"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Completed the YA Decade Challenge Today!

Original Challenge

Back in January I embarked on a reading challenge, to read one YA book for each decade from 1930 (or before) forward.  Today I conquered this challenge by finishing my last book.  It was a wonderful experience reading all these books written several decades ago and I would highly recommend it.  I know I will try to do this challenge again next year and I encourage all my readers to try it.  You don't have to do it with YA titles.  Just think back over all the books you've always wanted to read but never took the time.  Here's your chance!  This is a list of the books I read:

1930s or before: The Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain (1885)
I listened to this in audio format with the family.  I realized after about chapter one that I had never read it before.  (Can you believe that?) No wonder it is called the Great American Novel!

1940s: Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (1947)
This novel was based on the true love story of Catherine Mary and Mike Flanigan who lived in the far north of Canada in the early 1900s.  This book has been touted as a romance novel but I feel it is better categorized as historical fiction.

1950s: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (1952)
The third book in the wonderful Chronicles of Narnia series. Dawn Treader is coming to the big screen this December so my daughters and I read this aloud together while we vacationed in preparation for the movie. We are all huge Narnia fans. 
1960s: Camilla by Madeline L'Engle (1964) (Originally: Camilla Dickinson in 1951)
This book seemed so dated that I was distracted the whole time I was reading it thinking there is no way that this story is set in the 1960s.  I was right.  It was originally written in the early 1950s.

1970s: The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (1973)
    Read my review here.

1980s: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
    Classic YA Sci-Fi.

1990s: Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes by Chris Crutcher (1993)
I’m turning into a huge Chris Crutcher fan.  He grapples with difficult topics that teens confront in their lives. Even though this book is nearly twenty years old it is still relevant today.

2000s: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (2009)
    See my review here.

2010s: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (2010)
    This book will be one of my Mock Printz book this January.  See my review.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

What if you only had one year to live...and you knew it? Ben decided not to tell anyone. He just wanted to have the best senior year possible.  He wanted to experience things he'd never done before without others holding him back because he was ill.  So he goes out for football even though he weighs less than 130 pounds and has only played with his brother, also a senior, in the back yard. He talks to and actually starts dating the hottest girl in the school.  He is bold and fearless.  He reads voraciously and challenges teachers to think outside the box.  Along the way he learns that love means you can't leave people out without consequences.  He eventually faces this and comes clean with everyone about his illness.

Lest you think that this is just a sob story---think again.  It is about our education system, about the power of books, the effects of book banning, about First Amendment rights of free speech, what we are taught in our history classes and why.  It is well written, thoughtful and will appeal to both male and female readers.

I decided to read Deadline yesterday.  It was a lovely day in the Northwest so I sat outside with an iced tea and read the book all day. It was a quick read full of thoughtful an poignant parts many of them spiritual in nature but it has enough about football in it to keep even the biggest jock interested.  I will definitely read more Crutcher in the future.  He tackles (pun intended) topics that need to be addressed but doesn't come off as being preachy.  One of my favorite parts of the book was in chapter 12 where Ben is insisting that the Civics teacher allow him to do a project on Malcolm X and Sylvia, another student, pipes up that the teacher should discipline Ben and that the book he is reading should be banned. What ensues is an excellent, hands-on lesson that teaches kids more than whatever the teacher had a paper to do that day.  Read it and see if you agree with me.

Here is a favorite quote:
"God isn't a guy.  God isn't a girl. God is a force.  You have all these people trying to figure out whether to believe in God or the Big Bang. Well, God IS the Big Bang.  If God relegated his thinking to human cognition, it would never get anything done...Just know that everything started as one, everything still is one, and it will end up as one."  ---Hey-Soos to Ben in dream, p. 241-2

Visit Chris Crutcher's Page to read more about Deadline.

Friday, July 23, 2010

In tribute to...

Pete McCarthy- author of the book McCarthy's Bar my book club's selection for this month. McCarthy was a British humorist and travel-essayist who decided that he needed to make a quest to west of Ireland in search of his family roots and a place where he felt he belonged. He decided early on in the trip that he would never pass-by a bar that had his name on it. Though he does detail quite a bit about drinking in the pubs described in the book, it is also a funny and interesting look at a part of Ireland that few of us will visit and is full of warm regard for the Irish people. Anyone interested in traveling to Ireland and getting off the beaten path should really read this book. It look me 99 pages (I was going to quit reading on page 100 otherwise) to decide that I really liked the book and I actually found myself laughing out loud in places as I tore through the rest of it. "Peter McCarthy wrote his books with pen and paper and upon answering a question that asked if he was a technophobe replied: 'Yes big time. I've got a kettle and a fridge, but I don't own a computer, a word processor or even a typewriter.' " (Wikipedia) I was shocked to learn that Mr. McCarthy died in 2004 after a brief bout with cancer. I would have loved to hear him in person at some author event, I bet he was a hoot.

Frank McCourt- the author of three memoirs: the wildly popular memoir Angela's Ashes, "Tis, and Teacher Man. He died in July of 2009. I listened to all three on audio books and McCourt read them himself. He had a lovely Irish brogue that somehow he never lost even though he lived in the United States for over 50 years before his death. I urge you to listen to one of these recordings. They are masterfully done. My husband and I met McCourt in October 2008. He was the keynote speaker at a library convention I attended and my husband joined me to hear this phenomenal writer in person. He read us an excerpt from his book Teacher Man about his first day on the job when he got in trouble for eating the sandwich of a student who had thrown it across the room at another student. His description of this event was so vivid and hilarious. At the end of the speech all the other librarians got up and started exiting the building. Not me. I grabbed by husband by the arm and pulled him to the front of the room so that we could meet McCourt in person. "Heck," I thought, "he's just an old educator like me." Now there is a memory I shall treasure forever.

Madeline L'Engle-the author of one of my childhood favorites, A Wrinkle in Time, and many, many books for young people. I read an early L'Engle novel, Camilla, this summer as part of my self-imposed "Decades" assignment (more about this in an up-coming post.) Though the writing was good I wasn't very taken with the book because it seemed so dated. As I was searching around on-line to determine it's first copyright date (1951) I learned about L'Engle's death in 2007. I walked around depressed for days, even though she had died years before. I know authors can't live forever but Madeline L'Engle was one of the first authors that I truly loved. Apparently Wrinkle is one of the most banned books because it questions Judeo-Christian views of God. This is amazing since I think of L'Engle as being a tremendously spiritual writer. It makes one wonder if the people out to ban books actually read the books.

The NY Times reported that L'Engle often said that her real truths were in her fiction.
“Why does anybody tell a story?” she once asked, even though she knew the answer.
“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”
Isn't that cool? I agree with Madeline. What we do and what we say does matter. It matters a lot.

Thank you Ms. L'Engle, Pete McCarthy, and Mr. Frank McCourt for sharing your words and your stories with us!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

I want to write about this book while it is very fresh in my mind. I just finished it today while I read snippets of it in between parent sessions at my daughter's college orientation. The final chapter I read while I was standing outside waiting for her to pick-up her overnight bag. I couldn't put it down.

A Death Warrior always fights for life and considers anytime not spent loving as time wasted. A person becomes a Death Warrior when they recognize that they are going to die, but choose to love life anyway. The Death Warrior Manifesto was written by D.Q., a terminally ill teenager, who lives at St. Andrews orphanage. He shares his philosophy for life and the manifesto with Pancho, another teen his same age who is very angry about the recent deaths of both his sister and his father. So begins the unlikely friendship of two boys both searching for peace and answers.

I was a huge fan of Francisco Stork's book, Marcelo in the Real World. One of the features that I enjoyed in this book, as I did in his other book, is how issues of faith and spirituality play a role in the storyline. I think it is very realistic that teenagers who are facing death should grapple with issues related to God, faith, the afterlife and so on. I appreciate the poignant and sensitive way that the author handles these topics. There are no glib answers, just like there are none in real life. In Fransisco Stork's July 10th journal entry he explains what it means to write with integrity. He says: "The young adult novel will have integrity if it is written in response to an inner calling, a spiritual necessity. When the impulse to create is pure, when what it seeks is the expression of beauty and goodness, the result is a work that has integrity." His ability to write with integrity, to not shy away from difficult and confusing topics, is what makes me really appreciate his books. I highly recommend them.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
-"Being a part of that other dimension is like being with Marisol. We feel as if everything matters. We don't want the moment to end. We're happy and grateful to be with her, we don't ask for anything more than what she gives us...That love and peace, that's what it feels like to live in that other dimension...Our task it is to try. Being a Death Warrior is all in the trying."D.Q. paused for a deep breath. "If we live in accordance with the Death Warrior principles, if we live with gratitude, not wasting any time not loving, we can enter that dimension. That is my faith." p. 311

-She reached up and kissed him on the lips. It was a small kiss. It lasted only two or three seconds, just long enough for him to taste the future. p. 322

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mock Printz 2011 Investigation

Last Fall I acquired a list of potential books that might win the Printz Award from a fellow librarian. Once I obtained it, a group of kids and I attempted to read all 10 books on the list in less than three months before we held a Mock Printz 2010 Workshop. We had so much fun that a second workshop is already in the plans. However, I want to get the books into kids hands earlier this year, hopefully as soon as they get back to school in September. With this goal in mind I have compiled a list of books that I want to read this summer in hopes that I can cull out some potential winners and have at least seven of the ten books ready to go day one. There are only two requirements for Printz books--- 2010 publishing date with an intended audience of young adults. I've read lots of reviews. I've asked other librarians for suggestions. And I've checked several sites on the Internet. Here is my potential Mock Printz 2011 list of books that I shall attempt to read this summer. (Red color indicates that I have finished the book; *means I am considering it for my list.)

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marcheta
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan*
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson*
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork*
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi*
The Prince of Mists by Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Graphic novel)
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki (Graphic Novel)
Nothing by Janne Teller*
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Borderline by Alan Stratton
Bullet Point by Peter Abrahams
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Numbers by Rachel Ward
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson*
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick*
The Card Turner by Louis Sachar*

I would appreciate any and all help you can give me. If you read any of these books, please post a comment, or e-mail me your feedback. Or better yet, if you would like to take up the challenge along with me and read as many of these books as you can and give me your "Top 5" list, I'd be so grateful. It is obvious that I have my work cut out for me, so I'd best post this blog and get back to reading!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Truck: a Love Story by Michael Perry

This book is proof positive that I will and I do read anything. Truck: a Love Story is an account of one year of the author's life, the year that he restored his 1951 International L-120 series pick-up truck. I read the book because I had to read it for my book club. But I'm glad I did.

First off, let me say that the book isn't just a memoir about restoring an old truck (and I must admit that I sped-read through some of the sections where it was about said restoration) it is also about relationships, gardening, and a lot about life in rural Wisconsin where the author lives. As I started reading the book I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Perhaps I find Perry so funny because I live with a husband who grew up in rural eastern Oregon and I relate to Perry's stories through Don. He uses quite a few colloquialisms that I find charming: "Gonna hafta puller" in reference to removing anything mechanical; "I'm not skeered" in reference to his up-coming marriage. In fact, I started thinking that Bill Bryson and Jeff Foxworthy must have collaborated with Perry on the book since it was so full of folksy humor. And his whimsy, Scandinavian stoicism, and "voice" for telling a good tale are very reminiscent of Garrison Keillor.

I debated with myself if I should even include my review of this book in my blog since the book was not written for my intended audience. Obviously, I decided to go ahead. I don't only read YA fiction and a large percentage of my readers are adults, so why not? As a I made my way through the book I immediately started thinking of people who might like it. One such person is the sister of a friend from high school. Sharon lives in rural Wisconsin and I bet she and her husband would get a kick out of the book. A teacher friend always tells stories about hunting, gardening, and raising cattle to slaughter. He talks as though he has never left "the country" even though we teach in a very suburban school. My mom is a registered nurse, so is Michael Perry. Another friend is a firefighter, Perry is a volunteer firefighter/EMT. A neighbor can repair anything. Would he find the book as entertaining as I did? Even if your vocabulary isn't full of folksy colloquialisms, you don't live on a farm, have never planted a garden of vegetables from seeds, and can't relate to old pick-up trucks---let alone restoring them, I still think you'll enjoy this book. I did.

Read a few excerpts from the book posted here....

Check out Michael Perry's website, Sneezing Cow, while you are at it.

Finally, if you want to know what a 1951 International Pick-up truck looks like, since the one on the cover is dusted with snow, I had some success at Google Images.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

What a book. What a great start for the first book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy. This stay-up-late, page-turner, coming-of-age book combines all kinds of elements to make it a hit on all kinds of levels. It is a dystopian novel of the first rate. It has adventure, excitement, survival, unpredictable plot twists, and even a little comedy. The surprise ending sets up the sequel perfectly.

Todd Hewitt is less than a month from his birthday when he will become a man. He lives on a colonized planet in a community of all men. Unfortunately a germ on the planet kills all women and allows men to hear each others' thoughts. Todd refers to this cacophony of sound as noise. Noise gives away every thought, every impulse. Men can even hear the thoughts of animals and pets. These animal thoughts provide some of the comic moments in the book. When Ben, Todd's surrogate father, sends him on a mission to pick apple across the swamp, Todd runs into a being with no noise. This chance encounter forces Todd to leave his community and seek safety elsewhere while the rest of his community hunts him down.

Several students and one teacher, Sarah M., suggested that I read this book. She went to school with the author, Patrick Ness, in the nearby community of Parkland. Sarah suggested that I attempt to contact Mr. Ness to come to our school for an author visit. I loved the idea but I hadn't read the book so I thought such a request would be premature. Ness now lives in the England and this book won all sorts of awards in the UK but unfortunately was overlooked for such accolades in the US. I will make sure to remedy that situation in my library. This book deserves lots of praise and I recommend it to all students, especially those who are big fans of The Hunger Games and other adventure stories of that ilk. Hum, I think a trip up to school this afternoon is in order so I can get the second book in the trilogy, The Ask and the Answer. I can't wait to continue the adventure....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer reading underway....

I just returned from a week-long vacation to Whistler, BC. The weather, though not terrible, wasn't very warm so I spent quite a bit of time inside reading and playing games with the family. Finally I had a chance to sit down and read. The end of the school year is always so hectic and I am so tired at the end of the day I practically suspend reading for a month. It felt good to get back to my list of books that I "must read" and others that "I want to read." I am always on the hunt for new books to recommend to my patrons and I think I found a few good ones.

Purple Heart by Patrica McCormick- This gem is perfect for teens, especially reluctant male readers. I have actually had three different boys recommend this book to me when I asked them if it would be a good selection for my Nifty-Fifty cart of books. All three gave me emphatic yeses.

The story is set in Iraq during the current Iraqi War. A young soldier, Matt, receives a traumatic brain injury when rocket explodes near him. While he spends time in a hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad he tries to pull his memories together as his body heals. He is left with a sinking feeling that he is somehow responsible for the death of a young Iraqi boy whom he has befriended, but his memory of the event is out of his reach. When he is finally sent back to his unit he is haunted by his partial memories as he confronts the tragedy and daily stresses that the soldiers deal with every day out in the field.

The books seems very real and accurate. It not only deals with the atrocities of war but the ways, often silly, that soldiers cope with it. It shows glimpses of tough young men who appear so macho as they carry out their missions, yet at night might sleep with a stuffed toy or who call out for their mothers when they are scared or injured. The author spent a lot of time researching this book by traveling around the country interviewing soldiers who have returned and families of soldiers who went to Iraq and never returned.

I will recommend this book to all readers, both teens and adults. And yes, I will be adding it to my nifty-fifty cart (50 good books that I can easily recommend to almost all readers.)

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting-though not as well-written as Purple Heart this book will find its way onto my recommended list of books for a very different reason---the author is a local gal. She lives in Bonney Lake, Washington just up the hill from here. There are lots of general, geographic, and cultural references to this area.

The beginning of this book reminds me a little bit of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. A monstrous pedophile stalks young girls looking for his next victim, students from White River High School are affected when one their own is kidnapped and presumed dead. Violet, a student at the school, is affected in another way. She can sense the echos of dead people and animals and she actually stumbles upon one of the victims as she follows one the echoes. When the police bring her in to help locate other victims she becomes a target herself. Juxtaposed to all the drama and tension around the kidnappings and killings, a sweet love story develops between Violet and her best friend, Jay.

As the mother of daughters I hate thinking about the possibility that some pedophile could be out there stalking them/wishing them harm. For that reason I don't normally read this type of book. I can see, however, why teens would be attracted to it especially because of the love story and all the local references. I will recommend this book to students who like a good suspenseful, sometimes scary, love story.