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