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