Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Curtis, Curtis Paul. Elijah of Buxton

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. Scholastic, 2007 [978-0-439-02344-3 // 0-439-023440]

Elijah is the first child free black child born in Buxton, Canada (a town made up of run-away slaves.) Now eleven, Elijah gets involved with the lying local itinerant preacher who steals money from a resident of Buxton which was meant to buy the rest of his family out of slavery in the United States. This 341 page book tells a story based on a real community of former slaves in Canada who had to live carefully, being so close to slavery in the United States. One frequently hears about the Underground Rail Road going to Canada but I am not aware of other stories for kids about the former slaves after they get to Canada. It is a serious story told with humor. There are some historical notes at the end.

Cooney, Caroline B. Diamonds in the shadow

Cooney, Caroline B. Diamonds in the shadow. Delacorte, 2007 [978-0-385-73261-1]

Jared’s church decides to sponsor an African refugee family. When the apartment falls through, the family ends up living with Jared and his family. Jared starts to notice that things about the family are not just right. No one wants to listen to him when he tries to explain it. Once again Cooney has written a great suspense tale which kind of sneaks up on you. The reader just gets reading along in this 228 and it started to get tense and suddenly when you realize what is happening, it grips you in the seat of the pants. This is a very good topical suspense tale.

Bunting, Eve. The ghost children

Bunting. Eve. The Ghost children. Clarion, 1989 [0-618-60477-4]

When Matt’s mother dies, he and his sister get sent to live with their strange Aunt Gerda. She cares for the life-sized wooden dolls, carved by her former husband, which stand on the front lawn. The town thinks she is crazy because she talks to these dolls like they are alive..and some community members swear they have heard the dolls talk also. Soon the dolls start to get vandalized. Meanwhile a developer wants to buy Aunt Gerda’s farm. Matt tries to find out what the story is. Who is vandalizing the dolls. Is their Aunt crazy? How can her Aunt and they survive with no income? I have always liked Eve Bunting’s stories and this upper elementary one is no exception. I am sure there will be a good audience in my library for this 166 page book.

Brooks, Kevin. Martyn Pig

Brooks, Kevin. Martyn Pig. Scholastic, 2002 [978-0-439-50752-30-439-50752-9]

Martyn lives along with his drunk father. He may have hated his father, but he never meant to kill him (accidentally pushing him against the fireplace.) After he realizes what has happen he just sits…until his friend Alex shows up. She tries to convince him to call the police but he doesn’t. While looking through the house, Martyn finds that his father is supposed to get an inheritance. He waits several days… Alex and he decide to dispose of the body but her boyfriend finds out. This starts a tangled web of deception which adds up to more crime. This 230 page book is a great tale of suspense as the reader tries to figure out what Martyn will do next and if he will eventually get caught. I am sure my middle school kids will love this book.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Riordan, Rick. The Titan's curse [Percy Jackson #3]

Riordan, Rick. The Titan’s Curse [Percy Jackson #3] Miramax/Hyperion, 2007 [1423101456//9781423101451]
Once again Percy and his friends go out on a quest to deal with the growing tension between the Olympian Gods and the Titans. The camp sends out a group but Percy is not officially included although he follows Grover, Annabeth, and others unofficially. At the end of this 312 page book, there is a great battle between them and Atlas, Luke and the allies of Kronos. Rick Riordan has created an incredible alternative world in which the Greek Gods, Titans, demigods, and monsters are still around in current day. The stories are written with humor and a great sense of adventure. The books encourage readers to gather more information on Greek Mythology and are very popular in my library

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks. Knopf, 2005 [0-375-83143-6]
One summer the summer the Penderwick family (a father, four girls and a dog) decide to rent a cottage in the Berkshires. To their surprise it is the cottage on a huge estate of a very wealthy and snobbish woman. Each of the gout girls are very different but the all interact well together and look out for each other's quirks. One day they discover a strange boy on the estate who is the son of the owner. What follows is a fun summer, fun of adventure with the girls, the rich boy and the son of gardener.This 262 page book is a fun, light story.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday wars

Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday wars. Clarion, 2007 [978-0-618-72483-3//0-618-72483-4]

Through a quirk in scheduling, Holling Hoodhood, must spend the last period of every Wednesday with Mrs. Baker, who he is sure, is out to get him. She has him read Shakespeare. There are other sub-plots going on.. for one it is 1967 and the Vietnam War is always in the background, he has problems with his brother, the tights he must wear for his part in the Shakespeare play, rats living in the school, and the many other daily traumas a 7th grade boy must deal with. This 264 page book fluctuates between humorous situations to very heavy scenes, providing a lot of variety for the reader. While Holling is dealing with his many challenges, Mrs. Baker is always in the background, providing quiet support.

Gardner, Sally. I, Corander

Gardner, Sally. I, Coriander. Dial, 2005. [0-8037-3099-3]

It is London in the 1600s and Coriander’s mother has just died, leaving her with the magic she inherited. Suddenly Coriander starts traveling back and forth to from the real world to a magical world. Her father remarries and she has a cruel stepmother who tries to accuse her of witchcraft. While Coriander travels back and forth to the magical world, she becomes involved with a young man there who is having problems and meanwhile her stepmother gets meaner and meaner. Can Coriander use magic to help her real-world situation along with helping her new male friend in the magic world. With the traveling back and forth between the two worlds, this 280 page book reminded me a little of Funk’s Inkheart series. Although it took me a while to get into the book, at the end I found I had enjoyed it.

Abbott, Tony. Firegirl

Abbott, Tony. Firegirl. Little, Brown, 2006 [0-316-01170-3//978-0-316-01170-9]

Everything is going well for Tom in seventh grade until the new girl shows up. She has been terribly disfigured by burns from a fire and is receiving treatment at a local hospital. Everyone at school is scared of the new girl, making up stories about her accident, and staying away from her. Tom develops a kind of standoffish friendship with her while still being leery of her, not wanting to be around her. Not until the close of this 145 page book does Tom realize what an impact his minor outreach to the girl has on her life. I was hoping that the book didn’t end with them being the best of friends… and it doesn’t. This is a powerful book which was recommended to me by a student.

Myers, Walter Dean. Game

Myers, Walter Dean. Game. HarperTeen, 2008 [978-0-06-058295-1]

Drew is one of the leads on his Harlem High School basketball team. The game is his life and also his ticket to college. One day a white boy comes to school and becomes the coach’s pet and Drew is no longer where he wants to be in the game. This new boy is taking attention away from him when the scouts come to watch the games. Can Drew and this new team member resolve their conflict for the better of them both? This 218 page book got a little too wrapped up in the games… to the point where it started to lose me. It would be a great book for someone wrapped up in basketball.

McCaghrean, Geraldine. The white darkness

McCaughrean, Geraldine. The white darkness. HarperTempest, 2007 [978-0-06-089035-3//0-06-089035-5]

Sym is a smart girl who is obsessed with Antarctica and everything available. In fact she even imagines conversations with the on the explorers, Titus Oates. Even more obsessed than she is, is her Uncle who wants to find Symme’s Hole, an opening there to the center of the Earth. Her Uncle spends his life fortune arranging a trip to Antarctica with Stephanie so he can trick people into going on a ill-fated trip to find Symme’s Hole. I found the first three quarters of this 373 page book to be very slow reading but the excitement picks up when they get out on the ice and have a hard fight against the harsh elements. The conditions of their survival make the book worth reading but I found Sym’s imagining so many conversations with her long-dead explorer “friend” a little tedious. He becomes a little to real to her for my taste.

Torrey, Michele. Voyage of midnight

Torrey, Michele. Voyage of midnight. Knopf, 2006 [0-375-82382-4]
Philip thinks he is an orphan doomed to a hard life until his seafaring uncle shows up and then promptly disappears. Eventually Philip finds him in New Orleans and is taken on his ship as assistant to the surgeon. Soon after the voyage starts Philip figures out that his uncle is a slave trader and they are on their way to Africa to pick up a load of slaves. This 232 page book shows the harsh cruelty of the slave trade, the callous attitude of the white people toward their cargo and the terrible realities of life on a slave ship. The slaves on the ship begin to respect Philip, thinking he will save them from this horrible misery. There are historical notes at the end of the book in which the author describes how Philip is based a compilation of several true historical figures. While this is not a very long book, it is vivid, yet not overly so, in its depiction of the harsh realities of the slave trade.. an interesting contrast to Fox's "Slave Dancer."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Selznick, Brian. The invention of Hugo Cabret

Szelznick, Brian. The invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic, 2007 [0-439-81378-5//978-0-439-81378-5

I was reluctant to purchase this Caldecott winner because I was confused about its format but I am glad I did purchase and read it. The book contains a good story, but more so, it is an incredible visual experience. The book’s introduction states, ”I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie.” What follows is a black and white movie in book form. Once the reader gets used to the format, it is a wonderfully unique experience. I fully understand why it won the Caldecott award. Hugo Cabret lives in the Paris train station in 1931 with his father who maintains all the clocks. After his father dies, Hugo tries to keep it a secret, maintaining all the clocks and also continuing to fix the automaton his father had. No only is Hugo mixed up in a mystery concerning this automaton, but also finds and “re-discovers” a director of early silent movies. You must have this book in your library… not only for the story, but for the literary experience which I am sure will be followed and expanded on by other authors.

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a wimpy kid

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a wimpy kid [Book 1]. Amulet Books, 2007. [0-8109-9313-9//978-0-8109-9313-6]

This is the entertaining diary (in handwritten font and hand drawn illustrations) of a middle school boy. He confronts the usual conflicts of a middle school boy at school, with friends, and home with his older brother. It is a VERY fun 217 pag book to read. You will need several copies in your library.

Wiles, Deborah. The Aurora County All-Stars

Wiles, Deborah. The Aurora County All-Stars. Harcourt, 2007 [978-0-15-206068-8]

Twelve-year-old House Jackson lives in rural Mississippi, in a county too small for a Little League team. The next county also does not have one but they get together every Forth of July for a big game. This year, there is also a big county anniversary scheduled for the same day and everyone is to participate. This is a 242 page book of rural sports, friendship, family, and growing up. I enjoyed the story and the interaction between the characters…unfortunately I think the illustrated cover looks juvenile and may turn away some middle school readers.

Buckley, Sarah Masters. The stolen sapphire

Buckley, Sarah Masters. The stolen sapphire [A Samantha mystery]. American Girl, 2006 [1-59369-099-1]

During the time of the great cruise ships, Samantha and her sister go on a cruise across the Atlantic with their rich grandparents. On the cruise they run into a snobbish rich family and a man with his nephew carrying a priceless gem which has bad luck associated with it. (Probably a take-off on the Hope Diamond.) One night at dinner, the lights sudden go out and the gem is missing! What follows is a mystery story where everyone has a reason to have stolen the gem. While I figured it how it was done, just after the heist happened, I am not sure kids will. For upper elementary students who like mysteries, this is good one. This 179 page book is a worthwhile to your collection. There are historical notes and a glossary at the end.

Hart, Alison. Gabriel's journey

Hart, Alison. Gabriel’s journey [Racing to freedom trilogy #3]. 2007 [978-1-56145-442-6//1-15645-442-7]

Gabriel’s story continues. Now his mother has gone off to join his father. Gabriel misses them both terribly and decides to go off to join them at the camp with the blessings (and letter of recommendation) of his boss. Although Gabriel is too young to be a soldier, he is able to be a groom to the horses in his father’s black unit. Although not a soldier, as groom to the captain’s horse, Gabriel gets in the midst of it all. When the unit goes out to fight Gabriel (and the reader) learns the horrors of the war, especially for the black soldiers. Their treatment was poor by the Union soldiers, but was vicious by the Confederate soldiers. This final 166 page book in the trilogy brings the reader into the middle of battle and the wonder of “the glory” of fighting. There are historical notes at the end of the book.

Hart, Alison. Gabriel's triumph

Hart, Alison. Gabriel’s triumph [Racing to freedom trilogy #2]. 2007 [978-1-15645-410-5//1-15645-410-9]

In Kentucky, Grabriel is a recently freed slave and is a jockey for his former master’s horses. He is getting quite a name for himself as a jockey in 1864. While the Civil War is ongoing, this is a story of life going on during the war as usual possible. Gabriel misses his father who has joined the Union Army. As a winning jockey, Gabriel is getting more responsibilities around the farm. I liked reading of a former slave during the Civil War in a society that was trying to function in spite of the Civil War. So many stories make us readers think that there was pre-war, then the war, and after-war. Many times readers do not get a picture that life continued even as the horrors of the war were going on. There are historical notes at the end. This 168 page book was a Junior Library Guild acquisition. Although it appears short, the type is close together and is more of a read than one expects. I will purchase book 1 and 3 now that I have read this one.

Gutman, Dan. Jim and Me

Gutman, Dan. Jim and me. [A baseball card adventure]. HarperCollins, 2008 [978-0-06-059495-4]

Once again we meet Stosh who has the amazing gift to travel back in time by holding an old baseball card. This time his enemy as school convinces him to go back in time to the time when Jim Thorpe was popular. They try to go back into time to change the scandal in which Jim was involved. The reader meets Jim Thorpe and other players from that time in history and also learns about how loosely the rules were followed in that day. These books are good for upper elementary students. While they talk about time travel and being able to change history, it is a very shallow explanation about what may happen when one changes one little thing in future. This 194 page book is another in this series which start to sound a little similar but the author puts enough sub-plots to make them interesting. Upper elementary students who like the comfort of a similarly recurring plot and characters will enjoy this book along with the others.