Suzanne Collins continues the action and unbelievable story.

I'm going to give away a bit of the plot, SO STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS. Katniss and Peeta are sent back into the Hunger Games, this time against all the other former victors. This was a turn of events that was so shocking and awful to me. The most touching part of the novel was when Katniss realized that no matter what happens, her children are doomed to the Hunger Games as well. My stomach dropped when I read that section.

OK, YOU CAN READ AGAIN. Suzanne Collins doesn't let up in the sequel. I didn't know whether to savor it or rush like I wanted to. The final book in the trilogy is due out on August 24th and everyone at school is already salivating. Might as well pre-order it now!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Push

There is a lot of buzz around Push (or Precious, as the movie tie-in version is titled) right now. Most of the teachers at my school have read it, having borrowed it from a student's mother. One of the teachers nervously asked me if this book was going to be added to our school's library. My eyes almost fell out of my head.


There is no way that Push will get added to our students' reading options. Even for middle school students, our kids are pretty innocent and naive. This may be partly wishful thinking, but many of our kids haven't even heard of the serious issues in this novel. If they have experiences similar to Precious', there is all the more reason for me to help them find escapist fiction. Furthermore, Sapphire's writing is not of a high enough literary standard for me to want to defend the decision to shelf the book. The Bahamas is a conservative country in many ways and I feel totally supported in my decision to keep inappropriate books out of our library.

Weeks after reading Push, my brain is still chewing on it, but not in a positive way. I would hate for any of my students to have this novel haunting them as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fire

For the past few days I have been immersed in the world of Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is the ideal post-Twilight novel...it's got the lovers facing challenges, action, fantasy, and gauzy allusions to the bedroom that the Twihards adore.

In addition, it's got a really cool premise: Fire, the protagonist, is a monster woman of impossible beauty who has the ability to read and control others' minds. She has been loved and feared her entire life because of her powers and the legacy of her evil deceased father, who ruled the land with cruelty. Now, the current rulers need her to use her gifts to prevent plots against the throne.

I was fascinated by the ideas of people (or monsters) with extreme abilities. It's interesting to think of how powerless people are against these abilities and that naturally, the government would want to use those gifts to their advantage. This novel is a companion to another book, Graceling, which I am now dying to read. I know it is sitting in the customs office on our island and that is making me crazy!

You're going to love this!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Hunger Games

Yesterday I wrote that The Color of My Words is the book I recommend most. I should amend that by saying it is the book I recommend most to females. The book that I recommend most to everyone (cousins, parents, colleagues, students, friends, strangers) is The Hunger Games. In fact, if you are reading this, I probably have recommended it to you already, so why am I writing this?

In case someone slipped through the cracks, Suzanne Collins has written an absolute stunner of a novel. In Panem, the evil government stages an annual competition where youths from each of the thirteen districts compete for food for the next year. The catch? It is a televised fight to the death. The story reminds me of so many things I have enjoyed in the past, from Running Man to "Battle Royale", as well as things like reality tv of which I am not a huge fan.

Readers who are squeamish may have trouble at some points; the descriptions of characters' deaths are grisly. Still, there is so much to love. The protagonist, Katniss, is prickly and unfeminine. The inevitable love triangle is not overwhelming and is a truly difficult choice, both Gale and Peeta are fantastic guys. Once I started reading this book, I couldn't do anything but read, and this was on my annual trip to the states when I am supposed to get all my business taken care of for the upcoming year! No time...the Hunger Games are happening!

Get there.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Color of My Words

Lynn Joseph, why haven't you written another young adult book yet?!

The Color of My Words is the book that I recommend most frequently. All the teachers at my school have read it and the majority of the students have as well. Every word in Lynn Joseph's novel is pure poetry, beautifully chosen and meant to be savored. Upon returning the book, the first question that every reader asks it, "Do you have any more?"

Ana Rosa is a Dominican girl who is experiencing her first two loves, one is with an older boy and the other is with writing. Each chapter begins with a poem that directly relates to the story that follows. Ana Rosa experiences growth, success, tragedy, and surprises throughout the story. I really don't want to give anything else away...just trust me and read it! It's only $5.99 at amazon; you basically cannot afford not to read this beautiful piece of work.

And if you know Lynn Joseph, please ask her what she's waiting for!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Once a Witch

This is an old review that I wrote about Carolyn MacCullough's Once a Witch. I received an Advanced Review Copy and was so excited. Hopefully, I will get to do that again soon.

When giving examples of a "page turner", this is a book that I will hold up as an example to my middle school students. There is a great balance of sentiment and action in this book. When the characters had to time travel, I sighed in a resigned way, but it was handled very well and furthered the plot greatly. My students will relate to Tamsin. I don't think her "racy" actions are anything they haven't seen or even done before. This will be a much loved addition to our "mystical teenage girl" collection.

The Skin I'm In

This is one of the most popular books in our school's library...and at my school we READ. Sharon Flake's amazing novel The Skin I'm In is the first book I had to reorder because it had been shredded and loved to bits by our students.

Maleeka Madison is such a relatable character, someone whose skin our girls can get in. She looks different, doesn't have much money, experiences the bullying of her frenemy Char, and has to decide who she is going to be. Ms. Flake doesn't sugarcoat Maleeka's experiences; the reader can see the consequences of Maleeka's actions. I was not surprised to learn that the author was a teacher, her character Ms. Saunders is the educator that we all wish we could be. She is wealthy (ha), confident, and a giver of knowledge and tough love. I loved watching Maleeka and Ms. Saunders' relationship grow and be challenged throughout the novel.

If you know (or are) a reluctant middle school reader, this is one of the first books I would recommend to get on the path to devouring books.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Impossible

What a bizarre book.

I'm not sure who Nancy Werlin's target audience is with Impossible: fantasy fans? Teenagers that love the song "Scarborough Fair"? Kids that want to read about teenage pregnancy? Whoever the target is, I am not in that group.

I was totally gripped by Werlin's The Rules of Survival, so was really excited to see the audiobook for Impossible in my parents' local library. I eagerly saved it to my ipod (is that legal?) to listen to as I cooked and cleaned my house. Unfortunately, this book will not be added to our school's wishlist.

Lucy, the main character, was unlikable and unrealistic. She rebounds very quickly after a traumatic assault and continues to make frustrating choices. Werlin writes about Lucy attending school as a pregnant teen, but never addresses the challenges she faces. The novel dragged on, especially at the end, and it seemed to take forever to reach the tasks she must accomplish (the climax of the story).

I really can't think of any students in our school that would enjoy this novel. I hope that Werlin sticks to realistic fiction in the future; this fantasty novel just did not work.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wintergirls

Why did I start reading this book at 10:45 pm? I knew two pages in that it was going to be amazing. I spent so much time frantically bargaining with myself: “I’ll just read for ten more minutes” and “Just ‘til midnight.” Then I reached a point where I felt like I was reading too fast and worried that the book wouldn’t last. Wintergirls is that good.

Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Lia, an anorexic haunted by the death of her bulimic best friend. Lia’s demons become increasingly apparent as the novel progresses, from the calorie tally of everything eaten to the rambling delusions that Lia’s disease creates in her head. Anderson’s cautionary tale is grueling in its descriptions and heartbreaking in its bleakness. I felt hopeless for Lia and her twisted family throughout the entire novel. It reminds me of Go Ask Alice and Cut in its unflinching depiction of a too-common problem.

There are so many students at my school who will be gripped by this novel. I think of Anna, who constantly begs me to order A Boy Named It, of which she read a snippet (sorry kids, I’m your censor!) and Addassah, who will be captivated by Anderson’s style. I also can’t wait to share it with our health teacher; maybe she can incorporate elements into her study of eating disorders. I feel fortunate that anorexia is not a common issue among my students; The Bahamas has a different standard of beauty. I don’t know how I could reach a student who is so lost in the endless winter of her own suffering.