Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Introducing Sasha Abramowitz by Sue Halpern

Sasha Marie Curie Abramowitz is a pretty typical eleven year-old. She is an aspiring writer/pastry chef, smart, funny, a good friend, good listener, and when she wants to be, a good talker. As long as that does not include talking about her feelings about her family, particularly her older brother who attends a special boarding school for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. Danny has Tourette's Syndrome, and his relationship with the rest of the family is complicated. Sasha's parents don't talk much to Sasha about Danny, and Sasha would rather do anything than talk to her psychologist Dr. Serkowsky, "the Eraser", as she refers to him. To make matters worse, her best friend Carla has suddenly discovered boys, and now she doesn't seem to have much time for Sasha lately. Then Sasha meets Andrew Hardy, a student at Krieger College where Sasha's parents are both professors and dorm parents, and she thinks that perhaps she finally has a friend to confide in. That is until an unexpected event brings Danny home to spend the summer with his family and Sasha's world threatens to be turned upside down again. This is a wonderful book, full of well-developed and likeable characters, and surprising plot twists and turns. It sheds some light onto the effects of a debilitating neurological disorder on family relationships, without being too technical or preachy. Highly recommended. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Nicky Deuce -- Welcome to the Family by Steven Schirripa and Charles Fleming

It is summer, and Nicholas Boreli II's parents have plans to go on a two-week cruise. Nicholas will attend Camp Wannameka just like every other year. But...the night before he's set to leave, Nicholas' parents get a call on their cell phone. The septic system at the camp has blown up, and camp is cancelled for the summer. The only place left for Nicholas to go is to his grandmother's home in Bensonhurst (Brooklyn), New York. Nicholas has never been to Brooklyn -- Brooklyn is the place his father left, never returned to, and never discussed. Nicholas is not happy about going, but once he gets there he quickly warms up to his grandmother's delicious Italian home cooking, and his uncle Frankie, who makes it his mission to turn Nicholas into a real "goomba" -- a macho, Italian-American man with some street cred. It's not long before Nicholas, now known as Nicky Deuce, meets Tommy and gets involved in all sorts of schemes to make some quick cash, the riskiest of which gets them into some serious hot water. This book is a lot of fun, full of all sorts of characters. I think it would be a great vacation book. Reviewed by Jane Malmberg.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee

This is a really fun book to read. It's a sequel to Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Stanford is pretty much the opposite of Millicent - he's terrible at school and is really good at basketball. He's a sort of hero at his middle school, because even though he's only going into 7th grade, he's been chosen for the "A" basketball team for the next year. He's going away to a high-powered basketball camp for the summer, too. But everything changes on the last day of school when Stanford finds out he flunked English, and he also finds out that unless he goes summer school he won't move on to 7th grade, and he can't play on any basketball team, not even the "B" team! Stanford's family is having some problems, too. His grandmother has been living with them and it's not working out really well, although Stanford likes it. His parents are fighting all the time; his father never seems to have time for any of them and is never satisfied with Stanford's efforts. Millicent comes back into the story when Stanford's parents arrange for her to tutor him, and of course they despise each other. This book is just as funny as Millicent Min, with lots of misunderstandings and warm-hearted characters. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lucky Stars by Lucy Frank

This book is told in the alternating voices of two middle schoolers in New York City, both struggling with seemingly overwhelming personal problems. Kira has come to New York to visit her father, a musician who performs in the subways with his two young sons (Kira's half-brothers) since he quit his band. Jake hears Kira sing in the subway when he is cutting class to avoid having to give an oral report, something he does anything to avoid because he has a terrible stutter. Kira has been living with her grandmother in upstate New York, but decides to stay in the city with her father if he will agree to her conditions: no more singing in the subway, and he has to get a real job. The book is a little depressing, but the lives of the characters begin to improve as they become better friends, and by the end things are looking quite hopeful. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Room With A Zoo by Jules Feiffer

More than anything else in the world, Julie wants a dog. A dog she can love, and who adores her. She is willing to be responsible for her dog. She promises to feed and walk him, but her parents have strict rules. Since they live in a city apartment, Julie has to wait a year and a half till she is old enough to walk the dog by herself in the city streets. Julie's passion for animals takes over her entire life as she begins to fill her room with cages and aquariums. She collects a sick cat, a hamster, a big ugly fish, six smaller fish that start to disappear, a turtle, a strong-minded kitten and an unresponsive hermit crab. As Julie tries to keep up taking care of her animals in one room, disaster strikes and animal chaos ensues. Will Julie ever be able to convince her parents that she can be responsible and take care of a dog -- her very own dog? Julie's hilarious story is told to us in her own convincing words by her author/illustrator father, Jules Feiffer. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Defiance by Valerie Hobbs

Eleven-year-old Toby is looking forward to his summer vacation in the country. He imagines himself hiking and racing his bike down the hill. He also wants to learn to fish out on the lake. Then Toby discovers a new lump on his side. There is no way he will tell his parents, who would just return him straight to the children's hospital for further painful cancer treatments. Then Toby meets a spunky old woman who lives on a nearby farm with her cow, Blossom. Pearl helps Toby discover the beauty of life, and what is really important. As Toby tries to live in the moment and to enjoy this summer to the fullest, he also struggles with some important decisions about his own life and destiny. This is a very moving summer story filled with respect and love for all life. Review by Trudy Walsh.

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Twelve-year-old Anand is forced to work very hard for a demanding merchant to help his family survive in India. Anand longs for a different life. He would love to get away from the crowded, dirty city of Kolkatta. Then Anand meets a mysterious old man, who claims to be a healer. He asks Anand to help him return a precious conch shell to a secret green valley nestled high in the snowcapped Himalayan Mountains. When Anand agrees to help return the shell to its rightful home, his adventure begins. Along the way Anand meets powerful spirits and fantastic creatures who try to lure him away. If you are looking for a great fantasy story, read The Conch Bearer and accompany Anand on his adventure as he crosses arid plains and turbulent rivers, and climbs icy mountains in search for the most beautiful valley in the world. Also look for the sequel to The Conch Bearer, The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Worlds Apart by Kathleen Karr

Travel back in time 400 years when a group of colonists arrive in the Carolinas. As they make their way up from the beach, fifteen year-old Christopher West becomes aware of faces and movements among the trees. He realizes that they are not alone, but does not want to alarm his family, since the weapons have not been unloaded, yet. When the colonists and the Sewee finally meet the following day, Christopher sees a young brave, Asha-po, who looks about his own age. The two young men are drawn to each other. As they tentatively try to communicate with each other, a friendship is beginning to grow between them. Can the two young men overcome their cultural differences and truly share their innermost thoughts, while they spend a summer together roaming the forests and fields and beaches? This book brings you back to 1670, when two very different groups of people try to make a living in the Carolinas, and two young men try desperately to form a bridge of understanding and co-operation between them. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

No Small Thing by Natale Ghent

This is a great book! I love the beginning, "Sometimes, something as small as an ad in the daily newspaper can change your whole life." The ad Nat is talking about reads, "Pony to give away to good home. Call before 4 p.m." Back when their father lived with them, they had their own ponies. They also had enough to eat, their mother didn't have to work so much and they lived in a nice house. The idea of having their own horse just seems to make up for a lot, so Nat and his two sisters, Cid and Queenie, decide to answer the ad without telling their mother. The book is told from Nat's point of view and since he is a kid who spends a lot of time thinking about things, you feel a lot of empathy for him. Don't get me wrong, plenty happens in the book: broken bones, barn fires and rescued horses, and an attempt to run away from home on horseback. Even if you're not a horse lover, this is a great story of a boy trying to make the best of a pretty sad situation. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, December 02, 2005

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

Right from the beginning of "Listening for Lions" you know that Rachel's life is going to be full of sadness. Her missionary parents, who were also the local doctor and teacher in their East African village, had given Rachel a magical childhood in a beautiful country. They taught her love for the land, kindness for their neighbors, and they inspired her to be strong and brave. When the terrible influenza of 1919 claimed the lives of many villagers, it also claimed the lives of Rachel's parents. Among the many casualties was a young girl, Valerie, the daughter of a wealthy and cruel family, the Pritchards. After losing their only child and discovering that Rachel was now alone, the Pritchards began to devise a terrible plot to have Rachel take over Valerie's identity in order to get money from her grandfather. I loved this book for the courage of Rachel, for the beauty of her home and for the ways that she remains true to the lessons her parents taught! Review by Loretta Eysie