Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thank goodness for a power outage! Without it, this book would still be sitting on my shelf waiting to be finished (don't worry- it had many friends there). Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, is just the thing you need to get you over those Twilight cravings. It is full of star-crossed romance, mystical creatures, and a story you cannot get enough of. While it is indeed a book about a pack of werewolves, Shiver is nothing like Jacob and the Twilight pack.
The Shiver wolves do shift between man (or woman) and wolf, but they turn into actual wolves- not the creepy man/wolf combination. The wolves cannot shift at will, but are actually at the mercy of the weather. When it gets cold, they turn into wolves for the winter. In the summer they stay in their human forms. The catch is that the longer they have been werewolves, the shorter the time they will stay human until they become permanent wolves. This final change is what Grace and Sam are dreading.
Sam is a wolf nearing the end of his human years. Grace is a girl in high school who was attacked and bitten by the wolves when she was young. The only thing that saved her was Sam. He stopped the wolves, but knew she had been bitten and would turn. Even though she didn't actually turn, Sam waited for her each and every year- in the winter as a wolf outside her house and in the summer as a boy in town. When a local boy is attacked by the wolves and mysteriously disappears from the morgue, the townspeople decide to take care of the wolf pack once and for all with a hunting party. Grace is terrified for her wolf (who she doesn't know is Sam) and races into the woods to stop it. After she finally succeeds in halting the hunters, they send her back to her house where she finds Sam on her porch, naked, shot, and with the same haunting eyes of her wolf- the wolf who saved her all those years earlier.
This starts a romance that must race against time. With winter fast-approaching, Sam and Grace try everything to keep Sam human, but it can't last forever. This is Sam's last year as a person and he does not want to lose Grace now that he finally has her. With rogue wolves, erratic and angry new wolves, and her friends and family in danger, Grace fights a long autumn.
This book is a fantastic new take on the werewolf sensation. You find yourself drawn to the wolves and their "family" while still wishing Sam could just stay human for Grace. With enough action to please the masses and enough sweet, devoted romance to make the ladies swoon, this is a great book! And the best part? The sequel is coming soon (although not nearly soon enough for me)! So give Shiver a chance and don't forget to snag Linger on July 20, 2010:
Sunday, December 6, 2009
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman has a beautiful cover and a beautifully haunting story to tell you. I read this book in one sitting this summer because it was so haunting, and was reminded of it when I saw a student reading it in study hall one night. In one of those moments we teachers of dyslexic children live for, I found myself talking with her about the book with a passion and an urgency that instantly transported me to the day I couldn't put this book down.
In the first few pages, the story begins with a horrific car accident. Mia wakes up on the side of the road in the middle of the carnage. She sees the bodies of her parents and then her own. Mia is still alive after the accident, but just barely. She is transported to the hospital where her body is fighting between life and death and her mind still isn't sure.
Mia's family, friends, and boyfriend come by one by one and share their love for her, but without her parents, is there anything to return for? Mia must make the ultimate choice that none of us can imagine making- whether it is worth fighting to stay alive or easier to just relax into a peaceful end.
This book is beautiful and terribly sad right from the beginning. Hearing the words her family says to Mia's stoic face reminds me of my own family- loving and devoted beyond the average definitions of such words. You can feel how much they love her and still understand how easy it would be for her to just let go and not face the pain of what has happened to her parents. If I Stay is a relatively short read, but one that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Riot by Walter Dean Myers is a rich historical fiction screenplay. The story takes place in New York City in 1863. The Civil War is at its height and the Battle of Gettysburg recently took place. The specific event that Myers chose for the subject of the book was July 11th, 1863, the draft riots. That event would later be known as the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. During the Civil War, one of the many escalating tensions was the federally instituted draft . All male citizens between ages 20-35, as well as unmarried men ages 35-45 could be enlisted into the army by way of a lottery draw. Men who could afford to pay $300 could buy their way out of the draft. That exemption alienated and angered lower class immigrants, including Irish Americans. Black men were not required to serve in the armed services because they were not considered citizens. Vicious riots broke out in New York City after the July lottery. Frustrated by their forced participation in the Civil War, many of the rioters were Irish Americans. Stores and buildings were looted and set afire. Multiple homes were destroyed. Many black Americans, whom the Irish blamed, were attacked and in some cases murdered. The police could not hold out against the rioters, and finally, battle-hardened soldiers are ordered back from the fields of Gettysburg to put down the insurrection, which they do–brutally. Myers' story focused on Clair, a 15-year-old daughter of an Irish mother and black father. Claire is torn between the conflict because of her mix background and is forced to address race issues and her own identity.
Riot addresses race, bigotry, and social class. Myers delivers this story as a screenplay, as he did with Monster, which may appear and read oddly to the traditional book reader. I appreciated Myers’ style of writing because it is not one typically used in historical fiction. Myers style moves the story along quickly and gives the reader an idea of just how tense people were due to their frustration, exhaustion, and emotional turmoil evoked during the Civil War. Myers allows young adults to better understand the reasons that brought on the riots through his unique way of storytelling.
I recommend this book because not only because of Myers’ wonderful storytelling, but also because he covers an event that not many people know about. In addition, its central theme of identity struggle is one that most young adults can relate to.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
OK, if I didn't convince you to read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in my previous post, this second installment of the trilogy has got to persuade you. Without ruining either book for you, I have got to share a few important details. First, the Capitol is just an EVIL establishment. Second, how do these people not revolt?!
This second book picks up where Hunger Games left off- Katniss is returning home after the Games and finds herself in a predicament. The President insists she behave and act like a docile, innocent winner in order to squelch the uprisings that are taking place across the Districts. With Katniss as their symbol of hope and a life without the Games or the Capitol, the people of Panem are finally fighting back. But when her family is threatened, Katniss tries to do as she was told. Unfortunately, the new twist to the Quarter Quell- the 25th anniversary of the Games- leads to new levels of horror.
Where Hunger Games was shock and awe, Catching Fire just makes you angry. And the Quarter Quell was a new, morbid twist on things you will never see coming! When I ordered this book, I knew I had to wait to read it until I had the entire day to devote to it- it is just too addictive to put down! So if you choose to partake in the twisted magic Collins weaves, make sure you set aside enough time- otherwise you are going to find yourself calling in to work because you just can't stop reading! And beware of the ending... but at least we know there is a third one on the way!
Monday, November 30, 2009
Hate List by Jennifer Brown is a disturbing premise that is really about hope, healing, and tolerance. Valarie's boyfriend walked into school one day and opened fire on students and teachers. He killed 6, injured many, and permanently scarred the entire town. Valarie saw him aiming at the head cheerleader, a girl she personally despised who picked on her and called her "Sister Death". Despite hating the cheerleader, Valarie stepped between her and Nick, who was wielding the gun. He shot her in the leg. Nick then turned the gun on himself and ended the day none of them would forget.
Despite the fact that Valarie ended the massacre, the Hate List she and Nick created led many to think she was as guilty as he was. The book picks up in the September of the following year with Valarie returning to school. She is scared, still grieving the loss of a boyfriend she loved who is spoken of with disgust by the entire country, and not necessarily wanted back at the school by teachers and students alike. Even her parents aren't sure what to think about Valarie.
This book reaches new levels of a terrifying experience. Yet, it does so with the ability to look beyond the death and destruction and view the future beyond such an experience. While this is certainly mature material, the author delivers the story in a way for the young adult genre to be a perfect venue- children have to consider the consequences of their actions. I have read many books on this topic, but this one was the first to consider the unwilling participant- a young girl who loved her boyfriend and didn't know him as well as she thought he did. It also explores the root of the problem with bullying and tormenting that takes place in every high school in America. But if so many are bullied, what would lead someone to this extreme? As adults, why can't we stop the bullying? As humans, why do we feel the need to humiliate and dominate others? This book is a great way to question the unquestionable.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Liam Geller is on his last, last chance. He succeeds at the all the social aspects of school. He wears the right clothes, is desired by the most popular girls at school, and excels at sports. Everyone thinks he has it made; everyone, that is, except his father. Allen Geller, is a CEO, with an appreciation for rules, regulations, and societal norms. Liam's mother, Sarah, is a former fashion model who left the modeling world behind to raise her son and usually defers to Allen in matters of child rearing. When Liam is caught in his father's home office, drunk and half naked with a girl Liam doesn't even LIKE, there is no recourse but to send Liam away. It is Allen's plan to send Liam to his grandparents, but Liam manages to wrangle an exodus to his Uncle Pete instead. As he rationalizes, "Living with my cross-dressing uncle in his trailer park will be a hundred times better than living with my military grandfather and the world's strictest grandmother in Nevada."
No one is happy about the arrangement, but Liam heads off to Uncle Pete's where he is taken in not just by Pete but also by Eddie, "the most effeminate man I've ever laid eyes on", Dino "the polar opposite," and Pete's partner Orlando, who is "not so bad" but also turns out to be Liam's English teacher. Liam struggles to get used to his new environment. He decides that the only way to survive school is to be the opposite of who he was at home: he needs to study hard and be unpopular. When those goals become impossible, we see that Liam has a few more "last chances" left in him as he pushes the limits with his new caretakers, his new classmates, and his new school. He seeks to redefine himself and his family as he grapples with his inability to please his father and learns what it means to be the real Liam Geller.
I have long been a fan of K.L. Going. Her novel Fat Kid Rules the World was one of the first young adult books I read as an adult that truly captivated me. She constantly creates unique characters who somehow remain accessible, and she is the master of one of my favorite themes: how we create family among people in our world who are not our blood relations. In King of the Screwups, I love the opposing forces in Liam's character: a popular boy who doesn't want to be; a boy who wants to please his father even though his father is a jerk; a boy who can't understand how his wonderful mother can remain in a marriage with his draconian father. Adolescence is a difficult enough time without having to reconfigure your entire family to include a ragtag group of uncles and decide whether or not to keep your emotionally toxic father around. This is a must read for anyone who has screwed up. It's a must read for anyone who struggles to reconcile different aspects of him/herself. More importantly, it's a must read for anyone who spends time with an adolescent boy, a ragtag friend, or an emotionally toxic family member. Give it a read and then try Fat Kid and The Liberation of Gabriel King as well as St. Iggy so you get an idea of K.L. Going's range. Bravo, Ms. Going, whatever your K. stands for.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
by Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo's father wants him to give up his summer job caring for the ponies at Paterson School. Marcelo's father wants him to spend the summer working in his law firm, where he can get a taste of the "real world." Marcelo's father wants him to spend his senior year at Oak Ridge High, where he will be challenged. Marcelo father makes a deal with him; if Marcelo can be successful at the law firm, Marcelo can choose which school he wants to attend in the fall. Though he's reluctant to give up his summer job, Marcelo sees no other choice. His concession will allow him to remain at Paterson for his senior year, and he knows he cannot survive at Oak Ridge High.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Define “Normal” is about two girls from totally different worlds. One of them, Antonia, is a very nice girl. She gets to class on time, she gets all straight A’s, and participates in everything, including peer counseling. Antonia is assigned to help Jazz, the “punker,” as a mentor and counselor with Jazz’s problems.
Everyone in the school who just judges Jazz think she’s a drug dealing pot-smoker who wears black lipstick that you can only get off with turpentine. If they saw her hanging out with Antonia, all the kids would probably flip. A girl like Jazz, the unpopular, the loser, the freak, can’t be seen around a girl like Antonia, a somewhat popular girl who is very pretty and tries to make friends with everyone except Jazz.
Jazz, on the other hand, also has family issues. Her parents are home with her and feeding and treating her like a daughter, but Jazz has fights with her mom all the time usually about Jazz. She thinks her parents are trying to ruin her life because they don’t let her be who she really is. Jazz’s mom wishes for Jazz to be “normal” like all other kids out there. Jazz’s dad doesn't let anything past him. If he doesn't like the way Jazz dresses, then she better go change, or she gets grounded for two weeks, sometimes even a year.
But at the end, Jazz and Antonia start understanding each other. They know everything about each other and have each other’s backs. Antonia gets her life back with her mom and the rest of her family. Jazz’s parents after going to her recital, seeing how she plays and what she wears, are speechless. They learn to respect her and appreciate her for who she is and what she wears.
I think this book is very good for teens and some adults. This book reminded me a lot of myself and what I went through at a particular time in my life. I started reading the first page but didn't think I would like it at all. It didn't seem like my type of book, but it was so good I finished it. By the end tears welled in my eyes, because the way the author had written the book, it touched my heart and made me feel so happy for the two girls. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to read a thrilling book about two different girls who can relate to each other so much that a punker and a prissy girl become best friends.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
There's a lot to be said for a short novel. If you teach beginning readers or reluctant readers, it is imperative to have an arsenal of these treasures. The best part of a short novel is...well...its shortness. I hate to be obvious, but when you're 16, and you can't read, a 98 page books seems more manageable and a lot less scary than something like a 700 page Harry Potter. That students can move through them quickly helps to build confidence and a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe, just maybe, you can encourage the budding reader to pick up another. If you're lucky, you can choose one slightly longer and slightly more difficult the next time. Repeat. Length, however, is not my only motivation for seeking out the short novel. Much like short poems, short novels must convey powerful themes, with few words, in a limited space. I love that juxtaposition of the deep and powerful in the seemingly simplistic.
One of my favorite short novels is Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. It is told in a prose format; the text is large (but mysteriously not babyish) and well spaced. When students open it for the first time, there is an almost audible sense of relief. This, they may think for the first time, I can do. This deceptively simple story is told in Jack's journal as he works through his teacher's poetry unit. Though initially reluctant to read or write poetry, Jack develops a passion for the work of Walter Dean Myers. Through Jack's journal entries he explores his feelings about poetry, develops confidence in himself as a learner, explores his feelings about a personal tragedy, and, ultimately, find his voice. (Click to see inside)
128 pages of large, well spaced text. You can read it today. And you should. And if you have TWO hours, you can read the sequel, Hate That Cat!
So I was wandering about Oblong Books and Music with three gift cards and saw this book. The physical book is beautiful. The cover is an elegant green with texture and delicate ivy twining about. Then you open the book to beautiful paper, delicate green ivy on every few pages and beautiful illustrations of signs and headstones about once per chapter. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but this one was too pretty to put down.
The story itself begins with a young family with a daughter, Courtney, who move to Murmur, MA. They move into an ancient and imposing house adjacent to the cemetery and immediately notice the encroaching ivy all about the house and the cemetery. The story quickly evolves into a mildly creepy ghost story about long deceased parents trying to protect their long deceased daughter.
While this story is fairly predictable, it has the feel of a more mature book while still being innocent and readable enough for a middle school student. I think a more precocious student would be quickly bored with the book, but it would be wonderful for a high-skilled 4th grader to a relatively low-skilled, innocent 8th grader. The ghost story is not terribly scary or complicated, but it has a nice flow to it, and the characters are quite endearing. Don't be afraid to give this book to a student who needs a little mystery to keep them reading!
Monday, September 28, 2009
We have all experienced the weekend when we should be doing work, but instead we get sucked into a book that we simply can't put down... meet my weekend with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. So much work, yet I couldn't put it down! So I should premise this review with the fact that I am terrified of zombies- to the point that two students once had to stand outside with me armed with a cleaver and an ax in order for me to walk my dogs after they had forced me to watch I am Legend. And those were wimpy zombies! Yet, despite my fear, I am inextricably drawn to books about zombies and must then put furniture against the door and sleep with the lights on for weeks.
So my summer's obsession with post-apocalyptic books has spilled into the school year and I subsequently stumbled upon The Forest. It is a mixture of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village and the new Dawn of the Dead (talk about nightmares!). This story begins generations after a zombie plague has ravaged the earth and one small civilization exists surrounded by fences. A highly religious group run by The Sisterhood, they have guardians who patrol the fences and protect against "The Unconsecrated" (zombies) as well as a loyal town of several hundred who don't ask many questions and whose sole purpose is to marry and reproduce to continue the living human race.
Mary, the main character, cannot accept that this is it for humanity. Her mom has told her of oceans and wonders she couldn't possibly imagine in this race for survival. Mary is torn between wanted to be dutiful to her civilization and wanting to know what exists beyond the fence. When the fence is breached and a few are forced to flee down "the forbidden path of fences," Mary gets her chance to see what is really out there. But is it what she hoped for?
This is a wonderfully written book and though the zombies are an ever-present threat, it is more about hope in a time of pure desperation and survival. It is well-written and uses the zombies more as a back-drop than the focus. It isn't for the blood and gore folks who want brains and body parts to be chomped on, but rather for those who like a great story with a hint of danger in the background (ok, so the undead aren't exactly a "hint of danger"). It is mild with the violence but high on desperation and survival. Great read! Just make sure you leave the lights on and stock up on canned goods!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn, Paul Buhle, and Mike Konopacki is a fresh perspective on United States history. With its graphic novel format, it unveils fresh complexities about “traditional” historical narratives. Too often history is taught and presented from the dominant and hegemonic perspective.
A People’s History of American Empire is a very different comic book history. Based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (as well as Zinn’s own life ) this is a graphic depiction of the times in American history where the nation failed to live up to the standards of liberty and equality for all. Mainly this concept involves the quashing of people within the United States (Indians, African Americans, immigrants, and laborers), wars in foreign lands (Phillipines, Vietnam, and Iraq) and intervention into the self-determination of other nations (Iran, El Salvador, and many more) for the benefit of powerful and wealth American elite. A comic version of Zinn narrates the book frequently turning over the story to characters contemporary to the events described. Scattered in this narrative are stories of the social movements in America such as Civil Rights, labor, and anti-war.
I tutor a senior who is interested in politics and history and will have him read this book (This could be an appropriate book for the right 10-12th grader). This book causes the reader to question the history they have learned from most textbooks. While I did not agree with all of Zinn's perspectives, I felt challenged about the ways that I think about U.S. history and teach history. This book could also be the source of many essay topics and future research papers for tutoring. I found myself wanting to do research about some of the new events that I knew nothing about (talk about cultural memory erasure).
While I enjoy reading young adult fiction very much, I discovered while reading this book that I do not read enough non-fiction books that are suitable for middle or high school students. Hmmm. Look for more LmC blog posts on non-fiction materials. Got any suggestions for me?
I'm not a football fan; I picked up this book because of its cover and because Gordon Korman has a reputation for writing books that can engage adolescent boys. I'm so easily drawn in by the world of girl books and their drama, relationships, and dysfunction that I often have to force myself to delve into something that will appeal to young men. Pop is captivating in a "boy meets old guy who teaches him how to mow down boys in pads in pursuit of a pigskin leather, ovoid shaped ball" sort of way.
When Marcus Jordan and his mother move to New Paltz, New York, to pursue her photography career, he is excited to try out for the football team. He spends the summer practicing by himself, until he meets an older, charismatic man who teaches him how to tackle and how to vandalize the local stores. Marcus eventually discovers that his new friend is Charlie Popovich, "the King of Pop," who is enjoying retirement from his career as an NFL linebacker. Marcus is curious about Charlie's attention to him but dedicated to making the football team so he keeps quiet about his questions.
When Marcus starts school, he discovers that the football team, undefeated in its last season, is reluctant to make any changes that might affect their magic. He meets a lot of resistance, particularly from Troy, the starting quarterback. We soon discover that the former NFL star who had devoted so much time and attention to Marcus is none other than Troy's father, and conflicts ensue as Marcus and Troy disagree about football, about Troy's ex-girlfriend Alyssa, and about what is best for Charlie. As Marcus uncovers the Popovich family secret, he is forced into a confrontation with Troy that challenges our ideas of family and friendship.
Pop was well worth a read. To be honest, the football didn't thrill me, but I know it would to appeal to many young men who are interested in sports. The relationship between Marcus and Charlie was far more engaging to me as I'm interested in out of the ordinary family relationships that often develop between people who are not blood relatives. There is a bit of a love story as Alyssa decides whether Marcus or Charlie is her true love; it's not enough of a love story to turn off the boys and maybe just enough to interest the girls. It's a fairly fast-paced book with a lot of tackling, some vandalism, a motorized scooter, a little kissing, some kidnaping, and family drama; there's a little of something for everyone.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
It starts out describing the post-apocalyptic world Katniss Everdeen lives in, complete with starving people and a controlling, malicious government. She is then swept into the Hunger Games in an effort to save her sister. The Hunger Games are a yearly event where each of the 12 districts that make up Panem must sacrifice one boy and one girl to a deadly battle that only ends when there is one child left alive. This grisly battle takes place in arena controlled by the Capitol, who can manipulate the playing field anytime the action slows.
Many criticize Hunger Games for being gratuitously violent (which it is), and a rip-off of Battle Royale (which it kind of is). However, the violence is steeped in true post-apocalyptic themes that can be a spring board for students who might enjoy such a genre but read at a lower level than most post-apocalyptic are written at. Let's face it- there aren't many willing to take on such a genre in YA lit, but this book is written carefully while still holding true to such a terrifying situation.
While the story is similar to Battle Royale (junior high kids forced to battle to the death), it is much more reader friendly for teen readers and it is less daunting in size (Battle Royale is over 600 pages!). That does not mean BR isn't an amazing book, but Hunger Games might be just the book to get your toughest students reading. And don't discount its appeal to adults either! It is creative, captivating, and a new spin on a terrifying story. Give Hunger Games a try. I promise you won't be sorry! (Plus the second book, Catching Fire, just came out too!)
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Many of the books I was assigned to read in school were selections from the Newbery award winners. (The Newbery is awarded by the ALA to an author who has made a significant contribution to children’s literature. ) Each year I still continue to read the newest Newbery selections. Last spring, I read the Graveyard Book and found the prose simply delicious. Neil Gaiman’s style of writing each chapter as a short story is quite clever. The twists of murder and mayhem over boil throughout the text. I desired to have some of Bod’s abilities to dream walk or fade from mortal sight and float through his adventures with him. In terms of the ghost genre, I think the Graveyard Book might be one of my favorite reads since Harry Potter. Have you read any ghost-genre/fantasy books that compare to Harry Potter? Please post and share.
Monday, September 14, 2009
As summer makes the slow descent to fall, my thoughts turn to new students and new teachers. During the early weeks of the school year, much of my time is devoted to helping my new students find books to read and helping new teachers find books for their students. I also spend a lot of time policing the summer reading program, divining which students completed their reading requirements and who did not. Although it can be tedious to contact non-compliant parents to track down their children's summer reads, it is also exciting to see just what our students DID read last summer. I'm always excited to see that teachers and students have taken my recommendations and more excited when they have enjoyed them. If you're looking for a good read, here is the list I offered to the Kildonan tutors last spring as they prepared summer reading lists for their students. I hope we'll be up and running with some book reviews soon.