Monday, December 27, 2010

Break Reading

Why is this break so short?!

So far . . .

Ghost Town (Morganville Vampires, Book 9)
Ghost Town by Rachel Caine.

Latest in the Morganville Vampire series, fabulous! Once again a page turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Claire is tasked with helping Myrnin repair the broken machine that keeps outsiders from knowing about the town and insiders from remembering anything once they've left - if they can . . . But the old machine was destroyed when Myrnin's old assistant was finally destroyed, as her brain was the magic behind the machine. So how can they possibly build a replacement without another brain? Claire refuses this option, and still manages to make it work. Kind of. Why are people suddenly forgetting who they are? Faced with the need to destroy the machine (again), will it ever be rebuilt properly? And whose brain will be involved? The answer is truly creepy and disturbing!

Confessions Of The Sullivan Sisters
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford.

When the matriarch of a wealthy society family in Baltimore announces on Christmas day that she has been deeply offended by one of the Sullivan children and will disinherit the entire family unless she receives a sufficient confession and apology the sisters immediately know that it must be one of them. The boys get away with everything! They each embark upon a detailed explanation of the deep, dark deeds they have committed. Although the prose is somewhat stilted, the story takes off and kept me hooked. Imagine, a story about the very rich without constant reference to designer goods! The ending was a complete shock, and a relief.

by Scott Westerfeld Leviathan Simon Pulse 2009
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield.

On my 'to read' list for ages, I finally got to it. And could not put it down. Taking place in an alternate history of World War I, it is told from the perspective of Deryn, a 15 year old girl from Scotland who joins the air service with the help of her brother (girls aren't allowed in, and boys must be 16) and from that of Alek, the supposed only son of the Archduke Ferdinand - whose assassination kicked off WWI. The war pits the Clankers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies against the Darwinists - Britain, France, and their allies. The Clankers are a machine loving culture who have developed a bizarre assortment of war machines, including tanks with legs. The Darwinists have used Darwin's ideas to fabricate beasts to do much of the work machines used to do. A page turning adventure, this book reminded me very much of Kenneth Oppel's Airborn, as much of it takes place aboard a fantastic airship. Cannot wait to read the sequel - Behemoth - where we learn what becomes of our protagonists in the Ottoman empire.

Out of My Mind
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

This reads like a female version of Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral, which still haunts me. Except this has a slightly younger tone and feel. Oh, and hopeful. Melody is an eleven year old girl with cerebral palsy who has never been able to speak, feed herself, walk, or even hold a pencil. Stuck in a classroom for special kids where the teachers change yearly but almost none treat she and her classmates as thinking people, Melody's frustration is palpable, and enhanced by the fact that she is, like Trueman's character, a very intelligent person trapped in an uncooperative body. A new inclusion program at her school show her what she has been missing and increase her desire to be included with her peers. After seeing a special on Steven Hawking sheand her aide investigate computers that would enable her to speak and her life changes dramatically as those around her begin to appreciate her mind.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ohmigod! Mrs. Lutwak, you have to read this!

The Recruit (Cherub) 
The Recruit. Muchamore, Robert. 2004.

Book one of the Cherub series, The Recruit opens with the story of James Choke. A tough kid living in a tough neighborhood in London, James' mother is a professional thief whose job entails leading a large theft ring from her flat. When his mother dies unexpectedly, he is shunted into a public home for boys. His half sister goes to live with her dad, who despises James. The feeling is mutual, as Ron has stolen from his mother repeatedly, never contributed anything, and picks on James whenever he visits. James quickly falls in with a bad crowd at his new school and experiences his first brush with police. On a collision course with a second, a visit to a counselor's ends with James waking in a posh campus where he is invited to join an elite, and secret, children's branch of the English secret service. With nothing to lose, James accepts.

First published in the U.K. in 2004, the series has slowly (too slowly for my students!) been released here in the U.S. A fast paced thriller, it contains many of the features that made Percy Jackson so lovable - James' faults are what makes him attractive to those who offer him a new, exciting, and appreciably better life than he had in front of him. James is not a prodigy and has a knack for getting into trouble. This book has turned so many reluctant readers into the kind of student who quivers with anticipation at finding the next installment on the shelf, so I just had to try it. Loved it. It was hard getting hold of the first book in my library - they are always out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth. Kinney, Jeff. 2010.

The latest installment in this cartoon telling of the life of the average boy as he navigates parents, big and little brothers, friendships, girls, and school, Greg Heffley returns to narrate the school year that includes health classes on all of that stuff they've been dancing around. His anticipation at getting answers to some thorny questions about the birds and bees is increased by his growing suspicion that what he hears from peers is likely inaccurate, e.g., girls don't fart. He has seen his aunt fart! Will health class answer his questions or confuse him further with irrelevant information on the complexities of DNA?

I continue to be amazed by books like this which appeal equally to elementary and middle school students alike. Some of my brightest and most advanced 8th grade readers were thrilled to see it and immediately checked it out, along with some of my most reluctant readers who seemed surprised and happy to see it in the library.

Pretty Little Liars #3: Perfect

Perfect: A Pretty Little Liars Novel. Shepard, Sara. 2007.

"Have you ever had a friend turn on you? Just totally transform from someone you thought you knew into someone ... else? .... I'm talking about your soul mate. The girl you know everything about. Who knows everything about you. One day she turns around and is a completely different person." So opens a story about a clique of middle school girls bound together by the need to be popular, on the verge of breaking apart when the leader of the pack shows signs that she is getting ready to leave the rest behind and move up the social ladder. Told in the aftermath of that girl's disappearance and murder, it is a painful glimpse into the shallow side of high school girl fights. A junior version of Gossip Girl, it nevertheless holds one's attention as an anonymous person threatens all of the original clique with the secrets they entrusted to the murdered girl.

This book reminded me of a YA version of Desperate Housewives with its sinister, unknown narrator making comments suggesting an all knowing perspective on how every move of every girl will play out, and the reference to the show in the book makes clear that the author was aware of it being such. So many of my students have gushed over it, and watch the T.V. show based on the series, that I had to take a look. Not what I'd call literature, but definitely a page turner and a book that captures the cruelty of mean girls. Since this is a phenomena that affects so many girls at this age, a few novels that explore it are inevitable and, in my opinion, a good thing.

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, Book 2)
Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Novel. Mead, Richelle. 2008.

In this second book in the Vampire Academy series, Rose Hathaway, a Dhampir raised to protect the good vampires (Moroi) from the bad vampires (Strigoi), returns to her school with her best friend Lissa, the last in a Moroi royal family. Rose is determined to protect Lissa. The prologue gives a brief synopsis of the wild events in book one, where Lissa reveals a rare magic ability to heal and saves Rose's life, creating a psychic bond in the process and also putting herself at great risk due to the number of people (vampires?) who would go to great lengths to control the one with such a gift. Part romance, part politics, part thriller, and part pure vampire fantasy, the novel promises a great ride.

I struggled to find a copy of book one but all of the copies on the North Shore are out - and the copy in my library was lost. What I managed to read of this second novel suggests that this is the kind of vampire novel that I like - one that is heavy on political alliances and intrigue with lots of action and the romance as a side dish. My students are on much later books and have admonished me repeatedly for not having read it. I can see why.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nutritious Books ...

A Little Piece of Ground

My choices this week were heavily influenced by the books I am reviewing in preparation to book talk them to 8th grade students. An english class project, they will read about the middle east conflict in literature as they begin to study it in social studies. These are some of the better titles I've come across.

A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird.

Twelve year old Karim lives in Ramallah with his big brother, little sisters, and parents. Like many boys, he dreams of becoming a sports star - a soccer star, to be precise. But the unpredictable curfews imposed by Israel make getting outside to play difficult. For weeks at a time his family is confined to their apartment. During a brief outing to visit family to help with the olive harvest, he is confronted with the ever encroaching jewish settlements. While walking to the outermost olive grove he and his family are shot at by settlers who perceive the land as theirs and Karim's family as terrorists.

A gritty look at the every day life of Palestinians living under occupation, Karim and his brother's arguments and lives - video games, girls, friends - show us how like any american boy they are while at the same time reveal the terror, fear, anger, and frustration of living in a war zone.

Where The Streets Had A Name

Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Hayaat is a teenaged girl living in Bethlehem with her soon to be married teenaged sister, two young brothers, her grandmother, and her parents. Her family once owned a farm but were forced off the land when the Israelis built an access road for use by settlers. Unable to find work, they live off of her parents' savings. Her grandmother tells her of her beautiful home in Jerusalem and how, during the 1948 war, jewish soldiers forced them out at gun point and later confiscated the home for jewish refugees from the holocaust. When her grandmother falls ill and appears to be dying, Hayaat decides to get her the one thing she desires - some soil from her home in Jerusalem. But travel to Jerusalem is illegal. She and her friend Sami, orphaned by his father's imprisonment and mother's death - decide to make the dangerous trip.

Told with the same humor as Does My Head Look Big in This?, Abdel-Fattah nevertheless manages to convey all of the angst, anger, and daily tribulations of living under occupation.

The Enemy Has a Face

The Enemy Has A Face by Gloria Miklowitz.

Three months after leaving Israel to live in California, Adam Hoffman disappears. The family is baffled and afraid. Assuming that Adam's disappearance has to do with the israeli palestinian conflict, they chase down clues. Dr. Hoffman is a scientist working on a satellite system that will better detect palestinian weapons caches. Adam was active in a group of students discussing the conflict, where his impassioned defense of Israel was seen as arrogant. An internet group of palestinians opines that they hope and trust that Adam is dead. His sister Netta undertakes her own investigation. She is befriended by a palestinian at school whom she assumes is complicit, but comes to realize is more like her in the experience of being new to America than other kids.

Adam's actual fate comes as a shock, and reveals the depth of prejudice involved in the conflict. A nice author's note and references throughout show that groups of teenagers are working to understand each other outside of the war zone as well as the difficulties of doing so given their personal experiences.