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!