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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: Blank Confession (Hautman)

Title: Blank Confession
Author: Hautman
Genre: Fiction, Mysteries, Murder, Bullying
Pages: 170
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Last summer, I went through a stretch where I didn't read anything that rated higher than 3 stars, and those were the good ones. However, this past month, I am apparently making up for that. Everything that I've read rates 3, 4, and 5 stars!

"Blank Confession" opens when Shayne Blank walks into the local police station and confesses to a murder. Shayne is the new kid in town, and he's not talking about his background. But he is talking about the murder, and has no problem telling the detective the story that led up to the killing.

Even though Shayne is the one confessing, the story alternates between two unlikely narrators: the detective listening to the confession, and Mikey, a kid that Shayne befriended to protect him from a bully. For me it is unusual that Shayne is the one confessing, but he is not the narrator of the story. Mikey and Shayne have only been friends for a short time when the story takes place. But when Mikey comes under attack by a drug-dealing bully, Shayne jumps in to rescue him and unfortunately makes matters worse. Both boys attempt to right the wrongs they see. The narrators parcel out the story, and through it we see the quick development of the boys' friendship, and the growth that Mikey makes.

We never really know quite what to make of Shayne, and that is an intential part of the mystery. It is not a mystery that someone is killed; the mystery is who ends up dead. Hautman weaves a compelling story that will keep readers turning the pages. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize that you could be wrong when another bad guy is introduced. It will keep you guessing until the end.

Because there are some elements introduced in the book that are not quite "junior high appropriate," this is definitely a book for high school and up. However, fans of Hautman will not be disappointed. Likewise, if you like gritty, fast-paced, whodunits, this is a first-rate choice!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Gossip From the Girls' Room: a blogtastic! novel (Cooper)

Title: Gossip from the Girls' Room: a blogtastic! novel
Author: Cooper
Genre: Fiction, Middle School, Friendship, Popularity, Gossip, Blogs
Pages: 256

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sixth-grader Sophia just wants to be one of the popular students at Middlebrooke Middle School.  Unfortunately, her plans to accomplish this have not met with success.  Sophia and her BFF Nona did not end up in “super fun” elective classes where they could talk to cool kids. The after school activities they tried did not make them popular, just sweaty.  To make matters worse, Sophia’s mom ends up as a substitute teacher at the school. 
Now Sophia is determined to use her anonymous school blog to post gossip about the popular kids in hopes that at least her blog will be popular.  Things go awry when she posts something private about Nona, and she discovers that maybe the popular girl she is trying to bring down isn’t so bad after all.

To be honest, when I was sent this book to review, my first reaction was, "Oh no, a girly book, with pink on the cover." But I was immediately drawn to Sophia's humorous voice, and her description of the perils of middle school. Written as a journal with illustrations and asides, this humorous take on trying to fit in in middle school will find wide appeal.  Hand this to girl fans of "Diary of Wimpy Kid," who will soon be looking forward to Sophia’s next adventure. I am one of those fans who can't wait to read more!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Top 10

I decided to celebrate my students' reading with this week's "Top 10." Our school library's circulation system tracks the Top 10 books at any given time, based on checkouts. Though I think that it should also factor the hold list into the Top 10 formula, it is still a pretty good indication of what is popular at the school at any given moment.

When I was online approving holds tonight (yes, I'm working at night; and yes, my students can put holds on books from home), I checked out the Top 10 and it inspired me to create this post. So I offer you, the Evergreen JH Library's "Student Top 10."

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This book has not been in the Top 5 for quite some time, though it never really drops out of the Top 10. I think its push to the top right now reflects that it won our schoolwide Evergreen Young Adult Book Award voting (see previous post), and students that hadn't read it clearly want to know why it's so popular!

2.The Compound by S.A. Bodeen. This book has consistently been in the Top 5 since the fall when we started our award nominee reading. It came in 2nd in the voting, and all the students that didn't get a chance to read it before are currently eating it up like crazy. Even some of our teachers are reading it based on student feedback.

3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is the reason I think our system doesn't calculate the Top 10 based on all factors. It should clearly be the number 1 book in my opinion based on the fact that we have 15 HOLDS on the book right now, in addition to the 6 copies checked out. But I do love that it proves the power of booktalking. This book hardly got checked out until everyone finished The Hunger Games trilogy and I would tell anyone who would listen that they MUST read it. Last week, I spoke with all of our 7th and a few of our 8th grade classes about it...and presto! Everyone wants it!

4. Beastly by Alex Flinn. Another one that is not a surprise right now, but has made a recent surge into the Top 10 because of the movie. And because it is one of my favorite books? Unfortunately, I'm not sure that I have more sway than Alex Pettyfer with my students.

5. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. A consistent performer that has been somewhere in the Top 10 since its release in October.

6. Num8ers by Rachel Ward. I love this book and have been promoting it like crazy in advance of the sequel. I think we have 10 holds on 5 copies right now. What more could you want than a red eyeball on the cover to get teens interested in reading it?

7. The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. Again, another book that I've been talking up quite a bit as the sequel just came out. It takes place in Washington, so our students really like the connection. But it is a good murder mystery with just the right amount of creepy and supernatural.

8. The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa. This great first book in the Galahad series has made a sudden surge into the Top 10. I am hoping that the interest in this series continues through the remaining books. I really loved the premise behind the book, and I know my students do also.

9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney. One of the Wimpy Kid books can always be found in the Top 10, but I attribute the popularity right now to the fact that I've been showing the movie preview in the library and we are all excited about the next movie. You know where I'll be on the 25th!

10. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. As wildly popular as Sarah Dessen is with my 8th grade girls (and since it's spring, my 7th graders are starting to discover her), her books typically don't crack the Top 10. But if the system could track Top 10 authors, she would be in the Top 5 without question. All of our copies of all of her books are ALWAYS checked out.

So that is a look into the current reading habits of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders in my little corner of the world. What is popular where you live? What are your favorites right now?

Evergreen Young Adult Book Award!

This is the first year that we participated in the statewide Evergreen Young Adult Book Awards. It is just a quirky twist that the awards seem to be named after our school. For those readers outside the state of Washington, we are also known as The Evergreen State, which is where the awards get their name.

The awards are open to all students, statewide, in grades 7-12. Each year, ten books are nominated (all must be available in paperback), and students can read any or all of them. Then in March, students vote through their school or public library (or online) for their favorite, and in April a statewide "winner" is announced. This year's nominees can be found here.

Our 7th and 8th graders participated this year and votes were tallied last week. 321 students participated by reading at least one of the books and there was definitely an overwhelming winner! With 197 votes, the EJH winner was "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. Honestly, this was not such a surprise, but I did think that some of the other nominees would garner more votes in the end.
If you're interested, our 2nd place winner was "The Compound" by S.A. Bodeen, and 3rd place was too close to call, a virtual tie between "Lock and Key" by Sarah Dessen and "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary Pearson.Voting is open through today, March 15th, for Washington state students in grades 7-12. If you did not get a chance to vote through your class and would like your voice to be heard, click here and VOTE NOW!

Stay tuned after spring break for the announcement of the state winner. Do you think it will be the same? I have a feeling it just might. But I could be wrong.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Close to Famous (Bauer)

Title: Close to Famous
Author: Bauer
Genre: Fiction, Realistic, Cooking, Learning Disabilities, Friendship
Pages: 240
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Today I am home with a sick child and we are entertaining ourselves by watching "Cupcake Wars." I am being reminded at every commercial break of three things: (1) my daughter desperately thinks the Food Network should have challenges for kids...and she wants to be the first to participate, of course; (2) I am incredibly hungry for cupcakes; and (3) I haven't written up my review for this wonderful book with the yummy cover!

Foster McPhee barely graduated 6th grade. She clearly cannot read, but was pretty good at hiding her learning disability. Either that, or her teachers took sympathy on her. Foster's dad died while serving in Iraq and all that she has left is a pillowcase of mementos and letters from him that she cannot read.

Now it is the summer before 7th grade and Foster and her mother have had to runaway in the middle of the night to escape mom's abusive boyfriend. She has to start over, in a new town, and eventually at a new school. While she dreads school, and that people may find out that she cannot read, there is one thing that Foster loves: baking. Specifically, baking cupcakes. And she is a pretty talented baker, who even starts her own cupcake business in town. Foster idolizes Food Network stars and practices for when she has her own show all the time.

Foster cupcakes help her make new friends, but she is afraid to tell anyone her secret. Will she ever trust someone enough to let them help her? Can cupcakes save the world, or at least Foster's little corner of it?

I am a HUGE fan of Joan Bauer and have to admit that this is one of the galleys that I was most excited to read from the stash I received in January. Foster is such a well drawn character, who has issues and adversities to overcome, but it ultimately hopeful and full of dreams. As in many of Bauer's novels, the supporting characters are quirky and add dimension to the story. This book has a "small town feel" to it, and a charm about it that will leave a smile on your face. I love how even though life has knocked her down, Foster never lets go of her cupcake-baking dreams of stardom.

And, of course, I love all the mention of cupcakes! The only thing that could have made this book better was an inclusion of the recipes at the end. This is a terrific middle school introduction to Bauer, that I hope my students will enjoy as much as I did. I also know this will lead them to the author's other wonderful books!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Author Interview--Dori Jones Yang!

Last Thursday, we were lucky to have author Dori Jones Yang visit our school. Ms. Yang has written a new book about the Mongolian Empire at the time of Marco Polo's arrival in China, and came to Evergreen to share her experiences researching and writing this book.

First of all, I have to say a BIG thank you to Parkplace Books in Kirkland for arranging this visit and for promoting authors in all our local schools. And obviously, a BIG thank you to Ms. Yang for visiting...and for agreeing to present to 9th brave!

We were able to squeeze 120 students into the library to hear the presentation: 3 9th grade classes, and 1 8th grade class. Chinese Dynasties is a curriculum topic for our 9th graders, so the book fits nicely with what they study. Ms. Yang's presentation was the perfect mix of history, her own travel/research experiences, and the writing process. She brought clothing items and personal photograph to incorporate into her presentation. Students and teachers alike were completely engaged and entertained. I was proud of the kids for the great questions that they asked.

Since many of our students were not able to hear the presentation, I decided to interview Ms. Yang myself, based on questions the students asked. Here are her answers:

Tell us about your latest book!
Daughter of Xanadu is a lively, fun, romantic adventure story, set in China in the time of Marco Polo. The main character, Emmajin, is a granddaughter of Khubilai Khan and wants to join the army. When she meets Marco Polo, he turns her world upside down. They go off on a long journey, which includes a battle against elephants and a hunt for ‘dragons.’

What were you like as a young reader?
As a kid, I read like crazy. My dad had a bookstore, and I would borrow books from the children’s section and read them without breaking the spine, so that he could sell them as new. I especially liked books about magic and fantasy worlds. I was such a total Tolkien fan that I learned to write in his elvish script. In 7th grade, I wrote notes to my friend in elvish code and passed them in class, where no one else could read them!

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first story at age seven and my first books at age ten. I even looked up my name in the library and was sad to find out there were already two other authors with my name, Dorothy Jones. It helped that I later married a man named Yang. Now my name is not so common.

How long did it take you to write Daughter of Xanadu (from start to publication)? How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It took nearly ten years to write Daughter of Xanadu – way too long! I got really caught up in the research and the story. I even traveled to Mongolia, twice, to see how Mongolian people live, what they eat, what horses they ride. [The picture above is from one of the author's visits. She is playing a horsehead fiddle]. My children’s book, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, took me only two years to complete.

What does your work schedule look like when you are writing?
I do my best writing in the morning, when my mind is clear. So I turn off the phone and close my Internet browser between 8 a.m. and noon. Well, in theory.

Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere – in the air, on walks, in conversations, in coffee shops. I often think them through when I’m in bed, trying to fall asleep. I just had a new idea the other day, based on some unusual experiences I had in eighth grade. But I haven’t told anyone about it yet. It’s like a tender shoot, just poking out of the ground. I don’t want anyone to stomp on it!

You have written a book for adults, one for middle grade readers, and now one for teens. What was your favorite to write? Was one harder or easier to write?
I love variety. I love learning new things. So I have written for different audiences with each book. I’m happy to be writing in the ‘young adult’ genre now. It is really growing and attracting a lot of talented writers. Young people are growing up in a multicultural society, in a global world, which means they’re not afraid of reading a book set in an unfamiliar time and place, long ago and far away.

Who are some of your favorite authors? A few books that you think nobody should miss?
I admit a great fondness for the incredibly imaginative J.K. Rowling and, yes, I loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, although I thought I wouldn’t. I highly recommend two books by Kirby Larson: Hattie Big Sky and The Fences Between Us, and also many books by Lensey Namioka, including Ties That Bind, Ties That Break.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Hmmm. I spend WAY too much time on Facebook! Of course, I enjoy reading. I also like taking walks on sunny days, boating, crabbing, and watching funny movies.

What is your advice for students who want to become writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Find someone who will read your work and give you useful advice. Revise. If you love writing, keep at it and don’t give up! Summer vacations are great times for writing. That’s when I wrote “The Secret of the Lonely Mountain Cabin” – which will never be published! But I learned a lot writing it.

Thank you so much Dori for sharing your stories with us! We are richer for the experience. I love the books that she recommends (most are available from the EJH Library, by the way) and her appreciation of our multicultural society. And I am so glad that I am not the only one that spends WAY too much time on Facebook.

On a side note, one of our students asked about how the cover for Daughter of Xanadu was chosen and whether Ms. Yang had any input (she did). Apparently the publisher chose a Chinese model for the cover as there wasn't a model of Mongolian heritage available. Just wanted to say, we have a student who is from Mongolia and she would have made a perfect model for the cover.

Have you read Daughter of Xanadu yet? You definitely should get your hands on a copy, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Shel Silverstein Book!

In case you missed the announcement, there will be a new Shel Silverstein book this fall! This will be the second Silverstein book posthumously published. "Every Thing On It" contains previously unpublished poems and arrives in bookstores in September, 2011.

In honor of this new book, I thought that I would post my favorite Silverstein poem. When I used to teach storytelling and coach speech team, I knew it by heart and would present it to students to show them how fun words could be. Now, I can remember the first two stanzas and the last line but I still love it!

Pinocchio (From the book "Falling Up")

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,

That little wooden bloke-io,
His nose, it grew an inch or two
With every lie he spoke-io.

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
Thought life was just a joke-io,
‘Til the morning that he met that cat
And the fox in a long red cloak-io.

They cried, “Come on, Pinocchio,
We’ll entertain the folk-io,
On puppet strings you’ll dance and sing
From Timbuktu to Tokyo.”

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
Got sold to a trav’lin’ show-kio,
Got put in a cage by a man in a rage
With a stick to give him a poke-io.

So Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
Out of that cage he brokie-io
To the land where boys just play with toys
And cuss and fight and smoke-io.

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
He finally awoke-io
With donkey ears and little-boy tears,
And his poor wooden heart was broke-io.

So back home ran Pinocchio,
As fast as he could go-kio,
But his daddy, he had gone to sea,
So off to sea went Pinocchio.

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
He got quite a soak-io
When he lost his sail and got ate by a whale,
And it looked like he was gonna croak-io.

But Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
A fire he did stoke-io
Inside that whale, who sneezed up a gale
And blew him out in the smoke-io.

Pinocchio, Pinocchio,
Next mornin’ he awoke-io,
And he had no strings or puppety things,
And his donkey ears had disappeared,
And his nose– – surprise– – was the normal size,
And his body filt fine, not made of pine,
And he cried, “Oh joy, I’m real boy,
And everything’s okey-dokey-o.”

So, are you excited for this new collection? What is your favorite Silverstein poem/book?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

YA Historical Fiction Challenge

Since starting my blog, I have spent time reading other people's blogs as well. It is always interesting to read postings and book reviews from people that share my reading interests. I have been quite behind in keeping up with everyone's postings, so I tried to catch up this weekend. I came across a great reading challenge this weekend, hosted by YA Bliss.  

The YA Historical Fiction Challenge encourages readers to read teen historical fiction. There are MANY great titles in this genre, and over the course of 2011, I will be attempting to read 15 Historical Fiction books. I will post reviews here and let you know when they are a "Challenge" title.

If you would like to know more about the Challenge, click here. Do you have a great YA historical fiction book to suggest? Let me know! Do you want to participate in the challenge with me? Comment and let me know. I am happy to post guest reviews!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Where She Went (Forman)

Title: Where She Went
Author: Forman
Genre: Fiction, Music, Romance, Relationships. Grief

Pages: 258
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is the long-awaited sequel to "If I Stay," where a tragic car accident forced Mia to weigh whether to follow her family in death, or remain and deal with her grief at losing them. This was one of the best books that I read in 2009 and I highly recommend reading it. In fact, if you have not read it yet, stop reading this review right now, get your hands on a copy, and come back when you have read it!

That being said, I don't think that it is 100% necessary for you to have read the first book in order to understand this sequel. (I think that it just makes this second book more meaningful).

"Where She Went" takes place three years after the devastating accident that destroyed Mia's family, and is told from the point of view of Adam, the boyfriend who's love saved Mia. It has been three years since Mia came back to him...and three years since she walked out of his life.

Now, Adam is a rock-n-roll star with every tabloid wanting to tell his story, while Mia is a rising classical music star at Juilliard. One evening, a chance encounter offers the opportunity for the two to catch up before life takes them in opposite directions. Will they make the most of this opportunity? Will they ask the questions that need to be answered?

Readers learn right away where both Mia and Adam went after the conclusion of "If I Stay," so this book is really more about how they got there, and why. Forman delivers the narrative using the same style as in the first book...a flashback sequence alternating with present day/time. The characters have grown up, they have flaws, and their lives are complicated. And both are still dealing with their grief over the accident that killed Mia's family. This is such an honest and emotional look into their lives that it will resonate with readers long after they have finished it. All I can say is...WOW!

By the way, the book will be released in April. I read an advance copy. It has already been nominated for BFYA this year! I can't wait to hear what you think...

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