Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

Sarah from YA Librarian Tales was my Secret Santa for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year, and she was fabulous. I got the package in the mail yesterday while expecting guests and squealed in delight when I saw the box wedged in between my doors. Here's the before picture - isn't it nice that she wrapped each gift? I totally didn't think of that for mine...

And after! She got me two of my favorite books that I did not own:
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
And some cute tech speak magnets and a Mockingjay bookmark. Woo! :) 



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

November Reading Recap

Oh, November, I'm so happy to see you go! But now December is here, and I get to wondering where in the world my year went. Is this really the last of 2011? How is that possible? I see all of those 2011 Challenges on my sidebar that I haven't updated in months, and I'm feeling like a bad blogger. Yes, my reading has suffered this year, but the rest of my life has been great, so I'll take that trade. Here's what I read in November:

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke --- A science fiction graphic novel with a girl protagonist? Woohoo! Zita and her best friend are outside one day when they discover this giant crater. Inside it is what looks like a remote control with just one big red button. Well, what are big red buttons for if not pushing, so Zita does just that and her friend, poof!, disappears. Zita goes after him and finds herself on another planet, galaxy even with all sorts of aliens and creatures. She slowly befriends a couple and begins her quest to find her friend. An absorbing read with illustrations that remind me a lot of Amulet - will definitely appeal to that crowd.

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones --- I've read a Sones book every month for the past three months, and that makes me happy. That also means that she's going to have to start pumping out books a whole lot more frequently if this trend is to continue. Just saying. Ah, I don't think I've read this particular one before, and I, of course, enjoyed it almost as much as my favorite, What My Mother Doesn't Know. It picks up where Mother leaves off but is written mostly in Robin's voice (Sophie's new boyfriend) instead. I just love Sones' poetic prose!

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan --- This is a collection of Shaun Tan's early works; you know, before he became famous for the inventive and gorgeous sepia-toned wordless graphic novel The Arrival. The three stories in this book are admittedly odd and rather dark (I wouldn't buy it for my elementary school, that's for sure), but have a bit of hope and charm reflective of Tan's style. A quick read with few words and lots of quirkiness.

Mudkin by Stephen Gammell --- My review from Goodreads: The negative reviews of this book make me laugh - a book with few words? How dare he! (Pardon the sarcasm.) I generously appreciated this whimsical story of a girl playing outside after the rain on a muddy day. Her conversations with Mudkin were inspired - do we really need to know what he says? No; we can INFER! Inference is such a tricky skill to teach, but this book practically does it itself without needing much teacher direction. Love it. Will recommend to teachers, for sure.

Cloaked by Alex Flinn (review) --- I liked Beastly best (and I haven't even seen the movie yet), then Cloaked, and finally A Kiss in Time, when comparing the fractured fairy tales I've read by Flinn. Cloaked had a lot of unexpected twists and turns that I sometimes appreciated (other times I was just like, huh?), and I did enjoy the little love story too. As long as Flinn keeps writing these retold fairy tales, I'll keep reading them!

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Steven Layne --- A must-read for anyone who works with children and young adults. Steven Layne is an educator and public speaker, so I was wary that he wouldn't address the librarian side of things, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how warmly and intelligently he speaks of librarians and what we do. He starts the book with a rationale for reading aloud (at all grade levels) and focuses each chapter on different ways to get students excited about reading. I found that I was already doing quite a few things right (I'd hope so!), but I also learned new strategies and tricks that I immediately implemented in my own practice. Simple things like a special bookshelf or display area of my favorite books, a sign or bookstand with what I'm currently reading, book talks, book passes, and much more. I'd be happy to lend it to anyone if you can't get ahold of a copy!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth
published May 2011 by HarperCollins
496 pages (hardcover), YA

Dystopian Chicago. Need I say more?

That's all I needed. Perhaps you require a little extra.

Beatrice is at that delicate, life-changing age, 16, when she needs to decide what to make of herself. Which of the five factions of the city (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite) will she choose to dedicate her life to? She was brought up in Abnegation, with her selfless parents and brother, but she's never quite fit in. She's curious, asks too many questions, and doesn't always think of others before herself. So, at her choosing ceremony, Beatrice gives up her family ties and joins the daredevil Dauntless. But to prove herself to this new faction, Beatrice, now Tris, has to go through a series of trials that will truly test her strength, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Plus she has a BIG secret to hide. And a budding love interest with one of her trainers. And the possibility that she will die before she proves herself as a member of Dauntless. Woo!

I can't hide how much I loved this book. Picture this - a Thursday after school. No errands to run. No lesson plans to write. No new shows on the television. Time! Time to read! Curled up on the couch with my very own copy of Divergent (which I've had since the summer; yes, shame on me). I start reading and can't stop. A tweet, quick dinner, and six hours later, the book is finished, and I'm thoroughly sated. Time for bed! That, my friends, is what I call a luxurious evening at home. I haven't had one in a long while and was so happy to share it with this wonderful book.

Lots of people have compared Divergent to The Hunger Games, and okay, I guess I see that. They're both dystopias. They're both rather violent. But the world in Divergent appeals to me much more. Maybe because it's set in Chicago. Maybe more because although it's a dystopia, there's SO MUCH HOPE. I don't know how Veronica Roth made me feel so hopeful, especially in the depths of Dauntless (which is definitely not the faction I would choose :shudder:), but she did. Tris is one strong female, and I believe she can change the whole system. The factions were originally created to play on the good, to have people specialize in these ideal character traits so that they could rid society of all the bad. But over the years it has turned into a competition instead of collaboration, and what used to be good about each faction is now lost in the struggle to remain relevant and most of all, powerful. It's all so complex and political, and I love it.

I'm really late to the conversation about this book (hey, I was in Italy! and then work took over my life...), but if you honestly haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Easily one of the best books of the year. School Library Journal says so too.

Four purple crayons for a new dystopian trilogy that I can't wait to keep reading! Insurgent comes out in May 2012!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

Cloaked by Alex Flinn
published 2011 by HarperCollins
341 pages (hardcover), MG/YA

Okay, the front flap is too good not to share:
I'm not your average hero. I actually wasn't your average anything. Just a poor guy working an after-school job at a South Beach shoe repair shop to help his mom make ends meet. But a little magic changed it all.
It all started with a curse. And a frognapping. And one hot-looking princess, who asked me to lead a rescue mission.
There wasn't a fairy godmother or any of that. And even though I fell in love along the way, what happened to me is unlike any fairy tale I've ever heard. Before I knew it, I was spying with a flock of enchanted swans, talking (yes, talking!) to a fox named Todd, and nearly trampled by giants in the Everglades.
Don't believe me? I didn't believe it either. But you'll see. Because I knew it all was true, the second I got cloaked.
Oh, Johnny. You poor boy. Literally. Johnny's a cobbler (not the yummy kind, though I imagine he might be ruggedly handsome) and a hard, hard-worker. He repairs shoes day and night so that he and his mom can afford to live. One day, Princess Victoriana shows up at Johnny's hotel and his ogling turned accidental meeting changes his life. Victoriana is gorgeous, obviously, and flashy in the spotlight, giving the paparazzi exactly what they want, but she is devastated on the inside. Her brother has been kidnapped and she needs a trustworthy someone to find him. Someone like Johnny. Did I mention that her brother's been turned into a frog? Right. But if Johnny finds him, this frog prince, Victoriana will marry Johnny - not a bad proposition for a boy who has no wealth or any chance at finding love with someone so beautiful. Yes! Of course he'll help! With a magic cloak that can transport him anywhere, Johnny begins his quest to find Victoriana's brother.

This is a fairy tale retelling of sorts, though it doesn't follow one story but rather seven different ones, which are briefly summarized at the end of the book. This is something I wanted to know beforehand, and I should have checked the back to find it. So, I thought I'd list them for you, just so you know:

  • The Elves and the Shoemaker
  • The Frog Prince
  • The Six Swans
  • The Golden Bird
  • The Valiant Tailor
  • The Salad
  • The Fisherman and His Wife
That's quite a collection of tales! But Flinn weaves them all together so wonderfully. It's an insane adventure that Johnny has, but it works. I liked the story, and I alternated between reading the book and the e-book (which I've never done before!) so that I could finish it. I was a little disappointed in some parts of the writing - the love story was a little too predictable and could have been left a little more elusive. But overall, I enjoyed the story and look forward to more fairy tale retellings from Alex Flinn. A solid three purple crayons. 


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Reading Recap

Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead --- This could quite possibly be my favorite picture book of the year. Oh, how I love the collage illustrations. And the story! Jonathan, a little boy, has lost his teddy bear and is on the hunt for it, using his big blue boat, of course. Along the way, he meets a host of quirky characters that join him on his journey. I need to get to a bookstore pronto to buy this book! Love love love.
Demonglass (Hex Hall, #2)
Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins --- This is #2 in the Hex Hall series. In Hex Hall, Sophie raised a lot of hell. It's a school for supernatural misfits, and Sophie fit right in. In Demonglass, Sophie moves to England with her father, whom she's just met, so that she can learn more about her demon self. This was a good book to read in October, with those spooky nights of howling wind. I like Sophie's spunky character and her forbidden love with her sworn enemy. I'll keep reading the series, I think. 

Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, #2)Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter --- Another second in a series (Heist Society #2), this book follows Kat as she breaks out of her lonesome streak and learns to play nice with others. The target - Cleopatra's emerald, that which has never been successfully stolen, except upon its discovery during an archaeological dig long ago. The emerald has quite the history, one that Kat seems to be tangled in. Love the adventure. Will read more in the series.

Scary GodmotherScary Godmother by Jill Thompson (reviewed at my library blog) --- This is a collection of Scary Godmother stories previously published by Dark Horse Comics. I bought this for the library and thought kids would flock to it this month. Not so much. I don't get it. I absolutely devoured this book. The deeply saturated pictures pop off the page and the content was perfect for this month. But there was no excitement. Sure, it got checked out a couple of times , but it didn't get the peer pass-off. Friends didn't tell each other about it. Sad tale. I still like it, though.

Bake SaleBake Sale by Sara Varon --- I loved Varon's Robot Dreams, so I had high hopes for this graphic novel. While I love her signature drawing style, the story itself  didn't do much for me. I don't bake. And I mean that emphatically. I really, really hate to bake. Cookies, cakes, cupcakes - I can't do any of it. So yeah, the subject material was a bit foreign and of little interest. But in the warm, gooey center, it's another friendship story, and I appreciated that. 

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr --- Told in alternating perspectives, this is the story of a girl (not to be confused with Story of a Girl, which I loved by Zarr) who's just lost her father and another girl who's about to give birth. They're similar in age but couldn't have more different stories. Jill's had a tough time dealing with her dad's death, but her mother has seemingly moved on, so much that she's taking in Mandy and adopting her baby. An interesting premise, but I had a hard time getting into it. Realistic fiction is not my favorite genre, especially "issues" novels, and this one read like it sometimes. 

Bloodlines (Bloodlines, #1)Bloodlines by Richelle Mead --- Can someone please tell me what this book was about? Because I ate it up while traveling one weekend, but now I can't remember a darn thing about it. The blurb says that it's about alchemist Sydney moving in with Moroi princess Jill (to keep the Dragomir bloodline safe by hiding Jill away), but the details are kind of fuzzy. That's how it is with these books though. Love em and leave em is what I say, and that's not a bad thing. Can't wait for the next one!

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and MayhemThe Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones --- I love that I'm too young for this book. I read it anyway because I love Sonya Sones' way with words, but I don't have a nest, and even if I did, it would certainly not be empty at this point, so I really and truly can't relate. If anything, I put myself in the shoes of the daughter going off to college (even though it's been a generous few years since that was true). But anyhow, it doesn't matter if you can relate or not. I still laughed and nearly cried at all the right parts and know that in some decades, I'll appreciate this book a little more.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September Reading Recap

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones (my review) --- I re-read and reviewed this book for Banned Books Week and was baffled by why it would be so frequently challenged. So, I visited Sones' website and she let me in on the big secret - on page 46 of the book, Sophie is examining her newly developed breasts and performing a little experiment on a cold window. Really? This short poem (that's so totally relatable, might I add) is what people find so offensive? Silliness (and extreme prudishness), I say. Changing bodies are causes for enormous stress and that little poem shows girls they're not weird or alone. It happens to all of us! Anyhow, just thought I'd add that little info since I missed it in my review. So much love for this book! 

Lush by Natasha Friend (my review) --- I also read this book for Banned Books Week and am so glad I did. After looking at Friend's website, I learned that almost one in five adult Americans lived with an alcoholic while growing up. Wow! Here's another "you are not alone" book that some people feel the need to censor. I'm not one for hiding the ugly bits of life - they only get uglier that way. And this book is so empowering for teens that have to deal with more than their fair share of those ugly bits. 

All Stations! Distress! April 15, 1912: The Day the Titanic Sank by Don Brown --- Children's nonfiction is not a genre I frequent often, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few nonfiction titles on this year's Bluestem Award list. What I love about this book is that the amount of research that went into it is blended so well with the narrative. I read it aloud to fifth grade students, and we talked about how the quotes from the book came from people who were actually survivors of the Titanic, and they were pretty fascinated by that. Lots of great discussions!

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles --- This is the third book in the A Perfect Chemistry trilogy, and it tells the love story of the youngest Fuentes brother, Luis. He's lived in Colorado with Alex for awhile but has now moved back to the Chicago suburbs, back to the old hood, where living on the wrong side of the tracks could get you killed. And you certainly don't associate with people who live on the other side either. Except that the spicy Nikki Cruz lives in a big ol' house in fancy pants Fairfield, even though her parents are from Mexico too. But she knows nothing of her heritage and is perfectly fine with that.  When Luis and Nikki collide (quite literally), there's no mistaking the sparks that fly.

Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer --- Sequel to Nightshade, this book picks up where the first leaves off and reminds you of what's happened so far because goodness knows I could not remember. I do remember love love loving Nightshade and being extremely disappointed that it was the first in an unfinished series. I hate when I do that to myself. Unfortunately, Wolfsbane didn't enchant me the way that Nightshade did, and I really couldn't tell you much about the story besides what you'd read in the jacket flap. I know that I liked it (okay, I couldn't put it down and finished it in one weekend), but the fact that I can't recall any details tells me it didn't leave a lasting impression. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
published 2001 by Simon & Schuster
259 pages (hardcover), YA

Jacket flap:
My name is Sophie.
This book is about me.
It tells
the heart-stoppingly riveting story
of my first love.
And also of my second.
And, okay, my third love, too.

It's not that I'm boy crazy.
It's just that even though
I'm almost fifteen
I've been having sort of a hard time
trying to figure out the difference
between love and lust.

It's like
my mind
and my body
and my heart
just don't seem to be able to agree
on anything.
I think that's enough of a summary, really. You've got the main character (Sophie), the basic content of the book (her love life as a 15 year-old girl), and the style in which it's written (series of poems).

What My Mother Doesn't Know shockingly made it to #7 on 2010's Most Frequently Challenged Books list for reasons that I cannot comprehend. So, I'm just not going to even try. Instead, let's talk about why this book is absolutely amazing and why I love it so. :)

The title of this book makes it sound like it's going to be super trashy, but it's not - not at all! I don't like to do this, but I'm going to reveal the secret of the title for you. Cover your eyes if you really don't want to know. Here it comes ... What Sophie's mother doesn't know is that Sophie doesn't want to wear the ugly rose-printed dress she guilted Sophie into buying and that Sophie actually will be changing at a friend's house into a slinky black dress more suited for the Halloween dance. Oh Sophie, how could you! (Pardon the sarcasm.) C'mon, who hasn't performed the good ol' switcheroo? I know I certainly did as a teen!

What's wonderful about the book is Sophie's voice. She's so disarmingly honest. Her poems transport you right into the depths of a specific feeling. From the initial sparks of a new crush to the empathy of a lonely classmate and the longing for a better relationship with her mother, Sophie feels everything so acutely that you can't help but feel it a little too. On the back cover of my book, there's a blurb by Laurie Halse Anderson that sums up my thoughts about the story - "Tender and sexy and honest. With the poetry of an innocent kiss and the passion of a teenager's heart, Sones has created a book that feels like real love." Exactly! It feels like real love.

I remember reading this book when it first came out and absolutely devouring and adoring it because I could relate to it so well (even though I was a few years older than Sophie), but even reading it again just last night, 10 years later, I'm still right there with Sophie. It's not that it was a good book for me at the time because I could relate to it - it's just a good book, period. It's one that I'll re-read again and again because it'll remind me of what it's like to be a teen in such a beautiful and heartfelt way. Sophie and I are kindred spirits, that's for sure, but I think Sophie's charm can extend to those who may not relate so closely too. Gosh, I want to read it again right now! I'm not properly conveying how excited about and grateful for this book I am. You'll just have to read it for yourself to see why it makes me so giddy and tongue-tied. :)

So yeah, I was indeed surprised to find this book on last year's Most Frequently Challenged list mostly because it's so old. Ten years is a long shelf life for a YA novel! Does that mean it's on its way to becoming a classic? Are teens still gobbling it up like I did back in the day? I sure hope so! And I hope that this list appearance makes it a little more popular still.

Five purple crayons for one of my favorite books ever!


Cross-posted to the Banned Books blog.
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