February 27, 2009
The Possibilities of Sainthood (AR 6 . 2)
by Donna Freitas
Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux
I checked this out from the library because of a recommendation, but I wondered if I would be able to get into it. The thought of a modern girl who wanted to become a saint just didn’t resonate with me.
I picked it up and was hooked. Antonia may have saintly aspirations but she’s a real kid who is trying to live up to her mother’s high expectations and still have fun with her friend Maria. She’s also hankering for that first kiss, praying it will be delivered by none other than the love of her life, Andy. Or will it be Michael, who Antonia is sure is just a friend although he wants to be so much more?
Don’t let the AR level fool you. This book is about a girl who is about to turn 16. A fairly sheltered girl, perhaps, but she has the same feelings and desires of other 16 year-olds. She isn’t fast or easy by a long shot but, thanks to one of the above boys, she has to fend off unwelcome advances.
Still, the book isn’t raunchy. It is simply a love story about a girl who must learn to recognize what is real and true in those around her as well as in herself.
February 25, 2009
Rocks in His Head (AR 3 . 5 )
by Carol Otis Hurst
Illustrated by James Stevenson
This is the story of a boy who collects rocks, a boy who just happens to be the author’s father. He collects rocks with a passion whenever he isn’t in school or doing his chores. When the people around him comment that he has rocks in his pockets and rocks in his head, he simply reaches into his pocket to show them his latest find.
But there’s no money in rocks so as an adult he opens up a filling station with shelves for his collection. When the Great Depression shuts down the station, he moves his rocks into the attic of his home. Between odd jobs he visits the local museum where he attracts the attention of the director. Eventually he ends up just where he wants to be — in a job that let’s him think about rocks all day.
The main character is an adult through much of the book, but he’s an adult that children will identify with. Why? Because he’s an adult other adults criticize for being impractical. He’s an adult with dreams. He’s an adult with passion. He’s an adult with his own way of looking at the world.
Stevenson’s pen and watercolor illustrations give a wide-eyed old time feel to this story. Earth tones and muted colors, save for the occasional splash of red, contribute to the nostalgic and earthy feel.
An excellent choice for junior geologists and dreamers alike.
February 24, 2009
Wild Magic (AR 4. 9 )
by Tamora Pierce
Full Cast Audio
You may have already noticed that I’m often reviewing books I’ve listened to vs read. Since I work from home, I listen to them at lunch. They also keep me company when I’m knitting or crocheting.
But they can help your young reader too. A friend’s son listens while he reads because he reads so fast that he retains little. Listening slows him down. My son reads above grade level but is a slow reader. Listening while reading has helped build his confidence. With confidence came a bit more speed.
Any way, back to Wild Magic. If you’ve got a fantasy lover who misses the Harry Potter books, try this — the first in The Immortals series. Unlike HP, these books are sword and sorcery not contemporary.
Daine gives little explanation when she seeks a job with a woman preparing to move a herd of mountain ponies. She equally good with the horses and with her bow but she’s not as good with something else — her magic.
And magic is a problem when long banished magical creatures make their way into the world and start harrassing people, including Daine’s new friends. Daine can’t let the magican creatures dominate, not when she’s finally found a place where people might actually accept her as long as they don’t know the secrets of her past.
Like HP, The Immortals series deals with mature issues and themes. But the violence isn’t overly graphic and the pace is fast. Maybe it would be the perfect choice for your next road trip.
February 23, 2009
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (AR 6 . 4 )
by Margarita Engle
With this book winning the Pura Belpre Author Award and a Newbery Honor, I expected great things. It exceeded my expectations.
Poet and author Margarita Engle gives young readers a glimpse of the fight for Cuban independence from Spain. She starts with Cuba solidly under Spanish rule and then moves to the actual rebellion, from the freeing of slaves by Cuban planters to Spanish soldiers who are little more than boys and U.S. involvement. While there are four point-of-view characters, the main character is Rosa who enters the story as a young slave learning to heal. Rosa’s life mirrors the story of Cuba as she hides from those who would harm her, helps those who need her whether they are ex-slaves or Spanish soldiers, and struggles to keep all alive with little but hope.
Holt markets the book for ages 12 and up and my library shelves it in the teen section. The talk of war, battles and concentration camps is straight forward without being graphic.
Although I studied Latin American history in college, I learned a great deal from this book. For example, I had never heard of concentration camps in Cuba. Engle includes a list of references and I intend to add several, perhaps even one or two in Spanish, to my shelves.
February 20, 2009
Gator Gumbo (AR 2 . 8 )
by Candace Fleming
Farrar Straus Giroux
When I was a child, I hated the story of the Little Red Hen. Why share your bread when no one was willing to help? I always wanted to pick up that bird and shake some sense into her.
Imagine my joy when I discovered this spiced-up version of the story in which Cajun Monsieur Gator may be getting up in years but he’s also slier than sly. When the tempting smell of his delicious gumbo brings Possum, Skunk and Otter right up to the pot, they are in for a big surprise.
Hey, now! Don’t stomp off in a huff, assuming it is all grim and gruesome. These beasts have been so sassy, snippy and surly, young readers love it when they get what they’ve got coming. And so do some of the older readers too. My son still brings me this book when I’ve had a bad, unfair kind of day.
Reading it out loud is pure fun although you better be prepared for Cajun patter.
Who is this book meant for? Anyone young or old whose had to deal with sass or lip or just needs a really good laugh. The main character may be an elderly reptile but kids feel left out and left behind enough to identify with the elder gator.
February 19, 2009
Savvy (AR 6 . 0 )
by Ingrid Law
Named a Newbery Honor this year, Savvy left me wondering just how good the winner must be as well as what wacky Savvy I’d end up with.
Thirteenth birthdays are tricky things in the Beaumont family because sometime that day each Beaumont discovers his or her Savvy, or special ability. On Fish’s big day, he called up a hurricane, but boys tend to have more powerful savvies than girls. Mibs has no idea what her talent will be, she just hopes it is something good. It had better be because until she learns to control it, she will be home schooled. Not that she has any friends — living in fear of other people finding out about your family tends to put a damper on friendship.
The hope for a really good savvy grows stronger when a highway accident lands her father in a coma miles away and her mother leaves to be by his side. When the Pastor’s wife insists on throwing Mibs a party, the girl realizes she will come into her power among people other than family, people she is afraid to trust. She stows away on a bus bound for the city where her father is. Mibs planned to go alone but her brothers and the pastor’s kids follow and the result is a road trip across two states that ends with new found friends and a respect for the abilities, secrets and trust to be found in others.
This book is an excellent choice for fantasy lovers although with a touch of light romance it will probably appeal more to girls than to boys. Still, both male and female characters are equally strong and equally flawed. For a slightly older audience than Nitz’s Griffin.
This is a fast moving, fun and funny story about a girl learning not only who she is but also more than a little something about those around her.
February 18, 2009
Saving the Griffin ( AR 3 . 6)
by Kristin Wolden Nitz
Do you have a young reader who loves fantasy, especially fantasy set in the present? Then pick up Saving the Griffin.
When Kate and Michael discover a baby griffin near where they are staying in Italy, they don’t immediately know what it is but they know it is special and rare and needs to be protected. But its hard to keep something secret when it eats and flies and talks.
When other people see the griffin and start looking for it, the children make the difficult decision to find out where it came from and send it home even if it means never seeing their new friend again.
Nitz’s characters are realistic. Even if they sometimes fight, siblings help each other out. The adults aren’t 100% clueless although the kids are able to trick them.
This is a fast-paced story for readers who want good fantasy but without don’t need blood and guts or mature themes often found in books for older readers.
February 12, 2009
Trout Are Made of Trees (AR 3 . 3 )
By April Pulley Sayre
Illustrated by Kate Endle
Sayre successfully presents the web of life to younger children in this simple nonfiction picture book. She begins with a leaf falling into a stream. As the leaf decomposes it is eaten by insects who are eaten by trout. Families camping catch the trout and have them for dinner.
Wait! Wait! When you tell it like that, it sounds potentially gruesome, but it isn’t. Details are age appropriate and thus are not likely to offend. For children who are ready for a bit more information, there’s an extensive author’s note. I was impressed by how Sayre has managed to explain stream ecology in simple, straightforward terms.
Endle’s collage illustrations depict the various animals in authentic detail. Her colors are earthy and rich.
This book is a must for young nature lovers and kids who are nuts about science. Try it as a read aloud and share it with the whole family.
February 10, 2009
The Rule of Won
by Stefan Petrucha
Walker and Company
When this book was recommended to me, I read Teen, Inc. first. Teen, Inc. grabbed me from the first and I loved the character’s voice.
The Rule of Won didn’t grab me immediately but I think that part of the problem is that I’m reading it as a MOM. You can’t spend all afternoon trying to motivate the Unmotivated to do his homework and simply adore the main character when he’s a slacker. At least, not at first. I stuck it out and if you don’t admire Caleb right away, I hope you’ll keep on reading too. He grows on you.
Clearly, I’m not the only one annoyed by Caleb’s lack of get-up-and-go. His girlfriend, Vicky, demands that he go to the Crave, an after school club based on the book The Rule of Won. The first task assigned to the group by the club president is to chant a phrase several times a day about their school getting more funding. BING. More funding comes their way. But was it a result of their action or did the club president know a grant had already been awarded.
Then the basketball team wins a game when half of the other team is out with the flu. A math test is cancelled when the teacher is in a serious car accident. The explanation the Rule gives for negative happenings? You get what you want even if you don’t realize that is what you’ve been asking for. Classic blame the victim.
As Caleb comes to question the Rule, he finds himself once again on the outs with his fellow students but this time he is driven, against his slacker tendencies to do something about the wrong he sees all around him. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Epilogue. It is worth reading the whole book.
Give this book to the reluctant reader who doesn’t seem to see himself in much of what his teachers give him to read. Caleb is recognizable in a way that is irritating to parents but also allows readers to see themselves. Caleb is unapologetically lazy and the Board postings by his fellow students are realistic, funny and creepy all at the same time.
I’ll be checking out more by this author.
February 3, 2009
Teen, Inc. (AR 5.0)
by Stefan Petrucha
Walker and Company
Rebellion. Testing the limits. Pushing parental buttons. Isn’t that all part of finding out who you are as a teen? But which buttons do you push when you’re being raised by a corporation instead of a couple?
Jaiden Beale leads a life that is anything but typical. Orphaned as an infant, he was adopted by the corporation responsible for his parent’s death. He has finally convinced his management team that public school is in his best interest but this means a series of lies and half truths designed to keep his best friend from finding out how he lives — in an office suite. When he’s assigned a partner for a science project, things begin the come unravled as he finds out the truth about his guardians.
This was a book I couldn’t put down. It was also the rare book that kept me from indulging in a very bad reading habit — flipping to the back to see how it ends. I was engaged from start to finish.
In part, it was the character’s unique voice. Jaiden has been raised by committee, his misdeeds at school bring about entense retreats instead of grounding, and he speaks in corporate lingo.
To shake things up, author Stefan Petrucha gives him a science partner who is everything he wants in a girl and wildly anti-big business.
If you’ve got a tween boy who doesn’t like to read, hand this to him. It questions authority. Jaiden’s friend is mildly unhinged. He breaks the rules. He’s got a great sense of humor. The one problem might be the dust jacket which didn’t entirely fit the book IMO. The cover art looks bright and clean and maybe a bit humorous. But a lot of the humor is sarcastic and, in that sense, a bit dark. Very real. Very tween. A quick read with a great main character who reminds me all too much of my own son.