Friday, December 31, 2010

Books Read in 2010 - The Complete List

My goal for 2010 was to beat 106 books.  Well, I did it!  159 books in 2010.  Goal for 2011?  175!
Not all of the books were fabulous, in fact a chunk of them were downright trashy (bodice-ripper romances, natch), but I'm glad I took the time to keep track of all of the titles.  It would be interesting to analyze them and see trends in the genres and types of books I was reading at different points in the year.  Perhaps I'll do that!

Here's the whole list:

1. Never Seduce a Scoundrel by Sabrina Jeffries (finished 1/1/10)
2. Only a Duke Will Do by Sabrina Jeffries (finished 1/2/10)
3. Beware a Scot's Revenge by Sabrina Jeffries (finished 1/7/10)
4. First Light by Rebecca Stead (finished 1/10/10)
5. Fired Up by Jayne Ann Krentz (finished 1/16)
6. Days of Gold by Jude Deveraux (finished 1/17)
7. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix (finished 1/19)
8. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (finished 1/21)
9. An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James (finished 1/21)
10. A Duchess by Night by Eloisa James (finished 1/23)
11. Pop by Gordon Korman (finished 1/29)
12. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (finished 2/6)
13. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (finished 2/9)
14. Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani (finished 2/16)
15. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (finished 2/17)
16. The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery (finished 2/21)
17. Lament by Maggie Steifvater (finished 2/21)
18. Roses by Leila Meacham (finished - all 609 pgs of it- 2/26)
19. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (finished 2/27)
20. Elephant Run by Roland Smith (finished 2/28)
21. Leap Day by Wendy Mass (finished 3/1)
22. Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen (finished 3/4)
23. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (finsihed 3/6)
24. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (finished 3/9)
25. The Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (finished 3/9)
26. After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick (finished 3/11)
27. Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan (finished 3/12)
28. Kimchee & Calamari by Rose Kent (finished 3/14)
29. My 100 Adventures by Polly Horvath (finished 3/21)
30. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt (finished 3/26)
31. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (finished 3/28)
32. Savvy by Ingrid Law (finished 3/29)
33. The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer (finished 3/29)
34. Ash by Malinda Lo (finished 3/30)
35. The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (finished 3/31)
36. Stand Tall by Joan Bauer (finished 4/1)
37. Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (finished 4/1)
38. Sticks by Joan Bauer (finished 4/3)
39. Hope Was Here by joan Bauer (finished 4/4)
40. 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (finished 4/5)
41. Unwind by Neal Shusterman (finished 4/10)
42. Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen (finished 4/15)
43. IraqiGirl: Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq by IraqiGirl (finished 4/17)
44. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (finished 4/17)
45. Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher (finished 4/19)
46. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (finished 4/19)
47. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman (finished 4/21)
48. The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
49. The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (finished 4/24)
50. The Burning Lamp by Amanda Quick (finished 4/27)
51. All Shook Up by Shelly Pearsall (finished 5/1)
52. Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts (finished 5/6)
53. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (finished 5/7)
54. Homefront by Doris Gwaltney (finished 5/10)
55. Spells by Aprilynne Pike (finished 5/10)
56. The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt (finished 5/12)
57. Grayson by Lynne Cox (finished 5/13)
58. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (finished 5/14)
59. How Writers Work by Ralph Fletcher (finished 5/14)
60. Countdown by Deborah Wiles (finished 5/16)
61. When She Was Good by Norma Fox Mazer (finished 5/19)
62. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (finished 5/19)
68. Waiting for Normal by Leslie Collins (finished 5/21)
69. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (finished 5/26)
70. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (finished 5/28)
71. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordian (finished 5/30)
72. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (finished 6/1)
73. Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristin Chandler (finished 6/4)
74. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Finished 6/6)
75. Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne (finished 6/8)
76. Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez (finished 6/10)
77. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne (finished 6/11)
78. Fever Crumb by Phillip Reeve (finished 6/14)
79. The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry #1) by Henry Neff (finished 6/16)
80. Writing About Reading by Janet Angelillo (finished 6/17)
81. Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner (finished 6/17)
82. The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O'Roark Dowell (finished 6/18)
83. Teaching Reading in Middle School (2nd Ed) by Laura Robb (finished 6/21)
84. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (finished 6/21)
85. Differentiating Reading Instruction by Laura Robb (finished 6/23)
86. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (finished 6/24)
87. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (finished 6/25)
88. The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong (finished 6/26)
89. Middle School Readers by Nancy Allison (finished 6/27)
90. They Alchemyst by Michael Scott (finished 6/27)
91. Trouble by Gary W. Schmidt (finished 6/30)
92. Pyrotechnics on the Page by Ralph Fletcher (finished 7/1)
93. Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (finished 7/3)
94. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (finished 7/4)
95. The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) by Katie Wood Ray (finished 7/5)
96. Igniting a Passion for Reading by Stephen L. Layne (finished 7/5)
97. Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (finished 7/8)
98. Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party by MT Anderson (finished 7/10)
99. Hidden Gems by Katherine Bomer (finished 7/13)
100. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (finished 7/14)
101. Don't Forget to Share by Leah Mermehlstein (finished 7/15)
102. Using the Writer's Notebook in Grades 3-8 by Janet L. Elliot (finished 7/16)
103. Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen (finished 7/19)
104. This Is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee (finished 7/22)
105. Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray (finished 7/23)
106. Scat by Carl Hiaasen (finished 7/26)
107. The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks (finished 7/29)
108. Classroom Reading Assessments by Frank Serafini (finished 7/30)
109. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (finished 8/4)
110.  The Magician by Michael Scott (finished 8/10)
111.  What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher (finished 8/11)
112.  13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison (finished 8/14)
113.  Teaching With Intention by Debbie Miller (finished 8/18)
114. Last Summer of the Death Warrior by Francisco Stork (finished 8/23)
115.  Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan (finished 8/24)
116.  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (finished 8/30)
117.  Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (finished 8/30)
118.  Scarlet Nights by Jude Deveraux (finished 9/4)
119.  Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner (finished 9/5)
120.  Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff (finished 9/5)
121.  My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (finished 9/11)
122.  Farm City by Novella Carpenter (finished 9/17)
123.  The Sorceress by Michael Scott (finished 9/22)
124.  Green Angel by Alice Hoffman (finished 9/22)
125.  Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (finished 9/25)
126.  Finally by Wendy Mass (finished 9/29)
127.  Fablehaven:  Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull (finished 10/7)
128.  Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors (finished 10/10)
129.  Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce (finished 10/11)
130.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (finished 10/20)
131.  Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (finished 10/24)
132.  Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (finished 10/26)
133.  Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (finished 10/29)
134.  Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (finished 11/2)
135.  The Necromancer by Michael Scott (finished 11/7)
136.  Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts (finished 11/9)
137.  City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (finished 11/15)
138.  Heist Society by Ally Carter (finished 11/18)
139.  The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler (finished 11/18)
140.  Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supples (finished 11/21)
141.  Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill (finished 11/21)
142.  Warp Speed by Lisa Yee (finished 11/21)
143.  The Grave Robber's Secret by Anna Myers (finished 11/25)
144.  Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (finished 11/30)
145.  Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (finished 12/1)
146.  Impossible by Nancy Werlin (finished 12/6)
147.  Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel (finished 12/10)
148.  Dark Song by Gail Giles (finished 12/11)
149.  The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar (finished 12/15)
150.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (finished 12/18)
151.  Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (finished 12/22)
152.  A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (finished 12/23)
153.  One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (finished 12/24)
154.  Matched by Ally Condie (finished 12/25)
155.  The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan (finished 12/27)
156.  A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park (finished 12/27)
157.  Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (finished 12/28)
158.  Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman (finished 12/29)
159.  The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie:   A Doll's History and her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone (finished 12/31)

Playing Catch Up: Bookday Challenge

My book blogging has taken a hit this week.  Sadly, my younger brother passed away just before Christmas, and his wake and funeral were Monday and Tuesday.  I spent the 3.5 hour trip between Northbrook and Springfield reading, trying to keep my mind off of the sad days to come.

Here's what I've read since my last post:

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton, 2010)

On the evening of her Match Banquet, Cassia is nervous and excited.  She is eager to find out which boy in the Society will be her perfect match.  Cassia can hardly believe her eyes when hears her best friend, Xander, will be her mate.  Later, when she is looking at the disc containing information about her Match, Cassia is surprised to see the face of another boy staring back at her from the screen, a boy she recognizes, since he is another of her friends.

Cassia starts to begin to question the rules of her society.  Why don't people have choices?  Why must lives end on the 80th birthday?  Should the government really have so much control over the lives of the Society's citizens?  Cassia soon learns that asking questions not only leads to answers, but also to danger.

I loved Matched.  While it was reminiscent of The Giver by Lois Lowry, it was in the very best of ways.  Condie captures the natural questions teens ask as they approach adulthood, and she raises the stakes by having Cassia question the very basis of her society.  Cassia must learn to navigate dangerous situations and make decisions she never thought she'd have to make.  The fact that the protagonist of the story is a teen girl is also a plus in my book.  Many of the dystopian books I've read have had male main characters, but like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Cassia is a smart and capable teenage girl, a role model for others.  I'm looking forward to reading more about Cassia and her quest in the sequel.

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis (Scholastic, 2010)

The Dreamer is the story of how Neftali Reyes became the poet Pablo Neruda.  A sickly boy who is often intimidated by his overbearing father, Neftali is often lost in his own world.  His daydreams are flights of fancy, and the way Ryan incorporates these dreams into the story is magical.  Add to that Sis's amazing, stippled illustrations, and you have a book that you just can't put down.

I must admit, I knew next to nothing about Neruda before reading this book.  I had seen some of his poems in various anthologies, but that was about it.  Last September I had the privilege of hearing Ryan talk about the process of writing this book at the Anderson's Bookshops Young Adult Literature Festival.  As she talked about the stories that led her to write this book, Ryan made Neruda come alive for me.  I knew I'd have to read this novel.  And it is a novel; while based closely on Neruda's life, Ryan did fictionalize many of the events depicted.  Pick up The Dreamer.  You won't be disappointed. 

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
(Clarion, 2010)

Salva was sitting in school one day when the war in the Sudan came knocking.  Told by his teacher to run into the bush rather than return home, Salva began a perilous journey to safety that would take him years and would eventually lead him to the United States.  Nya is a girl in a Sudanese village who must walk hours each day to the nearest water hole to gather water for her family.  When she returns home, she has a bite to eat and then walks to the water hole and back AGAIN.  Nya has no time for school.  Told in the alternating voices of Salva and Nya, A Long Walk to Water is a small, powerful story of the power of hope and love.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book on the heels of The Dreamer.  I knew a bit about the story, but not much.  I was surprised to see that even the color of the text changed depending on whether Salva or Nya was narrating.  This made it easier for me to keep track of the story.  There were times when I had to close the book for a moment because of the brutality of Salva's experiences, and I was saddened to learn that Nya's trips to the water hole meant she could not attend school.  While I know that situations such as the ones depicted in this book are real, I am sheltered from them here in my cushy life in the Chicago suburbs.  I wondered many times whether or not I would have the perseverance to continue on like Salva did.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys 
(Philomel, March 2011)

Lina is fifteen the night the Soviet secret police come to arrest her, her mother, and her younger brother for crimes against the Soviet Union.  Lina is Lithuanian, and Stalin has annexed Lithuania.  Somehow, some way, Lina's family has ended up on one of Stalin's horrible lists, and now Lina and her family will pay.  Lina's father, a professor, has already been sent off to prison; Lina, her mother, and brother Jonas are being sent to 25 years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. 

Sepetys takes Lithuanian history and makes it real for the reader as she tells the story of Lina's struggle to survive in the arctic with almost no food, no clothes, and no shelter.  It is Lina's will to survive and the love she feels for her family that enable her to survive.  Lina also draws on the release she gets from her art - she documents her experiences on any paper she can find and eventually buries her drawings in a glass jar for others to find later.

This is one of the most powerful books I read this year.  At times I thought I would not be able to go on; the things Lina and her family had to endure were beyond cruel and inhumane.  This book ranks right up there with some of the Holocaust literature I've read; it is just as chilling as Night by Elie Wiesel, and is a book that needs to be read.  You can find out more about the research Sepetys did in preparation for writing the book and a bit about the history of Lithuania by watching the book trailer here:

Sparky:  The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman (Chronicle, 2010)

What American kid has never read a Peanuts comic or seen It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV in the fall?  How many of those kids have wondered about the real people behind Charlie, Sally, and Linus?  As a child of the seventies, The Peanuts were a part of growing up, and this biography of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was informative and entertaining.

I really enjoyed learning about how Schulz got started with his art career and which of the characters were based on real people.  I also thought the layout of the book itself was very appealing.  Each page is a different bright color, and the font is large and easy to read.  An overall enjoyable experience!

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie:  A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone (Viking, 2010)

I admit it - I was a Barbie girl.  I had countless dolls, the Dream House, the Jet, the Car - I had it all!  However, when I had daughters of my own, I declared a Barbie embargo.  I would not buy Barbies for my girls.  My Barbie-free-zone lasted until my oldest was about three, and now I step on those teeny-tiny shoes on a daily basis!

I'm not the only 40-something mother who is torn over the role of Barbie in her daughters' lives.  Author Stone explores Barbie's history and the controversy she has sparked over the years.  A balanced and entertaining book, I found I learned so much I never knew about Barbie and her creator.  I especially loved the photos of Barbie through the years; there's even one or two of Ken!  

I am curious to see what kind of reception this book will get from the seventh graders in my class.  I'm guessing not many boys will check it out, but I hope at least a few of the girls will give it a chance.  It was better than I expected!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia 
(Amistad, 2010)

It's the summer of 1968, and Delphine and her younger sister are spending the summer in Oakland, California, with their mother, Cecile.  The problem?  Cecile doesn't want them there.  She is a poet, spending her days writing poetry and working with the Black Panthers.  Cecile sends Delphine and her sisters off each day to the Black Panthers summer camp where the girls learn what a revolution is, and find themselves having one of their own.  By the time they return to Brooklyn at the end of the summer, each girl has found her voice, and Delphine has found her history.

I learned quite a bit from reading One Crazy Summer.  As a former social studies teacher, I thought I knew about 1968. Reading this book I realized I knew about the summer of love and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but I didn't know about the Black Panthers and the work they were doing in their community, feeding the hungry and helping the poor.  The way Williams-Garcia wrote this book made this history accessible and real; I was pulled in by Delphine's voice from the very first page.  I'm curious to see if this book ends up winning the Newberry; it's certainly good enough.

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (Candlewick, 2010)

In a world where teens spend so much of their time connected to the internet or staring at screens, how in the world do they learn to interact and connect in person?  If you are a boy at the St. Sebastian School, your parents just might work with the new school counselor, Dr. Roger to get you a Companion, a female robot programmed to teach you how to interact with a girl.  If you move too fast ZAP!  You are hit with a strong electrical shock as a warning to back off.

This is exactly how David Sun meets Rose, his Companion.  David enjoys spending time with Rose until one night at a party he discovers that Rose is lacking "girl parts."  He leaves her at the party, and Rose wanders, eventually deciding to jump off a cliff into a lake because she is so despondent. 
Luckily, Charlie, a classmate of David's, sees what is happening and saves Rose.  Charlie helps Rose become a "real girl" and Rose helps Charlie to see that he's not the misfit he thinks he is.

I thoroughly enjoyed Girl Parts.  I found the story to be imaginative, and while at first I though Rose might be a bit Stepford Wife-ish, she actually is a fully developed character who learns through her experiences what it is like to be human.  I was a bit disappointed in the ending, but I understand why the author ended the book the way he did. 

This book is definitely PG-13 for language and some sexual situations.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
(Dutton, 2010)

Most every child has heard the story of Hansel and Gretel and their ill-fated trip into the dark and scary woods.  Gidwitz takes the traditional Hansel and Gretel and ups the ante, weaving several stories together to expand the original story into nine stories that build upon each other.  One of my favorites was "The Three Golden Hairs" where Hansel has to trick the devil into releasing him from a deal his foster father made, giving Hansel to the devil for all eternity.  Hansel and Gretel are clever and courageous, and learn something from each step on their journey. 

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book was the way Gidwitz would stop the narrative and speak straight to the reader.  I also liked that Grimm's tale wasn't whitewashed.  It is scary, it is bloody, and it is dark, just the way Grimm's original tales were written.  Gidwitz balances the scary with funny, creating an overall enjoyable read.

I would recommend A Tale Dark and Grimm for middle grades and up.  It will definitely have a place on my classroom library shelves, and perhaps be a read aloud for at least one of my seventh grade classes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
(Dutton, 2010)

I'm going to cheat a bit here and use the summary from the jacket flap to let you know what this book is about.  I've been thinking about how to summarize it and still do it justice, but my brain is on a perpetual sugar buzz from all of the holiday baking I've been doing.  So here goes:

It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets.  When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions.  With a push from friends new and old - including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theatre auteur extraordinaire - Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical.

Even this summary does not capture everything I enjoyed about this book.  Told in alternating perspectives of the two Will Graysons, it examines teenage boy angst in a funny, touching way.  Each Will is trying to come to terms with friendships, romances, who they are and who they want to be - something that each of us goes though as we grow up.  At no time did I find the book to be didactic or preachy, and I think the honesty with which the characters approach their problems will appeal to teens.  Green and Levithan got it right with this one.

While I enjoyed this book immensely, it is not one I will be putting in my classroom library.  The language and some of the situations are a bit over the top for me to feel comfortable having it in my classroom.  I do know, however, that it is available at our local library, and of course at a bookstore near you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bookaday Challenge: Winter Break 2010!

A few weeks ago, Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, issued a challenge to her Twitter followers:  read a book a day for the length of your winter break.  I had half-heartedly participated in her summer bookaday challenge, and decided that this time I was going to go at it full force.  However, it being the holidays and I being a mom with two young children forced me to reconsider my goal.  I've decided I will read TEN books over the two-week winter break. 

When I shared this goal with my students this week, some of them looked at me as if I were nuts!  They insisted there was no way THEY could read ten books in fourteen days, but I assured them that I didn't expect them to.  I did, however, expect them to set a challenging reading goal for themselves over break.  I can't wait to see the results when we return to school in January.

SO.... after careful consideration, I have chosen the following books:

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2010)

Nya is going to the pond to fetch water for her family - there and back, twice.  She walks for eight hours every day.

Salva is walking away from his ruined village to find safety - if there is any safety in his war-torn homeland.  His journey across Africa to Ethiopia and then to Kenya and beyond will take many years.

Two young people, two stories.
One country:  Sudan

The mesmerizing dual narrative by Newberry Medalist Linda Sue Park shows us that in a troubled country, determined survivors may find the future they are hoping for.

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton, 2010)

In the society, officials decide.  Who you LOVE.  Where you WORK.  When you DIE.

Cassia has always trusted their choices.  It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate.  So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he's the one... until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.  Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices:  between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known, and a path no one else has ever dared follow -- between perfection and passion. 

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan & Peter Sis (Scholastic, 2010)

From the time he is a young boy, Netfali hears the call of a mysterious voice.  Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftali knows he cannot ignore the call.  Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the vast and fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows...

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2010)

Eleven year old Delphine has it together.  Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago.  Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer.  And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them.  She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door.  Rather than spend time with them Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel, March 2011)

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer.  But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother.  They are being sent to Siberia.  Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp.  All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing.  She risks everything to use her art messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day.  But with love be enough to keep them alive?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, 2008)

Prentisstown isn't like other towns.  Everyone can hear everyone else's thought in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise.  Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence.  They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.  But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton, 2010)

Reader: beware.
Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retrofitted for cooking children lurk within these pages.

But if you dare,
turn the page and learn the true story of Hansel and Gretel - the story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Come on in.
It may be frightening, it's certainly bloody, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, this one is true.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

I look out the window into the street...I'm meant to be at Mr. Frank's workplace in a few hours.  We're arriving separately, all of us.  We'll walk into the building just like it was any other visit - only this time we'll never walk out again.

What was it like hiding in the Annex with Anne Frank?  To be with Anne every day while she wrote so passionately in her diary?  To be in a secret world within a world at war - alive on the inside, everything dying on the outside?

Peter Van Pels and his family have lost their country, their home, and their freedom, and now they are fighting desperately to remain alive.  
Look through Peter's eyes.  
He has a story to tell, too.  
Are you listening?

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2008)

Marcus, aka "w1n5t0n", is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works - and how to work the system.  Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school's intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

His whole world changes when, having skipped school, he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco  In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they're mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him one option:  to take down the DHS himself.

Can one teenage hacker fight back against a government out of control?  Maybe, but only if he's really careful... and very, very smart.

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (Candlewick, 2010)

David and Charlie are opposites.  David has a million friends, online and off.  Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely.  But neither feels close to anybody.  When David's parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat "dissociative disorder," he can't get enough of luscious, redheaded Rose - and he can't get it soon.  Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock.  Severed from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up to her, knowing that she isn't real.  With Charlie's help, the ideal "companion" is about to become her own best friend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar

The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar
(Candlewick, February 2011)

Laura Horton lives in a large, practically-falling-down mansion that she loves.  What she doesn't love is feeling different from the other kids with whom she goes to school.  All of the other kids live in normal houses with parents who have normal jobs - Laura's parents are artists.

One day, Leon Murphy appears in her math class.  Like Laura, he doesn't fit in, and he has secrets of his own.  An unlikely (and somewhat unwanted on Laura's part) friendship develops between the two as they work to discover the secrets hidden in the Laura's house. 

At first, I had a hard time getting into this book.  I felt that Laura was very whiny, and I just wanted to tell her to snap out of it and realize that fitting in at the expense of giving up parts of yourself just isn't worth it.  However, once Leon and Laura begin to unravel the secrets of Mr. Visconti and the mansion he built for the woman he loved the story got more interesting.  In many ways, I wish the author had made THAT the story, a nineteenth century romance between a young Australian woman and the dashing young man she meets while studying music in Italy - the whole star-crossed lovers thing.  Maybe the problem is not so much with this story, but is instead with me.  Perhaps I'm in the mood for a good old-fashioned romance!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Black Hole Sun

Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
(Greenwillow, 2010)

"Mars stinks."

Mars might, but this book doesn't.  I wasn't sure what to expect after reading the cover flap for Black Hole Sun, but buzz on Twitter, along with meeting David Macinnis Gill at the National Council of Teachers of English convention, finally convinced me to pick it up.  I'm so glad I did!  I started reading it while waiting for the Magical Express bus to pick me up and whisk me off to the Orlando airport and finished it just a few hours later waiting for my delayed flight to take off.  Black Hole Sun was a perfect book to fill that time.

Durango is the sixteen year old leader of a pack of mercenaries working to save the miners at the South Pole from a band of cannibalistic mutants.  The action is non-stop, and reminded me more of a space western than a sci-fi story. It's hard to summarize this story without giving too much away, as even the copy on the cover flap conveys:

Durango is playing the cards he was dealt.  And it's not a good hand.
He's lost his family.
He's lost his crew.
And he's got the scars to prove it.
You don't want to mess with Durango.

So I guess my message here is go get yourself a copy of Black Hole Sun.  Find a comfy chair and let yourself get lost on Mars with Durango and Vienne.  You won't regret it.

Dark Song by Gail Giles

Dark Song by Gail Giles
(Little Brown, 2010)

I received an advanced copy of this book at the International Reading Association's annual convention in May, but it sat in my to-read pile for several months.  It wasn't until after Teri Lesesne ( mentioned it in her "Naked Reading" session at the National Council of Teachers of English conference that I decided to pick it up myself.

15 year old Ames lives a perfect life.  She lives in a perfect house in Boulder with her perfect parents, goes to a perfect school, and takes perfect vacations.  Of course, life isn't perfect, and for Ames she discovers this as her entire world crashes around her after her father is fired from his job for stealing money for clients.  The Ford family loses their house, most of their belongings and are forced to move to Texas to rent a dilapidated house from the grandparents Ames didn't know she had. Trouble starts when Ames meets Marc, an older guy who fascinates her and plays on her poor relationship with her parents to manipulate her.  She quickly falls into an abusive relationship that could change the course of her life.

Dark Song is a book I found hard to put down.  I read it practically in one sitting, and once finished, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  While the story was predictable in parts, I found myself reacting audibly to various events.

This book is definitely PG-13, not so much for the language, but also for some of the sexual references and also the violent and dark section toward the end of the book.  I, personally, do not feel comfortable putting this book on the shelves in my seventh grade classroom, and I will be passing it on to a high school teacher.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
(Scholastic Press, 2010)

Ben is not having the thirteenth birthday he had dreamed of.  He and his father have just driven from Toronto to Victoria, Canada, and are in their empty new house awaiting the movers.  His mother is away picking up the new baby - a baby chimp.  Yes, a chimp.

Ben's dad is a behavioral scientist who plans on studying what happens if a chimp is raised as a human in a family.  The goal is to teach the chimp (who Ben names Zan - short for Tarzan) sign language and see if it will begin to use language in the way humans do, with grammar, syntax, and context.  At first, Ben is not thrilled at having Zan in the house.  It seems to be more trouble than it's worth.  Add that to the fact that Ben is starting a new school and has a crush on the daughter of his Dad's boss, and it seems his thirteenth year will not be so great.  As time passes, however, Ben grows to love Zan as a brother, and realizes that he will do anything to keep him safe.

I loved this book.  It is not a book that got a great deal of buzz when it came out in the fall, but it should have.  The story of Ben and Zan really tugs at the heartstrings, but not in an overly sappy way.  It opens a window into the world of animal research, and really makes the reader think about how we as humans treat and use the animals on which consumer products and pharmaceuticals are tested.

I had the pleasure of hearing Kenneth Oppel speak at an event sponsored by Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Illinois.  He spoke of the process of writing this book and the research he did into animal research in the 1970s, the time in which the book is set.  Hearing about this process made me want to read the book even more.  There was a chance that his portrayal of the more inhumane labs could end up to be too heavy handed, but he got it just right.

I cannot recommend Half Brother highly enough.  This is a book I will be talking about with my students first thing Monday morning.

For more about Kenneth Oppel and his writing process for Half Brother (and perhaps play a sign language game) visit