Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel L680

This is a thought provoking book about a family that raises a chimpanzee as a human child as part of an experiment to determine if chimps can learn and communicate through American Sign Language. Their only child becomes quite attached to Zan and sees him as he little brother. When the experiment is deemed a failure it calls into question the rights of animals, and the role humans should and do play when messing with nature. There were some parts that were a bit mature as Ben, the main character, begins to come of age and falls for the girl next door. Overall a good book, especially if you like animals and coming of age novels. While the author doesn't indicate it, the book seems to be loosely based on the experiments that Gardner did with real chimps in the late 60's.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Water Seeker. Holt, Kimberly Willis, L730.

The story of Amos, a young boy whose mother (a loner with wild red hair, an artistic flair, and a unique connection with birds) dies while giving birth to him. His father is a trapper and is not around when the child is born. When he returns to find his wife dead and the child being cared for by his reluctant grandmother, he decides he will take the boy to his half brother who is the preacher at a new mission in Indian territory. This is the story of Amos and how he discovers that he has the gift his father and his grandfather before him had. The ability to dowse for water. Great voice! Interesting symbolism.

The Hunger Games Series, Collins, Suzanne. L810

Great books for an enjoyable read. If you like adventure books or mysteries this series may be just right for you. They have a strong female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, and a strong male protagonist Peeta.
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up -In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives. Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing. This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like 'Survivor' and 'American Gladiator.' Book one of a planned trilogy.Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK

I am Number Four. Lore, Pittacus, L700

Another book waiting for the next in the series. While I am not usually a huge fan of sci-fi, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Told in the first person by the main character, it moves quickly and leaves you wanting to know what will happen next. If you liked The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner or Twilight, you may like this series as well as they have a very similar feel.

John Smith has just arrived in Paradise, Ohio, just another stop in a string of small towns where the 15-year-old has been hiding out from the Mogadorians. Those terrifying aliens are hellbent on destroying him and the other nine Loric children who have sought refuge on Earth. The Mogadorians are picking off the surviving kids in numerical order. The first three are dead and John's number is up. Will his Legacies, his defining super powers, develop in time for him to fight against the enemy? I Am Number Four is a breathless page-turner of a sci-fi novel that will have readers rooting for the teen alien who must unleash his fire power to save himself, his human friends, and the planet. This is the first of a slated multi-book series that, judging by this first book, will help reinvigorate a traditional YA genre that's grown a bit light on strong character development. So, gear-up sci-fi fans, the battle for Earth is on and there's a new kid in town! --Lauren Nemroff

The Boneshaker. Milford, Kate. L900

This was an interesting book based on the premise of what can happen when one sells their soul to the devil regardless of whether you have the best of intentions in doing so or not. This book has a strong female protagonist. If you like mystery books, this may be the read for you as it will keep you trying to figure it out until the end. The one thing I had a tough time getting into in this book was the main character Natalie's preoccupation with automaton or machinery.
From School Library Journal
Grade 6–8—Natalie Minks, 13, likes machines—the way they make sense, the way all the gears and cogs fit together to make something happen. When Dr. Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show stops in at her father's bicycle repair shop because a wagon wheel has fallen off and disappeared, Natalie knows that the man is not meant to fit into the machinery of her life. Her ailing mother has told her stories of bargains made with the Devil, and of besting wickedness by looking it right in the face. Limberleg has a collection of clockwork figures that work without being wound up and never seem to run down. When Natalie begins to have inexplicable visions of the malevolent forces facing Arcane, MO, she isn't convinced that she is equipped to fight the evil at hand. Soon almost everyone is taken in by Limberleg's promises of miraculous healing and snake-oil cures, and it becomes clear to Natalie that she is their only hope of survival. Enhanced by full-page drawings, this intricate story, set in the early 20th century, unfolds with the almost audible click of puzzle pieces coming together. In the gothic tradition of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (S & S, 1962), The Boneshaker will earn itself a place in the annals of stories about children and the struggle between good and evil.—Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The Scorch Trials. Dashner, James. L720

Another good book... will leave you waiting for the 3rd book which is not to be released until October 2011.
Library Journal Review - Gr 7 Up–This dystopian novel begins where The Maze Runner (Delacorte, 2009) ends. Thomas and the rest of the group's escape from the Maze and the horrifying creatures called Grievers has proven to be short-lived because WICKED, the group behind it all, has another trial in store for them. Sun flares have destroyed most of the Earth, and a virus called the Flare has ravaged its population. Infected people turn into zombies called Cranks that attack and eat one other. The kids are told that they have the Flare but if they succeed in surviving the second trial, they will be cured. With few supplies, they must travel across 100 miles of hot and scorched land within two weeks to reach a safe house to receive the cure. When Teresa, Thomas's best friend and the only girl in the group, disappears, and he loses the ability to communicate telepathically with her, he and the other guys determine to find her. As they trek across the barren desert encountering crazed Cranks, the teens' loyalty to one another and the group is tested. The fast-paced narrative and survival-of-the-fittest scenario is reminiscent of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008). Although these characters aren't quite as compelling and their made-up slang takes a little getting used to, each character's personality is distinct. The unresolved ending will leave readers impatiently waiting for the conclusion to the trilogy.–Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

The Maze Runner - Dashner, James. Lexile 770

Great book! This is the first in a three part series. Review from School Library Journal
Grade 6–10—Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. He emerges into a world of about 60 teen boys who have learned to survive in a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture and supplies from below. A new boy arrives every 30 days. The original group has been in "the glade" for two years, trying to find a way to escape through a maze that surrounds their living space. They have begun to give up hope. Then a comatose girl arrives with a strange note, and their world begins to change. There are some great, fast-paced action scenes, particularly those involving the nightmarish Grievers who plague the boys. Thomas is a likable protagonist who uses the information available to him and his relationships (including his ties to the girl, Teresa) to lead the Gladers.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blume

This novel is set during the WWII era and is narrated by the main character's daughter. The main character, a beautiful, young German woman, falls in love with the Jewish vet in her community. They begin an affair - her first physical attachment, which results in a pregnancy and, unfortunately, his capture and deportation to a nearby concentration camp. Anna has the baby and struggles to survive in war time. She eventually comes under the protection of a high ranking Nazi official who is a bit ruthless and self-centered. She does not love the man and views his advances as a chore and tedious, but this saves her life and the life of her daughter.

Anna leads a bit of a double life and helps the Jews at the camp - always watching for her love. When Germany is falling apart, her Nazi lover makes arrangements to get her out of Germany but he can't take the girl. Obviously, the woman stays - she will not leave her daughter. A young American GI takes her under his wing (she does always seem to play the part of weak young damsel in distress), they marry, and move to the US. Though he loves her and is kind to her, she can't get past the thought of her Nazi protector and their time together. The shame he put her through has spoiled her and she lacks the capacity to let herself love.

The narrator, Anna's daughter, meanwhile struggles as an adult to understand her mother's role in the war as she refuses to share any of her experiences. Anna's daughter has spent her adult life believing the Nazi was her father as she remembers bits of him, and she has found a picture hidden in her mother's drawer of the three of them . It is only later in the book that she comes to learn the truth.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - by Kim Edwards

I would recommend this book for a thoughtful read. It is the story of a young doctor who delivers his children in the middle of a snow storm. He and his wife are excited as it is their first child - but unbeknownst to him, his wife is pregnant with twins and the baby girl is born with downs syndrome. He panics thinking about the life she will have, the strain and hardship she will put on the family and he remembers his sister who was chronically ill and what it did to his parents. He makes a life altering decision to tell his wife that the little girl died - then he sends the baby with his nurse to an institution. However, the nurse can't bring herself to leave the child and instead takes her and raises her as her own. This is a story of a marriage suffering from one decision, one lie - the rift between a husband who can't bring himself to tell the woman he loves the truth and a mother who struggles to deal with her overwhelming sense of lose, and the story of an unlikely mother and the joy one little girl brings to her. Edward's characters are complex and the story, like life, has no easy answers, no completely happy ending.

Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling

Like many of my friends, I have been furiously rereading the books in preparation for the new release of book 7. I do have a couple of predictions that I thought I might share before I open the book: First, I think Snape is on the GOOD side! I think he and Dumbledore set up his death and made sure Harry saw it or "thought" he saw it so that if Voldermort was able to penetrate Harry's mind, he would think Dumbledore was dead -removing a huge threat to him. IF Dumbledore is dead, I think that he made Snape agree to take his life to protect Draco and Harry, this is why he said - please Severus - on the roof prior to his death.
I had a friend email me with an interesting idea which I think is quite plausible - Harry is in fact the last horcrux - this would explain the prophecy - neither can live while the other survives, and it would explain the connection between Voldermort and Harry. However, there is one flaw - wouldn't Voldermort KNOW Harry was a Horcrux as he made them?

Anyway, this is the first time I have reread all of the books, and I must say this was WELL worth my time. I was amazed at the number of connections to events in the later books that are set up in the earlier books. GREAT foreshadowing - shows such a talent for writing. I know lots of people who have just seen the movies and think they KNOW about Potter - AS with most books to movies - the movies are such a different medium - by necessity they leave so much out!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Long Way Gone - A Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

I saw this book in Starbucks and couldn't resist the cover. At first I thought it was about one of the lost boys from the Sudan, but it is not. It's Beah's memoir about his life in Sierra Leone. His family falls prey to the rebels who are trying to overthrow what they consider to be a corrupt government. Ishmael, who is 12 at the time, is away in a neighboring village getting ready to perform American rap music with some buddies. He hears of the attack from people who are able to escape. Thus begins his journey from a child to a refugee of war - facing imminent death at each new village until the villagers realize he is just a boy searching for safe harbor.
If memory serves me Sierra Leone is the place depicted in Blood Diamond. And in fact the methods used by the rebels seem right on target with what was depicted in the movie. Beah is terrified of being caught by the rebels (his brother is and he never sees him again) because even if he escapes they will mark him if he is captured by branding their initials in his forehead or cutting off limbs - so even if he escapes, he would be exiled as a member of the rebel forces. The rebels routinely kidnapped young boys and forced them to join the movement and kill - like in Blood Diamond.
I'm not sure if he gets captured but by the title "a boy soldier" I'm guessing he does. It's been a pretty good book so far - AND if you buy it at Starbucks, they will donate a percentage of the proceeds to UNICEF (though it does cost more than on Amazon).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blog Musings

I've spent several nights surfing blogs using the "next blog" button. I'm surprised by the assortment of "stuff" out there. The number of entries in languages other than English definitely make one aware that WE are not the center of the universe. I'm also surprised by the sheer variety of posts: everything from gardening, to gadgets, to publishing poetry, to exploring one's sexuality. I must admit I have clicked on several and felt totally uncomfortable with the pornographic images displayed for the world to see. I'm questioning the uses of blogs in education because of this. If I can sign onto a blog and use the "next blog" button to see what is out there, I can imagine students can as well. I would not be comfortable with my students clicking on some of the sites I have seen. How do we address this? Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

My Life as a Freshman

I just finished this book for a study group. It is written by a college anthropology professor who went undercover at the university where she taught to try to better understand the change in her students. She enrolled as a freshman in the dorms with classes where she would not be known. She then went about the business of going to class.
What she found reminded me of my eighth graders. College freshmen didn't speak up in class for fear of being seen as too smart or because they didn't see the point - what does it matter the teacher only wants the answer they have in mind; they don't care about our opinions. Most freshman didn't do the reading or even if they did they skimmed it with little or no comprehension. Kids were more concerned with partying and social connection than academics.
I was so depressed! I have been telling myself that my 8th graders would somehow grow out of this and would someday become engaged in their learing - I don't know some kind of in the end it will all matter type of deal - but then I read that when they get to college they are basically just 8th graders who can drink!
Then I started thinking about it and realized that maybe it is just a transition from one stage of their lives to another. Just like 8th graders are transitioning into highschool - freshman are transitioning into college. Could this be something? The first time I went to college, I was right out of high school, but I had a child and was extremely shy - I dropped out when my dad died of lung cancer. The second time I was a non traditional student hell bent on doing well and proving something to myself. What's my point?? I can't really relate to the book's freshman experience.
So I'm wondering? What were your college freshman days like? Is it all about partying and friends? When did you get serious about studies?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Uglies (series)

My 8th grade students are devouring these books - Uglies is the first. Then the series moves to the Pretties and then the Specials. I've started the first book but can't seem to keep it in my class long enough to read it. I just can't say no to my students and keep loaning them out. Anyone out there read it? I would love to hear what you think. I do know it has an interesting premise sort of a sci-fi in the future everyone who reaches a certain age is altered to be pretty but that's as far as I am. It also has an interesting start - something about the sky being the color of cat vomit. Great voice!

I hope to receive recommendations and comments as we begin to talk about books.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Kite Runner - author Khaled Hosseini

This novel follows the life of Salid, a privileged, spoiled boy in Afghanistan pre the Russian occupation. I would recommend this book with a few reservations. I spent the majority of the novel disgusted with the main character for his self centered choices, including standing by and letting his best friend be tormented and sexually assaulted by several neighborhood bullies. His choice to alienate his childhood confidant to ease his own conscience was saddening and at times difficult to read. However, it is one of those novels that leaves the reader with a lasting impression, albeit an uneasy one. The good news is that by the end of the novel, I had made an uneasy peace with Salid. Hosseini's writing is beautiful and rich though the end of the novel is a bit contrived as he tries to tie up all the loose ends.

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My Sister's Keeper author Jodi Picoult

A great read! Picoult seamlessly weaves differing points of view with each character narrating the story. It's the story of Anna, a young girl who was conceived as a perfect match organ donor for her sister Kate who suffers from acute leukemia. Though her parents love her, Anna feels trapped in a situation she can't control constantly putting her life and dreams on hold to supply her sister with platelets, blood, and bone marrow. Now her sister needs a kidney, and Anna finds the courage to take charge of her life and her own body in a heartbreaking dilemma. If she donates the kidney, where does it stop? If she doesn't, is she killing her sister? Picoult tells the story of a family torn apart and the silkens strands of love that bind them together.

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