Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pond Jumpers


I am always amused when people think that it is easier to write for children than adults. Fewer words and pages, and they are kids, they like anything, right.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The above link leads to an op ed piece that is great, and speaks to why some adult authors fail abysmally at writing for children and teens, and why some writers succeed.

I think it is worth noting, when you write for children and teens as if they have a brain, a moral compass, and when you are a great writer, the readers will come.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

It's the holiday season...and while I am a sucker for classic favorites like The Gift of the Magi or A Christmas Carol, it is always a delight to find a new holiday treat to read with a cup of warm cider or cocoa.

Grandma Dowdel is a character for the folk record books. She lives by the "rob Peter to pay Paul" system of management, and she does it with shotgun in one hand and a loaf of bread for the neighbors in the other. Her heart is always in the right place, even if her tounge is not.

It is now several years since we have last seen her, 1958, the Great Depression is over, but threads of poverty remain in rural Illinois. A new family has moved into town and right next door to Grandma Dowdel--a Methodist minister, his wife, and children. They need more than just a full church, they need a friend in town, and Grandma might just be that friend, whether she wants to be or not. From haunted melon patches, to run-ins at the privy, and a kidnapped tree, this short novel is full of high jinks and misdemeanors that will entertain many for years to come.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read these two books, one right after the other. I wanted to take the food off of the cover of this book and give it to the main character in Wintergirls.

In Artichoke's Heart, southern gal Rosemary has a lot going for her. She's smart, has well-meaning friends, and a beauty salon full of people willing to offer advice. But these things that she has going for her are also her downfall. Her mother is pushy, and her aunt, well, her aunt is a piece of work who really just does not get it.
Good intentions, with too much emphesis on looks, may be this book's downfall however. Obesity is one of the fastest growing diseases in this country, especially among young people. And you don't find too many fiction books for girls about weight loss and a main character. But I am not completly certain I always liked the way this book represented Rosemary's actual weight loss. The diet drinks she consumed sounded terrible, and should have had a more adverse affect. And her positive changes in nutrition, so important for young girls, should have been highlighted.

Scenes with wonder-boy Kyle will make shy girls smile, and the best friend is the friend we all want to have. Positive and resourceful. But in the end, Rosemary discovers that her weight-loss journey was never really about weight loss, it was about discovering herself.

By comparison, Wintergirls is the story of a downward spriral of anorexia. A far more common topic in teen literature, but this one is a shining star that surpases the collection. An emotionally difficult to read book but an important one for everyone, parents, teachers and students to read.

Lia and Cassie, Lia and Cassie, both wintergirls, both stuck, frozen in their own thoughts. Their world consisted of a competitive game of calories, scrutinity, and scale sabotage. Until it kills Cassie. Now Lia is left alone to play the game with Cassie in her head, telling her what to do. Lia tries to outsmart her father, stepmother, stepsister, and finally her mother. But through it all can she outsmart her own deepest inner thoughts.

This books is frightening and devastating at the same time, because you know it is true. When food becomes an enemy, for weight gain or loss, it is time to seek help. Events can spiral out of control so quickly, before you even know it is happening.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

2009 Scott O'Dell Award
2008 National Book Award Finalist

Some authors are one-hit-wonders. You know the type. They write something brilliant for their first novel and then, sadly, they just keep getting worse with each novel. It's like being in a train wreck on a blind date.

Thankfully, Laurie Halse Anderson is not one of these writers. She started out with Fever 1793 and now, six books later, has written the epic Chains. Anderson has crossed all boundries in her writing; time, gender, taboo, and now race. Many times I will enjoy a book. I'll smile and it will give me warm fuzzies. A great book will blow me away and stay with me for weeks, months, and I can't wait to put it into the hands of the nearest student, because I know that they will love it as much as I did. Chains is a great book.

Thirteen-year-old Isabel and her sister Ruth are cheated out of their promised freedom when their master dies and are unscrupulously sold upriver to the Locktons, a loyalist New York City couple. Isabel's thoughts are consumed with keeping Mrs. Lockton happy as she runs errands for her new masters and tries to conceal Ruth's frightening illness, that if discovered, would have her sister sold elsewhere. Freedom for her and Ruth is at the forefront of her mind, and when she is given an offer by a young rebel slave Curzon, Isabel starts to spy on the Locktons. This sets off a chain of events right as the Revolution is headed to New York.

The first book in a trilogy, Chains is a mesmerizing read, full of intrigue and passion. You feel for Isabel and Ruth, their loss of freedom when they are sold like cattle, Isabel's fierce protection of her sister, and her harrowing mistery and pain when she is publicly branded. She holds no loyalty to either Tory or Patriot, she simply wants to be free.

But what side will break her chains?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Around the World in 80 Books (give or take a few)

Travel around the world with childrens books! Click on the above map and it will lead you to a larger version of this world map. Each region and that will lead you to a middle school book list for that region.

I will update this as often as I can.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus

On Tuesday I got to watch in awe and tears as the first African-American President was sworn into office. I can only hope our children understand what a great moment in our country's history this was.

In my parents' history, black children and white children could not go to school together.

When I was one-year-old, a lawyer was speared with a American flag during the violent bussing protests.

I don't remember this Pulitzer Prize photograph moment, but I know about it, and I hope the children I teach know that this history is not so long ago and far away.

It was in my lifetime, and in my hometown.

And it is not lost on me that in the very week when President Obama was sworn in and I read Between Us Baxters, a local disturbed madman killed two innocent people and was on a rampage to kill many more, all in the name to "save his race". Two steps forward, one step back.

In Between Us Baxters, Hegedus puts a twist on the tale of a Southern friendship between two girls, one black one white. One girl is poor, and her family is considered the trash of the town. The other is bright and has plans for going to college, and her family owns a prosperous store in town. Both girls are at the age where it is an unspoken rule in 1959 Jim Crow South that they should have "outgrown" such a friendship. But Polly is a poor white girl who has to wear friend Timber Ann's cast-offs, and she needs all the friends she can get. And Timber Ann is a good friend, and her Aunt Henri is a good friend to her mother, so while these friendships bring shame upon the Baxter family name in town, and scorn from Polly's grandmother and Aunt Clara, they are her and her mother's daily lifeline to keep moving and living.

But when fires start blazing through town, deliberately set to thriving African-American establishments, Polly and Timber Ann's friendship is tested beyond endurement. Families and lives are destroyed as the Civil Rights movement takes hold of this fiercely divided town that resists change at all costs.

As I have witnessed this week in Boston, stories like this need to be told, over and over again. History and hate will continue to cycle through the generations only until the message dissipates, and we can finally see our way through the smoke.