Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harmony in a Harsh New World

Restoring Harmony
When the world changes drastically, one expects hardship and struggle. While this book is certainly not without hardship and struggle, its focus is on family and making do in hard times. Not to mention the main character plays a fiddle! I love fiddles! If I had even a smidge of musical talent, I might even want to learn to play a fiddle!

Molly McClure is only 16, but she is the only logical choice to pilgrimage from Canada to California in order to find her grandparents. Molly's parents received word that her grandmother was in the hospital after a stroke, but the communications systems are so bad, they were never able to find out if she survived. Molly's mother is also pregnant, but when the only doctor in many miles is killed, her complicated pregnancy desperately needs a doctor, and Molly's grandfather is a doctor. So Molly must make the difficult, illegal journey across the border to find her grandfather, in whatever state he may be in.

After the long trip, Molly finds her grandparent's house and learns her grandmother indeed survived the stroke, but is not in the best of health. Her grandfather reluctantly lets her in the house, but his long-standing feud with Molly's mother keeps him from opening up to Molly too quickly. Molly expects to see her grandfather doing well, but quickly realizes any money he had before the Collapse is gone and he is barely scraping by. When she sees his neighbor's garden, strangled and full of weeds, she can't resist getting into it and taking care of the vegetables. Although the neighbor doesn't trust Molly at first, he quickly realizes she is just trying to help. Together with his niece and nephew who he reluctantly takes care of, they help the garden get back on its feet enough to keep them all from starving.

When Molly made the trek to her grandparent's house, she met a young man who seemed to know the lay of the land well. Now that she is desperately trying to find a way to get her grandparents home, she must take advantage of Spill's knowledge, even when she realizes he is dangerously connected to The Boss and the organized crime family that controls the area. Can Spill help them get away when The Boss wants Molly to stay put? Can they get back to Canafa before Molly's mom has the baby?

Among some serious doom and gloom in the post-apocalyptic genre, this is the nicest, most beautiful story. The backdrop of the Collapse is not overwhelming. the story focuses on a family, whether by blood or circumstance, that come together to survive against all odds. Molly, the main character, is so nice and caring. When she plays her fiddles, Jewels, she not only makes herself forget all the hardship around her, she makes others forget as well. She is also the type of person who refuses to accept the "Every man for himself" notion. Molly is the type of person who will always do the right thing, even if it involves hard work and tough decisions. When it becomes clear her neighbor Doug is not fit to take care of his niece and nephew, she doesn't hesitate to take them in and be sure they are fed and housed. Molly is the type of person we all hope we could be!

The reading level is moderate without any adult or mature language. The situations aren't overly mature, and would be well-suited to a middle school or junior high student. There is enough action to keep a student's attention, but the real story is the characters and their lives. They are good people who are just trying to live in a hard world, and you find yourself hoping for the best for all of them. You won't be disappointed with this story!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Looking for a Good Read? Look No Further!

By Guest Author, Taylor

Looking for Alaska, by John Green, is about a boy named Pudge. Pudge goes to boarding school where he meets The Colonel, Alaska, Takumi and Lara. Pudge picks up numerous bad habits, such as drinking and smoking, which are all social behaviors. The Colonel is a short built boy who doesn’t associate with many people except his close knit group of friends. Takumi is from Taiwan and is a friend of The Colonel. He often feels left out of plans that Pudge, The Colonel, and Alaska organize. Alaska is a bundle of cute, and Pudge sees her as a goddess. Alaska reads books and spends quality time with Pudge. Just as Pudge is getting used to life on campus something terrible happens. Alaska dies in a car crash. So The Colonel and Pudge try to look for clues about Alaska’s death. They try to figure out what was going through her mind and whether her death was a suicide or fate?
In this story, I fell in love with the characters. They felt real to me, and I truly think that they could be real people. In this book there is always a new twist or turn that will keep you engaged throughout the entire book.  It’s almost as if you can put it down. One thing that stood out to me was how they referred to their room as room 43, but they never said what any other person’s door number was. This book was so graphic it was almost like a picture that plays in your head while you’re reading it.  It could have been a movie. In this book John Green describes boarding school in a very false light. He describes it as if it is almost the promised land for drugs, sex, and alcohol. I would recommend this book to any teenager or young adult who needs to get out of their head. Also I would not suggest this book to any first-time high school boarding students. They will get their hopes up and be sadly disappointed.  Also, I thought this was going to be an underdog story, but it wasn’t.  Even in John Greene’s world, Alaska would never go out with Pudge.  Overall, however, I thought the book was really good.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  
If you want to feel anything at all, any human emotion, this book will bring you on the verge of tears.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

When Life becomes a Big, Hot Mess.

Hothouse: A Novel
Sometimes there are books that deceptively seem like they are for younger readers, but in reality they are much deeper than they appear (kind of like the puddle you thought was shallow until you got wet up to your knees). Hothouse by Chris Lynch is much like that puddle. You know it is going to be wet and messy, but you had no idea just what you were getting yourself into.

Russell's dad is a firefighter. A hero. DJ's dad is a firefighter in the same house- The Hothouse. Growing up, DJ and Russell's families were so close, DJ was named after Russell's dad and Russell was named after DJ's dad. Since childhood, DJ and Russell have grown apart, but their father's chosen profession has always left them connected in a way no one can understand unless they lived in a firefighter's household.

The story begins with the funerals of DJ and Russell's fathers. They were killed in a horrible fire while saving an elderly woman. The town is anxious to memorialize both men. DJ and Russell find themselves local heroes by association: no one takes their money for anything, everyone wants to be near them, and people can't stop telling them how wonderful their fathers were. While Russell seems to revel in this attention and feels special for having the father he did, DJ seems to shun the attention. He wants to move on and desperately wants the town to stop glorifying everything his father ever did.

When an investigation begins over the deaths of their fathers, both boys are confused, but they are assured it is all routine to investigate any death in the line of duty. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that their fathers weren't as saintly as the town wanted them to be. Haunted by their lives and what they had seen, both men may have entered that fire intoxicated and with drugs in their system. Russell doesn't know how to deal with this information. He still loves and respects his father, but the news and the harassing phone calls make him doubt his father and his love for his father. DJ isn't quite as surprised, though.

This book is not only difficult, it's heartbreaking. You really want to just let both men be heroes without the investigation, especially after they lost their lives, but the fallen hero is a compelling story. The story shows that even the heroes can have flaws and even the flawed can be heroes. This is a great story to elicit some thought-provoking opinions, assignments, and discussions.

The writing is fairly low-leveled, but their are some adult situations and adult language throughout the story. I would think this story would be good for an older student who has low skills, but needs a more mature story. Since it is primary character driven, it isn't the best story for a kid who needs a lot of action. It is also a more abstract story, so the concrete thinkers might not appreciate it as much as others. In all, this is a great story for a specific niche within your student population. It is very hard to find mature books with lower reading levels, so this book is certainly a gem. Beware, however, that there are no easy answers from this book- it is a hard one to digest, but worth the necessary Tums to get it down!

Crescendo or Flat Tone?

Crescendo (Hush, Hush)
I really liked Becca Fitzpatrick's first novel, Hush, Hush. I read it cover to cover during my Christmas break last year, and was looking forward to the sequel, Crescendo. Sequels have a funny lot in life though. They are plagued by the opinions on the original book, are derivative by pure nature, and expected still to take a stand of its own and wow the reader into continuing the series. The sad sequel is just like the middle child- never first and never final. It is just a bridge between the two most important parts of a trilogy. So did Crescendo elevate Hush, Hush or disgrace the series?

We last left Nora Grey and Patch in a strange and forbidden relationship. Nora is the descendant of Patch's Nephilim- the child of a fallen angel- and as a fallen angel himself, Patch must kill the vassal or child of Nephilim in order to gain a human body. Instead he fell in love with Norah and not only didn't kill Nora himself, but protected her from another who was trying to do her in- Chauncey. Now Patch has been elevated to a guardian angels for his selfless act and is forbidden to love Nora, something he and Nora can't bear to admit.

The Nephilim are back and in rare form. They are creating a Blood society whose sole purpose is to keep the fallen angels from taking over their bodies during Cheshvan. Cheshvan is the only time fallen angels are allowed to feel and experience human thoughts and emotions, but it requires them to possess the body of their Nephilim for two weeks. Obviously, this doesn't make the Nephilim- a mean, super strong, immortal group of thugs- very happy. Now Nora is in their cross-hairs as Chauncey was once the leader of the Blood society and they are eager to exact their revenge.

As her guardian angel, Patch should be able to protect her, but when Nora sees him spending time with Marcie, her sworn childhood enemy, she breaks up with him and fires him as her guardian angel. When a guy she knew as a child returns to town (who is also Nephilim) she is oddly drawn to him despite her instinct that something is up with him. Can Nora survive the strange visions, the crazy Nephilim, the sneaky fallen angels, and the elementary school bullies?

As a sequel, this book doesn't surprise me. It's good, but not great. It's interesting but not thrilling. It is the perfect middle child in an eventual trilogy. If a student liked the first book, they might like this second one, but my guess is it might be a bit too stretched out with the meat of the story unceremoniously stuffed into the final 50 pages. I know the first bookw as written similarly, but you would think that by the second book with the characters finally having almost all the information about Angels and Nephilim that the story would be more involved than the first story. Unfortunately, it isn't. I liked the story fine enough, but I have to say I wasn't wowed. I probably wouldn't suggest it for a struggling student unless they had been flattened by the first book and needed more. If they felt lukewarm towards the first book, I certainly wouldn't encourage them to read the second installment. I am interested to see where the third book will go, but I hope Fitzpatrick ups the ante!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Zombie Dystopia meets Catcher in the Rye

Rot & Ruin
OK, "Zombie Apocalypse meets Catcher in the Rye" may seem like a ridiculous pairing, but in Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin, it just works. This zombie Sci-Fi thriller meets coming-of-age tale is quite simply the best YA zombie story I have ever read! In fact, it might just be one of the best zombie stories, YA or adult fiction, I have ever read!

Benny Imura was just a toddler when his brother, Tom, took him and ran away from their home on the First Night. Benny has never forgiven his brother for running away and not saving his mother from their father who had already become one of the monsters. Even though Tom has since become a bounty hunter who ventures into the Rot and Ruin to kill zombies for money, Benny still thinks Tom is a coward.

Together they live in Mountainside, a small fenced town that works together to survive the zombie apocalypse that started 14 years ago. Benny has just turned 15 and all 15 year olds must find a job or their food rations will be cut in half. Benny and his friend Chong start looking for jobs, but can't find anything that isn't disgusting, terrifying, or simply too much effort than they are willing to give. Chong gets a job as a lookout on the fence tower, but Benny's imperfect eyesight keeps him looking. Finally, without any other options, he must resign himself to apprentice with his brother, and nothing could annoy him more.

When Tom agrees to take Benny into the Ruin and show him what he does, Benny has no idea what he is in for. Benny hates the zoms and has long since idolized the ruthless bounty hunters like Charlie Pink-Eye and Motorcity Hammer. Once in the Ruin, however, he sees Tom's side of the world. While the zoms are certainly to be feared, they aren't to be disrespected. Tom teaches Benny that the zoms were once people, and his job is very different than the other bounty hunters. Instead of bringing back limbless torsos for money like the other hunters, Tom goes on specific missions for family members to give them closure and "quiet" their loved ones. When Benny accompanies him on a quieting, it becomes clear Tom is anything but a coward. When they come upon a group of bounty hunters "having fun" with a bunch of zoms, Benny truly understands Tom's job finally- it isn't about killing monsters, it is about ending someone's suffering.

Things begin to go awry in the superstitious town of Mountainside when the newest Zombie Trading Cards are released. In addition to Benny getting the new hunter card- Tom- he also gets the Lost Girl card. The Lost Girl is a myth of a feral girl who survives in the ruin. She is stunning and Benny instantly feels protective of her. When he begins to investigate the card, however, he finds his brother may be the best source of information about the Lost Girl. Unfortunately, Charlie Pinkeye is also interested, and not for humanitarian reasons. He has much more disturbing reasons for wanting to find the Lost Girl, and when he attacks Benny's friend Nix and her mother, Benny and Tom must go into the Ruin to save Nix before Charlie can put her into the Zombie Games- a twisted gladiator-esque challenge where the hunters pit children against zombies.

This book was simply fantastic. It really showed the superstitious nature of the survivors in the small town. Once they had shielded themselves from the zombies, they weren't willing to even consider what happened outside the fences. Like the other townsfolk, Benny only sees the zombies for what they currently are- flesh munching, mindless monsters. Tom sees what they were- people like you and me. It shows the humanity within a pretty scary genre.

The writing is not too mature or too immature. It would be appropriate for stronger junior high readers all the way through high school readers. There isn't an abundance of violence, even though the story centers around zombies and bounty hunters. This book is a great story for the students who are interested in some action but really like a character driven story, as Benny and Tom are the true focus of this incredible book. All I can say is even if you are not a zombie enthusiast, you should give this book a chance- it will really blow your preconceived notions out of the water!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Boys, Girls, and not Much More...

Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials
I must admit the cover and the title of this book would have immediately turned me off if not for the author. Rosalind Wiseman is the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, a book that followed in the groundbreaking footsteps of Reviving Ophelia and continued the examination of adolescent girl behavior. We adult women have all known about this elusive behavior since we were young girls ourselves, but Mary Pipher started putting it on paper. Wiseman took the idea and put it in more direct terms so every teacher and parent could use this information to help their daughters through the grueling years of adolescence. So when I saw the author of this book was Wiseman, I thought, "Silly stereotypical, unimaginative cover be darned! This one is going to rock the stereotypes and bring the real life of young women to the table!" Sadly... I wasn't entirely correct...

Charlie has just started ninth grade and chose to go to Harmony Falls high school instead of her neighborhood high school after her horrible experiences with the mean girls as their used and abused sidekick. New school, clean slate. Unfortunately, as soon as she arrives and joins the school newspaper, she see Nadhi, the very girl whose reputation she sat by and watched her "frenemies" destroy. Lucky for Charlie, Nidhi is willing to forgive Charlie for not stepping in to stop the girls and they strike up a great friendship and partnership for the newspaper. Charlie also lucks out by meeting another girl who is just looking to survive high school, Sydney.

Together, the three make a fairly functional group of young women. They crush on boys, then realize their crushes are actually jerks. They deal with girl drama like the frenemies from Charlie's middle school coming to the homecoming dance and making her feel about an inch tall. They deal with jocks and hazing. There are old friends who return as possible love interests, and there are serious questions about how much the "golden few" in high school (lacrosse team) can really get away with. In all, this is a very realistic portrayal of a girl surviving 9th grade.

The problem was there wasn't much other than daily goings on and the occasional mini-crisis involving a boy disrupting Sydney's power point presentation because she rejected him or Sydney storming into the locker room to humiliate the boy in front of the entire varsity lacrosse team (which then leads to Sydney mocking him constantly, Charlie telling her it was getting to be too much, Sydney getting mad at Charlie, and them having a touching heart to heart where they get their frustrations off their chest). Honestly, I felt like I had spent a week in the girls dorm after finishing this book. And while that isn't a problem, of course, and I appreciate the realistic nature of the story, I was kind of waiting for the real story to emerge. If I wanted simple everyday girl world, I could easily spend a day or so in the girls dorm and get a full dose. When I read a book, I want a real conflict and resolution. This book had the hazing prank gone awry when an innocent man is hurt and the lacrosse players might get away with it, but the conflict wasn't really built up to or developed enough to stand out in the middle of all the other girl drama.

In all, this is a fairly immature book with some interesting characters and not much by way of substance. I think it would be too immature for most high school students, but might be good for the odd mature elementary to middle school student who thinks they are more mature than they really are or has become immersed in social politics. It has enough realistic situations with good, moralistic endings to be both entertaining and educational. The subtle lack of a fully developed plot might also not bother this type of student, as it is the type of book you can pick up and put down without any damage to a running plot. There is some mention of parties and alcohol, but the main characters are never involved directly and are more disdainful than interested in joining. In all, this book was just OK, and I wanted so much more from Ms. Wiseman... Maybe next time?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Light My Fire!

Who needs vampires, werewolves, zombies, and pixies?! We have Draki! Draki are descendants of dragons who have evolved to shift between their dragon form and their human form. This is how they live amongst the rest of the population, by shifting between forms. Unfortunately, there are enough hunters out there who now about dragons. The only thing that keeps the dragons safe is that the hunters don't know they can take human form.

Jacinda is rare even for a dragon. One of the first fire-breathers in generations, Jacinda is the prized possession of the dragon pride. In fact, the alpha has ideas of mating her with his son in order to produce more fire-breathing draki. While Jacinda isn't completely sold on this idea, she isn't completely against it either. She actually loves being a draki, and loves being a dragon even more. When she and a friend tempt fate by sneaking away from the safety of the pride's village to fly, she finds herself surrounded by hunters. She hides behind a waterfall, but a young hunter with soulful eyes finds her. Thankfully, he doesn't tell the other hunters she is there and lets her go free.

When the pride finds out what Jacinda did, endangering herself and the entire pride, they begin scheming. They want to make sure their prized draki doesn't leave the pride. But Jacinda's mother, a former draki who let her dragon die when Jacinda's twin sister, Tamra, didn't present as a draki, has other plans for the girls. Together, Jacinda, her mother and her sister flee the fertile lands of the mountains and the protective mist and head for the desert- a place where the inner dragon is literally dehydrated from the draki's body.

Although Tamra is thrilled for the move and a chance to live a normal life away from being the pride's outcast, Jacinda is horrified- until she sees Will, the hunter who let her go, at school on her first day. Will seems to bring the dragon out of her even in such an arid climate. Unfortunately, he brings out the dragon so much she almost manifests into her dragon just by being near him. As she gets to know more about Will, she realizes he isn't like the rest of his family. Will isn't a ruthless hunter. She also knows she can't reveal her secret to him, though, for fear of endangering her family and the rest of the pride. Although Jacinda knows she should stay away from Will, she can't keep herself away from him. Will she be able to keep her secret from him and his family, or will this be the end of the draki?

This is a fun supernatural story with loads of fun mythology and lore. Everyone loves dragons, right?! Well now you get dragons rolled into romance and death-defying stories! I love the stories about the actual draki, all of which have different abilities. Some can produce the shielding mist, some understand plants and herbs and are therefore amazing cooks. Some are water dragons, while others are made to fly. They dragon personalities and talents seem to manifest in their person as well. For instance, Jacinda's fire breathing seems to come out in the hot-tempered, impulsive person she is when she demanifests into a human. So interesting!

The story is at a moderate reading level, perfect for middle school through high school. It is probably a book more aptly suited for girls, although the dragons might intrigue some boys. It is also the start of a continuing trilogy, so we can expect to see more from Jacinda and the other draki in the future! The only question to answer now is, what kind of dragon would you be?

The Giver of a Story You Can't Forget

The Giver
There aren't many people out there who haven't read Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver, but I happened to be one of them. Then I talked to my longtime friend (since 2nd grade!) who I often share great YA titles with (and a love for cheesy RomComs) and she told me The Giver was a book that she read in middle school that stayed with her. She still thought about the book 20 years later (god we are getting old). So, I decided I had to quit being a turd and do my YA collection justice with this 1994 Newberry winner. After finishing it in one voracious sitting, I had to ask myself if I would ever learn. I avoided Percy Jackson for years- did I learn? I refused to read Harry Potter, Twilight, and so many more for no other reason than they were popular. Now The Giver. Will I ever learn?! Why do I deprive myself of great stories?

The story begins in a utopia. No one feels pain, no one is unhappy. Any feelings of anger, jealousy or concern are to be voiced in family units every morning in order to address and release them. Children are not born and raised with their parents. Instead, a sensible couple the community puts together is allowed to ask for children and they can receive up to one boy and one girl. Only Birth Mothers are allowed to have children, but since all the community members take drugs to inhibit sexual impulses from the time they reach puberty, no one seems to object. When people get too old, they are "Released" into a better state. If twins are born, the smaller of the two will be released. Even careers are not chosen, but rather given to the people of the community by the Elders after careful consideration. When children reach their twelfth year, they are assigned a career to focus on. Although they can request a career change, it doesn't happen. Instead, people are content in the community. They contribute, they live, and they are content. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When Jonas reaches his twelfth year and is assigned, however, it changes everything. Jonas is assigned as the new Receiver of Memory. He is to report to the Giver of Memory, an old man who was chosen as Jonas was chosen, to be given the memories of times forgotten. This includes happy memories, like snow, sledding, warm sun, and fun. It also includes bad memories like pain, breaking an arm, war, and anger. These memories begin to change Jonas, but he is forbidden to share them with others. All he wants to do is show his sister and his friends the colors of the world, the sunshine.

When his father, a Nurturer in the nursery, brings home a baby who isn't sleeping well, Jonas takes him into his bedroom at night and shares the happy memories with him. This soothes the baby, but is strictly forbidden, of course. Jonas and the Giver begin talking about leaving the community in order to give the people back the memories of past times, good and bad. It will be traumatic for them, but The Giver will be there to guide them. When Jonas's father announces the baby is going to be "released", Jonas, who has seen what "releasing" really is, refuses to leave the baby to that fate.

This story is one that will truly rock your world. With so many dystopias swirling around out there, it is hard to imagine one that could sweep you off your feet as easily as this one. Nevertheless, this classic bested me. It makes the reader question their wants, their desires, their hopes. It keeps the reader on their toes and examines what is really important in life. Do we need a life free of pain and suffering? Or will that lead to the loss of all this beautiful, wonderful, and sublime as well. Do we need to experience pain in order to truly know love and happiness when we have it?

This book is a must read for anyone who hasn't read it already. Recently a coworker said she was using it in her middle school Lit class, and I was thrilled! (eerily she told me about using it in her classroom the very same day I finished reading it!) To hand this story over to students, especially in a student-driven setting, means opening the door to struggling readers who can't get enough of a story. This will be that story- it will have them questioning everything they have ever known, and then some. And isn't that why we read anyway? To question ourselves, our worlds, what we know, what we think we want to know, and so much more? Don't be afraid to give this story to your children or students- like my grade school friend, they will never forget it!

An Egyptian High Adventure

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)
It wasn't enough, Rick Riordan, to tackle the Greek and Roman Myths with such skill? You still had to go Egyptian, too? Well, at least we know the myths are in good hands with you. In all their glory, crankiness, megalomania, and super-holy lunacy, the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt are here and ready to battle... the Kane kids? The Kane Chronicles, Book One: Red Pyramid takes the unlikely heroes of Sadie and Carter Kane and makes them save the world!

Since their mother died, Carter Kane has been on the road with his Egyptologist/archaeologist father, Julius Kane, while Sadie Kane has been in London living with her grandparents and enduring a rather normal life. Both kids see each other only twice a year, but both resent the other. Carter wants Sadie's stable life, and Sadie wants Carter's life with their dad. When the two kids go to The British Museum with Julius, they expect another day of work disguised as a family visit. What they get is nothing they could have expected.

Instead of normal exhibit viewing, Julius tells his kids to chain the curator in his office and stay out of the room, which they don't do, of course. When they come in the room, they witness their father summoning someone or something and releasing a scary fire man from the Rosetta Stone. Their father is thrown into a giant sarcophagus and sucked into the floor. Once the police take them back to their grandparents house, Sadie and Carter find out they are being deported and have to leave with their Uncle Amos immediately- a man neither of them know anything about.

They are whisked away to NYC and taken to their uncle's magical mansion (atop an abandoned warehouse and magically cloaked). Here they begin to learn their true lineage- that they are the descendants of two lines of magical lines from the Gods- one on their mother's side and one from their father's family. This makes them the perfect vessels for Gods, one where they could hold the Gods without losing themselves like so many have throughout history (Cleopatra). The problem? Sadie and Carter aren't too keen on sharing their bodies with Isis and Horus. Unfortunately, with Osiris stuck in their father's body and evil Set out to destroy the world, they have no choice but to work together with their Gods to save the world, and their dad. Now they must do so with an uncle they don't quite trust, Set creating a Red Pyramid that will make him all powerful, a group of murderous cranky Egyptian legends on their trail, and not much by way of friends except Bast, the cat Goddess, and a crazy baboon who likes to each things that end in "o" (Dorito, Cheeto, flamingo...).

After reading The Lost Hero, I was worried I might have a hard time breaking away from my favorite Greek Gods for this new series, especially since I don't know as much about Egyptian Gods as I do Greek Gods. Boy, was I wrong! This is a great story told from both Sadie's and Carter's perspectives. All the characters, from the two main characters down to the ridiculous baboon who is always getting into trouble, are hilarious, flawed, and endearing. The story is exciting and enthralling, one that will certainly keep any child or adult addicted. If you have a kid who loved Percy Jackson but needs something different, this is what will keep them reading.

The reading level is relatively simple, and luckily the Egyptian Gods names are not as tongue-twisty as the Greek Gods (Dionysus vs. Set). The book is rather long, though, and might be daunting to unsure readers. This book would be a great companion for any class learning about Egypt. It shows the Gods and myths in whole new lights that let you really know the stories while still feeling connected to the people and creatures in them. Riordan is amazing, and I hope he eventually decides to tap into the Norse Gods too- I need to buff up on my Norse Mythology now that Greek, Roman, and Egyptian are covered!

Unwound to a Better Place?

Ever wonder what will happen if two groups fighting over an unanswerable problem finally went too far? What about the pro-life/pro-choice debate? If both sides finally realize their futility and reach a point of no return, where would we be? In Unwind, Neal Shusterman has taken the abortion issue so far, you will be terrified to imagine such a world.

When the second civil war is fought over abortion, both sides agree to end the war if one rule is implemented: unwinding. A parent can choose to "unwind" a child only between the ages of 13 and 18. They must keep the child until they are 13 before unwinding. When a child is unwound, they are taken to a Harvest Camp and their parts are dismantled and used for other people awaiting the organs and limbs. The theory behind unwinding is that although a child is never alive "whole" again, they will always be alive in pieces, and therefore not be "aborted".

Connor, Risa and Lev are three unwinds who are all being sent to Harvest Camp for different reasons. Connor is a moderately bad kid whose parents are tired of dealing with detentions. Risa is a ward of the state and due to cutbacks, they are unwinding a bunch of kids to make room for more. Lev belongs to a religion where they believe 10% of their worth should go back to the community. As the tenth child, Lev becomes the "tithe" or donation to the community in the form of unwinding. While all came form different backgrounds, all three will end up the same way- as spare parts for the operating rooms.

During a freak accident, Connor runs away and causes an accident on Risa's bus to camp so she is able to escape. Then Connor rescues a reluctant Lev who just wants to fulfill his duty as a tithe. The three find themselves bumbling through town trying to find a way to escape the Harvest Camp. They find adults who are willing to sneak them and other runaway unwinds to a plane graveyard that doubles as hideaway for unwinds until they are 18 and free of the Harvest Camps. Unfortunately, for Connor, Risa, and Lev, it isn't as simple as just waiting, especially when someone is trying to take down the hideaway from the inside. Can they escape the camps? Or will they end up like every other unwind... pieced up like a junked car.

This story is so horrifying it would catch anyone's attention. And the creepiest part? It's delivery is almost casual, making it even more terrifying. Shusterman keeps you engaged from the first page and leaves you gaping at the ending. I think this is a great book for either a male or female student, as the main characters present both sides. Each chapter is told in the perspective of one of the three main characters, giving the story an amazing twist.

The most important part of this story is the discussions it will lead you into with your student or child. How far will people go to settle a long-standing argument? Can a compromise give up more than you imagined? What is death really? If your parts are still alive, are you? The discussion possibilities are endless. This is a book that will open up more than just your students reading fluency. It will create an opportunity to really talk a child about important topics. Shusterman hit a home run with this one- more than you can imagine!

Girl with Guts

Girl in the Arena
What if history took a strong turn away from its current path? What if that turn in history slowly led to the legitimization of modern day gladiators. Not the gladiators with foam swords and colorful arenas, of course, but instead the same gladiators who fought to the death with ferocious animals and other gladiators. The same gladiators who were bound by their servitude, either as slaves or through contracts. These gladiators are one and the same. The only difference? The gladiators from Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines are present day fighters- complete with technology and all the other trappings we have these days. They are "neo-gladiators".

Lyn grew up in the glad culture. Her father started fighting on the streets in underground glad events and was eventually one of the first legitimate glads... until he was killed. Then Lyn's mother remarried- another glad. In glad culture, glads, their widows, and their children stick together. Glad widows often remarry other glads, but seven is the limit. When Lyn's 7th glad father is killed in the ring by an up-and-comer, Uber, something goes horribly wrong. Lyn gave her stepfather, Tommy, her dowry bracelet to wear for luck in the arena. When he is killed, Uber picks up the bracelet and puts it on, and glad laws clearly state a man who puts on a woman's dowry bracelet is then betrothed to her. Now Lyn is expected to marry her father's killer.

Lyn refuses to follow glad bylaws just to appease Caesars, the company that owns and runs the gladiators and their events. She intends to fight Uber to the death to protect her mother and brother (who is described as being autistic but never labeled as such) as well as regain her freedom. Family glad friends help her train secretly, and she remembers a lot from her stepfathers who taught her fighting techniques over the years. There is only one problem, though. Uber isn't a bad guy. In fact, he adored her stepfather he was supposed to kill. He also hates Caesar's as much as Lyn does. And he wants to marry Lyn... for real, not just for the bylaws. Now Lyn must find a way to win in the arena without killing a man who doesn't deserve to die.

This is a very interesting book with an amazing premise, but at times it falls a little flat. I loved the characters, especially Lyn and Uber. The supporting characters like Lyn's mother and brother are also fascinating. Her mother is a tragic character who can barely keep herself together, and her brother is perpetually teetering on the edge. The plot is thoughtful and novel, but it stretches out a bit in certain places. My biggest complaint was the ending. While the book ended the way I wanted it to, it was rushed through in a brief few pages- I wanted more! We spent a couple hundred pages learning about Lyn's training and the most exciting part- the last battle with Lyn and Uber and its aftermath- are rushed through! It seemed like a waste of a good climax to end it so quickly.

As a whole, I would give this book to a student who is more comfortable reader and can wade through an occasionally slow part in a story. The premise is incredible and can lead to so many amazing discussions with students- especially about violence in our society. The author is also very nice and very open to conversations with students about her book! It would be an incredible experience to hook her up with a student and let them pick her brain about the story!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Still Hungry for Hunger Games?

The Hunger Games
by Guest Author Evan

The Hunger Games is a great book by Suzanne Collins. This is a fictional book with an odd futuristic concept. The story is told through a child's eyes. This book may be better for a more mature audience between the ages of 12 to 50. In my opinion the book is a heroic, action, false love story with no way out of your seat.
In the story two children are put through a life threatening endeavor. Decisions have to be made that never should have to be made by anyone. Love is really only a back drop for the big picture. This is definitely a memorable book. Some people may not agree with the positions the author puts the children in; it is a crazy concept, but it shows a different side of society. 
In my thoughts it shows a person’s true view of the future. I believe this book  shows a futuristic view of an extremist government. You just can’t put this book down after the first page. In the book, the author set up the ending so that you keep thinking about it. You just can't get the book off of your mind.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Wells Have Run Dry

We really have no idea how much we rely on fossil fuels in this world. When I think of a gas shortage, I think of having to cut down on driving, but really had never thought of just how many products are petroleum based, from toothpaste to ball point pens. Our reliance on fossil fuels is terrifying, and Empty by Suzanne Weyn shows just how quickly everything can fall apart.

Sage Valley is your average town full of middle class folks who work hard every day and live their lives as though nothing in the world will ever drastically change. When a global-wide oil shortage begins, however, they are in for a rude awakening. Suddenly kids are biking to school. Sports teams stop because they can't drive to the opposing schools. Gas costs $40, $60, then $90 dollars per gallon. People can't heat their homes. Medicines are in short supply. Food deliveries stop. Very quickly, people start to get desperate.

Tom is your average second-string football player who only worries about his crush, head cheerleader Nicki. When the gas shortage begins, his biggest concern is not being able to drive her home. Nicki's biggest concern is having to wear her glasses because there haven't been any deliveries of her contacts to the pharmacy in a long time. Gwen has gone from the outcast to the only kid who has a warm house thanks to her brother's black market dealings. As if the gas shortage wasn't the worst problem, the climate change is finally about to get the better of them. Two enormous hurricanes from the gulf coast and the East Coast merge and make their way up the East to practically destroy everything in their "superhurricane" path. Disaster relief is virtually nonexistent in the current times, and Sage Valley is left to survive by its own devices.

This is not only a story of how everything falls apart (although that is certainly in the foreground). It is also a story of how tragedy brings people together. How people in dire circumstances can become selfless. Heroes even. It is also a story of how things need to change if we are to survive. Towards the end of the story, the kids find a "Green" house that was built to be self-sustainable with low amounts of electricity, food production, and heat. Are we prepared for what is going to happen when the non-renewable resources we gobble up are gone?

In the deluge of apocalyptic books these days, this is a fairly good one, especially for adolescents. It directly deals with their lives and can be an eye-opener for just how drastically their worlds can change. Sometimes it is hard for kids to understand how things truly affect them, like wars, natural disasters, etc., until they are in their backyards. This book puts the disaster in the worlds of these kids. It is also a fairly short, low-skilled book that would be perfect for younger or low-skilled students. The plus is that it isn't nearly as depressing as some of the stuff out there. Sure everything changes, but that doesn't mean it needs to be the end of the world! We can still find ways to survive, even in circumstances we never thought we would face!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Real Scorcher

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 2)
At times a sequel can far surpass the original book. It isn't easy, and rarely does it involve a huge plot shift. In The Scorch Trials, by James Dasher, the sequel to The Maze Runner, the story takes twists and turns that will leave the reader's head spinning. While the first book had the group of boys (Gladers) surviving the terrifying maze that turned out to be a test for scientists to help save the damaged world, this second book takes that horrifying idea even further.

The story begins just after the Gladers were saved from the Maze. They were ushered into a building under the cloak of darkness, fed, and left to sleep away their terrors. When they wake up, the people who brought them there are all dead, hanging in the common room. Thomas goes looking for Teresa, the only girl ever sent to the Glade and the girl he can speak to telepathically, but finds a strange boy in her room and no sign of Teresa. They find out from this boy quickly that there was another Maze- an all girls' maze that ended with Aris arriving as the only boy the same way Teresa arrived in the boys' maze. Stuck in the compound with no way out and bars on the windows (which keeps out the crazy Cranks- people driven to murderous madness by a disease called Flare), the boys spend days starving and wondering if they had been left to die.

Finally, when they are on the brink of starvation induced madness, a Rat-faced man arrives to tell them they are about to begin the next phase of their trials- the Scorch Trials. They will have to exit the compound and make it across the solar-flare ravaged desert, which is teeming with Cranks, in order to get to the safe house where they will be cured of the Flare. If they don't make it to the safe house, they will die by slipping into insanity like so many millions of other people have. The catch? The Scorch trials will make the Maze look paradise.

The Gladers choose to make a run for it, but even the entrance out of the compound and out into the world isn't safe. A weird metallic substance drips from the ceiling and hardens around the heads of the unfortunate, ultimately decapitating them. Once they reach the outside, the sun is so severe it threatens to give third degree burns with only a couple of hours of exposure. After quickly making meager protective shields for the sun, they escape the tunnel and set out across the Scorch. Unfortunately, everything from frighteningly intense electrical storms to cannibalistic Cranks are between them and the cure for their Flare. With the help of a couple of Cranks who aren't too affected by the disease yet, the Gladers who have lasted this far finally have a chance of making it to the safe haven. The last part of the trial, though, may involve more than they had bargained for- especially when they encounter the group of girls from the other maze.

This is a crazy second installment. When you think you have finally figured out the formula for the story, Dashner slaps you in the face with a totally new twist. The characters are put through so much, you can hardly believe any kid could survive long enough to make it to the other side of the trial. The violence is more graphic, the scenarios are more frightening, and the warped government reaches new levels of post-apocalyptic madness. This is a good series for that kid who needs constant action and twists to keep their attention. I think this book is a little like The Maze Runner's juvenile delinquent older brother. It will keep even the most easily distracted reader's attention from cover to cover.

Friday, October 29, 2010

You Had Me at "Camp-Halfblood"

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero
Oh, Rick Riordan, you are a God yourself. Or at least a demigod! Your books are amazing, they suck me in so quickly I have to save them for long weekends, and I really wish I was a demigod (without the monsters of course). I am not sure which God or Goddess I'd like to belong to, but I know I wouldn't want to belong to Hades- what a creeper! My only complaint? Why in all of Mount Olympus can't you save all your books in a series and release them together?! I really can't wait a whole year for the next book!

After the amazing conclusion of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Riordan has created another little gem, The Heroes of Olympus. The first book in the series, Lost Heroes, doesn't disappoint. It is full of Greek myths, some Roman mythology for good measure, sprinkled with some familiar characters like Annabeth, Chiron and our favorite Gods and Goddesses (in all their ridiculous glory). While Percy Jackson may not be present, his mysterious disappearance is still in the background as some of the heroes go off to find him. The focus of the story, though, is three demigods who are thrown together in a Hail Mary attempt to save the Gods from the new threat brewing. Percy may have finished off the Titans in the first series, but he really ticked of their mother, the Earth mother Gaia herself, and she can be one mean old lady.

Now Jason, Piper, and Leo, all demigods with special circumstances and powers, must go on a quest to find Piper's kidnapped father, find out why Jason's memory has been wiped, and stop whatever is threatening the Gods. Unfortunately, there are plenty of saucy or wicked Gods and spirits out their to derail their quest. Can they find the kidnapped Goddess in time to save her and stop Gaia from awaking? Should they trust each other? What the heck is up with creepy mud giants?!

This was an amazing first installment to this new series. I loved having a new series with new main characters, but familiar ties to places like Camp Halfblood and characters from the first series made it seem like an extension of the first series- it was the best of both worlds!! Since the Percy Jackson books are not terribly long, if a student made it through the five books in that series, this would be the next graduated step. Topping out at over 550 pages, it is like two Percy Jackson books in one, but the mutual characters and setting along with fun new themes and quests make it an exciting new adventure. The writing style and skill level is the same as the first series, relatively accessible for a middle school student through high school (especially for low-skilled high school students because it is still fun and exciting- not at all juvenile). Give Jason, Piper, and Leo a chance- you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When It's Cold, Be-Were!

by Guest Author, Julia

I recently finished the book Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. In the course of two weeks, I was sent on a journey that held love, romance, and hardship. I would definitely recommend this book to people ages 14 and up. I feel that they would enjoy every bit of the story the way I did. This book is set in modern times and is a fantasy involving a teenage girl and her wolf.

Imagine this: you are in a small town. You are a 17 year old girl who, yes, is in love with a wolf. You are trying to hold on to this love forever but each day it gets colder and colder, until you are uncertain you can hold onto this love any longer. In this story you will meet Grace who is 17. You will also meet her not so caring parents, and Sam the love of her life. There are many more characters you will meet along the way.

Shiver is a love story. Grace is madly in love with Sam, but sadly their love is complicated. Sam has a secret that only Grace knows. His secret is that when the cold arrives, he disappears. Grace and Sam try to keep their love pure and alive as long as possible.

I would recommend this book to people ages 14 and up. This novel is somewhat sophisticated. It is full of real love and romance. Shiver would most likely appeal to teens because it includes werewolves, and it involves a somewhat magical aspect of their fondness for each other. It is like a fairy tale similar to Beauty and the Beast. The princess always gets her prince. It is also similar to Romeo and Juliet with their forbidden love. This is a thrilling love story. I believe that only people 14 and up can really grasp and appreciate the concept of love.

Stiefvater has recently published a sequel to Shiver. If you like the author and the way she writes her novels, you might also enjoy her other books. You might enjoy Linger. She has also written Lament and the sequel, Ballad. She has really found that writing is her true calling, and I hope she continues to do it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lies are Only the Beginning...

Lies: A Gone Novel
Since the power went out in the FAYZ, life has gotten worse. Food is scarce, the Human Crew has waged war on the "Freaks" and now people who used to be dead are walking around town. In the third installment of Michael Grant's Gone series, Lies delves deeper and darker into a world where all adults are gone, kids as young as five are forced to take care of themselves, and reality is never quite as it seems.

While Sam began life in the FAYZ as the natural hero, the natural leader, he hasn't recovered from being whipped within an inch of his life by Drake Merwin. Now he is unstable at best, but still the one kids look up to. While Astrid is desperately trying to establish a government to maintain order, her council's complete lack of respect or power among the kids is leaving the FAYZ in danger. Zil and the Human Crew are doing everything they can to destroy the power of the Freaks, starting with amassing weapons and getting as many normal kids as possible on their side.

The tenuous stability in the FAYZ breaks down quickly, though, when the Prophetess Orsay begins telling kids she can hear their parents dreams from outside the wall. She tells them they can return to their parents by blinking out when they turn 15. Thanks to her handler Nereeza, her message is heard far and wide. Then a broken Caine enlists the help of Zil and the Human Crew to create a diversion in Perdido Beach by burning houses down so Caine and the few starving, cannibalistic cohorts he has left can steal boats and seek out the island that belonged to an actor and his wife- a place that just has to be full of food. As Zil follows through with his side of the bargain, the FAYZ erupts in chaos. Can Astrid, Edilio, and Sam keep the bizarre civilization together through the chaos?

This installment of the series is the darkest yet. Grant wasted no sentiment on the fact that this was a young adult series and pulled out all the horrors of the apocalyptic and dystopian genres- starvation, cannibalism, death, etc. This book is as adult as it could be without completely crossing the line of the young adult genre. Descriptions of Caine's crew seeking out the body of a boy who killed himself in order to cook and eat him was probably the creepiest part of the book. This is not a story for the faint of heart! While it is dark, though, there is always a hope amongst the kids of the FAYZ. They are trying to make life as tolerable as possible. It is hard, though, with no electricity and having to rely on children to keep society together. The twists are interesting, new characters are introduced, and the action keeps you flying through this book as fast as possible. While it was an amazing volume, this series is getting more and more mature and its readers should be ready to handle the harsh circumstances it deals with.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hungry for More

Hunger: A Gone Novel
After finishing Gone, by Michael Grant, I was grateful I had already stocked the second book in the series, Hunger, so I could start it right away. These books may seem unnecessarily large, but it is hard to put them down, and you find yourself flying through them like nothing. By the end I am not quite sure why the story took almost 600 pages to complete, but I know I wasn't bored for one single page.

After the big showdown between Caine and Sam that destroyed a number of buildings in Perdido Beach, things haven't gotten any better. More and more kids are developing supernatural powers, food is becoming more and more scarce, and Caine and the Coates Thugs are becoming more and more desperate. Sam has tried to organize the kids to harvest food from the fields, but between the kids' lack of motivation to do anything but play video games and watch movies and the terrifying worm mutations in the fields that can devour a kid in less than a minute, the food stays in the fields rotting away.

The food situation isn't the scariest thing facing the kids in the FAYZ, though. The deep, scary darkness in the mine shaft that gave Drake Merwin his whip arm has its grip on both Caine and Lana. Now its hungry and wants Caine to help it. That involves a fuel rod being taken to the mine shaft from the power plant and all the consequences you can imagine. Now Sam is involved in the fight of his life and has to stop Caine and the others from destroying the power plant and all the kids along with it. If only the gaiaphage- the mine shaft creeper- didn't have such a control over the minds of the most powerful kids.

This was a great follow-up to the first book in this proposed six book series. These kids have been left to survive, and some are rising to the occasion and maturing too quickly, but others are just kids. They want their mothers, they want to be taken care of, and they don't understand the concept of taking care of themselves. Most importantly, they can't imagine having to work in order to eat- especially when Sam, Astrid, Edilio and the others have worked so hard to keep them fed. They are just kids, and they act like they are just kids.

The best part of this book is that it gives kids a chance to really see how they would react to a situation like this. Some of the other dystopias and PA young adult fiction out there makes it a bit difficult for kids to imagine themselves in a similar situation, but the Gone novels give them a chance to figure out which kid they would be. Would they be a leader like Sam, a thinker like Astrid, a right-hand man like Edilio, or an opportunist like Quinn? Would they get up and go pick cabbages instead of playing their PS3 or Wii's? Would they be controlling like Caine, logical like Diana, or terrifying and monstrous like Drake? How would they feel if they developed powers and their friends didn't, or vice versa? This book is filled with questions that make for incredible comparisons and discussions. And it will leave you craving more. I have already started the third book, Lies, and am disappointed to wait months for the fourth book to be released!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Dunderheads

Welcome to our guest bloggers, Ms. Loftus' 6th Grade Literature Class, from The Kildonan School.  Read what they have to say about their class' recent read, The Dunderheads, by Paul Fleischman.

The Dunderheads 
If you like a story of a nasty, fiendish teacher named Miss Breakbone, you will find The Dunderheads to be a thrilling tale of adventure and mystery. “Never have I been asked to teach such a scraping together of fiddling, twiddling, time- squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don’t knowing dunderheads.” She reminds us of Cruella Deville! We love the creative characters like Nails whose nails become different shapes and sizes, customized to fit and unlock a safe. He’ll always have a file on hand! Hollywood is an obsessive movie watcher. “She’s got every movie that was ever made and has watched them all eleven times.” She’s been in so many movie theaters that she has night vision. She helps the gang by using her night vision to see in the dark and by using her sixth sense to guess what will happen next. Google Eyes read a book about hypnotism and can now put people into a two week trance. Just ask the librarian. We loved how the kids broke into their teacher’s house to take back a confiscated toy. Some of our readers thought the book was a bit over exaggerated and definitely not for very young kids who might be frightened by their teachers. Most of us sixth graders at The Kildonan School loved this book. So read The Dunderheads and look out for the meanest teacher in town!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I was a Goner in Only Five Pages!

One would think with the crazy first weeks of school, I would have no time to plow through an almost 600 paged book, but Gone, by Michael Grant, does not give you the opportunity to put it down. From the first five pages, this book grabs you by the seat of the pants and hurls you through a creepy post-apocalyptic world where all people over the age of 14 simply disappear- *poof* and gone.

Sam, also known as School Bus Sam after he rescued his school bus full of kids when the driver had a heart attack, was once a hero, but has faded back into the wallflower he is happiest being. When all the adults and kids over 14 disappear in Perdido Beach, though, Sam is the one all the other kids start looking to for guidance. No one know what happened to the adults, but right in front of their eyes, they all just disappeared. Sam is reluctant to be their leader, but when he rushes into a burning building to save a little girl, it is clear heroism is simply in his nature. With the help of his friends, Astrid, Edilio, and Quinn, they set off to find Astrid's autistic little brother and hopefully some adults. What they find, however, is that a giant, electrified border has made a circle around the whole area- exactly a 10 mile radius all around the nuclear power plant. Nothing can come in and no one can get out. Something strange is also happening to everything and everyone living within the wall. The animals are mutating and some of the kids are starting to develop powers.

The real showdown, however, starts when the Coates Academy kids (a school for delinquent rich kids) come down from the school to take over as leaders of Perdido Beach. Their leader, Caine, is all too willing to use his powers to gain control or let his evil sidekick, Drake, wield his menacing punishments. Kids are beaten to death for defying Caine's rules, food is an ever-growing concern, and safety becomes a luxury. Can Sam come to terms with his own power? Can he, with the support of his friends, become a true leader among the kids inside the wall?

This is an amazing story about kids forced to grow up quickly. When they have to defend themselves with guns found at the power plant, Sam finds himself struggling with the idea of asking 8th graders to wield guns while being horrified at asking a 5th or 6th grader to defend themselves. This story has a lot of Lord of the Flies themes as civilized life quickly breaks down. The lead characters are the embodiment of good and evil, with consciences and cravings for power being the ultimate battle. Kids are quickly given roles of nurse, day care operator, guard, and cook. These same kids had parents and adults to take care of them not 24 hours earlier. It is a harsh new world where anything is possible.

The reading level is relatively accessible, but the story is very, very long. It is action packed and there isn't a dull moment in the whole story, but 500+ pages is a lot to ask of a middle school student. Therefore, I would save this great story for an older kid who reads a lot or is really into this type of story. It might overwhelm a struggling reader who isn't ready for such a long book. Otherwise, I would suggest everyone give this book a try! It has a little bit of everything from an apocalypse to supernatural powers! You can't ask for much more! Just be careful when picking up the next two books. The second book is Hunger, and the third is Lies. I accidentally picked up the third book and ruined a little of the second story before I even got a chance to read it! Oh well. It won't stop be from reading the next two books!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two Pleasures Struggling Readers Miss Out On

Before school began, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Suzanne Collins at Oblong Books and Music in Millerton, NY. Oblong is an amazing little indie store, but it is off the beaten path, so I was surprised a celebrity like Ms. Collins was coming to our small town! The event was exciting with a huge line snaking around the store before the event, gift bags from Scholastic, and the anticipation of seeing the beloved author of the Hunger Games series.

When we all packed into the top floor (as many people as it could hold!), we were treated with an incredible reading. First was an excerpt from Catching Fire so we could "get used to the Futuristic Appalachian accent" Collins uses to portray Katniss Everdeen. (It was a pretty cool accent!). Then she read from the first chapter of Mockingjay. Before she started reading I was thinking about a) how uncomfortable I was squished in a lump on the hardwood floor and b) how gosh darn cool it was that Suzanne Collins has the same shoes I do! Then the book reading began and the story of Katniss, District 12, and Panem washed over me like seeing an old friend. I was sitting not 4 feet from the same woman whose books I have read multiple times (the most recent rereading was of the first two books right before the third was released)!

This was not the first time I had the opportunity to meet an author. Working in bookstores throughout college and having attended a number of author functions, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of wonderful authors- some famous, some not. But there is always something exhilarating about the experience- even when the author is nothing like what you expected form their book! This got me thinking. My students are struggling readers. They are dyslexic, and reading has always been elusive for them- this chore adults keep telling them they should like and be good at. My students struggle to get through a single book, let alone to reread it. And they seem so relieved to finish a book that meeting the author is the furthest thing from their minds. It almost seems, both comically and sadly, that they see the author as purposely torturing them with those pages.

Rereading can be such an incredible experience. The first book I reread was Ann M. Martin's 10 Kids no Pets when I was in elementary school. I LOVED this book! Since then, rereading has been comforting for me- like a visit from an old friend or a favorite aunt or uncle- something that doesn't happen often, but when you see them again, it is as though no time has passed. With Suzanne Collins' books, rereading was just as exciting as the first time I plowed through those pages. For my students, however, they are just happy to finish any book. Rarely do they have the opportunity to love a book enough to pick it up again. This realization made me so sad!

How do we get children to revisit stories they have already read? How do we get them excited to meet an author, especially to hear the author read from a book they loved? I think the most crucial part in making book lovers out of struggling readers is finding the perfect book for that student. Yesterday was my first day of classes for the school year. I discovered one of my students has the same love for dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature as I do. We barely got his homework down because we talked about doomsday stories for almost the entire period! It was beautiful! Making a connection with a student like that is the very reason I became a teacher. And throw the books into the mix and you have just made my year! Enthusiasm is contagious. When we are excited about books, our students become excited. If we know our students, know the books, and are excited about them, cultivated a love for reading just might happen, struggling reader or not!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back on the Air

Thank goodness for Jess, is all I can say. She has been reading and writing like a house on fire...all summer! And the truth is, I don't even have anything to say today. Much like in my other blog, I have developed a nasty case of writer's block. I have read many books this summer and written about none of them; the thought of sitting down to relive them in some book reviews feels like an insurmountable task. I don't know if I will do it at all or if I will start fresh. In the meantime, I need to write something so I can get over my pesky affliction and just start writing.

Instead of a review today, I will leave you with this, my summer reading list. Even though the tutors at The Kildonan School make individualized book lists for our students, I like to have a list on hand...it can help guide the tutors, it is ready to go if a student (or parent) loses the list we sent home, and it helps me narrow down the selections I will purchase for the school. Maybe, you'll it useful as we all go back to school. I know I will refer to it when I set out to pick reading books for my students. Forgive me...I hope I'll be back soon!

Students with Reading Skills 5th Grade and Below:

The 39 Clues Series (various authors; various reading levels)
Colfer, Eoin - Half-Moon Investigations (GE=3.3)
Creech, Sharon - The Unfinished Angel (and others by this author)
DiCamillo, Kate - The Magician’s Elephant (GE=5.0)
Fitzpatrick, Rebecca - Hush, Hush (GE=4.5)
Fredericks, Mariah - Head Games (GE=2.5)
Giff, Patricia Reilly - Wild Girl (GE=4.0) (and others by this author)
Gatekeepers series (various authors; varying reading levels)
Horvath, Polly - My One Hundred Adventures (GE=4.8)
Lockhart, E. - The Treasure Map of Boys
Mead, Richelle - Vampire Academy (GE=3.7)
Morgan, Clay - The Boy Who Spoke Dog (GE=3.5)
Nimmo, Jenny - Charlie Bone series
Prue, Sally - Playing With Fire (GE=3.5)
Shearer, Alex - Canned (GE=3.5)
Stiefvater, Maggie - Shiver (GE=4.5); Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception

Students with Reading Skills between 5th and 7th Grade:

The 39 Clues Series (various authors; various reading levels)
Black, Holly and Cecil Castellucci (eds.) - Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
Collins, Suzanne - Catching Fire (GE=5.4) (and others by this author)
Dessen, Sarah - Along for the Ride (and others by this author)
Fleming, Candace - The Great and Only Barnum
Hoose, Phillip - Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Kelly, Jacqueline - The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Lin, Grace - Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Madigan, L.K. - Flash Burnout
Myers, Walter Dean - Riot (GE=5.3)
Partridge, Elizabeth - Marching for Freedom
Philbrick, Rodman - The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
Sonnenblick, Jordan - After Ever After (and others by this author)
Stead, Rebecca - When You Reach Me
Stone, Tanya Lee - Almost Astronauts
Williams-Garcia, Rita - Jumped
Yancey, Rick - Monstrumologist
Yep, Laurence - City of Fire

Students with Reading Levels 7 and Above:

B., David - Epileptic
Barnes, John - Tales of the Madman Underground
Bradley, Alan - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Bray, Libba - Going Bovine
Draper, Sharon - Just Another Hero
Fisher, Catherine - Incarceron
Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl - Beautiful Creatures
Griffin, Paul - The Orange Houses
Heiligman, Deborah - Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Hoffman, Beth - Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt
Jinks, Catherine - The Reformed Vampire Support Group
LaCour, Nina - Hold Still
Larsson, Stieg - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and others in this series)
Lieb, Josh - I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your 

Ockler, Sarah - Twenty Boy Summer
Peters, Julie Anne - By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead
Rapp, Adam - Punkzilla
Ryan, Carrie - The Forest of Hands and Teeth (and others in this series)
Taylor, Laini - Lips Touch: Three Times (GE=8.4)
Zarr, Sara - Once Was Lost; Story of a Girl

Additional Selections for Outstanding Readers: The Alex Awards:

The Alex Awards are given by the American Library Association to ten books
written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through
18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing.

Carriger, Gail - Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel
Currie, Ron, Jr. - Everything Matters
Finkel, David - The Good Soldiers
Grossman, Lev - The Magicians
Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Rock, Peter - My Abandonment
Rosoff, Meg - The Bride’s Farewell
Small, David - Stitches: A Memoir
Welch, Diana and Liz Welch et. al. - The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir
Wilson, Kevin - Tunneling to the Center of the Earth