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Friday, October 29, 2010

Student Review: Woods Runner (Paulsen)

Title: Woods Runner

Author: Gary Paulsen
Genre: Historical Fiction, Survival
Pages: 165
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Samuel’s parents get taken. This all happened when Samuel went out hunting, like every other days. However, the only different thing from that ‘every other days’ are that British soldiers come and take his parents as prisoners and kill their neighbors. When Samuel finds out, he gets extremely mad. He gets determined to find his parents and seek revenge. He finds them, but then fails to save them. Other people continuously save him from disaster, but he also witnesses how violently the British treated the Colonists. From killing the British soldiers, to giving Samuel food, the author describes how the Colonists came together to save one another, during hard times, which took great affect in the story. With determination and anger mixed together, he heads for New York where prisoners are.

Like other Gary Paulsen books like Hatchet, the theme was basically the same, which is coming of age. Samuel learns to be more mature as in decisions, as the book goes on. He also realizes how much he needs his parents in his life. Lastly, he sees what hardships other people go through because of the trouble of the British soldiers. I picked this book because the last Gary Paulsen book I read, Hatchet, was a really good book to me. When I heard that the author published another book, the memory just made me read this book. An interesting character was Samuel, not just because that he was the main character, but because he was about the same age as me and I could just see the difference between him and me (during that period of time and at the present).

Overall, this was a really good book because the author did a good job on making the parts in the book seem so realistic. However, the book seemed too short. At certain times, it felt like summarizing the important events. I thought the author would explain more, but he didn’t. Still, it was in the between good and fascinating, so I gave it 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. People who like other books from Gary Paulsen like Hatchet, and Woodsong. This book made me think of Hatchet, because some parts were very similar.

If your parents get taken, and everything falls down in your world, what would you do? Would you just pretend nothing happened and act like nothing happened? Or would you try to get your parents back? That is the decision. –Kevin, 8th Grade

Thanks, Kevin! I reviewed the book on the blog back in April.  You can read my review here, though it is not nearly as detailed as Kevin's.  This book is nominated for Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) 2011...stay tuned to see if it makes the winning list.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Student Review: The Daughters (Philbin)

Title: The Daughters

Author: Joanna Philbin
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Modeling, Mother/Daughter
Pages: 275
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this book, Lizzie Summers is a crooked nosed, bushy eye-browed, 14 year old girl. Not really the type of daughter people would expect from gorgeous super model Katia Summers. Being thrown into fame her whole life, Lizzie gets used to pushy photographers and adoring fans always following her famous mother while she stays on the sidelines. Through this constant and very hectic lifestyle she depends on the only two people that really know what she is going through and these are her two best friends, Hudson Jones (daughter of famous singer Holla Jones) and Carina Jurgeson (sole heir to Metronome Media).

As Lizzie starts her freshman year of high school she is surprised to get a call from a photographer that thinks she is the new face of beauty. Lizzie never imagined that she could ever be pretty enough to be a model but surprises herself when she decides to give modeling a shot and finds that it is both something she excels in and enjoys. When it comes time for Lizzie to tell her mom about her modeling aspirations, things go wrong and she struggles once again to believe that she is a beautiful person.

I thought this book was very entertaining because it gave you an inside look of what a famous person’s life is like through the eyes of Lizzie. The author explained every emotion Lizzie was going through so vividly that I felt like I really knew her. Throughout this book Lizzie had to struggle with living in her mother’s shadow. This is something I have never experienced before so it was intriguing to read about what this lifestyle would be like and how it would feel to have a mother that was constantly taking your spotlight.

The main theme in the book was being happy with who you are. Time after time Lizzie was challenged with being insecure about how she looked because she was constantly comparing herself to her mom. Lizzie thought just because she didn’t look like her mom she was ugly and this affected her in many negative ways. Throughout this book Lizzie learns that everyone is beautiful in their own way and that being beautiful is not just a reflection of what you look like but it is a reflection of how you carry yourself and the confidence you have in who you are.

I would give this book 3 stars because it was entertaining but a little too short. I would recommend this book to teenage girls because it teaches you a lot about what true beauty is and to embrace who you are. The next time you wish to live the life of the rich and famous, stop and think about what Lizzie goes through in this book. How would you feel if you had a mom that was considered the most beautiful women on earth?
--Ryan, 8th grade

Thanks for your review Ryan!  I have never heard of this book before.  It looks like it is going to be the first in a series.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Student Review: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Brashares)

Title: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Author: Ann Brashares
Genre: Realistic Fiction (Friendship, Love)
Pages: 294
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Has it ever occurred to you that a pair of pants could bring a group of friends closer? This story is about four very close friends: Carmen, Lena, Tibby, and Bridget. They have been friends ever since they were born. Their mothers had taken a yoga class for pregnant women and they eventually all became good friends. The girls would have play dates and spend each summer together. However, this summer would be the first one that the girls had to spend apart. On the day before they were to separate, they found a pair of pants in Carmen's room and they all tried it on. It was a miracle because the pants fit each of them perfectly as if they were made especially for them. They decided to share the "sacred" pants and send it to each other over the summer. It was a way for them to be together while apart. This story is mainly about their adventures and what happens to them while wearing the pants.

To be honest I only chose this book because it was the only book that I own and have not read yet. The reoccurring theme in this book was the importance of friendship. This story illustrated how much they cared for one another and that made it easier to understand what the characters were going through. A character that was not mentioned was Effie who is Lena's younger sister. Although the author did not say very much about this character I felt that she was the one I was able to connect to the most. Effie's personality is very similar to mine; she is a very quirky, talkative, and a happy-go-lucky type of girl.

This was not the best book I have ever read, that's for sure, but it was something I could easily relate to so I rated it 3 1/2 stars out of 5. The author also did a good job describing the characters emotions which really helped me understand how the situation affected them. The main reason I rated this book 3 1/2 instead of giving it a 5 was because to me it had a very common message and the story was very predictable. I would recommend this book to girls who enjoy reading about the bond that friends share.

How would you feel if you were separated from your best friends for a whole summer knowing that only a pair of pants were supposed to keep you together? Would you feel relieved or even more anxious?
--Abigail, 8th grade

This is why I love reading student book reviews.  I LOVED this book and rate it higher than Abigail.  But I read it as an adult who desperately wishes I had a group of friends like this in high school...and a magic pair of pants!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Author Interview--Janet Lee Carey

 Last Monday, Evergreen Junior High was lucky to have author Janet Lee Carey stop by for a visit.  Ms. Carey talked with a group of 90 7th and 8th grade students about the "writing life."  Her presentation was interesting, engaging, and informative.  I think that students and teachers alike walked away with gems of knowledge for future reference...I know that I sure did!  In fact, I'm already composing a "Wisdom from Janet" blog post for another day.

I am quite proud of the great questions our students asked.  One girl asked, "How do you start your stories?  For example, when I start mine, I think about the characters first..."  WOW!  The following interview is one that I had prepared ahead of time, but our students actually asked most of the questions without my guidance.

Mrs.Y: Thank you so much for being here today!  Tell us about your latest book! (Which has a great cover, by the way). 

Ms. Carey: My newest book is called The Dragons of Noor.
Miles, Hanna, and Taunier join with the dragons to save the last ancient forest of Noor. If they fail, they will never find the children stolen by the wind. This second book based in Noor is the sequel to my YA fantasy The Beast of Noor.

Mrs. Y: What were you like as a young reader?

Ms. Carey: I read all the time and accumulated a lot of library fines! I had a ‘reading tree’ just down the block. I loved hauling my book up to the high branches and losing myself inside the story. I’m eternally grateful to my school librarian who knew my reading tastes and recommended I read The Hobbit when I was in sixth grade.

Mrs Y: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Ms. Carey: Books greatly influenced my childhood. I couldn’t get enough of them. I longed to be inside the books I loved. One of the best ways to do that was to start writing my own stories. I kept a journal filled with poems, songs, and dreams, so I was writing constantly from junior high school on, but I didn’t write an entire novel until I was twenty-seven.

Mrs. Y: How long did it take you to write your first book (from start to publication)? How long does it typically take you to write a book?

Ms. Carey:  My first published book took about a year to write. That included many drafts and chapter revisions. It took another nine months working with my editor at Simon & Schuster before the manuscript was ready for publication.

That said, every book is different. I write longer novels now (usually about three hundred pages or more). I’ve gotten faster since my first book. My fastest turnaround was for my 2009 book Stealing Death for Egmont USA. The first draft was written in three months and it was revised in another three. I was writing at top speed and I did little else when I was working on that book. I was glued to my writing desk and my husband had to take over in the kitchen cooking all the meals. The Dragons of Noor was written and revised at a more realistic pace.

Mrs. Y: What does your work schedule look like when you are writing?

Ms. Carey: Like most people out there I work nine to five. I show up at my writing desk with a cup of hot tea first thing in the morning, write until about 1 pm when I take a lunch break and sometimes a brisk walk. Then I go back to my desk and work again until 5 or 5:30. I love writing and it’s lovely to be able to work at home. My office is just upstairs.

Mrs. Y: Where do you get your ideas?

Ms. Carey: Some ideas come from memories and life experience. Others come from stories I’ve read or daydreams. The story idea for The Dragons of Noor came in two parts.

I support Nature Conservancy.  As I was coming up with ideas for the fantasy book, I was upset to learn about the state of the Earth’s endangered rain forests. I grew up in the redwood trees of California, so trees are very important to me. A vision of falling trees haunted me, so I knew I had to write about it. The other idea (of a wind stealing children) came as a daydream. A verse about it emerged as I began to write the first draft:
Children fly when worlds are shaken,
Now the children are Wind-taken.
Seek them there, seek them here, before the children disappear.

As I started writing the story, I knew the loss of the ancient trees and the wind-stolen children were connected somehow, but I didn’t discover the internal story map right away. I had to write the entire book to understand the connection.

Since the novel has so much to do with the importance of trees, I’m donating 10% of my school visit money to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant A Billion Trees. Readers can also donate. They can find out more about it on my website, in my “Giving Back” pages.

Mrs. Y: You have written realistic fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. That seems like an interesting mix of genres for an author. Is it easier to write one genre over the other? Do you prefer one over the other?

Ms. Carey: The story idea dictates the form. Some stories fit contemporary settings; others require an historical setting or a fantasy world. I have three separate fantasy worlds going just now. Noor for The Beast of Noor and The Dragons of Noor, Wilde Island for Dragon’s Keep and the sequel Tess of Dragonswood due out spring 2010, and Zolya for Stealing Death.

As a writer it’s my job to follow the story’s lead. I’m currently writing lots of YA fantasy, but if another contemporary realistic fiction story comes to mind, I’ll go with it.

Mrs. Y: Who are some of your favorite authors? A few books that you think nobody should miss?

Ms. Carey: I have so many favorites, but I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin for her beautiful Earthsea series beginning with The Wizard of Earthsea, and for her Annals of the Western Shore books: Gifts, Voices, and Powers. I also love Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, beginning with The Thief, Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch Three Times, Justina Chen Headley’s North of Beautiful, Holly Cupala’s Tell Me A Secret, Lorie Ann Grover’s On Pointe, and Dia Calhoun’s books including Aria of the Sea to name just a few.
Mrs. Y: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Ms. Carey: Reading, walking in the woods, rock climbing, and swimming. I’ll be flying to Maui soon. I can’t wait to snorkel in the warm Hawaiian sea again!

Mrs. Y: What is your advice for students that want to become writers?

Ms. Carey: Read. Read. Read. Keep a journal. Write poems, ideas, and dreams down in your journal. Make friends with other people who love to read and write. If you gather a few like-minded people together you can start your own writing group.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

We had a great time with Ms. Carey and our actual author visit photos will appear on the EJH Library 
website soon! If you want to have as much fun as we did, contact Janet for an author visit at your school/library.  I highly recommend the experience!  And I wanted to say how wonderful that she recommended one of my favorite books, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner...YEAH!

What's my favorite Janet Lee Carey title?  Definitely Wenny Has Wings.  What about you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Student Review: The Splendor Falls (Clement-Moore)

Title: The Splendor Falls
Author: Rosemary Clement-Moore
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 513
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sylvie is a famous ballerina who lives in New York City. One night she falls onstage and breaks her leg in front of thousands of people. Sylvie is obviously unhappy so her mother sends her to live in Alabama with her dead father’s family. While in Alabama, Sylvie runs into some very suspicious things. There’s the Teen Town Council group, or the TTC, who she knows is up to no good. Also, there’s her cousin’s mysterious Welsh “friend” who says not to trust the TTC and knowing that she is the only one in her family that can see the ghosts. She watches the colonel looking after her and her family, the wail of her cousin, and a cry sounding like a baby. Sylvie is presented with not knowing what to do and who to confide in, if anybody. It doesn’t help when a flood is quickly arriving and threatens to take out her father’s family home. Sylvie is left wondering, are the ghosts real or is she going crazy?

I thought the theme of this book was to not be selfish and put nature and others before you. I picked this book while I was at the library and it looked like an unusual sort of book, like something I’d never read before. I think Sylvie is a very interesting character in the book. Sylvie is coping with a lot as she goes through this period in her life, with the breaking of her leg, and the recurring flashbacks of her dead father and the time they shared together. It made a very unique story, telling through her perspective.

I disliked, however, that it drug on at parts. The first hundred pages were pretty slow, but those were my only complaints. This book reminded me a lot of Harry Potter because it does have ghosts and witchcraft in it. I would recommend this book mostly to girls because it’s told through a girl’s perspective and Sylvie is a very girlie character.

And this book leaves me wondering, if you had a secret you could only tell one person, who would it be?
--Emily, 8th grade

Thanks Emily!  By the way, this book is nominated for YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults award (2011).  Since I am on the committee, I would love to know what other people think about this book as well!

Student Review: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (Meyer)

Title: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Vampire
Pages: 178
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

"The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner," a novel by Stephenie Meyer, describes the life of Bree Tanner when she becomes a vampire. At first, Bree spends her time with Fred, a social outcast, to avoid being killed. As she gets older, she meets Diego, who becomes her best friend. One day, when Diego goes to talk to their creator, Riley, he never returns. The newborns, including Bree, are taught how to fight. They are supposed to defeat their enemy coven, the Cullens, but it becomes a race to kill Bella.

I picked this book because I had read all of the Twilight books, and was craving more. The part of the book that really stood out to me was where Riley let each vampire sniff the shirt he stole from Bella. It is where the book changes from a fight against the Cullens to a race to devour Bella. The most interesting character to me was Diego because his personality was the closest to mine. The theme of the book was to never trust a vampire.

Overall, I thought that the book was really good! My only dislike was that the end dragged on. People who have read the Twilight series, and enjoyed them, would like this book.

Now this leaves me wondering…if you could be any of the vampires, in any of the Twilight books, who would you be and why?
--Caroline, 8th Grade

Interesting question, Caroline.  I can't wait to see how readers respond.  A great book choice for Twilight fans, but also for the Halloween season!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Student Review: Before I Fall (Oliver)

Title: before i fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Science Fiction (Fiction, Death, Friendship, High School)
Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5

In this book, the main character Sam Kingston is a senior that goes to Jefferson High School. She is very popular and has many friends, but also many enemies, including Juliet Sykes. Sam gets the best parking spots, the most roses on Cupid Day, and gets invited to the best parties. Cupid Day is the Friday before Valentine’s Day, or February 12th. Sam gets invited to the biggest party of the year on Cupid Day, and after a day of hanging out with her friends, they head to the party, with good friend but bad driver Lindsay driving. After a strange confrontation at the party with Juliet, the friends head home. They get into a huge car accident, and Sam believes that she has died for a few hours, and then, for some odd reason, she wakes up. But she wakes up at 6:50am, on February 12th.

I picked this book because I read the summary and it was very interesting, and this book sounded very suspenseful and mystical. The book also had a very intriguing cover, of a girl on the front, lying on her side, possibly dead. The book’s theme was ‘Don’t take your days for granted, because they are limited.’ The most interesting character to me in this book is Juliet Sykes. They don’t talk about her much in the beginning, but suddenly the author throws her into the book as the main reason for Sam repeating the same day 7 times. Juliet acts strangely and proves what people think about her wrong, and shows herself as a strong and determined character.

I really loved this book, it was filled with suspense, and it was always unpredictable. The author keeps you thinking and keeps you guessing, even at the very end. My absolute favorite part of the book was the ending, and how it ends sort of asking you a question, and definitely keeping you thinking. I would recommend this book to mostly teen girls who like a book that keeps you thinking. This is because the book is girly and is told from a girl’s point of view. This book reminded me of “Groundhog Day,” the movie, because they both are a story of repeating the same day over and over again.

Now I ask you this; If you had to relive the day of your own death over and over again, what would you do on those days, and how would you stop the loop?
--"Justin Bieber," 8th grade

Congrats to our guest blogger today, who is not the real Justin Bieber (sorry girls).  Just an FYI, I reviewed this book on the blog in May.  You can read the review here.  "Justin" did a much more in-depth review of the book!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Student Review: Catching Fire (Collins)

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Science Fiction (Fiction, Dystopian, Adventure)
Pages: 391
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Catching Fire tells the action-filled, sci-fi story of Katniss Everdeen, an 18 year old girl who was forced into a fight to the death called, The Hunger Games. This book takes place in the future where there is a Capital that rules over 12 surrounding Districts. This book is the sequel to The Hunger Games, a book where Katniss and a boy named Peeta are picked from District 12 to compete in the Hunger Games. In the end, Peeta and Katniss are the only ones alive, and should have to kill each other. But neither one wants to kill the other, so they both decide to eat these poisonous berries that will kill both of them. But instead they are both allowed to live, but people in the district see them disobeying the Capital. So uprisings begin in the Districts. Catching Fire tells you what happens when the Districts rebel, and how Katniss is punished for her actions.

I picked this book because I had read the Hunger Games and I thought it was an amazing book. The theme of this book is to stand up for what you believe in. Don’t let others treat you unfairly. My favorite character was a man named Cinna. Cinna is Katniss’s clothing designer for the Hunger Games. Cinna was a great friend to Katniss throughout her whole experience, and always helped her in tough situations. He had an amazing personality, and one action in particular that occurred during Catching Fire made him my favorite character (but I can’t tell you what that was without giving away the story).

I thought this book was amazing. It had great description of characters, and by the end you could predict what the characters would do in certain situations. The only thing I did not like was that the settings were very vague and not clearly described. I think almost any reader will enjoy this amazing read, but especially those who enjoy a bit of sci-fi and a lot of action.

This book has an amazing theme, which to me was stand up for what you believe in. Do you think that if you were Katniss, and these cruel and unfair people were living near your home, you would want to rebel, or would you cower to this great and powerful force? Read the book to see how Katniss reacts to the sudden twists, and shocking secrets that will forever change her life.
--Trent, 8th grade

Yeah!  I love this book, too!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Student Review: The Help (Stockett)

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryne Stockett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 444
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This book exposes a part of history many don’t read about in history books, the Deep South during the 1960’s. Skeeter, a rich privileged young woman, decides to write a book of interviews of African American maids in her small town of Jackson, Mississippi. This is how she meets Aibileen. Aibileen is the maid of one of Skeeter’s friends, and decides to let Skeeter interview her. Aibileen has been a maid for many years and has seen and done it all. She never thought twice about the way African Americans were treated, being brought up thinking that’s just the way it was. Minny, Aibileen’s friend, also agrees to being interviewed. The interviews are full of horrible stories about the way the maids have been treated, but also, surprisingly touching stories about the bond between a maid, the children she practically raises, and her employer. As different as they are, these three women come together to write a book that will put them all at risk and change their lives forever. So why are they doing it? Their whole lives they have been taught that African Americans are not equal to whites. They have always lived within the lines that defined the South during the 60’s. And sometimes, lines are meant to be crossed.

An interesting recurring theme in this book was that you first had to believe that you are just as good as everybody else, before anyone else will. I think we forget this sometimes. We expect others to treat us as equals, but yet we don’t view ourselves as equal.

This book was timeless and very thought provoking. It makes you realize just how hard it was to be a poor, uneducated African American living in the South at the time. I’d recommend it to anyone who is up for a tearful read that will leave you smiling, and ready to take on anything.

So I ask you, what would do if you were in Skeeter’s shoes? Would you write a book that would help many people, but also expose your family and friends? It’s a hard question, with an even harder answer.
--Madison, 8th grade

Good review, Madison.  I've heard great things about this book and am hoping to get to read it soon!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Students Have Hijacked the Blog!

In case you couldn't tell already, some of my students have hijacked this blog!  And I am actually encouraging their behavior! 

Two weeks ago, I took over an 8th grade Language Arts class here at school and asked the teacher if I could show the kids how to write a book review for the blog.  These students had just completed reading a book of their choice (any genre, but it had to be fiction), and presenting their review in a book talk to the rest of the class.  What a perfect opportunity to extend their learning by having them write a review for the school blog.  (And for me to get lots of reviews posted)!

After teaching the class about the necessary elements of a good book review blog post, we talked about who reads the blog and how to comment on posts.  I also showed them my "behind-the-scenes" blog readership statistics (I have readers from all over the world it seems, even Qatar.  This is actually quite cool)! 

The last element we touched on was safety and security; for example posting under a pseudonym if that makes you feel more comfortable (or would make your parents feel more comfortable).  While I mentioned not using names such as "Juicy" or "Hot Mama" because it may not make us sound as smart as we hoped, I did not mention anything about stealing celebrity names...hence, our resident "Justin Bieber" who posted a review.  Aaaah, the things we learn for next time.

There are a few student reviews posted so far, and there will definitely be more to come.  There are 30 students in all, so please continue to check back over the next few weeks.  And please, please, please feel free to comment on their reviews!  This is quite an exciting feature of the blog for them!! 

P.S. I am correcting their spelling and punctuation errors before posting, but have drawn the line at grammar and word choice.  Their words are all their own!

Student Review: Fairy Tale (Balog)

Lovin' our student book bloggers!
Fairy Tale
Author: Cyn Balog
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction
Pages: 248
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Morgan Sparks’s boyfriend is perfect. Cameron is the star quarterback (who according to the school newspaper can do anything), super popular, and likeable. Morgan has known Cameron forever. As their joint sixteen birthday approaches, Morgan feels Cameron is becoming distant from her ever since his awkward cousin, Pip, arrived. Cameron finally tells her that he is a fairy, switched at birth, destined to become the next fairy king. To make matters worse, Cameron has been arranged to be married to another fairy. Morgan struggles to keep her boyfriend on earth while denying her growing feelings for Pip.

I picked this book because first of all the pretty cover and it looked like an easy read with the "Twilight" aspect to it. The author does a good job writing in Morgan’s perspective throughout the whole story. She also uses vivid descriptions so you can imagine what she is saying. This was a decision book where Morgan has to decide if she wants to keep Cameron to herself or let him go. Another theme throughout the book was that if you love someone or something then you should let it go.

Overall this was a good fantasy, romance for girls that enjoy a cheesy, corny book. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars because it sometimes dragged on. I also think teenage girls should read this story because some of the wording is not appropriate for younger readers.

This book will you have you asking yourself, what if you were in risk of losing your best friend forever?
--Eileen, 8th grade

Thank you Eileen!  You are has a great cover.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Student Review: Wish (Bullen)

This is another entry in our student review category! Look for more posted over the next few weeks...   

Title: Wish
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Magic
Pages: 323
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Olivia is the new girl at her school. Who terribly misses her sister Violet who passed away the previous month. Olivia finds “Mariposa of the Mission”, a tailoring shop and Posey the girl that works there. Posey gives Olivia three dresses that represent three wishes that Olivia can make. With Olivia’s first wish she wishes her sister Violet back, she comes as a ghost. Meanwhile Olivia has noticed a boy at her school, Soren. Soon after Soren breaks up with his girlfriend and he and Olivia start to hang out, and become close. Soon Soren’s ex-girlfriend asks Olivia to help her with her charity event and Olivia and she become very good friends. Her new friend explains that she is not yet over Soren, and still has feelings for him. Olivia wants to tell her friend about her relationship with Soren, but just can’t find the words. Olivia made a terrible decision of not telling her friend because she soon finds out about the two being together and is very upset. Somehow Olivia blames the turn of events on her sister Violet, because she was the one who got her to hang with Soren and help her new friend. They have a huge fight and Olivia accidentally wishes her sister’s ghost away. What will Olivia do with only one wish left, when her sister is gone forever and her friend isn’t talking to her? Will Olivia make her life right again or change it forever?

A character that I found interesting was Posey, the owner of “Mariposa of the Mission.” There is certainly something magical and mysterious about this little girl who lives and works in a shop all by herself. Posey seems to know everything. Also I felt a connection between her and Olivia because they both lost someone close to them, recently.

I liked how the smaller details of the book were realistic when the magical parts were mysterious and well, magical. The author did a good job of describing the characters so I could picture them. I disliked the book because I thought it was a bit cheesy and girly for my taste and it was very predictable. I would recommend this book to girls about 9-13 because it was a fairly easy read.

It’s your turn. What would you do if you had the magic to get anything you want with just the simple words, “I wish…” would you wish for something like Olivia or different? The choice would be up to you…
--Sophie, 8th grade

Thanks, Sophie!  Glad that you shared this book.  I met the author at a Scholastic publishing function last summer in Chicago.  I must confess that I have not read the book yet, but it was delightful to hear the author speak about her work!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: It's a Book (Smith)

Title: It's a Book
Author: Smith
Genre: Picture Book
Pages: Really?  Does it matter?  It's a picture book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

You might know Lane Smith as the illustrator of all those wonderful picture books written by Jon Scieszka: "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," "Math Curse," and "The Stinky Cheese Man" to name a few.  But Mr. Smith, in addition to being a talented illustrator, is also an author in his own right.  In fact, one of my favorite picture books is "The Happy Hocky Family Moves to the Country."  I have fun memories of reading this book with my son when he was probably in 1st grade.  We would be laughing uncontrollably every few pages, and the book reading before bed would take quite a bit longer than normal.

Well, Mr. Smith has done it again!  In the age of the Kindle and ebooks, texting, and social networking sites, debate rages about the future of the "book."  Being a person who simply must have an actual book in my hands while I'm reading, I do not think that the printed book will ever go away.

In this picture book, a book-loving ape is trying to make a technology-savvy donkey understand what a book is...and isn't.  You can check out the book trailer 
here, but you must find a copy of the book to read in its' entirety.  Check your local public library or bookstore.  Heck, you can even peek at my personal copy here at school.  I LOVE THIS BOOK!  I even have the poster hanging up in the library.  I don't care if it is a picture book.  Love, love, love...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Student Review: Hatchet (Paulsen)

Today is the first in a series of book review postings done entirely by students!  I hijacked one of Evergreen's Language Arts classes and taught them how to write a book review for the blog.

Author: Paulsen
Genre: Fiction, Survival
Pages: 181

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Brian is stuck out in the middle of nowhere, which, (as you probably guessed) is a big problem. When Brian's pilot has a heart attack while flying him over northern Canada, Brian manages to land the plane in a lake to save himself. Brian is a city boy; he hasn't got much experience outdoors, but he manages to survive for a few days on berries and water from the lake. Berries won't last forever though, so surviving out here, hundreds of miles away from civilization, is going to be a challenge.

I really thought this book did a great job in describing the scale of the ordeal Brian went through. I enjoyed the story because I like to see how the character uses his wits to stay alive. The way that Brian had to be innovative was really cool. For example, Brian builds a bow and arrow to shoot fish. It takes a couple of tries, and he is almost blinded when one of the attempts splinters apart. In the end though, it works. Later on, he even fletches his arrows with feathers from the forest floor, and catches birds and rabbits. That's the kind of creativity that gives the book its flavor.

The theme is definitely coming of age, because Brian really matures throughout the whole book. He grows stronger, smarter, and more in sync with nature. A side factor of this book is the secret. Brian's mother is having an affair with another man behind Brian's father's back. This emotionally challenges Brian as he tries to control his anger at his mother.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 because it was kind of short, and it didn't have the amount of detail that I like to see in a good book. Anyone who likes survival stories or nature books would like this story, but other than that there's not much story value. Both boys and girls would enjoy this book.

So what would you do if your plane crashed, stranding you out in the Canadian wilderness? Would you survive with only a hatchet and your wits to guide you?
--Lauren, 8th grade

Thanks, Lauren!  You did a great job!  And because you turned it in before the due date, you get to be published first.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Day with Writers!

Monday is a busy day for me.  Busy, but very exciting!  I get to spend the day with TWO different authors.  I'm not sure how I got quite so lucky...

Monday morning,
Janet Lee Carey, author extraordinaire, is visiting Evergreen Junior High to talk about writing with several of my classes.  We are very excited to hear her speak, and to find out about her newest book, "The Dragons of Noor."  My students have been thinking of great questions to ask, which hopefully they will remember.

Janet interviewed me in September for her
Library Lions blog, and I am hoping that she will be interviewed for this blog!  Stay tuned...

After my "tough" day at school, Monday evening I will be having dinner with a few of my favorite librarians and, of course, Jillian Larkin.  She is the debut author of "Vixen," book one of the new "Flappers" series.  The book will find it's way to you via bookstores in December, but I was sent an advance copy with the dinner invite.  To be honest, I am only on chapter 5 right now.  I was hoping to finish it by tomorrow, but I might not make it...sporting events and finding the perfect pumpkin have taken up my weekend.

This is one week that I'll be saying, "YEAH, MONDAY!"

P.S. If you would like to meet Ms. Carey, you can see her at Parkplace Books in Kirkland on Saturday, 10/23.  Find out all the details for her book launch party on their website at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dinner with an Author!

I have been noticing a trend...all of my reviews of late are "girl" books.  At least, when you scroll down and scan the covers, all you see is girls, girls, girls.  What is really funny about that is it is not reflective of my typical reading tastes.  Not at all.  But it is interesting, even if I am the only one who finds it smile-inducing.

In keeping with this trend, I am talking about another book with a girl on the cover!  I have been invited to dinner with Jillian Larkin, author of "Vixen," the first book in the new "Flappers" series.  The back cover of the galley I received (wrapped in a beautiful ribbon by the way) promises this is a "sexy, dangerous, and ridiculously romantic new series set in the Roaring Twenties...when anything goes."

Sounds great!  I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend, so I will appear knowledgeable when having a conversation with Ms. Larkin on Monday.  I will let you know!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Liars and Fools (Stevenson)

Title: Liars and Fools
Author: Stevenson
Genre: Fiction, Friendship, Sailing, Death
Pages: 256

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The past year has been tough for Fiona dealing with the death of her mother.  Fiona misses the time spent with her mom, especially the mother-daughter sailing trips.  But since her mother died in a boating accident, Fiona’s father is selling the family sailboat and will not let Fiona near the marina. 

To make matters worse, her dad has a new girlfriend...Kathy.   She claims to be a medium who can communicate with the dead, specifically Fiona’s mom.  Fiona decides to put an end to the relationship between Kathy and her dad by using her science project to prove psychics are frauds, even though she secretly wishes she could communicate with her mother.

Fiona is a believable character trying to deal with her grief, even when others feel like it is time to move on.  Her relationship with her best (and only) friend Abby is realistic and the banter between the two girls adds a nice dose of humor to the story.  At it's heart, this is a story about Fiona finding her own strength in the wake of tragedy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Sarah Dessen Book!

New books are always exciting!  And news about new books is often more exciting.  Last week, one of my FAVORITE authors released the cover for her new book.  I know, I know...I never pick favorites.  I promise though, Sarah Dessen is one of my top 5 favorite authors EVER (in the #2 spot behind Chris Crutcher).  For me, "favorite" means I have read everything they have ever written, maybe more than once.  And that is saying a lot, because as a rule, I do not re-read books.  Honestly, I just don't have the time.

Ms. Dessen was scooped in her own release of the cover to readers by and a fellow book blogger, but it does not make the announcement any less newsworthy.  According to the book summary on, "
What Happened to Goodbye is about a high school senior who, after her parents’ divorce, has taken up the practice of assuming a new identity in each of the four towns she’s lived in."

It is times like this that I am so incredibly grateful to get advance copies of books.  Please, oh please, let this be one of the books that arrives one day in my mailbox.  If not, I will have to wait until MAY 2011.  My students will agree that this is a painfully long wait. 

Excepting for The Hunger Games trilogy and Percy Jackson, Dessen's books are the most popular books at EJH.  So, what is your favorite Sarah Dessen title?

Review: Princess of Glass (George)

Title: Princess of Glass
Author: George
Genre: Fiction, Magic, Princesses, Fantasy
Pages: 257
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am borrowing this summary from, because it says exactly what I wanted to say, but in a lot fewer words!  Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, where young princes and princesses travel to each other’s countries to make good political alliances, and good matches for marriage.  For Poppy, it has the makings of a fairy tale...until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince.

This is the second book in which Princess Poppy makes an appearance, so I suppose that you could call it a sequel.  However, "Princess of the Midnight Ball" centers around Poppy's sister Rose and the wicked curse put on all the sisters.  I am sure that if you have read, or do read, "Midnight Ball" first you will really appreciate Poppy's history.  But it is not necessary to enjoy this book.

This is a book about mysteries and magic.  Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers all make an appearance in this story that may sound familiar, but is entirely fresh and new.  A fun, romantic, and action-packed happily-ever-after story.  And even though I'm typically not a "princess-love story" book kind of girl, I am already hoping for another book in the series!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Sea (Kling)

Title: Sea
Author: Kling
Genre: Fiction, Survival, Romance
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sienna Jones is known as Sea to her friends and family because of her love of the ocean and surfing.  Unfortunately, Sea doesn't go in the water any more because the plane her mother was flying crashed into the Indian Ocean and there were no survivors.  Sea doesn't do a lot of the things she used to because she is haunted by horrible nightmares of her mother's death.

But now, six months after the 2004 tsunami that devasted SE Asia, Sea has the opportunity to travel with her father to help survivors.  Sea reluctantly agrees to join the team.  In an Indonesian orphanage, she meets Deni, a scarred orphan young man who is more like Sea than anyone she has ever met.  She feels an instant connection to Deni and cannot stay away from him.  But what about her best friend/boy friend back home? 

I am a little late to the "love" party for this book.  (I actually read it right before school started, but am a little behind in my reviews).  This is a powerful debut novel that is equal parts adventure, survival, and romance.  It will make you sad, but it will also leave you hopeful.  Sea is a character that I know many of my readers will relate can understand where she is coming from, and will root for her to get to where she needs to be. 

On (which I use to track my reading/ratings), the author has posted this about her book:
"5 stars!
What I Learned From This Book:

1. A book takes a long time to write.
2. Most of writing is revising.
3. I'm grateful and happy I have a book coming out.
4. I hope people like it.
My rating system: A star for each year I worked on SEA: 2005-2010. =)"

8th graders: Don't be surprised to see this as part of the upcoming "Survival Stories" project in Language Arts.  This is a must read!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do you have a favorite "must-have" drink?

Another weekend of discovering other great blogs to read!  This week's "blog hop," coordinated by the wonderful Crazy For Books, has a funny question.

What do you like to drink while reading, reviewing, and/or blogging?

I'm sure that people would expect someone living in Seattle to say coffee, but I am actually not a coffee drinker.  Can't stand the stuff, or the smell on my clothes if I've spent time in a coffee shop chatting with friends.  I know it's strange, and I'm sure that I can get thrown out of the Northwest for such sacrilege.

Honestly, I'm not sure that I really need anything to drink to get me through reading a book, or writing reviews or blog posts.  I couldn't make it through the school day without some sort of fizzy, caffeinated beverage however.  I've been known to pilfer a colleague's secret stash of Diet Cokes.  In a pinch, a nice hot chocolate will also do the trick.

What about you?  Do you have a secret, or not so secret, beverage vice?

New Book that I Would Like to Read...

One of my all-time favorite books is "The Thief Lord" by Cornelia Funke.  I'm willing to admit that it might have something to do with the fact that I listened to it on audio, read by the AMAZING Simon Jones.  But I do think that it is much more than that; it really is an incredible book.

Obviously I have read most of Ms. Funke's books over the years, though I will confess that I have never read "Dragon Rider."  Last month I was invited to see the author speak about her newest book when she was in Seattle. 

According to
"For years, Jacob Reckless has been secretly disappearing to another world, a world behind a mirror, a world for which his father abandoned his family. The mirror world is Jacob's escape from reality. It's a place for treasure hunts and magnificent quests. A world where witches haunt the forests and giants and dwarfs roam. A world locked in a deadly war.

Jacob's secret seems safe, until one day his younger brother Will follows him, with disastrous consequence. Faced with a curse that is quickly turning Will to stone, the Reckless brothers are thrust into a race against time to find a cure before Will is lost forever."

Now I am very excited to read this book!  However, an enterprising young student checked it out immediately and now there is a hold list at my library for the copies we have.  I am beginning to fear that I may never see it again.  Clearly, I may have to use my executive privileges and cut in line...that is a perk of being in charge, right?

If you want to find out more about the book, visit the
website.  You can find out all about the book, and even watch videos of the author reading certain parts.  By the way, I think that the publicity department should get an award for one of the best book "taglines" ever: "If you are looking for happily ever after, you've come to the wrong place."  LOVE IT!

If you have read the book already, don't tell me how it ends!  But I am interested to see if it is just as popular elsewhere...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Sphinx's Queen (Friesner)

Title: Sphinx's Queen
Author: Friesner
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Ancient Egypt, Adventure, Runaways
Pages: 368
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

This book is a sequel and picks up where "Sphinx’s Princess" left off.  Nefertiti is escaping Thebes with her secret love Prince Amenophis and her slave girl Nara.  The three are sailing to Dendera to reunite with Nefertiti’s family, hoping they can save Nefertiti from the charges of treason against her.  The villainous crown-prince Thutmouse, Nefertiti’s betrothed, relentlessly pursues the trio. 

While hiding out along the banks of the Nile, Nefertiti ponders how to prove her innocence and this leads to an eventual showdown with Thutmouse and his evil mother, the queen.  Nefertiti, based on the mysterious Egyptian queen, is still the same strong-willed, independent girl from the first novel. 

Fans of Egyptian mythology, adventure stories, and princesses who determine their own fate will enjoy this.  However, having not read the first book yet, I can tell you that this sequel does not stand alone.  So take my advice, read the first book first.  It will be worth it so that you will completely appreciate the story.  I know, I know...always read the first book first.  I tell my students all the time, but I just didn't follow my own advice this time.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: Where Men Win Glory (Krakauer)

Title: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
Author: Krakauer
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, Football, War
Pages: 344
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!  Honestly, I would give it more if I could!

Perhaps my review should simply be WOW!  Yep, that pretty much sums up what I feel about this book.  Enough said...

Kidding!  I have previously mentioned my love of this book, and my love of non-fiction in general, in a blog post you can find
here. However, since I have recently completed the book, and I'm trying to boost the number of non-fiction blog tags I have, I thought that I would expand on my review.

Arizona State football star, turned NFL football star Pat Tillman walked away from his NFL contract in 2002 to join the US Army and make $1,200/month.  Deeply troubled by the events of 9/11, this is something that Tillman decided he had to do, and something he never would have wanted recognition for.  It is an amazing act to many of us, and especially many of my teenage students.  How could someone who "had it all" give that up to join the army?  During wartime?  The answer is really the heart of this entire book.

Quite simply, this book moved me.  It is a powerful life story that should be told.  Pat Tillman was someone I want my kids to know about, someone I would be honored if my kids were like.  He loved his country and his family and his fellow soldiers, and exemplified what the words "Honor" and "Character" truly mean.

Taking advantage of Tillman's own journals, as well as interviews with family, friends, and soldiers in the unit, Krakauer chronicles Pat's story.  It is a riveting, engrossing, and yet ultimately tragic story told in detail.  Which is exactly what you would expect from a book by this amazing author.
This is a definite MUST READ recommendation from me!  By the way, Pat's family has set up a foundation to honor him and to provide scholarships.  You can find out more about the Pat Tillman Foundation by visiting their Facebook page. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Do Not Open Until...part 2

Last Thursday, 9/30/10, the mailman came to the door to deliver a package that would not fit in the mailbox.  Across the package was a LARGE sticker stating, "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 10/5/10."  When the postman handed the package to my son, who had answered the door, said mailman made sure to mention that we were not to open the package until the 5th.  And this is the warning that my son passed along to me when he handed me the package.

And then I laughed at the child.  (Okay, so maybe I'm not the nicest mom sometimes).  Seriously?  Can the postman really tell me not to open the package?  I knew what it was...a book.  And I'm sorry, but there is NO way you are keeping me from finding out which book it is.  (See the
first post on this topic from a few weeks ago). 

So, what was the book?  If you noticed the book cover attached to this post, then you already know..."Behemoth" by Scott Westerfeld.  YEAH!  This is the sequel to
"Leviathan" and is not officially released until the 5th, hence the need for the warning label.

By the way, I think I've traumatized my son by ripping open the package with complete disregard for the official warning from the postman.  I still think that the mailman was being funny and my son didn't pick up on the sarcasm.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Did you read "Leviathan?"  Are you excited for "Behemoth?"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Semester is in Full Swing!

Boy, isn't that the truth...

I just looked at the number of blog posts for September, and it is a frighteningly low number, especially when compared with August.  Clearly school is in full swing!  But I promise, I'm turning over a new leaf in October.

So, what have I been doing that has kept me from checking in with the blog on a regular basis?  Well, obviously A LOT of reading, lesson planning, writing, newsletters, reviews, teaching classes, teaching teachers...the list goes on and on, as it does for every teacher.  Lately I have been wrapped up in our
"Not Just Reading and Writing" project, which started last week and is already moving along. 

This is a popular and well-loved project at EJH that allows students in our 7th grade Tech I classes to tie their learning of technology skills into the Language Arts 6+1 Traits of Writing curriculum, and demonstrate both in a culminating project of writing, illustrating, and publishing a children’s picture book of their own design.  When the final books are published, our 7th graders invite kindergartners from the neighboring elementary schools to visit the junior high library for a field trip to hear the stories read aloud. (To see pictures of this project in action, click on the link above).  This project has won a Best Buy "Teach Award" grant, a Best Buy "@15" grant, a
Lake Washington Schools Foundation grant, and a grant from the Evergreen PTSA.

While I have learned MANY things during the process of teaching creative writing to 7th graders, one of my favorites is the discovery of "Chester's Masterpiece" by Melanie Watt.  What a perfect book to teach students about what a good story needs, and how difficult the process is.  For those of you not familiar with Watt's books about Chester the cat, you should definitely read them all.  But if you are looking for a fun way to introduce students of any age to creative writing, you MUST pick up this newest one where Chester takes over and decides he can write a book all by himself without the help of Ms. Watt.  WONDERFUL...FUNNY...PERFECT!  My daughter would say, "Two Thumbs Up!"

I cannot wait to see the books that this semester's classes create.  Will keep you updated on the progress.  What has been keeping you busy so far this school year?

Friday, October 1, 2010

I knew all those book covers were starting to look alike...

Last week I was booktalking to our 8th Grade Honors L.A. class.  The good and bad thing about the make-up of this class is that there are very few boys in it.  VERY few...if all of the male species are present, there are only FOUR.  So, this is the class that I get to break out all of the "girl books."

While viewing the presentation, I noticed that I had put a bunch of "heart" books in a row, so we all had a good laugh over how so many covers have the same image or concept.  Then we talked about how there was also a trend to have dead girls on the cover. 

Later, I found
this article on Publisher's Weekly online that talked about much the same thing.  Even if you don't read the article word for word, you should check it out.  The author has taken quite some time to show us how so many YA covers today resemble each other.  There are the "wind-blown hair" covers, the "flower" covers, the "hand" covers, and the "girl-alone-in-the-big-bad-world" covers.  It is quite fascinating...and so true!  I knew it!

What is really funny is that I have four of the "key" covers the author talks about on my desk right now, and I didn't even notice the similarity.

And please don't worry that I only mentioned "girl" books to this class.  There was plenty of titles that appealed to both genders, I promise. 

What do you think about these covers?  Which ones do you like best?  Why do you think they all look alike? 

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