Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Break Book

I don’t want to leave the girls out in my quest for a fun book to take on spring break.

ONLY THE GOOD SPY YOUNG by Ally Carter, Hyperion, 2010

This is the 4th in a series of New York Times best-sellers known as the Gallagher Girls series.

Ally Morgan is a junior at the Gallagher Academy. Her goal is to be a spy, but she didn’t expect her life of dangerous sleuthing to begin so soon. Who knew she’d be facing an ancient terrorist organization out to kidnap her.

Code name Cammie “the Chameleon” and her close allies must lie, steal, hack, and spy their way to finding answers to many puzzle parts. The search is further complicated when Ally discovers that one of her most trusted associates is a rogue double agent. Of course, there is a love interest. Can she trust him?

Underwater turns out to be a place of caves and covert places to meet or hide. Hidden chambers and secret passageways abound. Nothing that looks like what it seems to be is really what it becomes when a code is used or a lever or some other means of accessing the secret places. It’s like watching a James Bond movie with teen players.

Enough romance to keep the girls happy. Enough action that guys won’t get antsy. A lucky reader can pack all four books, read long hours into the night, and sleep late. After all, it’s break time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books for Breaks

Spring Break. Summer Break. Whatever qualifies as a break from the routine, whatever takes the family to a beach house or a mountain cabin, or the backyard hammock, parents are always on the look-out for a book or an author that will grab the interest of reluctant readers. The book reviewed here might do that. So might the author. He's considered by many to be a “rising star” among science fiction writers. This, his first novel for young adults, took top awards and honors this past year.

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little, Brown, and Co., 2010

This is not a book one puts down willingly. Every page has someone dangling into the uncertainty of another encounter with a villain or a dangerous turn of events.

No gender biases. In this dystopian world, boys and girls pull their own weight and are fairly equally matched.

Instead of werewolves and vampires, our characters interact with a mixed breed of humanity, tigers, and dogs, called half-men. This is a sinister warrior creature, bred to serve. Most are fierce, almost invincible, and nearly always loyal to the death. That’s right, “almost” and “nearly.” Some half-men have ideas of their own, skewing the action and increasing the terror.

The setting is the Gulf Coast region. Teenaged Nailer works on a crew of “ship breakers,” breaking down grounded oil tankers for parts. After a city killer storm (called hurricanes in earlier years when they weren’t as frequent), he finds a beached clipper ship. It’s elegant, expensive, and could make a huge difference in his day to day struggle to stay alive. He also discovers a survivor aboard, a wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. Maybe. Does he opt for riches or rescue?

Class warfare, environmental hazards, religious conflicts, all rumble beneath the surface of a boy escaping an abusive father and a girl trying not to place her powerful, but vulnerable father (he loves his daughter), in an untenable position. Deep discussions may or may not develop, but the drive of a first reading is to find out how it ends and if the unlikely duo will make it to the last page alive. After closing the book and catching up on breathing, readers will hope for a sequel.

Ship Breaker was a National Book Award finalist and won the Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature given by the American Library Association. It just might win the interest of your reluctant reader, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Drum Roll, Please

March is Women’s History Month. I still remember the first book I read that fit neatly into this category.

It was a biography of Abigail Adams. Wow! How amazing! Until that day, those first chapters, I thought our country was founded and shaped by George Washington and his soldiers. I also thought mothers were people who let their children back into the house after a long, boring day at school.

But not Abigail! At the same time she was a wife and mother of many children, she was a letter writer whose ideas and opinions influenced our country. (I discovered post-Abigail that my mother was a quite a letter writer,too, but I'll save that for another time.)

Since that enlightening day years ago, I've found many other books on women who achieved, prospered, broke barriers, and changed the world for the better. One I reviewed on Book Log is SHE SANG PROMISE by Jan Godown Annino about the amazing Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal leader. That was last March, and I’m still thinking about Betty Mae's courage and determination. The review is here.

Of course it helps that I keep up with the author, Jan Godown. A friend, mentor, and sister writer, Jan is observing women’s history month on her Bookseed Studio blog.

It was on Jan's blog that I picked up this link to Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History.

If only we had time to read all the books written about us!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stories of St. Patrick

Myths and mayhem, gypsies and goblins. Intrigued? Before this St. Patrick’s Day celebration fades from memory, place this well spun tale near a comfortable chair. Once you open this book, you'll be seated for hours.

TYGER TYGER by Kersten Hamilton, Clarion Books, 2010

Although the author has published many books for children, this is her first novel for young adults. Her new and older fan club of readers will be glad this is a “first”–and that it launches a series dubbed the Goblin Wars.

Author Hamilton says the Goblin Wars are based on a re-imagining of Celtic pre-history and mythology. She “borrowed stories of St. Patrick and St. Drogo, and the life of Myrddin Wyllt, the Welsh bard who became Merlin of legend, as well as the modes and manners of Ireland’s gypsies, the Irish Travelers, in order to fasten this story securely in our world.”

16 year old Teagan Wylltson communicates with chimps. A young Jane Goodall? Maybe. She works at the zoo, studying and training chimps, using sign language.

This dedication is interrupted by the arrival of Finn, a character the author based on the young Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the great Celtic hunter/warrior of myth, a paragon of Irish character. Finn is both complicated and magnetic, or maybe he’s magnetic because he’s complicated. My prediction: readers who loved Twilight will be as drawn to Finn as they were to Edward.

The chemistry simmers and other events befall Tea’s family, consisting of her mother, a free thinking painter, and her father who seems dazed and confused. Could he be under a spell? Tea’s younger brother surprises with his own set of unusual abilities.

When Dad disappears, Tea, her brother, and the mysterious Finn set out to find him. The characters they meet are stranger still, and before long, everyone is at risk. Tea’s best friend Abby could be in danger, too, but since Abby’s father is into the Mob, it’s hard to worry about her. The reader gets the feeling that if it comes to Goblins vs. Mob, the Mob would win. Maybe.

That’s for another book.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Any RRB’s at Your House?

Parents of reluctant reader boys have a tough time finding something to compete with boy-friendly action video games. Here’s a book that offers plenty of page turning.

THE LAST LOON by Rebecca Upjohn, Orca Young Readers, 2010

The first thing going for this book is that it doesn’t look intimidating. It’s not long. Set in Canada, it has wilderness and adventure seeping out from behind the inviting cover.

Evan is 11 and makes choices that are not always wise. A city boy, he feels dumped by his family when he’s sent to spend Christmas holidays with an aunt he hardly knows in her lake cabin--a way too desolate place for Evan's taste. The lake is freezing, literally, and one loon has not left with the others. Evan fights the impulse, but the plight of the loon and its likely death leads Evan to risk his own life.

Evan makes a friend, Cedar, who is a little better than Evan at following directions from the well-meaning, concerned adults. But then, Cedar has to live there after Evan goes home. He might be concerned about being grounded forever.

The boys’ voices are authentic and their actions are believable.
The author lives in Toronto with her sons. The cover and first 14 pages of this book are displayed on her web page, a great introduction to Evan and his dilemma.

I wonder if the author has experienced similar escapades with her own teens? If not, my hunch is she knows parents who have.

I know I do.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Does the Universe Know?

Schools are under stress. Redistricting. Closing. City schools. County schools. What about a one room school house on an island? Can you keep it open by letting the universe know?

TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord, Scholastic Press, 2010

When ll year old Tess’s best friend Amy moves out of town, that lowers the student number in the local school and throws the town educational plan–and Tess–into chaos. The town is an island community and the school is a one room school with one teacher, Tess's mother. The state of Maine will close the school due to dwindling enrollment and Tess and her family will be forced to move to the mainland, UNLESS the school population increases. Therein lies a plan.

The town has one plan; Tess and her friends have several others. Islander families are encouraged to take in foster children to increase the school enrollment number. This works well within some families and not others. It also brings out the usual bullies, the ones who look for any weakness or sadness to exploit.

Tess has a normal family, a pleasant change from many of today’s novels. Mom is a teacher and Dad is a fisherman, a nice guy, one who listens. They become foster parents to Aaron, a trumpet playing youngster who has seen many types of foster homes and could easily head down the wrong road. Tess misses her best friend and fears losing the only home she’s ever known. Common bonds are difficult to forge, but similarities do bring the two closer together. Of course, there is a typical little sister, ready with comments Tess doesn’t want announced. I said the family was normal, remember?

Aaron wants to leave the island to search for his mother, to find out why she left him. That could mean the school would close. Tess has every reason to keep Aaron on the island. What if she finds Aaron’s mother and brings her to their home?

Every chapter begins with a superstition, how to get or keep good luck or how to get rid of bad luck. Tess wishes and spins around three times when needed and asks the plaintive question, "Why take chances? Especially when it’s so easy to let the universe know what you want by touching blue or turning around 3 times or crossing your fingers?”

Tess needs all the luck she can get when she takes matters into her own hands and gets in big trouble. How does she get out of her self-created pickle? I’ll save that for the reader to discover.

This is a warm and humorous book written by a Newbery Honor winner. If you’ve been wishing for a book like this for your middle grade readers, luck is on your side.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Little Boy Blue, Go Blow Your Horn

Everyone has a book of nursery rhymes. Pat-a-cake, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jack and Jill. You can recite most of them. Jack Sprat Could Eat No Fat, See Saw Margery Daw, Little Miss Muffett. No need for a book. Yes? No. You haven’t seen this book.

POCKETFUL OF POSIES: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010

If this book hadn’t won a Golden Kite, awarded by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I wouldn’t have known about it. Now that I do know, I plan to buy several for gift giving as well as one for myself.

Salley Mavor is an artist with a needle, fabric, and when needed, buttons, beads, and outdoor discoveries of acorns, driftwood, stones and shells. She collected these nursery rhymes and then set about illustrating them--intricately. One of my writer friends said every page could be an “I spy game.” Indeed, every page of this amazing book is a work of art.

The artist is the daughter of an artist. She recalls having art supplies which included not only crayons and paper but time to create and one would also think the support of both parents since she dedicated this book to the memory of “my remarkable parents, Mary and Jim Mavor.” Her unique artistic gifts and talents were further encouraged at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The jacket cover boasts, “This will be a book to be pored over again and again and passed down from generation to generation.”

I agree.

Hillview School Library