Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Lumber Camp Library by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is a third grade level chapter book along the lines of Sarah, Plain and Tall. It was recommended to me by one of my favorite young patrons and she was right, it is a great book. A lot sad and a lot happy.

I just attended the YA BER Literature workshop and I've been reading lots of YA books that were recommended there. Ron Koertge's Margaux with an X and Melissa Lion's Swollen both have strong and intelligent female characters with parents who just don't have it all together. And honestly, the parents don't really seem to care about their kids.

In Swollen, Samantha lives with her Dad and the girlfriend that he keeps a secret from everyone he knows. Samantha is a runner and is part of the cross-country team. At school one day she learns that one of the star runners on the team died in his sleep. The doctors are saying that Owen died of a swollen heart, but rumor has it that he committed suicide. Was he using drugs? Is his girlfriend pregnant? On this same day, Samantha meets the new boy in school, Farouk, and he is like a magician, captivating her with his mysterious nature and fast driving. She even lets go of her running for him, the one thing she really cares about.

To read Margaux with an X you need a dictionary. Margaux loves words, especially ones with lots of syllables---I think that's polysyllabic... She hates her parents: her Mom a home shopping network junkie and her Dad a professional gambler. Marguax is so beautiful that it is hard for her to stay out of the spotlight where she would like to be. She is sick of people, men and women, just paying attention to her for her beauty and at one point wishes she could wear a duffle bag to cover up her looks. Then she meets Danny and his Aunt Evie, who see her and accept her as a real person, not just for her beauty. Margaux and Danny can really talk to each other and Margaux helps him on his late night prowls around town, checking on animals adopted from the Humane Society.

Recent Reads:
Mighty Jackie: The Strike Out Queen (picture book format by Marissa Moss). Who knew about Jackie Mitchell who at 17 struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during an exhibition game in 1931. I didn't. And with most of us living in Red Sox nation I think it is important to know. So every library needs to own this book and the librarians need to talk it up and suggest Jackie as a great figure for those mandatory biography reports. The illustrations by C.F. Payne are amazing, vibrant and clear.

The Secret Life of The Lonely Doll : the search for Dare Wright by Jean Nathan is the sad but extremely fascinating story of author/photographer/model, Dare Wright. I'm not much of a fan of the Lonely Doll books mainly because I am not much of a fan of dolls but now I see Wright's work in a new light. Her childhood and adulthood was dominated by her overbearing mother and she could never cope with loss...much less the "real world". Mother and daughter lived in their own reality spending time dressing up and photographing themselves. The book is filled with many photos which I also found fascinating. I kept turning back and forth during my reading to look at some of them over and over again. Even though it is a sad and disturbing history I think children's librarians should read this book... it is also a good reminder that writers for children often have the most interesting & sometimes subversive lives/childhoods.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt recently won 2 honor awards... a Newbery and a Printz. I actually found this story more sad and disturbing than Dare Wright's! And this is based on true events, making it even more heart breaking. The book is beautifully written and fully deserving of both its awards. Lizzie Bright is a young black girl living on Malaga island off the coast of northern Maine. A community of outcasts, mostly former slaves live on Malaga island and the neighboring town of Phippsburg wants them out. Big money-making plans of tourism and deep rooted racism cause many of the townspeople to commit unspeakable acts. The Buckminster boy is Turner Buckminster and he is the son of the new minister of Phippsburg. He isn't making friends and his father is a strict and unforgiving man. His only friend is Lizzie who is is forbidden to see. Turner suffers many losses in this book making it hard to read at times....just when I would see hope of a happy ending right around the corner someone else would be taken away from him. The end of the story is hopeful though with the community coming together, finally, and with the growth and development you would expect characters to go through after all they have suffered.

In contrast, If We Kiss by Rachel Vail is a lighthearted and cute teen novel. I read the advanced reader copy I got from ALA midwinter in about a day. Jess's crush is her best friend's boyfriend and possibly her soon-to-be stepbrother...so you can see the problem if they kiss! A somewhat unlikely storyline is made convincing by Vail's writing. I found the characters to be real and also pleasantly innocent for a teen novel. I would recommend this one to the girls who like traveling pants, angus thongs, and princess diaries. The romance is sweet but does not eclipse the bigger themes of friendship, family, and discovering who you are.

Friday, January 21, 2005

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is narrated by Daisy, an anorexic teenager sent to England to live with cousins for a bit, leaving her father and evil stepmother in New York City, looking forward to the birth of their child. When war breaks out in England, Daisy and her cousins, Osbert, Edmond, Piper and Isaac are left home alone since Aunt Penn went off traveling. Soldiers take over their country home as a military headquarters and the kids (and dogs) are shipped elsewhere. Think about all the war stories you've heard about families that are separated during war time. They go hungry, they walk at night to search for each other, they witness atocities beyond description. That is what this story is about and it is very powerful because it is contemporary and tangible. It could be happening to us, and may happen to us. Daisy's voice is a teenager's voice, it is jumpy and run on at times, but she sounds like the teenagers that I talk to at work. Seeing war through her eyes is a powerful thing.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Recent reads from Colorado:

Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
Meet a boy, Cutuk, who has grown up in the Alaskan wilderness with his Dad in an igloo living in the traditional way of the Inuit People. Despite Cutuk's white skin, he's more Inuit than the majority of native people that live in the village near his wilderness igloo home. As a young adult he goes to Anchorage to work. Fitting in there is difficult. His connection to the land and the snow and ice and the wolves lives deep inside of him. The waste and ruination of land that he sees in Anchorage is appalling. This coming of age novel is a slow read, but in a good way. The main character is a thinker and I found that I was doing as much soul searching within myself as Cutuk did trying to find his own way in the
world.

Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen
Tree Girl has always loved climbing trees. Her mother encouraged her to do so because the higher she was in a tree, the closer she was to heaven. Her Dad's advice was to always be prepared for change because that's what life is. Well, when the soldiers in Guatemala start murdering the native Indio people, Tree Girl begins to see her entire life change. On the night of her Quincinera, her fifteenth birthday, things begin to change and her simple village life with her close family will never be the same again. Soon after, Tree Girl witnesses an entire village murdered while she perches in the highest branches of a tree for two days straight. This novel is based on the true story of a young woman from Guatelama. Mikaelsen met this girl, heard her story and wrote it as fiction. It is a powerful story about courage, hope and survival.

Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence
Alternate realities. Time travel. A fatal train accident. A batty old Aunt with a lot more wisdom than anyone will give her credit for. Alaric and Naia find each other when Alaric travels through a decorative folly to Naia's home. Their homes are identical and their lives are close to identical, except for some small, and some huge differences.

Friday, January 07, 2005

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks is one of Allison's favorite books. And now it is one of mine. The story of Noreen, the heartless girl, is one you immediately get lost in. I feel like I am part of this small town, wrapped up in everyone else's heartache ... and joy. So many rotten things happen in this book but the writing is so brilliant you never feel like it is too much or too intense. Noreen is just 17 but her life has been a hard one and it doesn't get any easier in this story. Running away is all she knows how to do but now she's got no where else to go. The people in Pembina Lake take her under their wings...a hodgepodge of family figures ... Dolores the grannie, Del the strong & silent father, Lynda the tired and nagging mother, Seth an adorable and sometimes annoying little brother... like Noreen, they really have no where else to go but because of her they realize they don't have to.
I had a hard time putting this one down but I also didn't want it to end. I'll be wondering about Noreen for awhile, who really isn't so heartless afterall.

Pam recommended Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick to me. Like True Confessions this story flies by because it is so hard to put down. Though you can anticipate a not-so-happy ending you race to finish to see how it all turns out. You may recall the movie version, The Mighty (with Sharon Stone) which I don't think I saw but Pam said was pretty weak. I think because of that I was never really interested in reading the book ...I guess I felt like I already knew the story (even without actually having seen the movie). But she loved it so much and I trust her and I'm glad I did. This is really a book worth reading. Kevin, the Freak, is growing inside faster than his body while Max is as big as a man at only 12 years old. He is also the spitting image of his father, Killer Kane. Together, Max and Kevin are Freak the Mighty and they are invincible. They battle dragons both in their imaginations and in real life. For both of them their freakish natures disappear when they are together and their friendship helps them confront an often cruel world.

Recent picture book favorite:
Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest. Whimsical, descriptive language tells the story of a 100 year-old-man, Mr. Baker, and a young boy who wait for the bus together. They are both learning to read.

Recent chapter book favorite:
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan. Munoz Ryan never disappoints. Naomi is a softspoken, thoughtful, clever little girl with a talent for carving. Owen, her younger brother, has been diagnosed by Doctors as an FLK, "funny looking kid" because of his physical disabilities. That doesn't stop him though, Owen's the smartest kid in his class. Gram is Naomi and Owen's great-grandmother, and their guardian for about seven years. She loves and treasures them and takes care of them like they were her own children. They are a happy family in a trailer park in the town of Lemon Tree until the day that Naomi and Owen's problem Mom shows up and wants to take Naomi away. Read the story of an unusual family's struggles and travels to keep things together.

Recent grown-up stuff:
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. It amazes me that one write manages to make me laugh until my guts are about to burst and in the next paragraph cry like a baby. Sedaris's poignant stories about life, love, family, Christmas celebrations, gun laws and much more have a way of piercing the most tender part of your heart and then hammering on your funny bone.