Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Little Audrey by Ruth White

Five things you should know about this book:

1. The Audrey of the title is the author Ruth White’s older sister. The book is told from her point-of-view when she was 11 years old in 1948.

2. The story takes place in a coal mining camp in Virginia. Audrey lives there with her parents and three sisters. Audrey had four sisters, but baby Betty Gail died when she was only seven months old.

3. There is no running water in their house. Oftentimes they don’t have enough to eat because their father spends his paycheck on alcohol. It’s not uncommon for him to be gone all weekend on a drinking binge.

4. From pg. 99: “I think of Daddy walking to work in the rain…Crawling around the dark with his carbide lantern strapped to his helmet. Digging coal out of the bitter black earth all day long…And this great rush of pity nearabout swallows me. Oh, Daddy, I’m so sorry you have to work in that place, in the dark, in the cold. I wisht I could go to you and hug your neck, and tell you how much I love you.”

5. When I finished this book, I put it down. I thought about it for a little bit. And then I cried for really a long time.

Review by Katie Corrigan

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Schooled by Gordon Korman is a fascinating story that touches on several themes, including bullying and staying true to your beliefs. I enjoyed reading about the main character’s transformation from a socially clueless hippie to a well-liked middle schooler because he succeeds at making friends without changing his own values. Capricorn Anderson is a 14-year-old boy who has been raised by his grandmother, Rain, on a farm commune. She home schools him and has sheltered him from the outside world. Cap has never used money, watched TV, had friends or gone shopping. When Rain falls and is hospitalized, Cap is sent to live with a social worker and her teenage daughter who hates him. He must attend a local middle school and figure out how to manage in this new, unfamiliar, unkind world. Other students try to make his life miserable in many creative ways, and Cap’s way of handling the middle school culture and politics is impressive. The story is at times funny and touching, and sometimes frustrating. The ending started to feel a little corny and unrealistic, but I still highly recommend this book. It will most likely appeal to kids who are entering or are already in middle school. Most everyone can relate to the pressures of wanting to fit in, and the difficulties that go along with it, and everyone can learn a valuable lesson from Cap Anderson! Review by Hildi Arnold. For another review of Schooled, see February 14, 2008

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

A total eclipse of the sun is a rare occurrence, and when it does happen, it has to be seen from a very special place to get the full effect of the phenomenon. In Every Soul a Star, the special place to see the total eclipse is the Moon Shadow Campground, in the Middle of America, in the middle of nowhere. Of the thousands of people traveling toward the Moon Shadow Campground to view the event, there are three young teens whose universes are about to change as dramatically as the sky! First there is Ally. She loves her life at the campground. With her parents and younger brother Kenny, they have built a wonderful world full of astronomy, adventure and Unusuals. Next there is Bree. Bree loves her life full of make-up, popularity, fashion and cliques. She hates the idea of camping and hates her parents even more for making her move permanently to the campground, just so they can do research. Lastly there is Jack. Jack always says that “his father has no head!” Jack lives with his mom, SD3 (stepdad 3) and older brother, Mike. Jack hates his life. He has friend problems, weight problems and lots of school problems. When he gets the unusual opportunity to travel to the Moon Shadow Campground for the eclipse with a group led by his science teacher (the other option is to go to summer school), Jack reluctantly agrees to join the expedition. Ally, Bree and Jack are nothing alike and could never be friends…or could they? Review by Loretta Eysie

Monday, December 15, 2008

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

I picked up this book because I had just finished Elise Broach’s other book, Shakespeare’s Secret, and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed this book just as much, if not more, although it’s quite different from Shakespeare’s Secret. This story is about Marvin, a beetle who lives in the apartment of a boy named James in New York City. James is a quiet boy, kind of overwhelmed by his career-driven mother and step-father, and his artist father. Marvin is an adventurous beetle, who loves to explore James’ apartment and swim in his pool, a bottle cap filled with water. One day while exploring, he discovers a pen-and-ink set in James' room. He dips his front legs in the open ink, and starts to draw the scene that he sees out the window. The picture Marvin creates is beautiful, but James’ family thinks that he was the one who drew it. James discovers Marvin’s talent, and they even figure out how to communicate with each other. Their friendship grows as they become involved with helping to solve an art theft at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and during the adventure they both learn the value of honesty.

This is an adorable book. The friendship between James and Marvin is one of the most touching ones I’ve ever read about. Kelly Murphy’s illustrations of Marvin and the pictures he creates are one of my favorite parts of this book. If you like mysteries about art like Chasing Vermeer and the sequels, or books about animals, you’ll love Masterpiece! Review by Katie Corrigan

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maze of Bones ( The 39 Clues Series #1) by Rick Riordan

Maze of Bones is the first in a series of 10 books, complete with cards and an online game where players can win prizes. The story begins with the reading of Grace Cahill's will. She gives her beneficiaries 2 choices: either take the first of 39 clues that will lead to the source of the Cahill family's power, or take one million dollars and walk away. Most of Grace's unusual family accept the challenge. The family is made up of several strong personalities from around the world, as well as the 2 main characters, Dan and Amy, who seem to be the only ones who really loved their grandmother and spent any time with her. The other relatives seem to think Grace disclosed some secrets to Amy and Dan, and so, they either want to kill them, or follow them as they search out clues. The book is fast-paced, and filled with history and puzzles. The second book, by Gordon Korman, is due out December 2. Review by Joyce Levine

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Leanin' Dog by K.A. Nuzum

Fear keeps Dessa Dean tied to her home, a cabin in the snowy woods. It is 4 days before Christmas and she tries very hard to step off her front porch to meet her father who is coming home from a day of hunting and trapping. She wants to welcome him home and show him that she is ok now, but she is not ok. Try as she might, Dessa Dean's legs don't obey her any more. With an iron will she can make it to the edge of the porch, but no further. If she manages to kick one foot over the edge, her frostbitten ears begin to ache again, filling her from head to toe with the dreaded "losing-Mama ache." In the next moment, the world starts to spin and it comes crashing in on her. With a scream, she bolts and runs back into the safety of the cabin. It is always the same, day after day. Dessa Dean is so ashamed of herself for breaking down in front of her father. He just looks at her, not saying a word. How she longs for a smile on his face, a proud look, or a kind word.

One afternoon there is a scratching at the door. At first Dessa Dean is scared, then she is curious. She pushes against the door, which seems stuck. Finally she pushes it open and trips and falls on top of an injured dog. Her joy of meeting a dog in these snowy woodlands is short-lived --the dog takes off and hobbles out of sight. With all her heart, Dessa Dean tries many different ways to encourage the dog to come back: leaving the door to the cabin open, cooking some meat and placing it on the porch, and calling to the dog again and again. Several times she tries to get off the porch to follow the dog's footprints, but each time it is the same: her frostbitten ears begin the "aching process," which culminates in the world spinning and caving in on her.

The dog, however, does come back, and Dessa Dean starts an elaborate and creative taming and training program. Initially her father is upset about the arrival of the dog and having another mouth to feed during these lean winter days, but then he realizes that the injured dog is a blessing for Dessa Dean. They each need healing, and they find a way to help each other. The Leanin' Dog draws to a close on Christmas Day, with a beautiful description of an outdoor celebration where gifts are freely given and gratefully received. The newly formed family --a father, a daughter and a dog --is ready to begin a new life together.

This is a beautifully written story of a young girl growing up alone in a cabin surrounded by snowy woods. Her father expects her to take care of herself and the cabin as he tries to find food for them by hunting and trapping. He can't help her deal with the loss of her mother. When "Leanin' Dog" arrives, she is the one who can reach Dessa Dean's heart and help her heal again. Review by Trudy Walsh

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Cristina Garcia

I had a little trouble at first with the format of this book --the chapters telling Yumi's present day story are interspersed with her grandfather Saul's narrative telling the story of his life. Saul is dying of cancer, and Yumi has asked him to tell her all about his past, something he has never talked much about before. His voice is so different from Yumi's that I found it a little jarring at first. Yumi comes from a mixed race background: her mother is Cuban, her father's parents are Japanese and Jewish, and that makes for a pretty interesting mix! Her parents are divorced and she divides her time between both of their houses, and her grandparents Saul and Hiroko's. At the beginning of the book, Yumi is pretty happy, but her happiness is soon threatened by Saul's diagnosis of cancer, and the news that her school can no longer fund the orchestra in which Yumi plays the clarinet. She takes music very seriously and the prospect of having no orchestra is devastating. Yumi is resourceful though: she convinces the rest of the kids in the orchestra that they can raise enough money to fund the rest of the year by giving a concert of punk music. There's tension in the book also because Yumi's mother has a boyfriend that Yumi doesn't like (of course Yumi eventually realizes that he's not such a bad guy) and there's a boy that Yumi thinks she likes (although she changes her mind by the end). I love a book with a good, triumphant ending, and I Wanna Be Your Shoebox certainly has one. Review by Stacy Church

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How It Was with Dooms: A True Story from Africa by Xan Hopcraft and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft

This is the most amazing book! If you are an animal lover and have ever wished you could live with wild animals, you have to read this. The book is told first person by Xan, who wasn't born yet when Dooms came to his parent's ranch in Kenya as a 3 or 4- week-old orphaned cheetah. The book is full of amazing pictures taken by Xan's mother. In fact, I love looking at the pictures so much that I'm going to buy a copy for myself. There has been some criticism of the book as glorifying the idea of keeping a wild animal as a pet, but I did some research and found an article giving the background of the book and an interview with Carol Hopcraft. Xan's father is a second-generation Kenyan who, with his wife Carol, owns a ranch where he researches and teaches sustainable farming. It's not really accurate to call Dooms a pet, because he was allowed to come and go as he liked; it's just that he never left. The book tells a beautiful and moving story of an unlikely friendship. I kept wondering how a parent could ever trust a wild animal so completely as to let their infant climb over its tail, or to lie back resting on it like I did with our dogs when I was growing up. The end is sad, of course, but it's what always has to happen when we love an animal that doesn't live as long as we do, and in the story it's handled beautifully. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stravaganza: City of Secrets by Mary Hoffman

I was so excited to see that the fourth book in the Stravaganza series had arrived! I loved the first two books, and liked the third one. It's one of my favorite fantasy series --it's everything I love in a good fantasy: two parallel worlds and characters that travel back and forth between them, living totally separate lives in each one; great characters; and a complicated but understandable plot which reads like historical fiction even though it's clearly fantasy. I don't know what's up with this fourth book, but I can't get through it! I've read half and I've pretty much decided not to finish it, but the thing that has me confused is that other reviewers are loving it. To me, it's poorly written, and the author has to spend so much time making sure the readers understand the complicated plot history of the other 3 books that she can't seem to develop the characters or the new plot. Review by Stacy Church

An Apology

Please accept our apologies that it has been so long since our last book review post. We've been doing a lot of work on our blogs and on creating new blogs, and in the process have neglected the posting! We promise to do better.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

Two things attracted me to this book: its title and its cover. Diamond Willow --what kind of willow could that be? I imagined a sparkling willow tree. The author explains that Diamond Willow is no special type of willow tree. The diamonds appear on willow branches when the bark is stripped away. The diamonds form on the areas where a branch has been injured or fallen off. The dark center in each diamond is the scar of the missing branch. These beautiful, natural willow diamonds with their dark centers inspired Helen Frost to write her book in the form of diamond-shaped poems, with a hidden message printed in darker ink at the center of each one.

As for the intriguing cover art, we see mysterious blues swirling around the profiles of a young person and either a wolf or a dog. The human and the animal are facing each other, smiling, and looking intensely into each other's eyes. They are drawn to each other, forming a strong bond. I wanted to find out more about their relationship and what drew them together.

This is the story of 12-year-old Willow, who grows up in Alaska. She begs her parents to let her take the dog team to visit her grandparents. Finally the parents decide that Willow is old enough to manage the sled dogs by herself. Willow takes off enthusiastically with the dogs. In her exuberance, she races the dogs and lets them fly across the arctic landscape. But then she makes a mistake, and disaster strikes. Her favorite dog is badly injured. How Willow shows great strength and fortitude in fighting for her dog's life is beautifully told in diamond-shaped poetry. Willow also grows into her Athabascan heritage by becoming aware of and honoring the spirit world that surrounds her. Review by Trudy Walsh

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale

I love re-tellings of fairy tales, and when I saw the cover of this graphic novel, I had to read it - what could be better than a braid-whipping Rapunzel decked out like a cowgirl? The story begins with Rapunzel living in a beautiful villa with the woman she always thought was her mother. The villa is surrounded by a towering wall, and Rapunzel has never seen what is on the other side. Her only companions are the guards of the villa, who befriend her and entertain her by teaching her how to throw a lasso. On her twelfth birthday, she decides she must see what’s on the other side, and uses her lasso trick to get over the wall. What follows are the events that lead to her finding out the truth about her mother, and seeking out her revenge. Shannon Hale, the author of Princess Academy and The Book of a Thousand Days, created this graphic novel with her husband Dean, with illustrations by Nathan Hale (no relation). Hale is known for having strong female protagonists in her stories, and this Rapunzel does not disappoint. I’m praying that Hale writes more graphic novel fairy tale re-tellings, because this one is a gem! Review by Katie Corrigan

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Brian's Hunt by Gary Paulsen

Since I'm a big Gary Paulsen fan, (I really enjoyed Hatchett), I was happy to come across another story about Brian in the wilderness. This one didn't disappoint. Brian is a great character who battles whatever nature throws his way. In this book he finds a wounded dog, which, using his natural instincts, he nurses back to health with only his limited supplies. Together Brian and the dog wage a really battle against nature. Review by Joyce Levine

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements

Ray and Jay are identical twins. Their family has moved many times, but since the twins are "best friends" moving around doesn't bother them much. They like to play the usual twin tricks on people who can't tell them apart. When Jay enters sixth grade at another new school, he starts to wonder what life would be like as a single person instead of a twin. By coincidence, there is no student folder for his brother, Ray, who has stayed at home sick. Jay does not mention his twin brother at homeroom when attendance is taken. He enjoys the day just being himself, talking to some of the boys and smiling at a beautiful girl. On his way home from school, Jay hatches a plan. Will Ray go along with it? How Jay and Ray scheme and plot to take turns going to school and to appear as a single person is very funny and entertaining. Review by Trudy Walsh

The Buddha's Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden & Thay Phap Niem

Tinh, a young Vietnamese boy, knows that he is finally old enough to help his father support the family. He is honored and proud when his father invites him to go fishing every day in their new golden bamboo boat. It is hard work but Tinh seldom thinks of the playmates he's left behind. He wants to become as good a fisherman as his father. One day, when a storm approaches, Tinh is given the task of securing the family boat. Tinh is not very big -- he struggles with all his might to pull their boat to safety. Then, with a roar, a powerful tsunami-like wave rolls toward the beach. Tinh panics and runs for his life. When the floodwaters recede, the destruction and devestation left behind are enormous. The family boat is buried under tons of sand and Tinh struggles with the guilt of having let his family down. Will his father ever trust him again? This is the story of young Tinh growing up in Vietnam after the war, taking responsibility for his action and trying hard to prove to himself and his family that he is a man. The Buddha's "diamonds" are not the ordinary, earthly crystals and gemstones we know by that name. You can discover a new kind of "diamonds" by reading this special book. Review by Trudy Walsh

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell

This book has one of the best beginnings I've ever read in a book: "My name is Dovey Coe and I reckon it don't matter if you like me or not. I'm here to lay the record straight, to let you know them folks saying I done a terrible thing are liars. I aim to prove it, too. I hated Parnell Caraway as much as the next person, but I didn't kill him." Wow. I don't usually like books written in dialect, but Dovey Coe's character is so strong and true to life that I forgot all about it. The story begins with Dovey Coe already accused of murder. She just has to fill the reader in on the back story. It's 1928 and the Coe family lives in the mountains of North Carolina, in the small town of Indian Creek. They own their own land, and they are one of the only families in town who aren't beholden to the richest family in town, the Caraways. At the begining of the book, Dovey sees everything in black and white, sees herself as the protector of her older brother Amos, who is deaf. But in the end she learns that things aren't so clear cut, and maybe she needs Amos more than he needs her. Her older sister Caroline has long planned to escape small town life by going to college and becoming a teacher. Parnell is determined to get her to stay and marry him instead. Exactly how things go from there to Dovey Coe regaining consciousness and finding herself alone with Parnell's dead body is a masterful feat of storytelling on the author's part. Some of the best scenes in the book come in the courtroom, where Dovey has to trust her fate to a city lawyer, who she says, "...could string words together and make them shine like lights around a Christmas tree." Even though you think you know where the story is headed, the ending is shocking. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Review by Stacy Church

Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell

I was hooked on this book from the very first sentence, "The day after my brother left for Vietnam, me and Private Hollister played thirty-seven hands of gin rummy, and I won twenty-one." Jamie Dexter is a card shark, and an army brat. She and her brother TJ grew up in the army. Their father, who they call the Colonel, liked to say, "The army way is the right way," and they believed it. Jamie tells her own story, and she lets you know right off the bat how confident she is, but you can hear a hint of how much she will come to learn during the course of the story. "I was six months away from turning thirteen and I thought I knew everything." I read this book in one sitting, and I was continually amazed by how wonderful the writing is. For instance: "We were stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, a flat piece of real estate that threatened to burst into flames every afternoon from June through September." It's the summer of 1969, and TJ enlists in the Medical Corps instead of going to college like his family had planned. Jamie doesn't understand why her father isn't happy --she and TJ have always believed that going to war is the greatest thing possible. She thinks it must be her mother who is putting pressure on the Colonel to get TJ to stay home. She asks TJ to write her letters, but instead he sends her rolls of black and white film, and tells her to develop it herself at the rec center. Jamie started volunteering at the rec center just before her brother left, and has struck up a friendship with Private Hollister. He introduces her to another soldier who teaches her how to work in the darkroom. At first, TJ's pictures are of the landscape and some of the nurses he works with. But with each roll of film he sends her, the images become more disturbing, and she is reluctant to develop them. He also shoots pictures of the moon, his favorite subject. Things come to a head when Jamie finds out that her friend Private Hollister may be sent to Vietnam, where his brother was already killed. This story is about the war in Vietnam, but mostly it's about a family and a girl growing up in a difficult time. Review by Stacy Church

Monday, September 15, 2008

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is not your typical princess. First of all, her name isn’t pretty and feminine – it’s Ben, short for Benevolence. Secondly, she is chubby and graceless. And her life is far from perfect, especially after her parents and her uncle, the king, die on the same day. It is assumed that they were killed by the neighboring Drachensbetts, long the enemy of Ben’s people. Ben goes to live with her widowed aunt, Sophia, who is now serving as the Queen until Ben is old enough to assume the throne. Ben soothes her grief with food and sullenness, causing her aunt to keep her in a tower room until she learns to behave. But this punishment turns into freedom when Ben discovers there is something very special about this room, and the castle as well. The story is told from a future Ben’s point-of-view, as she attempts to set the story straight on the events that made her famous. The voice is authentic and old-fashioned, and beautifully written. All of the major characters are complex and well-drawn – we see the spoiled as well as the mature Ben, the aunt who is both cruel and caring, and the Drachensbett rulers who are both enemy and friend. This book has garnered rave reviews, and will be on many people’s short list for a Newbery honor. Review by Katie Corrigan

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rits by Mariken Jongman

For Rits's 13th birthday his parents gave him a writing journal and pen and a video camera --that way he could still choose what he wanted to be, a writer or a filmmaker. That's one of the funny things about Rits: whenever he finds out about a type of career, he starts to think that maybe he'll become that, too. For instance, when he meets his new friend Rita's dad, who's done lots of different thinks like sailing the ocean, working in a cafe and working on the scrap heap, he thinks the scrap heap is especially appealing because "you get a torch and you have to wear goggles, and then you get to burn big hunks of metal to pieces." This book, which is translated from the Dutch, is written in diary format as Rits records his thoughts and things that happen to him during the summer he has to live with his Uncle Corry. It takes a while to find out where Rits's parents are, and it takes most of the book for Rits to find things that he likes about Uncle Corry. I found Rits to be a very appealing character --he's funny and sad, and even though he tries to make the best of things, he often feels like he's suffering from "sagging brain," a condition he tries to research at the library. Rits's parents have let him down, but other people step up to help him, and things turn out pretty well in the end. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan

Here is a wonderful horse story in the tradition of Marguerite Henry's Misty and Walter Farley's Black Stallion series. In alternate chapters we meet Artemisia, a wild mustang who is very protective of her new foal, and Maya, who lives with her overly strict and controlling grandmother. After her grandmother dies, Maya is sent to Wyoming to live with her grandfather on a horse farm. To Maya's surprise and delight, she takes to the horses easily and quickly learns to ride. Maya discovers that she is very much like her mother,who, before she was killed in a car crash along with her father, loved horses. One day when Maya is far away from the family's summer camp, disaster strikes, and Maya is seriously injured in an earthquake. Artemisia is caught in the same valley. As Maya begins to communicate with Artemisia, both child and horse realize that they need each other to survive. They learn to trust each other as they overcome many obstacles on their way out of the devestated valley. Paint the Wind will take you on an amazing journey and an exhilarating "wild ride." Review by Trudy Walsh

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin

When Caroline's grandmother dies, her grandfather gives her a beautiful piece of Nana's jewelry, a lovely golden chain with delicate little circles perfectly linked together. As Grandfather lets the sparkling chain slowly drop into Caroline's open palms, she is surprised to realize that there is a Star of David at the end of the golden necklace. Two elongated, intertwined triangles, contrasted in light and dark gold, form the six-pointed Star of David, a symbol of her nana's Jewish faith. Caroline has never thought much about religion. Her mother has never brought her to a synagogue, where she worshipped as a child, nor has her father ever brought her to a church, where he grew up worshipping. Now Caroline is confronted with her Jewish heritage. Is she really Jewish? What does that mean for her? Her best friend Rachel is preparing to become a bat mitzvah and asks Caroline to help her plan an elaborate party to celebrate. Secretly, Caroline wishes to become a bat mitzvah and have a big party, too. Does she have a right to it? And what would she have to do for it? As Caroline explores her multicultural family background to help her understand who she really is, she makes some wonderful discoveries about her Jewish heritage. To her amazement, she also meets some new family members. The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah is a beautifully written story about a young girl, who in the process of discovering her Christian-Jewish roots, finds herself. Review by Trudy Walsh

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Titanic: An Interactive History Adventure by Bob Temple

I was so excited to read this choose-your-own adventure book about the Titanic. The Titanic tragedy is fascinating, and choose-your-own adventure books are always fun; unfortunately, this book is not that fascinating or fun. It only has 35 choices and 15 endings, which is kind of skimpy for a choose-your-own book. The information on the Titanic is interesting, but it left me wanting more facts and pictures. To get more out of this book, check it out with Robert Ballard's Exploring the Titanic or any of the other Titanic books with the call number 910.4. Review by Katie Corrigan

Blue Like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson

This may be my favorite children's book I've read all year. It's funny, really funny, and sad (my favorite combination), and the characters are great. On top of that, there's a mystery that the kids solve themselves. What could be better. It's told first person by Olivia, whose best friend is Hal. Hal is an unusual person (among other things, he has synesthesia--you'll have to look that up). Olivia spends a fair amount of time explaining Hal to the reader, and she has quite a funny way of telling things. Here's Olivia talking about her brother: "Let's face it, Larry is not one of nature's rebels. But my parents don't believe this. They believe all that stuff they read in the papers about Teenage Drinking. Larry is not exactly what you would call a typical teenager. I probably will be, when I get to that age. I will most likely be a total handful, get studs everywhere, wear the most way-out things, listen to really objectionable music. I will drive my parents up the walls. They've had it easy with Larry. They won't know what hit them. I am looking forward to it." So I guess the thing that I love the most about this book is that since the story is told from Olivia's point of view, you get her commentary on everything along with it. And as I said, Olivia is really funny. Review by Stacy Church

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

I really enjoyed reading this book, even though I wasn't sure what to expect from the title. In this case, "wild girls" means girls who live in the wild (sort of), not girls who misbehave in a wild way, although Fox, who calls herself the Queen of the Foxes, probably thinks of herself in that way, too. Joan, who is 12, moves to California with her family, and no one except her father is very happy about it. Her new house doesn't have a nice shady yard like her old house in Connecticut - no flowers, no swing hanging from a mulberry tree. When Joan goes exploring her first afternoon in California, she follows a path through the woods. It winds along a creek, and ends up in a small clearing furnished with an easy chair and shelves filled with dishes, food and toys. Before Joan can start to look around, a girl about her age yells at her to get off her property. Of course, this turns out to be Fox (whose real name is Sarah). And, predictably enough, they grow to be best friends--outside of school, that is. Later in the story, Fox and Joan (who has taken on the name Newt) write a short story together that wins a writing contest. This allows them to take a summer writing class from a real writer, on the campus of a nearby college. The class basically saves Sarah, helping her to understand her cold, demanding father better, and to find a way to be more comfortable with herself. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine

In 1972 Ling is living a carefree life in Wuhan City in central China. Her parents are both doctors working at the local hospital. Ling's father is a famous surgeon, trained in Western medicine. Ling's mother practices the healing arts of ancient China, using many special herbs. Then, overnight, everything changes. Under Mao's leadership the Cultural Revolution sweeps across China. Comrade Li, one of Mao's officers, takes a section of Ling's parents' apartment for himself, and starts to spy on them. He demands that they share their food with him, claiming more and more for himself. In a short time, Comrade Li becomes so powerful that he has the people living in the hospital's apartment complex shaking with fear every time they see him. Then Ling's father disappears, along with other doctors from the hospital. Ling worries about whether she will ever see him again, and if her mother will disappear, too. How Ling and her mother survive and triumph over the hard times during the Cultural Revolution is beautifully described in Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. Review by Trudy Walsh

Monday, March 31, 2008

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

I really enjoyed reading this funny/sad book about a girl trying to make the best of a not-so-stable home situation. At the beginning of the book, Addie's stepfather, Dwight, is moving Addie and her mother (Mommers) into a tiny trailer on a run-down street corner. It doesn't take long to figure out that Dwight is the good, loving influence in Addie's life, even though Mommers blames him for everything. Addie misses Dwight and her two half-sisters, who she calls "The Littles," and she worries that Dwight doesn't want her to come live with them, too. Addie makes friends with the owners of the mini-mart next door, and it's a good thing she does because they are her only company (besides her hamster) when Mommers disappears for days at a time. Because Addie is worried that it will cause trouble like the last time she told the truth, she protects Mommers and doesn't let anyone know how bad things really are. There's an exciting ending, and although things work out pretty well for everyone, the happy ending doesn't feel forced. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley

Franny and her friends change dramatically once they start at the exclusive Allbright Academy: former gloomy Cal becomes cheery and upbeat; funky Brooklyn cuts off his dreadlocks, gives up writing poetry and changes his name to the more mainstream Brook; and Franny finds studying easy and becomes a neat freak. In fact, all of the students at Allbright Academy are near perfect, and act more like adults than children. The story pulls you in right away, and while it's not a surprise that there is something not right at the school, the plot is by no means predictable. Franny narrates and speaks directly to the reader. Her voice is natural, yet not exactly realistic for an 8th grader. In fact, I thought that this book might have been better if the characters were high-school aged: it would be more believable that they could do some of the things they do in the story. But these slight faults do not in any way detract from the enjoyment of the book, which is fun, sophisticated, and un-put-downable. Review by Katie Corrigan

The School Story by Andrew Clements

This is another fun book by Andrew Clements. Zoe thinks the story her best friend Natalie has written is so good it should be published. Even though Natalie's mother is a publisher, Natalie wants her book to be judged the same way as other manuscripts submitted to her are, so Natalie assumes a pen name. She becomes the author "Cassandra Day" and Zoe assumes the name of "Zee Zee Reisman" as her publisher. These two take on the adults and the world of publishing to get Natalie's book published. Review by Joyce Levine.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

This is the most enjoyable children's book I've read in a long time. Granted, I love mysteries, and I am interested in quirky people, which the main character of this book certainly is. The book begins with a pretty detailed description of the London Eye, a huge ferris-wheel-type tourist attraction in London, and then jumps right into the mystery - the disappearance of Ted and Kat's cousin Salim from one of the pods of the Eye. He went up, but he didn't come down. There is a lot of insight into how Ted's brain works, even though the author never comes right out and says what his condition is called (probably some form of Asperger's Syndrome). The last two sentences of the first chapter kind of sum it up. "Somewhere, somehow, in the thirty minutes of riding the Eye, in his sealed capsule, he had vanished off the face of the earth. This is how having a funny brain that runs on a different operating system from other people's helped me to figure out what had happened." Solving the mystery requires Ted to form a partnership with his sister Kat, who is not usually a fan of his, learn to tell lies, and travel on the underground (subway) by himself for the first time. Not to mention tailing a motorcycle gang member and staking out a pub! Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes

She could have called herself "Goldilocks" because of her wild, blonde hair. She definitely was not "Sleeping Beauty," since she only slept when she had to. "Cinderella" was not an option, since she loved to dance wildly and would have snapped off the glass heel of the slipper way before midnight. She called herself "Rapunzel" - not that she identified herself with that particular lettuce. No, she identified with "Rapunzel," the fairytale character who was stuck in a tower. When Rapunzel discovers part of a letter her father has written to someone at a P.O. Box number, someone who helped her father succeed as a poet and a human being, she is intrigued. When her father is admitted to a mental hospital, she starts writing to the person with the P.O. Box number asking for help. Her mother calls her father's sickness "CD" (clinical depression). Rapunzel calls it the "evil spell," and she is determined to find a way to rescue him. Rapunzel's quest for a happy ending is recorded in Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes. It is a sensitively written, moving story of a young girl, who, though she feels utterly alone, bravely takes heroic measures to understand and help her father. Review by Trudy Walsh

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John

When Martine's parents are killed in a fire, she is sent to a wildlife reserve in Africa to live with her grandmother, who she has never met. Right away, Martine becomes aware of how dangerous life is on her grandmother's reserve. Not only are the wild animals dangerous there, but the people are dangerous too. When Martine discovers a ring of poachers, it takes all of her courage and great strength to rescue her friend, the white giraffe, from the clutches of the poachers and a terrible fate. If you love adventure and exploring faraway places, then read The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John. It will take you right to the heart of the African bush. Review by Trudy Walsh

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Schooled by Gordon Korman

This is the new book by the author of the very funny books Son of the Mob, and The 6th Grade Nickname Game. I loved this book, especially since I lived in Vermont in the 1970's and 80's and actually knew people who lived on communes like the one Cap is growing up on. When Cap's grandmother has to go into the hospital, Cap has to move to town to live in a normal house and go to a normal school (he has always been homeschooled by his grandmother). He has never watched television, or used a telephone or a computer. The bullies at the Claverage Middle School (which the kids call "C average" because that's what you get if you take the "l" out of the name) think Cap will be an easy target. I mean, come on, he wears sandals made out of corn husks. How he becomes the most popular kid in school makes for a great story. The chapters are told in alternating points of view, including Cap (full name Capricorn Anderson), Mrs. Donnelly (the social worker he goes to stay with), and Sophie Donnelly (her snobby daughter). Review by Stacy Church

Larklight or, The Revenge of the White Spiders! or To Saturn's Rings and Back

Art Mumby and his sister Myrtle live on a space ship named Larklight, in the year...1851. In this alternate history tale, people have been traveling and living in space since the early 1700's. One day the Mumbys receive word that they will be receiving a visitor - who turns out to be an enormous white spider with a few hundred thousands of his friends. The spider's visit is not a friendly one, and while the children's father is captured, Art and Myrtle make their escape via a space-pod lifeboat. They hook up with a teen-aged space pirate and his alien crew, and their travels take them to the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. It soon becomes apparent that the spiders are trying to take over the universe, but they need the key to Larklight - and therefore Art and Myrtle - to do so. This humorous and adventurous tale will interest fans of fantasy, science-fiction and historical fiction, and the illustrations of the space ships and creatures are a plus. The author has created an interesting mix with this outer space adventure with Victorian age characters. The Mumbys' adventures continue in the sequel, Starcross. Review by Katie Corrigan

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park

It is 1999. Kevin is in his room after school, trying to relieve the boredom of his history homework by bouncing a ball, when an arrow shoots out of nowhere, taking off his cap and barely missing his head. The arrow shooter turns out to be a Korean king who has come from 2,000 years in the past. The adventure begins as Kevin tries to help Archie, the king, back to his own time period. I really enjoyed reading this book. It has great characters, and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Review by Joyce Levine.

Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas by Pauline Chen

11-year-old Peiling is dying to celebrate Christmas. She wants to get a tree, decorate her house, make cookies, and, at the end of school break, tell all her school friends about the presents she received. Peiling's parents, who emigrated from China seven years ago, have raised their daughter in a very traditional Chinese way, but at Peiling's request, they decide to try celebrating an "American Christmas." This is a beautiful story about family, school friends (good and bad), a crazy teacher, and learning that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. Review by Joyce Levine