Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exciting News!

I am thrilled to announce that Lenore of Presenting Lenore has selected my school to belong to her International Book Blogger Mentor Program!

This program will help send more books our way, the better for me to review and the better for my students to continue feeding their appetite for new books to read!

Our hero Lenore is even running a contest on our behalf to win a BEA swag pack which will include a ton of signed bookmarks, at least 2 hot ARCs/books, and a very cool bag.

If you would like to be entered in the contest, please send at least two books in good condition to:
Deep Creek Middle School
Cape Eleuthera Island School-RSD
Twin Air
3406 S.W. 9th Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33315

Please include an invoice that says the books are used and are donations and are valued at $1 each. This will help us with our strict customs process!

Thanks a million, Lenore!

Just Another Hero

I have to admit that I haven’t read Sharon M. Draper’s previous novels in this series: November Blues and The Battle of Jericho. My students absolutely love those books; they are always tattered, taped together, in need of being replaced, and are almost always checked out of the library.

Still, apart from not having the back story behind each character, Just Another Hero can stand on its own. Draper tells the story of several days in the lives of Douglass High School’s seniors, culminating in a hostage-situation shooting. I always enjoy when chapters are told from the points of view of multiple characters. As the climactic shooting is no surprise, even from the cover, she chooses to build suspicions that it could be any character that snaps. The suspense of who the shooter would be kept me reading.

 On the other hand, I felt like there were too many characters. Had I read the other books, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. But it seemed like there were many characters that participated in the dialogue but had no bearing on the story. I did not feel motivated enough to read the other books in the series, but will be able to discuss them more knowledgably now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Liar

Wow! Liar is a book that just kept getting better. I got it in the mail this morning after winning it from Readingjunky and spent the entire day reading: while cooking, using the facilities (ahem), and in a lounge chair at the beach as the sun made its way across the sky.

Liar is the story of Micah, a solitary New York girl with a reputation for lying whose secret love is murdered. The rest of the novel centers around Micah telling the reader what "really" happened, then backpedaling and changing the story. She also spent the beginning of the novel dancing around some sort of family secret. Once that secret is revealed, though, it becomes a completely different book and far more incredible than imagined.

There are important references to sex and a good amount of cursing in the novel; I recommend reading it before passing it on to any students and making the judgment about who can handle it. But get ready for some great conversations with the ones that can!

Also, there is some interesting controversy over the cover, namely that the US version originally had a white girl on the cover, even though Micah's race is discussed many times. As someone who tries very hard to find novels with protagonists that my students can relate to, I find this to be disappointing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

47

47 has one of the most original premises I've ever come across, a supernatural novel that takes place during slavery. The story centers around a fourteen-year-old slave named 47 who has a difficult life until he meets another slave named Tall John. Tall John is an alien from the planet Elle; he has the ability to heal, a skill which will come in handy.

I really admire the creativity of Walter Mosley. He combines two seemingly different topics seamlessly. This is a novel that I love recommending to sci fi fans during our slavery unit, to compliment their reading of Copper Sun. It is a unique addition to the historical fiction section of any library.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Down a Dark Hall

Someone mentioned Lois Duncan to me the other day and we excitedly related the plots of her novels to each other. I can't even count how many times I read Stranger With My Face (or make jokes that include "insert something wth my face" as a punchline) and Daughters of Eve. Still, I somehow had missed Down a Dark Hall. I set about remedying that immediately.

The word that came to mind several times while reading it was "farfetched". I could hear Amy Poehler's voice in my head saying "REALLY?!" I dislike when parents in novels don't listen to their children, and protagonist Kit Gordy's mother takes the cake. The school is evil, there are only four students, the letters aren't arriving...who is this mother?

Down a Dark Hall would be a good novel to show students the mechanics of writing a novel. It is obvious where Duncan uses foreshadowing and it follows the classic story structure that would make it easy to map on a Freytag's pyramid. Still, it's not a book I will recommend to them as a scary story they've got to read.

Now I am afraid to re-read Daughters of Eve and Stranger With My Face. Boo!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hip Hop High School

Hip Hop High School is another novel that I have been trying to get my hands on for awhile. When my students really love a book, they don't return it to the library, they pass it on to their friends. This novel, about Theresa Anderson's final three years of high school, has been making the rounds for awhile.

Hip Hop High School is the second book in the Hoopster trilogy and is definitely my favorite. Tee-ay, the protagonist, is extremely likable, someone that you would want to share french fries with. Her inner dialogue is spot on and she remains optimistic in spite of the challenges in her life.

Alan Lawrence Sitomer sneaks in some life tips for readers who might not be getting them anywhere else. Tee-ay uses complex vocabulary words and explains them as "XYZ is a good word to know the SAT. It means ABC." Sitomer also gives advice on SAT prep and college applications. Clever move.

It was interesting to read the novels out of order. For example, The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez describes many of the same events from the perspective of Tee-ay's best friend. I loved that and bet that a lot of young readers did too.

And now I wait. Hopefully Mr. Sitomer will have a new book out soon because everyone at my school is ready for one!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Zig Zag

Ellen Wittlinger's novel Zig Zag is an interesting mix of different genres, so much so that I am putting it on the "You Tell Me" classification shelf in the library. I just finished it and can't really tell.

At first I thought it would be a typical teen romance about Robin, an Iowa teen whose boyfriend Chris was going to Rome for the summer. Robin is extremely dependent on Chris but agrees to take a cross-country road trip with her mourning aunt and two wild cousins.

Fairly quickly, the plot shifts away from Robin's uneasy relationship with Chris to her new connections with her cousins. This is better for Robin's well-being, but worse for the reader who has to spend the rest of the book learning about the insufferable Iris and Marshall. Just reading about the cousins was so excruciating, that I am amazed that Robin didn't grab the wheel and steer them into a tree! Seriously, these characters are repulsive and they stay that way for far too long.

I wish that the novel had focused more on Robin's self-actualization and growing independence from Chris. Like Robin, I found myself eagerly waiting for more letters from Chris so I could read about a plotline that interested me. I won't be recommending this book to anyone any time soon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street

Sharon G. Flake is one of my students' favorite authors. They fly through anything she reads. I really appreciate the branding she has going; we can tell one of her books from a mile away.

The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street is another example of a time when Flake focuses on an unlikeable protagonist. (She did this in Bang!, Begging for Change, and Money Hungry). It is such an interesting choice to have a main character to whom the reader must struggle to relate. This time, her names is Queen and she is a conceited little girl who thinks she runs the world. Everyone except her insanely doting parents hate her. When a new boy named Leroy transfers to the school, she turns her cruelty on him because he wears old clothes and smells like pee. The fact that he smells like pee cannot be emphasized enough in this book. I was actually surprised by how many times that came up in the book.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered in this slim book: is Leroy really from Senegal? Will Queen get over herself? Why are her parents like that? It feels like Flake just decided to finish writing and didn't wrap things up. Still, it was an enjoyable and quick read. My students are going to love this, just like all Flake's novels.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Going Bovine by Libby Bray

Yikes!

Someone donated three copies of Going Bovine to our school and I was pretty psyched.  I had seen it around and it looked pretty interesting, albeit much longer than I expected.

One chapter in and I knew there would be no book club around Going Bovine. This novel contains far too much cursing, sex, and casual drug use to ever join the shelves of our library. I wonder if even high schools will be able to justify having it on their shelves. I'm not going to continue reading it, I'd rather focus on novels that I will be able to recommend to my students.

Now, what to do with those three copies?!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

I have a student who is dying to read more about ninjas and samurais. This is not my area of expertise, but I found Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior for him. This is the first book in a series about Jack Fletcher, an English boy who lands in Japan and trains to be a samurai in the 1600s.

At many different points I was reminded of The Karate Kid; the story is not original and I could see exactly when the drama was going to occur. Still, middle grade readers will enjoy making predictions and will feel like strong readers when everything they guess comes true.

I lived in Japan for a year and enjoyed all of the details in the novel. Clearly, Chris Bradford is knowledgable about Japanese culture and martial arts. There is a lot of Japanese in the book! The glossary defines many of the words, although some of the longer phrases are left unexplained. I'm excited for Darrel to read The Way of the Warrior and try out some Japanese for himself. The second novel in the series, The Way of the Sword just came out a few weeks ago and I will be adding that to our wish list.

Readers of this series should check out Chris Bradford's website, which has lots of information on Japanese culture.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen



Along for the Ride is my favorite Dessen novel to date. I could really relate to the story of Auden, a girl who hates not doing well the first time she tries something.
After deciding to spend the summer before college with her immature father, his young wife, and their newborn, she realizes that while she spent so much time achieving, she really missed out on a lot of life (okay, so I don't relate to that part).

I loved the minor characters: Maggie, a girly salesclerk that can do some serious biking, Auden's mom, a prickly and needy college professor, Auden's obnoxious, self-centered father...I could go on because they were all really well-developed and interesting. Colby continues to be a world that I am interested in visiting, especially now that I know there is an all night laundromat/pie joint.

After reading two of her novels in a row, I think I have figured out the formula for Sarah Dessen's novels:

Insecure girl with an interesting name (Auden, Macy, Colie) +
messed up parents +
a cute boy who jerks the protagonist around +
seaside town (Colby, NC) +
cute, unassuming, artistic boy (Eli, Norman, Wes) +
a YaYa sisterhood of girls (the waitresses at The Last Chance, the Clementine's salesgirls, the Wish Catering crew) +
life lessons =
A book that I really enjoy reading

Monday, April 5, 2010

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

I am deep in a Sarah Dessen phase right now. Her first novel that I read was The Truth About Forever, which inspired me to add a bunch of her novels to our wish list. They have started to trickle in and I am ignoring all responsibilities to fly through them.

In Keeping the Moon, Colie is a fifteen year old girl spending the summer in the beach town of Colby with her eccentric aunt Mira. Colie has been through some massive changes: poor to wealthy, overweight to thin, bland to vaguely goth, unknown to notorious. She hopes that her summer in Colby will allow her to remain anonymous, but her new relationships with Mira, sweet artist Norman, and sassy waitresses Isabel and Morgan show her that there is nothing better than just being who you are.

Lame cover aside, I really loved Keeping the Moon. Dessen continues to create characters that readers love and want to know more about. I could read an entire book about the genesis of Isabel and Morgan's friendship (hint hint!). Dessen's novel is inspiring, not only in the lessons it teaches, but also for aspiring writers wondering if they have stories worth telling.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

After Ever After

We have some serious Jordan Sonnenblick fans at my school. All of our copies of his novels have clear tape holding the cover on and students are constantly recommending his books to each other (I love that). Everyone is going to be so psyched to read After Ever After once spring break is over.

Following the same characters as Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, this time the narrator is Jeffrey, cancer-survivor and 8th grader. He and his best friend Tad (another cancer survivor) struggle with typical adolescent worries like girls, standardized tests, and weird families. Unfortunately, they also have the fear of their cancer recurring hanging over their heads.

Jordan Sonnenblick writes teenage boy dialogue so well; I was laughing at the "your momma" jokes but welled up with tears at one point, too. It's obvious that Sonnenblick was a teacher from his not-so-hidden rants about standardized testing. Good for him. I think he works his agenda into the novel in an entertaining way. I hope this isn't the last we hear of Jeffrey, Steven, Annette, and the rest of these characters.