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Monday, February 28, 2011

Author Visit--Dori Jones Yang

In honor of Read Across America, our local bookstore (Parkplace Books) is bringing author Dori Jones Yang to visit our school. I am very excited to host Ms. Yang, especially since she willingly agreed to speak with our 9th graders.

I just finished Ms. Yang's new book "Daughter of Xanadu" over the weekend and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will post a separate review this week, but I would definitely give it 4 stars!

If you would like to order an autographed copy of the book, please fill out and return the order form to the EJH Library ASAP. You can find the form on the
Library home page.

It is always a wonderful experience for readers to meet an author and listen to them speak. I am so grateful to provide my students with this opportunity. I am hoping that Ms. Yang will agree to let me post an author interview on the blog...stay tuned this week for more details!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Muhammad Ali)

On this day in 1964, a 22-year-old boxer named Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the new Heavyweight Champion. It is this fight where Clay predicted that he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Liston was an 8-to-1 favorite going into the match, but Clay won by technical knockout in the 7th round.

To celebrate winning the world heavyweight title, Clay went to a private party that was attended by his friend Malcolm X, an outspoken leader of the African American Muslim group known as the Nation of Islam. Two days later, Clay, a descendant of a runaway slave, announced he was joining the Nation of Islam. Later that year he rejected the family name given by a slave owner and took the Muslim name of Muhammad Ali.

Many know Ali today for his struggle with Parkinson's disease. He is one of the greatest athlete's of all-time, with many memorable fights, including 1974's Rumble in the Jungle vs George Forman. You might also remember he was bestowed with the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

If you want to read a terrific biography of Ali, my first suggestion is always The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. Fight sequences are interwoven with Ali's life story and the political issues of the time. Black-and-white photographs are also included. It takes an author as talented and skilled as Myers to cover a legend like Ali.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Cryer's Cross (McMann)

Title: Cryer's Cross
Author: McMann
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Supernatural, High School, Missing Children
Pages: 240
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In addition to my duties reading books for award committees (currently that means BFYA), I also review books for Booklist. For some reason, I often get sent 500+ page vampire romance novels to review, which is honestly not my favorite genre. In fact, "UGH!" is sometimes my response. Imagine my surprise when I received the new Lisa McMann novel to review at the beginning of January. It's possible I did a little dance upon opening the envelope. I LOVED McMann's Wake/Fade/Gone trilogy, and am very excited for a new book by her.

Kendall is a senior in a one-room high school where last spring Tiffany, a freshman, disappeared. Now it is the start of a new year and Kendall’s boyfriend Nico has gone missing. Nico understood Kendall and her OCD and she has trouble coping with the disappearance. While compelled to straighten the desks before class one morning, Kendall discovers that Nico’s desk was also Tiffany’s desk. This seems like more than a coincidence, but Kendall is afraid that people will think she is crazy. The town’s dark past is a well-kept secret and though she doesn’t want to admit it, Kendall will need the help of brooding newcomer Jacian if she is going to find Nico.

Kendall is a unique character and the details of her OCD compulsions are well-drawn. Haunting passages from another world, which provide just enough detail to intrigue and disturb readers, are intertwined with Kendall’s story. Part mystery, part ghost story, and part romance, this book has enough to satisfy a variety of readers and will find popularity with McMann’s established fan base and new readers alike.

On a side note, the best reaction that I received when I put this book out on display was from one of our 9th Grade LA teachers, who giggled like a junior high school girl when she saw that we had received the book. I wish I had video that I could upload.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Day in History...

On this day in 1945, the famous photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was taken on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. This famous photograph, one of the most iconic photographs in American history, and used as the basis for the Iwo Jima Memorial, immortalized the six soldiers captured on film that day.

Three of the men, Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank, were later killed later during the battle. Three of the men survived the battle and went on to become heroes once their identities were discovered: Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley were those men.

Upon discovering that his father was one of the flag raisers, Frank Bradley decided to find out more about all six men. His book, Flags of our Fathers, is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction as well as a powerful tribute to these reluctant heroes. A must-read, whether or not you have seen the movie based on the book.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Rap Music at the Grammys)

It almost the end of award season...the Golden Globes, American Music Awards, the Grammys, and now the Oscars, which air on Sunday. Did you watch this year's Grammy Awards? Did you have a favorite performance? We actually recorded the event at the Yusko household (thank God for TiVo) because all those commercials make me a little nuts.

Though the Grammys have aired on television since 1959, it was not until 1989 that Rap Music rated it's own genre/category for awards. On this day in 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (aka Jeff Townes and Will Smith) won the first ever Rap Grammy for "Parents Just Don't Understand."

I admit to being a FAN of everything Will Smith, as well as a closet 1980's Rap fan. However, I can relate today's "this day in history..." tidbit to books, I promise! In honor of Smith's historic Grammy win, I recommend his picture book, "Just the Two of Us" (based on his rap version/poem of the song by Grover Washington, Jr). And while Smith's rap is a wonderful tribute from a father to his son, and should be on everyone's "new dad" gift list, it is Kadir Nelson's illustrations which bring life and love to this book.

Truly amazing!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Nelson Mandela)

I suppose that Black History Month traditionally celebrates the achievements of African-Americans and milestones in American history, but today I thought I would put the spotlight an important person on the World history stage.

Today marks the anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. On this day in 1990, Mandela was released after 27 years in prison for "sabatoge and conspiracy." The son of a Thembu chief in South Africa, Mandela began his life-long campaign against white colonial rule while he was a college student. Mandela was dedicated to nonviolence in his attempts to end apartheid in South Africa. He became a leader in the African National Congress and was arrested and imprisoned by South Africa's ruling minority in 1962. During his 27 years in prison, Mandela continued his fight for a democratic and free society, and ultimately was released and elected president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela is one of my personal heros. There is a quote of his that is one I always come back to and try to live my life according to: "There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

If you are interested in finding out more about this great man, there are two books that I would recommend. Obviously, "Long Walk to Freedom," his autobiography, is a must read. For middle school/junior high and even high school students, I recommend "Mandela: the rebel who led his nation to freedom" by Ann Kramer. This book, published by National Geographic, is part of their World History Biographies series and is an excellent introduction to Mandela. (The series rates high on my list if you are looking for biographies for junior high students...I highly recommend all of them)!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Independent Literary Awards

Over the past couple of months, because I clearly needed more books to read, I served as a judge/panelist for the newly launched Independent Literary Awards. These are awards given out by Literary Bloggers...people like me, who blog about books and all things reading related.

I was very excited to serve on the Non-Fiction Award committee as this is a passion of mine.  From the nominations received, we determined a "short list" of 5 titles. After reading all 5, we chose our "Top 3." The titles making the cut were:

"At Home: a short history of private life" by Bill Bryson
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot

"The Warmth of Other Suns: the epic story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson

And the winner was...(insert drumroll here)...
"The Warmth of Other Suns" (Wilkerson). This is a beautifully crafted book that chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson relates to readers by connecting personal stories with American History. This book is detailed, clearly well-researched, and amazingly written. It reminded me of reading Steinbeck.

Our runner up was actually my favorite book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Henrietta Lacks was a poor African-American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, when she was only 31 years old. Doctors removed cells from a tumor during Lacks' cancer treatment. While she died from the disease, her cancer cells proved uncommonly hearty, reproducing at an unheard-of rate, and even today, years later, billions of these cells are used in laboratories around the world and have led to such discoveries as the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. This book is a story about science but it is also so much more. It is incredibly well-researched and well-written. The science is completely accessible to anyone that might read this book, but it also satisfies science geeks like myself. Lacks' story is a tragic one, filled with injustice, ethical questions, right vs. wrong, history, and family dynamics. There is really something for every reader in this book.

To find out more about the awards, and to see all the category winners, click here. And I think that both of these books tie-in nicely with my Spotlight On: Black History Month books that I've been highlighting this month. Perfect! Not sure how I got so lucky, but I'll take it.

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? What was your favorite adult non-fiction title of 2010?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Satchel Paige)

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will know that I am a huge sports fan. Some of my favorite books are biographies of famous sports legends, or collections of heroic sports stories (think Rick Reilly).

Today I thought I would honor the 40th anniversary of the nomination of Satchel Paige to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. On February 9, 1971, 
pitcher Leroy "Satchel" Paige became the first Negro League veteran to be nominated for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In August of that year, Paige, a pitching legend known for his fastball, showmanship and the longevity of his playing career, which spanned five decades, was inducted. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio once called Paige "the best and fastest pitcher I've ever faced."

There are many Negro League players with incredible talent and the life stories to match. This graphic novel, "Satchel Paige: striking out Jim Crow," follows Paige from game to game as he travels through the segregated South. The powerful graphics and prose definitely do justice to this sports legend!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Revolutionary War Spies)

 Our 7th graders have finished their study of the Revolutionary War, so I thought that I would highlight several books that fit nicely with this unit.

"Chains" and "Forge," both by Laurie Halse Anderson, tell the stories of Isabel and Curzon. Both teens are slaves in New York at the time of the Revolution, and both want nothing more than their freedom.

"Chains" is Isabel's story. The story of a young girl who was promised freedom, but sold to new owners instead. Isabel, determined to become free by whatever means necessary, meets fellow slave Curzon and decides to spy for whichever side will grant her freedom.

"Forge" shifts perspective to Curzon (sort of sequel, sort of a companion novel), and finds the newly escaped young man caught up with Washington's army for the winter at Valley Forge. Curzon cannot leave or let his true identity be known, for fear that he will be punished and sent back.

If you want to learn more about real slaves that spied for the British, you should make sure to check out "Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves who Sided with the British During the American Revolution" by Margaret Whitman Blair. This is a truly fascinating look at American history and an inspiring story of a little known group of freedom fighters. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

In Memory: Brian Jacques

It is with sadness that I report the passing of author Brian Jacques over the weekend. Jacques, the prolific author of the widely popular "Redwall" series, died on Saturday at the age of 71.

Back in my public library days, I had the honor of meeting Mr. Jacques, as we were able to have him present a program at our library for a large group of local school kids. If you were ever able to hear him speak in person, I hope that you consider yourself as fortunate as I do. It was truly a mesmerizing experience (and not just because of his wonderful accent)!

The Redwall series includes 21 books, plus 3 companion titles. The first, "Redwall," was published in 1986 and the most recent, "The Sable Quean," in 2010. Mr. Jacques also wrote the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series. I will be the first to admit that I am not typically a fan of fantasy books where animals are the main characters, but I LOVED "Redwall." I am sorry that I have not found the time in my life to read every book in the series, but I have read the Castaways books.

The Redwall series got it's start when Jacques wrote/read stories to children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, when he was a truck driver delivering milk. The children there loved the stories so much and he was encouraged to publish them.

If you have not had the opportunity to read the books yourself, you should! If you want to hear them read by the author, check them out on audio. Many are "full cast" recordings with Jacques as the narrator/main character. But be careful, there are recordings that do not feature him...still a good book, but it is so much better if you can hear it read by the author.

A great writer and amazing storyteller who will definitely be missed...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Emmett Till)

Continuing our spotlight on Black History Month, today's post is about the murder of Emmett Till. This landmark case is not often found in textbooks, but more and more books are being published. Two of the best are:

Title: Simeon's Story: an eyewitness account of the kidnapping of Emmett Till

Author: Wright
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, Crimes
Pages: 176
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

I have read many books about the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy from Chicago whose body was battered beyond recognition and dumped in the Tallahatchie River while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, in 1955. Till's crime? He supposedly whistled at a white woman. This crime was often overlooked by the history books because Till was African American. Though his murderers were never brought to justice, the crime has received much attention in recent years.

This account of the tragedy is told by the boy's cousin, Simeon Wright, who was with Emmett on the fateful day and was sleeping in the same room when white men came to take him away in the middle of the night. Simeon's story is a page-turner and should be included in American History curriculums.

Though it looks like a picture book, A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson is definitely intended for older readers.  This book is a collection of 15 sonnets that tell the story surrounding the murder of Emmett. The "wreath" is the collection of poems, the last line of one of the sonnets becomes the first line of the next, and the final sonnet contains one line from each of the preceding 14 poems. Very moving, and a perfect companion book to Simeon's Story.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Claudette Colvin)

In honor of Black History Month, I thought that I would spend February highlighting books that honor that history...and that you should read!

Today's entry is:

Title: Claudette Colvin: Twice toward justice
Author: Hoose
Genre: Biography
Pages: 160
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

This is a MUST READ book about an important young woman, that is unfortunately often neglected in the history books. On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin, a teenager fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.

Hoose has written a well-researched and engaging biography of Ms. Colvin, based in no small part on interviews with her. It won the 2009 National Book Award, was a Newbery Honor winner, a YALSA Excellence in Non-Fiction finalist, and a Sibert Medal Honor book...just to name the "big" ones. Definitely time well spent getting to know this amazing young woman!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday 15: My Favorite 15..."Love" Stories

Well, it is almost Valentine's Day. I think that the Valentine's candy, cards, and balloons have been in the stores since New Year's, but at least I have resisted the temptation to purchase far.

To try and get myself in the mood for this holiday of love, I thought that I would turn my "Friday 5" into a "Friday 15" and mention my Top 15 "Love" Stories for Teens. It should be noted that I do not consider myself a "gushy, romance, love story" kind of girl, but I had trouble cutting this list DOWN to 15 so I might have to start re-thinking my self-image.

 In no particular order...

Beastly by Alex Flinn. SO much more than just a twist on Beauty and the Beast. Flinn has spun a wonderful story from the point of view of the Beast, a vain Manhattan private school student who is turned into a monster because of his behavior. Before he can return to his human form, he will have to find true love. And since I have been waiting FOREVER for the movie, I am glad that it will arrive in theaters soon!

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I am completely
willing to admit to a small crush on David Levithan. But that is not the reason I am recommending the book...honest! Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? The book promises a "love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own" and it does not disappoint!

Devoted by Dick Hoyt. This is the ultimate story of a father's love for, and complete devotion to, his child. I tear up just thinking about it. An amazing family, an amazing life, a truly powerful love story.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Do I even have to say anything about this classic? LOVE IT (and the movie, too)! Westley, a farm boy, goes off to seek his fortune shortly after declaring his love for Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in the world. But their relationship is put to the test when his ship is captured by pirates and she is summoned to become the bride of the prince.
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. Smart girls who are spies? What could be better?! This is book #1 in the Gallagher Girls series, each book having a equally fun play-on-words title. As a sophomore at a secret spy school and the daughter of a former CIA operative, Cammie is sheltered from "normal teenage life" until she meets a local boy while on a class surveillance mission.

Matched by Ally Condie. I'll admit that this one kept ending up on the bottom of my "To Read" pile. Now that I have finished it, I'm not sure why. This is a great book, especially for fans of dystopian fiction (Hunger Games, etc.). Cassia has always had complete trust in the Society to make decisions for her, but when she is being paired with her ideal mate, a second face flashes on the screen, and Cassia begins to doubt
the Society's infallibility as she tries to decide which man she truly loves.

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers. What's that you say? Walter Dean Myers wrote a love story? Absolutely! Told in free verse, this story is set against a background of street gangs and poverty in Harlem in which seventeen-year-old African American Damien takes a bold step to ensure that he and his new love will not be separated.

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge.
When a fourteen-year-old baseball player catches mononucleosis, he discovers that keeping a journal and experimenting with poetry not only helps fill the time, it also helps him deal with life, love, and loss. Simple, yet wonderful. The sequel, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, is equally enjoyable!

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifest by Eric Luper. Looking for laugh-out-loud funny with your love story? Here's the book for you! After his girlfriend breaks up with him and he sees his father out with another woman, high school senior Seth Baumgartner, who has a summer job at the country club and is preparing for a father-son golf tournament, launches a podcast in which he explores the mysteries of love as only a teenage boy could.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I honestly cannot say enough about this wonderful book about love and loss, and trying to find love again. In the months after her sister dies, seventeen-year-old Lennie falls into a love triangle and discovers the strength to follow her dream of becoming a musician. There is so much in this book for readers to fall in love with.

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman. Another brilliant title by Mr. Korman! When teenage Vince Luca--whose family connections make dating difficult--finally finds a girl worth pursuing, her father turns out to be the FBI agent whose life's goal is to take out Vince's mob boss dad. If you want to really enjoy this book, listen to the audio which is read by Max know, "Vinnie" from Doogie Howser, MD. Terrific narration!

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt.
Again, not your "traditional" love story, but it is such a compelling story of a brother's love and wanting to fix someone who is clearly broken.

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. You didn't think that I was going to pick 15 titles without having a Sarah Dessen book on the list, did you? Remy, a master at getting rid of boyfriends before any emotional attachments form, finds herself strangely unwilling to free herself from Dexter, a messy, disorganized, impulsive musician who she suspects she has come to love.

Thwonk! by Joan Bauer. This book should come with a warning label: "Be careful what you wish for..." A cupid doll comes to life and offers romantic assistance to  A.J., a teenage photographer suffering from unrequited love.

Riding Invisible by Sandra Alonzo. If you are into traditional, gushing love stories where boy meets girl and they all live happily ever after, this might not be the book for you. However, if you like survival, adventure, and a little edge to your love stories, I think you will see how Yancy's devotion to protect his beloved horse makes this a love story. Fifteen-year-old Yancy details his adventure in the wilderness after he decides to run away from home because he is scared of his older brother's threats. Yancy ends up staying on a ranch in the desert where he reflects on his relationships with his sibling, parents, and a girl from school.

On a side note, my 13-year-old son who really dislikes to read LOVED this book. He was equally surprised that his mom recommended a book with swear words in it...gotta love it!

 So, what are your favorite love stories? I'm sure I'm missing something good. Maybe next Friday, I'll make a list of the ones I had to delete to narrow it down to 15.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Today is Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Rabbit!

Two weeks ago, my family went out to dinner at our local Chinese restaurant (which makes an amazing pineapple fried rice, by the way) to celebrate my mother's mid-January birthday. I had to explain to her that because she has a January birthday, she really was not born in the Year of the Rat like she had thought all these years. She was really born under the Year of the Pig (like me). This was quite a shock to her, but we have straightened it all out now, and I think that she will be able to carry on.

In honor of this holiday, I thought I would highlight a title from our BFYA list of "Best Books."

Title: Gateway
Author: Shinn
Genre: Fiction, Time Travel, Fantasy, Chinese Americans
Pages: 280
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From Goodreads: As a Chinese adoptee in St. Louis, teenage Daiyu often feels out of place. When an elderly Asian jewelry seller at a street fair shows her a black jade ring—and tells her that "black jade" translates to "Daiyu"—she buys it as a talisman of her heritage. But it's more than that; it's magic and it takes Daiyu through a gateway into a version of St. Louis much like 19th century China. Almost immediately she is recruited as a spy, which means hours of training in manners and niceties and sleight of hand. It also means stealing time to be with handsome Kalen, who is in on the plan. There's only one problem. Once her task is done, she must go back to St. Louis and leave him behind forever. . .

I am not typically a big fan of fantasy/time-travel adventure novels. However, this one contains an interesting premise, with the possiblity of sequels. Definitely a book worthy of our Best Fiction list, and one that you shouldn't miss!

Gung Hay Fat Choy to all!

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