Sunday, May 22, 2011

Read recently

Moonlight by Rachel Hawthorne
published March 2009 by Harper Collins
272 pages (paperback), YA
YA Reading Challenge ; Shifter Challenge

A little while ago, I had a serious werewolf book craving. I haven't been reading very much lately as life has kept me plenty busy, so having any sort of literary craving was good news to me. Except that I couldn't believe how difficult it was for me to find the kind of story I was looking for - that I hadn't read already. Has there not been a werewolf craze yet? Really? There's a handful of our furry friends in contemporary YA novels, and the rest are all adult romance - which I like too, but it wasn't what my mood called for. Anyhow, I was happy to find this series, the Dark Guardians, by Rachel Hawthorne because it was unique and exciting enough to captivate my attention.

So, I use the term werewolf incorrectly because in this story, the characters label themselves as shifters - even though they do in fact change into wolves. This pack lives and works in a national forest, where they preserve nature and their own secrets. Kayla visited the park last year with her adoptive parents in order to deal with her devastating past - when she was very young, her parents were killed by hunters in that forest. This year, she has come back on her own as a summer employee to enjoy the beauty, make friends, and continue to heal. The group ventures deep into the forest, leading a group of academics doing research, unaware of the danger that awaits them.

Hmm, a synopsis isn't quite enough for this story. I liked it quite well. It was fast-paced when it needed to be and slow and thoughtful at other times. I do want to read the rest of the series because each book follows a different character, which I do appreciate.

Huntress by Malinda Lo
published April 2011 by Little, Brown
384 pages (hardcover), YA
YA Reading Challenge

I remember really loving Ash by Malinda Lo when I first read it. I recommended it to just about everyone and could not stop gushing about it. I didn't re-read it because this book takes place centuries before Ash, even though the setting is the same.

Huntress is the story of a kingdom that is slowly dying - the Xi (the Fay) have been toying with magic and upsetting the balance of the earth. The seasons are off kilter, which disrupts food production, leaving the people hungry, poor, and a little angry. So the King sends his son and two girls who are studying to be sages (one with quite a bit of talent and the other with fairly none at all) on a journey to meet with the Fairy Queen, where they will hopefully figure out what is causing this unbalance in their world. Kaede is the untalented one, though she has spirit and some basic fighting skills. She is forced along on this trip because Taisin, the gifted sage-in-training, saw her in a vision of this quest, an upsetting vision in which the prince and Taisin must leave Kaede alone to paddle across an icy river to a foreboding fortress of ice. 

I read an absolutely beautiful review of this book recently, over at Reading in Color, and I recommend that you go read it too. Admittedly, I didn't love this book as much as Ash, and I know it's unfair for me to compare. I'm not really into the quest storyline, so this book was slow going for me. I liked the characters but wanted to know them better. It took me over a week to read it, but what I loved is that I was instantly transported back into the story every time I picked it up. That's something serious! I just wish I could have connected more to it - but that also has a lot to do with me and not necessarily a flaw of the writing.

In other news...
I've been away so much because the end of the school year is rapidly approaching (five more days!), and I have tons to do. And instead of being a lazy bum this summer, lounging around my town and reading all that I didn't have time for before, I decided to spend two months in Italy. I leave in a week and a half! I'm excited and fretful and a bundle of nerves, and one of my major worries was actually - how am I going to read without my public library!?

So, my mom generously bought me a Kindle for my birthday, and while I won't be doing all of my reading on it, it is so nice to know that if I run out of print books, I have a backup! Is that horrible to consider my Kindle a backup? Sorry e-reader enthusiasts, but I still love me some paper. I have a handful of books that I plan on taking with me, if I can make those luggage weight limits. So if it seems like I've fallen off the face of the planet, I haven't - I'm just across an ocean, enjoying my summer. :)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nerds Heart YA Shortlist + I'm judging!

If you haven't heard yet, the Nerds Heart YA Shortlist was posted recently! Okay, so maybe you have heard that - but do you know what it is?

The Nerds Heart YA Tournament is a battle of the books for underrepresented YA literature. Specifically, it highlights books that:
Were published in 2010
Have received minimum press on blogs
Feature characters, or are penned by authors, who fall within the following categories: Person(s) of Color (POC); GLBT; Disability; Mental Illness; Religious Lifestyle; Lower Socioeconomic Status; Plus-size

I am SUPER excited about this tournament because I'm a first-round judge! Heather from Book Addiction and I will be co-judging the two books below and sending one on to the second round, where Kai from Fiction State of Mind will take over. 

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

(So, I'm showing you the paperback cover because, personally, I like it so SO much better than the hardcover, which you can go look up on your own if you really want to.)

Here's what seems to be the inside flap or back cover synopsis:
Jaya, Maria, and Lola are just like the other eighth-grade girls in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. They want to go to the spring dance, they love spending time with their best friends after school, sharing frappÉs and complaining about the other kids. But there’s one big difference: all three are daughters of maids and nannies. And they go to school with the very same kids whose families their mothers work for.
That difference grows even bigger—and more painful—when Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and Jaya’s small, fragile world collapses.
When tensions about immigrants start to erupt, fracturing this perfect, serene suburb, all three girls are tested, as outsiders—and as friends. Each of them must learn to find a place for themselves in a town that barely notices they exist.
Marina Budhos gives us a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of friendship, belonging, and finding the way home.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

(Lots of people I know have read and enjoyed this one, and I actually haven't yet, so I can't wait!)

From the publisher:
The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl's journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro's revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

Expect to hear more about these two books sometime in early June, and see which one will move on to the next round!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

April Reading Recap

Books Read in April
 Chapter Books, mostly
Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks
Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson
The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman
Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise

 Picture Books from my library
Raindrop, Plop! by Wendy Cheyette Lewison
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Christian Stead
Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor
The Three Little Tamales by Eric A. Kimmel
There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards
The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth

Picture Books from the public library
 Vampire Boy's Good Night by Lisa Brown
Floop Does the Laundry by Carole Tremblay
Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist
Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile
The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman
Fairly Fairy Tales by Esme Raji Codell

 Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Yes, Eric E. Stead won the Caldecott this year for his heartwarming illustrations, so hello, why did it take me so long to read this book?!

You know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover? I confess - I do it (c'mon, so do you), and I didn't particularly fancy this one. It looked old-fashioned and not kid-friendly at all. But the story! The sweetest thing you will ever read. And with Eric's beautifully nostalgic illustrations, it has that much more impact. 

This is a five purple crayon book for sure - I want my own copy!

Some other honorable mentions... The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth is a Ukrainian folktale about a boy who loses his mitten while playing out in the snow - he returns home and Grandma notices that it's missing, so they go out looking for it. I cannot wait to share this with students next year, since it's a Monarch Award nominee. My students just love folktales, and I know they'll enjoy this one too. 

Do I have to say anything about Fancy Nancy? Kids love her, teachers love her, and I'm happy to say that I love her too! 

Fairly Fairy Tales by Esme Raji Codell has lots of teacher potential. If you're studying classic fairy tales, use this at the end of the unit to inspire students to come up with their own original fairy tale creations. You'll have to check it out to see what I mean. :) 

I'm reading Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up to first grade students, and they absolutely love it! It's our only chapter book readaloud for the year, so they realize it's something special. But they can totally relate to Keena too, which is what holds their attention. Keena makes some bad choices at the beginning of the book and has to figure out how to set them right - a universal theme, especially for this age group. Plus, it starts out just as Keena is beginning second grade, so it gives students a glimpse into their futures for next year. 

I read The Dunderheads to third grade students, and it's probably the most engaged I've seen them all year long! The book is about a group of students, affectionately (not) nicknamed The Dunderheads by their mean teacher Mrs. Breakbone (who reminded students of Mrs. Trumbull from Matilda - yay for literary connections!). Breakbone confiscates Junkyard's birthday gift for his mom, so the gang plans a way to sneak into Breakbone's house to get it back, along with all the other goodies that she's taken from the kids. They're a motley crew of characters, each with special talents that help them to break into her house. Love it! 

What happened?
Oh, so you noticed the lack of YA this month? Yeah. Just yeah. I've been in a reading slump. Nothing seems to hold my attention. I get 50 pages in, and then I'm done. Bored. Frustrated. Uninspired. It's not that I'm picking up bad books! But I'm in a hard-to-please place. I'm looking for something to wow me, to captivate me, and I just haven't found anything like that lately. I enjoyed Delirium quite a bit, but I need a break from YA dystopia. And I feel like that's all there is lately! I want to get swept away like I did with Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy or Anna Godbersen's Luxe series. I hope I can find that right book at the right time to dig me out of this slump. 

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