Friday, September 05, 2008

Sci-Fi/Fantasy from a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Hater!

It seems unlikely that I should have fallen in love with so much science fiction and fantasy this summer - and yet I have. The first of the three books that have blown my mind is THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. She wrote The Underland Chronicles which my 10 year old loves. This is written for older teens. It is the story of a future society that evolved from the ashes of the North America we know today. The premier form of entertainment is the Hunger Games. A Survivor-like event where 24 teens (two from each of the country's districts) are sent into an arena to fight to the death. I am only halfway through it and I can barely put it down. I was late yesterday to a VERY IMPORTANT MEETING because I had to finish my chapter. Okay, that is not as rare for me as it should be. But still...

I also loved DREAMHUNTER by Elizabeth Knox. This book is set in a country not unlike Knox's home, New Zeland, at the turn of the century. It is very much like our world, except that superimposed on part of the island country is the place, an otherworld where beautiful dreams can be harnessed by Dreamcatchers and later performed for the populace. Of course, not all the dreams are beautiful and Laura Hame, a new dreamhunter, is left to make a choice about how dreams are used. The second in the series, DREAMQUAKE was a Printz honor book and looks to be just as amazing as the first. I will keep you posted.

Finally, UNWIND by Neal Schusterman was also fantastic. I read this back in the spring and even though usually once I have read something it falls into the big file in my brain called BOOK (say this as if you were Frankenstein's monster or a troll) and sort of gets mashed together with everything else I have ever read. UNWIND hasn't disappeard from my conciousness yet though, because it was such a unique story. It is a definite pick for 2009 summer reading and I have a feeling it will be very popular. In the future, there is no such thing as abortion. All babies are brought to term, but birth mothers who feel unable to take care of their babies have the opportunity to "stork" them - leave them on a random doorstep where the family is obligated to take the often unwanted child in. There is an option though once the child hits puberty. The family can choose to have him or her unwound. This means that every single part of the child will be donate as skin grafts, organ donations, etc. As I write this, I realize for the first time how truly creepy this sounds! The story really focuses on three kids on their way to be unwound for different reasons and how they escape their fate - or do they? Intrigued?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Required Reading

Alison Bechdel wrote this graphic-essay for Entertainment Weekly (remind me to write of my EW subscription now that I am using it for educational purposes!) about being forced to read books that are "good for you". Hopefully summer reading won't feel too much like this.

[If you have a hard time reading the text, click on the page and it should get bigger.]

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Left For Dead

Have you seen the movie JAWS? Remember the scene where Robert Shaw talks about the Indianapolis? Well this book is about a kid who saw that movie, researched it for his school's history fair and ended up changing history.

If you like shark books - you can't beat JAWS or there is also a new book called SHARK GIRL about a girl who is attacked by a shark and lives to tell the tale.

And now, I present the slightly inaccurate text that made the whole thing possible:

Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss): You were on the Indianapolis?

Brody (Roy Scheider): What happened?

Quint (Robert Shaw): Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back, from the island of Tinian Delady, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you're in the water, chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn't know. `Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's... kinda like `ol squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got...lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces.
Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin' chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson's mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He'd a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks ttook the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The New Policeman

Why are the Liddy's such talented musicians? Did their patriarch really murder a priest? Where does J.J. Liddy go when he disappears? And who is the new policeman in the village?

Even in the small Irish village of Kinvara time is moving faster than it ever has. When J.J.'s mother asks for more time for her birthday, he decides to try to find her some. To say anymore about what happens would be to ruin some wonderful, funny and magical moments of this brilliant book.

This book is perfect for anyone interested in Irish Music, folk tales, time, three legged dogs, drunken old men, dances that last all night, rebellion, freedom or really good story telling.

Now is the time to recommend some other books about time, Ireland or music. And since nearly all the books I thought were about Nepal and was going to recommend on the SOLD post ended up taking place in Pakistan or Afghanistan I am not surprised that all I can think of are Scottish or Australian books! My mind is completely blanking! Please post to the comments with any Irish books of interest. I will go hunt down Mr. Leahy and see what he has to say about Ireland. I should be back in a month... As for time - I try never to miss an opportunity to recommend Allen Appel's time travel books. None of them are in print but local libraries have them. And as for music -LEMONADE MOUTH, NICK AND NORA'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, REFUGEES and KING DORK are all books where music is a life saver for the protagonist.


I just reread this book moments ago and it is as moving as I remember it. SOLD is the story of a 13 year old Nepali girl who is sold into prostitution in India by her stepfather. It is told in the form of poetry and it is not for the faint of heart.

What happens to Lakshmi when she leaves her tiny Himalayan village is told in sparse language from her point of view. If this were a regular prose novel it would be too hard to read. McCormick carefully chooses her words to convey the emotion and day to day life of oppressed girls without going into too much physical detail.

McCormick, whose previous book CUT also dealt with controversial issues, traveled to India and Nepal and interviewed many girls who escaped from human trafficking.

Nepal is also represented in Summer Reading this year by INTO THIN AIR, the story of an Everest expedition gone horribly horribly wrong.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Bermudez Triangle

THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE is such a summer-friendly book that it even comes with a waterproof cover! If you enjoyed Maureen Johnson's THIRTEEN LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES last summer you might want to give this a try. (And FYI, her newest SUITE SCARLETT just came out yesterday and it looks fantastic.)

The book starts at the beginning of the summer. Nina Bermudez , a very driven girl who has just finished her junior year, is about to head off to a summer leadership program at Stanford University. She leaves behind Avery and Mel, her two best friends. When she comes back with a new long-distance boyfriend and her head in the clouds, she is surprised to find that Avery and Mel have become more than just friends.

There is a lot to like about this book. It has a nice plot about how friends change and sometimes friendships can adapt and sometimes they can't. It talks about long distance relationships. It is a lighthearted antidote to those "you can be gay if you want but your life will be wretched" books that I run across every so often.

Young adult books about friendship are everywhere and many of them are terrific. One of my old favorites is Marilyn Singers THE FIRST FEW FRIENDS. Going from being best friends to falling in love is a theme in Singers THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE NEVER DID RUN SMOOTH. Too bad these books are out of print - but you can still get them at the public library. Not our public library, but some library somewhere. Or you can go to abebooks which is a nice place to get used books.

As for long distance relationships - I know I have read books about them and my mind is blank! If you know of any, please leave them in the comments!

I just read KEEPING YOU A SECRET which is a wonderfully written book, but depressing. It reminds me of TRYING HARD TO HEAR YOU which had me convinced that gayness, along with drunk driving and babysitting on weeknights was a recipe for certain death. Thank goodness times have changed!


Eleven Seconds will be guest blogged by Mr. Riordan who is somewhat concerned that his boyish good looks won't translate to the page. Good thing he actually knows how to play hockey.

Travis Roy is an honest man. He was paralyzed during his first shift in a college hockey game and had to quit the sport he loved. He now is a motivational speaker who inspires others. The remarkable thing about his book is that he says he still hasn't gotten used to the chair he is confined to. He has almost been in the chair as long as he lived before it and yet it still unnatural to him. He still misses the camaraderie of the game that he hasn't played since 1995. I kind of understand that, although I no longer play because I am old, not disabled. Reading his book made me remember the fun and goofiness of playing hockey. It is is an interesting, quick read and I highly recommend it. If you like books about sports, last year's summer reading favorite FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is a good one. If sports autobiographies interest you NEVER GIVE UP by Teddy Bruschi is really good. Larry Bird's DRIVE is also worth reading. THE GREATEST, a biography of Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Meyers is fantastic.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Mortal Engines

Phillip Reeve has done what very few writers have been able to do. He has made me love a science fiction series. The Hungry City Chronicles is an amazing collection of books currently four strong that details life on Earth after war has left the planet mostly uninhabitable and its cities roving around the wasteland looking for other cities to conquer so that they can absorb their resources . Well, depending on who you ask...

Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice historian who finds himself in a world of trouble when he falls off the powerful roving city of London and finds himself in the company of an angry disfigured girl who know a lot more about how the the cities work than he does.

This book, along with Ender's Game, Feed, Rash and Unwind is a look at a futuristic Earth which really appeals to me. I often get nervous about futuristic books. Poor human race, what they are going to have to put up with! But the story is so compelling I can put away my worries and just enjoy the ride!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I tell you, you must pity the student who goes to school where their parent works. My mother taught at the school where I went for grades 7-9. It was horrifying. And now I have passed this experience on to the next generation. Cammie has it very bad in ITYILYBTIHTKY. (There is no good way to shorten this title!) Her mother is the headmistress of the Gallagher Academy, an exclusive prep school for wealthy girls. Or perhaps it is a super secret spy school!

The people in the surrounding community think that Gallagher Girls are snotty, spoiled rich girls so when Cammie meets Josh, a local boy, she pretends to be home-schooled. He believes her for awhile but when her love life intersects with her school life Cammie has to figure out what is important to her.

I love boarding school books. The Harry Potters, of course, and A Little Princess. I like spy books but for some reason they all take place during World War Two. And they seem to be written by Ken Follett, Jackdaws and The Eye of the Needle - ooh and Shining Through by Susan Isaacs! As much as I rack my brain I can't remember reading any peacetime spy novels. One of the possibilities for summer reading that didn't make the cut (and thus I haven't finished it yet) was Evil Genius - which I bought for the library and the first bit was terrific.

This is light fun romance and adventure novel perfect for a summer read!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation: Volume One - The Pox Party

I really have to choose words carefully when I write about this OCTAVIAN NOTHING. I don't want anything I might thing to influence anyone to do anything other than grab this book just as fast as they can and read the living daylights out of it.

I love this book more than words can say. But I will refrain from singing it a love song to give an idea about its contents.

Octavian is a young man who has been raised with the best of everything. He is living in Boston as the Revolution against the British is heating up. Many interesting, exciting, thought provoking and terrifying things happen to him and around him.

The format of the story is varied and challenging. But all eventually becomes clear. Octavian's voice isn't instantly accessible, but as it becomes more familiar, you begin to know this young man and his world. I don't want to give away any of the story because it was so great to see it revealed as I read. I will just tell you there is war, disease, betrayal, truth, beauty, music, love and friendship in huge amounts. Read it, I say, read it right now!

There is a sequel coming out in October called THE KINGDOM OF THE WAVES at least according to the books on tape people. I can hardly wait! In the meantime - my favorite Revolutionary war book is I AM DEBORAH SAMPSON a book I must have read 20 times in middle school. Slavery in the south is well represented in literature from UNCLE TOM'S CABIN on - but Octavian makes us snooty New Englanders admit that Massachusetts was just as caught up in slavery as any other state. The "Pox" of the title refers to smallpox which has already been covered in this blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Middle Grade Resources

There are a ton of good guides for getting kids interested in reading but Kathy Baxter is the queen! She is a dynamic speaker for librarians, teachers and parents and her books are must-reads if you are trying to inspire your pre-teen to read. She primarily focuses on using non-fictions to hook kids into books. Her book lists are terrific and updated often.

The American Library Association has great books lists. Here are their middle school picks from 2004.

National Council for Teachers of English has a nice page of book lists compiled by middle school teachers.

Here is a nice site for the Rhode Island Teen Book Award. It has book talks and discussion guides.

Here are the links to Beverly High School and Briscoe Middle School's summer reading information.

Is my kid a reader?

There was no "Eureka!" moment where all reading I did as a librarian intersected with what I was going through as a parent. But I do remember the era. It was way back in 2006 - when I was an idealistic young librarian... Oh right - I will get to the point.

At some point I became concerned that my own children weren't readers. So I decided to look into what it takes to raise a kid who loves to read. And a happy by-product of that is this list of ways to help turn your child into that mythical creature - a reader.

1. Model behavior.
One day I looked over at my beloved husband working at his Dell from over the top of my Macbook and said, "Why don't out kids read?" Maybe that is apocryphal, but there was a point where I realized that we weren't reading in front of the kids unless it was on a screen. Just like using bad language and flossing, the more your kids see you read, the more likely they are to do it. Keep a book on your nightstand. Visit the library. Have magazines in the bathroom.

2. Give your kids the opportunity to read.
My sister and I were both big readers. Of course we were both doughy and pale from never seeing the sun. If your kids are exhausted from playing two sports they are not going to have time to read. If they are playing Wii they aren't reading. Make sure there is ample down time when they can pick up a book without feeling like they should be doing something else.

3. Let kids read what they like.
Yes, I may want me kids reading CALL OF THE WILD but they love DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (which is a fantastic book, by the by...). Your children may hate the book you loved more than anything in seventh grade and you must accept this and move on. Or bribe them with money. Or wait until you have grandchildren. Graphic novels have, in the past 5 years blown open a window of opportunity for teachers and librarians trying to entice kids to read for pleasure. My kids gobble them up like slightly- more- nutritious- than- you- would- think candy. Genre fiction like science fiction, mysteries and fantasy really appeal to certain types of readers.

4. Make sure you have realistic expectations.
Your children are probably reading a lot more than you realize. Magazines, comics and web pages are very popular with kids. There are a lot of ways of reading and while the idea of your child curling up with a good novel is very appealing, it is rarer than you would think. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky it isn't going to happen organically.

Hmmmm... before I wrote this list I thought it would be really useful. But now I realize that maybe I am just spouting common knowledge. Oh well, at least I did it numerically!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Re-Gifters is the story of Dixie, a Korean-American girl living in LA. She practices the martial art of Hapkido and is really good. When she falls for a guy and loses her focus, she finds out what is really important to her. I hate to be so vague, but the story is really fun to watch unfold and I don't want to wreck any surprises. The graphic novel format is fun because it gives you background that you might not catch in a convention novel. Also, the writer is forced to keep the dialog believable since the reader is seeing it actually come out of a character's mouth.

This book is published by Minx which is a new subsidiary of DC Comics . The idea is to offer more female centric stories. So far I have read The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelucci and it was terrific.

Re-Gifters can be a really quick read if you just read the text, but the graphics add a lot, too.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Demon in the Freezer

Who would have thought that I would enjoy a book about disease, research, science and pustular oozing sores? Not me! And yet I found this fascinating.

Smallpox was eradicated in 1979 and humanity heaved a great big smallpox-free sigh of relief. However, don't get too comfortable - according to Preston, the germ warfare threat is still out there.

This is not a particularly reassuring book, but it is fast paced and well written. Coincidentally, there is another smallpox book on the summer reading list this year THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING - VOLUME ONE: THE POX PARTY is named for a gathering where colonial era intellectuals attempt to inoculate themselves in the hopes of avoiding being infected.

If you are a fan of disease books, Preston has written the highly acclaimed THE HOT ZONE, about the Ebola virus. If you like a historical bent FLU, by Gina Kolata, depicts the 1918 influenza epidemic. Happy reading!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

This book is on the list because,while my idea of an adventurous hike is walking all the way from the parking lot to the rose garden at Lynch Park, I know there are students who like nature and adventure and excitement. It was surprising how much I liked this book.

Krakauer is the author of INTO THE WILD, a book I read this summer that I loved. He was given an assignment from OUTSIDE magazine to investigate the commercial guide companies that were leading climbers up Mount Everest. He went up the mountain with one of these groups as a member, but also as an observer. When tragedy struck, he was right in the midst of things.

This was a gripping story. The background details, combined with Krakauer's personal experience make for a compelling read.