Friday, June 29, 2012

My Favorites of 2012 So Far....

2012 is shaping up to be one of the best years for reading ever. I have read so many amazing books  and fallen in love with so many wonderful characters. And it's only half done. Doing the end of the year Top 10 is going to be SO HARD. Fortunately, for the mid-year round up I don't confine myself to just 10 books.

Titles linked to my reviews and listed in the order in which I read them:
Winterling by Sarah Prineas
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Swift by R.J. Anderson
Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse*
Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
Wonder by R.J. Palachio
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
Crow by Barbara Wright
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein*
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (releases 7/10; my review will post 7/3)
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson* (releases 9/11; my review will post 9/5)
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead* (releases 8/7; my review will post 8/2)

*I know for certain these will make the Top 10. No matter what.

Some books still to be released this year I'm still highly anticipating:
House of Shadows by/ Rachel Neumeier (releases 7/10) 
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (releases 8/7)
What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt (releases 9/4)
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech (releases 9/4)
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (releases 9/18)
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (releases 10/2)
Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo (releases 12/11)



What are some favorites you have read this year? Any books you are still really looking forward to?


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dogsbody

The newly re-released Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones was one of the books I bought with my birthday giftcards. I didn't even bother to learn what it was about. It was written by Diana Wynne Jones and that was enough for me, even if it was going to be about some hapless person trapped in a dog's body (my assumption-not what it's actually about).

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The Dog Star, Sirius, is tried - and found guilty - by his heavenly peers for a murder he did not commit. His sentence: to live on the planet Earth until he can carry out a seemingly impossible mission - the recovery of a deadly weapon known as the Zoi. The first lesson Sirius learns in his lowly earthly form is that humans have all the power. The second is that even though his young mistress loves him, she can't protect either of them. The third - and worst - is that someone out there will do anything to keep Sirius from finding the Zoi. Even if it means destroying Earth itself.

Diana Wynne Jones can do anything and make it work. I'm convinced of it. Don't particularly like dogs? Don't particularly enjoy stories with animals? No matter. If she writes it, it will be readable.  Not just readable, but enjoyable in ways you couldn't have imagined. She managed to make star trapped in a dog body believable. What is more she wrote what I imagine the inner life of dogs to be so well I suspect she actually conversed with some. 
Kathleen took off the leash and Sirius bounded away, jingling and joyful, into the damp green grass. He ranged to and fro, rooting and sniffing, his tail crooked into a stiff and eager question mark. Beautiful. Goluptious scents. What was he looking for in all this glorious green plain? He was looking for something. He became more and more certain of that. This bush? NO. This smelly lump, then? No. What then?
Doesn't that just evoke puppy? And isn't galuptious the most perfect word?  As  much a puppy as Sirius can be, he is also very much a Luminary still. His frustration with his puppy form and how his dog sense clouds his greater senses raises the tension in the story considerably. The way Luminary Sirius perceives the world is told in equally appropriate ways, just as perfectly worded.
Space sang. There were great slow notes, high sweet sounds-every note in human music and more beside, all winding, twining, combining, and ringing solemn and single, like a constantly changing tune. 
  
There are many other characters, all of whom leave an impression. That is one of the reasons I love DWJ's books so much. She writes interesting and engaging characters, no matter how small a role that characters has. The relationship between Sirius and Tibbles the cat was probably my favorite thing about the book.

While not my among my favorites of DWJ's novels, I enjoyed Dogsbody very much and have a feeling people who truly love dogs would enjoy it even more.  



Monday, June 25, 2012

If I Stay AND Where She Went

Yes, it has taken me a ridiculously long time to get around to reading these books. I have a reason though. My family being in a devastating car crash leaving one of my kids on their own is one of those things that while I don't go in constant fear of it does haunt every road trip we take.  I knew coming at If I Stay from a mother's perspective was going to not be entirely pleasant. And it wasn't.  It is a really good book. I read both If I Stay and Where She Went in the same day and, let me tell you these books make you FEEL. I went through so many emotions. Gayle Forman can write for sure.

If I Stay Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

I was impressed by Forman's tight control of her narrative in this book.  It opens up with a scene depicting Mia's close and lively family. By the time they are in the car and on their way to their destination you feel like you know them. Which is what makes what comes next particularly awful. The descriptive prose she uses and the way she describes Mia's reactions build up tension. The story flies by in a blur for a while as Mia hovers somewhere between life and death, not really a part of her body. As the story progresses the narrative moves between Mia's memories of her life and what is happening in the present. The tension in the story is near pitch perfect. It's extremely emotive. You can't help but feel Mia's fear, anger, regret and anxiety. As a mother myself I kept wanting to tell her to LIVE, but at the same time reading her story I could understand why she might not want to.

Then there's Adam. Oh my. I have to admit that I thought he was a little too perfect at times. The most amazing boyfriend a girl could never find in high school. Cause they don't really exist at that age. I couldn't help but love him though, because Mia loved him yes but also because he is pretty darn lovable. And then I finished the book (which is only 200 pages) and started the Where She Went and fell in love with Adam simply for himself.

WARNING: IF YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ THE REST OF THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE FIRST BOOK.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Diamond in the Window

The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton was a book I had never even heard of until it made the Fuse 8 Top 100 Poll. I in no way feel obligated to read every book on the list that I haven't. The synopsis for this one intrigued me enough to see if my library was still circulating a copy. And they were. Yay for my library!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Eddy and Eleanor Hall have always known that their family was a bit out of the ordinary. After all, they live in one of the most remarkable houses in all of Concord. But they never guessed just how extraordinary their house really is, or what tremendous secrets about their family's past it holds. That is, until they discover the magical attic room with its beautiful stained-glass window, abandoned toys, and two perfectly made-up, empty beds that seem to be waiting perhaps for two children just like themselves....

This book has several elements I enjoy when reading. Siblings on a quest, an old house to explore, secrets to uncover, unexplained mysteries, evil bankers.  All good stuff. Eddy and Eleanor are delightful characters who respond to the mystery in exactly the way you would expect children to do. Eddy has dreams of being a good and honorable President of the United States one day. Eleanor loves Little Women and enacts a fake courtship between Louisa May Alcott and Henry Thoreau. I enjoyed them both, probably because the way they play reminds me a great deal of how my own children play. (Though mine are younger and, as I type this, enacting some jungle adventure in the backyard using the filled up wading pool, the swingset, and the sprinkler.) 


There is a mystical element to the magic in the book wrapping it all up in dreams that makes it a bit bizarre. I think most child readers would find this to be wonderfully strange, exactly like real dreams, and accept that there was no need for much explanation. I thought it was a bit bizarre and the ending rushed into happily ever after, but that is because I am no longer the optimistic youth I once was. 


The Diamond in the Window is the first book in The Hall Family Chronicles that includes the Newbery Honor book The Fledgling.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Every now and then I want to read a light contemporary read with a bit of romance. These are not go to books for me, just something I read to cleanse the palate. I often find myself disappointed when I read them, they never quite live up to what I want them to do. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith was an exception. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
 Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. She’s stuck at JFK, late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s in seat 18C. Hadley’s in 18A.
Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.


This book really surprised me. I expected something along the lines of a movie plot, but it is more than that. There is, of course, the meet-cute. What teenage girl on a trans-Atlantic flight wouldn't dream of getting to spend it with a cute guy with an accent named Oliver? What a perfect way to begin a trip to London. But this isn't just any trip for Hadley. She is a girl in turmoil and Oliver helps distract her from her turmoil. She in turn is distracting him from his, though she is less aware of that. Their interactions are genuine and believable as the discuss everything from the animated duck movie they are watching to Dickens to their favorite colors to their beliefs on love. There is definitely an attraction simmering underneath all of this and there are enough heated glances and romantic tension to satisfy without being over the top.

It is almost wrenching when the plane ride is over and Hadley and Oliver go their separate ways. This story is not just a fluffy romance though. It is Hadley's story and encompasses all the complexities of her life. That includes dealing with her estranged father, his wedding, and meeting her new stepmom. In the midst of all this there is a coincidence that brings Hadley and Oliver together again. Well, a coincidence that Hadley follows up on to bring them back together. I really liked the way their stories intersected and affected the greater activity of Hadley's life. I appreciated the way things resolved between Hadley and her father as well. He is portrayed as a real man, one with considerable faults, but also one with strengths.


The end is sweet without being too sugary, with a satisfying hint of happiness to come.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Dark is Rising

I had one major reading goal this year and that was to read The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I never had. I know. It was this huge blight on my record. It is there no longer I have now read all five books. In one day. It was an interesting, but slightly disappointing experience. Yes. I said it. I was disappointed. Only slightly though. For the most part I enjoyed it. Especially books 2 and 4.

As I began reading book one I was delighted. I love a good sibling story and this was most definitely a good sibling story. Over Sea, Under Stone follows the adventures of the three Drew children Simon, Jane, and Barney during their summer holiday in Cornwall. They are staying an old house with their mysterious "great uncle". They find an old map while exploring the house that leads to an artifact from the days of King Arthur, but there are forces at work that want the artifact for their own nefarious purposes.  Exploring old houses. Mysterious relations. Treasure hunts. Sibling squabbling (with love). Arthurian legend. Fights between the forces of Light and Dark. All things I love, and love this book I did. The plot has plenty of action and the way the Drew parents were removed from the vicinity of their adventuring children was realistic.  (And nobody had to die.) This book I think is the most fun of the five. The stakes aren't quite as high as in the others, but they are high enough and the villains are menacing enough, to give it a slight edge of danger.

I was even more delighted with book two, The Dark is Rising. Taking place over the Christmas holidays, this book follows the adventures of a new character, Will Stanton. (We will talk more about Will. Oh yes we will.) And much to my delight he also has tons of siblings. And parents too. Although they are woefully oblivious to their youngest son's actions, but that is not their fault. Will is special. He is the seventh son of a seventh son and they are always going to attract trouble. He is an Old One charged with fighting the rising Dark for the forces of Light. He comes into his destiny on his 11th birthday. The book takes place over two short weeks and so much happens. The reader needs to be alert. Cooper is one of those authors who sends her readers off into her book with little explanation and expects them to keep up. Will is a character you will want to keep up with though and I thought Cooper did an excellent job capturing the contrast between his child self and his ageless self. The stakes in this book are higher. The forces of the Dark more menacing. The sense of urgency stronger. All those things definitely made me feel closer to Will.

Greenwitch is the shortest of the five books and probably the one I enjoyed the least. In this volume the Drew siblings are called upon to help the Light again and meet Will Stanton for the first time, much to their dismay. One can understand this as they were the heroes and now they find there is some kid their age running around with powers like their Uncle Merry. Even by the end of the book Jane is the only one who seems to have really warmed to him. I felt in many ways this was a rehashing of book one. Same setting. Similar quest. Far less perilous. The forces of the Dark are less active in this story than in the first one even. That may have been Cooper giving her audience a break before slamming them with book four. This is definitely a book meant to bridge the first half of the sequence with the second.

The Grey King won a Cooper a Newbery award and is definitely the most intense of the five books. Will is in Wales convalescing (supposedly) after a bout of hepatitis. While he was very sick he is also in Wales to begin the quest that brings to a head the battle raging between the Light and Dark. To do this he needs the assistance of a local boy named Bran, a boy who is not entirely normal himself. I have never been to Wales but after reading this book I feel like I have. Cooper's descriptions of the setting are vivid and depict a beautiful and eerie place, picturesque and deadly at the same time. I loved how she blended the modern and the ancient as well. With mentions of phones and Land Rovers there was always a reminder that this wasn't a story of a time long ago, but it is at the same time. In this volume the Arthurian element takes center stage and becomes the heart of the story. Again, there is a lot of adventure to be had and quite a lot going on. The Dark is as menacing and cruel as it has been yet. There is tragedy and heartache. I felt for Will quite a lot, but feel that was because I already liked him. I never really felt like I had a good enough knowledge of Bran's character. I think this is because of the plot centric story.The plot is really well done, paced perfectly and with a climax that is harrowing and satisfying. All of the secrets are revealed at the perfect times and places. It is not difficult to see how it came to win that Newbery.

If I hadn't been so impressed with book four would I have been as disappointed by book five? Would it have happened if I hadn't read them back to back? I think so, but it probably wouldn't have been as strong. The Silver Tree has all of our heroes coming together in Wales to gain the sword they need to fulfill the prophecy and come to the confrontation with the Dark. I couldn't help shaking the feeling there was more going on plotwise than was necessary. Like things were being dragged out for no real narrative purpose other than to not end it. This was really annoying and I was sad by how annoyed I was given that I had found the pacing and execution of the plot in the other books to be their greatest strength. I also felt that Cooper's authorial voice intruded in this story more than in the others. And the end. I am not going to say more than I was so irritated by it. So irritated. 

I would definitely recommend them to lovers of high fantasy and Arthurian legend. If like me you haven't read them yet for whatever reason, you definitely should. Maybe not all in the same day. Overall I really enjoyed the experience. It is an adventurous and perilous tale of good versus evil, and the evil is most soundly trounced. That is always a good thing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Favorite Chapter Books

As we are coming toward the end of SLJ's Top 100 Children's Chapter Book Poll over at Fuse 8 I give you the 10 books I submitted. Again, they are not in the order I put them in. I bet you can all guess what went in my #1 slot.


You can see more of my favorites by viewing this Pinterest board.

And feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

20-11 SLJ"s 100 Children's Novels

We are getting oh so close to the end now. As usual I have linked to Fuse 8's original posts.
20. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Of all the dog books out there this is my favorite. I did find the quirky factor to be a little over the top in spots, but it does not detract from the excellence of the book at all. I couldn't keep this on the shelf in my classroom. It was always being read.

19. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Hmmm. I am surprised this one is higher than Little House on the Prairie. I always found this one to be slow and kind of boring. It is the first in the series so that may explain it.

18. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
The Chronicles of Prydain is one of my favorite series. Again I'm surprised this is the volume in the top 20, but again it is the beginning so it makes sense. (I just love The Black Cauldron and The Castle of Llyr SO MUCH. And The High King. AND...I just really love this series. But this is definitely my least favorite of the five.)

17. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I have never read this book. I somehow missed it as a child (I think the covers had something to do with that).  There's no excuse for why I haven't read as an adult.

16. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
I adored this book when I was younger. I appreciate it in different ways now. I was delighted to find as a teacher that my students enjoyed it too. This was another one always being read by someone in the class.

15. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
LOVE! Loved it as a child. Loved it as an adult. This is one of the books that if Bit doesn't like it too I may have issues...

14. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
A masterpiece. Those of us who love fantasy owe so much to this book and, of course, The Lord of the Rings. Even if they are not counted among our absolute favorites to reread. (Looks at ceiling and whistles innocently.)

13. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
70 PLACES!!!! The last time this poll was conducted it was #83. A jump of that magnitude could only be successfully accomplished by Gen. And now I'm sure he is merely waiting patiently to be crowned King if this poll ever happens again. (If you don't understand this than you need to drop everything you are doing and go read this book. Immediately.) This is the beginning of my favorite series of all time and so holds a special place in my heart for that. I also had the privilege of reading it with a group of 4th-6th graders this past year and watching them marvel at it was a truly wonderful experience.

12. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Not my favorite of the series. I have issues with the time travel at the end, but other people obviously love it.

11. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I really enjoyed this book when I read it. It's not on my list of favorite Newberys by any means, or even favorite books really. I'm sort of surprised to see it get such a high rank. Though as it is an homage to  A Wrinkle in Time maybe a shouldn't be.





The Swan Kingdom

I read and reviewed Zoe Marriott's Shadows on the Moon earlier this year (my review) and decided to track down some of her other novels. I started with The Swan Kingdom, a retelling of "The Wild Swans", because I like fairy tale retellings.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Alexandra’s mother is slain by an unnatural beast, shadows fall on the once-lush kingdom. Too soon the widowed king is entranced by a cunning stranger — and in one chilling moment Alexandra’s beloved brothers disappear, and she is banished to a barren land. Rich in visual detail, sparked by a formidable evil, and sweetened with familial and romantic love, here is the tale of a girl who discovers powerful healing gifts — and the courage to use them to save her ailing kingdom.

The story is basically a longer version of the original giving a more detailed accounting between the time the brothers are turned to swans and Alexandra sets them free. Marriott does end her own little spin on the end to how this happens and that is tied up in the magic Alexandra possesses herself. This was an interesting addition but felt a bit rushed in its conclusion. The language is lyrical and the descriptions vivid. The characters were a little flat and typical for a story like this. The handsome prince is all goodness and light. Alexandra is under appreciated. Basic fairy tale stuff, but it is told well.


Fans of Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest might find this to be too simple in comparison.  The Swan Kingdom would work well even with a much younger audience. Middle schoolers who like this sort of book would feel right at home in its pages.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cold Cereal

Cold Cereal is my first Adam Rex book. I have read lots of books he's illustrated, but none he's written.  I always enjoy reading his stuff online I just hadn't read one of his hooks yet, but Cold Cereal  seemed a good place to start. It looked like the sort of book I would have no trouble getting my 4th-6th grade boys to read. I wasn't disappointed.

Synopsis (from Goodreads although it doesn't do it justice-on the book flap this is done in the form of nutrition information on a cereal box):
Cold Cereal Facts Serving size 1 chapter Number of servings 40
Primary human characters 3
Scottish Play Doe, aka Scott possible changeling Erno Utz genius Emily Utz supergenius 

Magical creatures at least 3
Mick Leprechaun (or Clurichaun)
Harvey Pooka (rabbit-man)
Biggs indeterminate origin (hairy, large)
Evil organizations 1
Goodco Cereal CompanyPurveyor of breakfast foods aspiring to world domination 

Adventure 75%
Diabolical Schemes 40%
Danger 57%
Legend 20%
Magic 68%
Humor 93%
Puzzles 35%
Mystery 49%
Not a significant source of vampires.

May contain nuts.
Daily values based on individual interest. Reader's estimation of value may be higher or lower, depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing

 An evil cereal company. It doesn't get much more creative and fun when it comes to villains. Goodco makes sugary cereals (made with what looks like Corn on the box, but if you look closely it's really Gorn) and they sell them using fun mascots. A vampire. A man size rabbit. A leprechaun. Turns out these aren't just cute cereal box decorators but actual fae creatures being enslaved and stripped of their magic by the evil cereal company. 


Enter the human child  protagonists who aren't completely devoid of magic themselves. Plus an accountant named Merle Lynn and a self absorbed actor who is also a knight (and  punched the Queen). 


There is so much going on in this book and all of it fun and tongue in cheek. People are in peril. Kids get to live in trees, run around with fantastical creatures, and save the day. There is also a secret society called the Freeman completely mixed up with Goodco. Just when you think you are reading a story about an evil cereal co, and while heaps of fun that is all there is to it, Rex breaks out the Arthurian legend. Awesome. Extra awesome points go to referencing Goonies once.


I do have one quibble. Can you guess what it is? Let's all say it together: Its' too long. (I am going to write a post one day on why I keep harping on this issue.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Princess Curse

The Princess Curse by Merrie  Haskell is a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses". Yes. Another one.  I have officially lost count of how many this makes. This one is a bit different though because it doesn't just stick to that tale.

Synopsis (from Author's Website):
Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling—and downright silly—curse. Ridiculous though the curse may be, whoever breaks it will win a handsome reward.
Sharp-witted Reveka, an herbalist’s apprentice, has little use for princesses, with their snooty attitudes and impractical clothing. She does, however, have use for the reward money that could buy her a position as a master herbalist.
But curses don’t like to be broken, and Reveka’s efforts lead her to deeper mysteries. As she struggles to understand the curse, she meets a shadowy stranger (as charming as he is unsettling) and discovers a blighted land in desperate need of healing. Soon the irreverent apprentice is faced with a daunting choice—will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?

I enjoyed Reveka's character. She was brave, spunky, resourceful, and quick thinking. I loved that the heroine of the story was not one of the princesses, but a simple servant whose goal was to be a famous herbalist and be left in peace at a convent. This is why she wishes to break the curse and win the prize money. The stakes are upped a bit when she discovers what happens to people who fall asleep in the princesses chamber. I really enjoy retellings that spin something new from the original and this one certainly does that and in many good ways.  

Then comes the creepy part (which I was prepared for from reading other people's reviews). Still. It managed to dull my enjoyment. This is where the second story is incorporated, and that story is strongly reminiscent of the myth of Persephone. There are pomegranates and everything. And Reveka is playing the part of Persephone. She is 13. THIRTEEN! And Dragos aka Hades is most definitely no where close to 13. There is a plot point that in the end makes this sort of palatable, but still to make a decision like Reveka makes at that age.....I think I would have really enjoyed this darker element of the story and the world of Thonos if Reveka had been older and this had been a truly YA book rather than a MG one.

Other people might not have this issue. This may be coming from me having a young daughter. Middle school girls might really like the whole idea of the bad-boy-who-can-be-saved idea. I know I would have at that age. As an adult I have a more difficult time with that concept.

The end sort of leaves one plot line a bit open making me wonder if there is going to be another book. If not that dangling thread is a bit annoying.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Earwig and the Witch

Reading Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones was such a bittersweet experience as it was the last book Jones wrote before she died and so obviously the beginning of what would have been an absolutely delightful series.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I'll be back for her when I've shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.
Earwig has been at the orphanage ever since she was a baby. That's just how she likes it. She has her best friend, Custard, and everyone always does exactly what Earwig wants. She never wants to leave, so she makes sure no one ever picks her.
Then a very strange couple comes to the orphanage. They try to make themselves look ordinary. But Earwig knows they are not, not in the least. And they choose her, out of all the other children.
Earwig could be in for quite an unpleasant surprise. But so could the very strange couple.

This book is for a younger audience than I usually review books for. It is most definitely an early chapter book. First through third graders rejoice. Those who wish to introduce young readers to the joy that is DWJ's writing early on may also rejoice. Earwig is an irrepressible heroine full of spunk and wits. She, her cat familiar, the mean old witch, and the grumpy mandrake are certain to pull readers into the story. The plot is a fun one full of Earwig trying to get the best of her new foster parents. It is a fun book and it is so sad there will be no more continuation of Earwig's adventures.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

30-21 of SLJ's 100 Children's Novels

I'm getting behind!!! It is because VBS started at our church yesterday and for some reason 4 hours doing that exhausts me more than teaching all day. Anyway, here are the next 10. We are getting down to the end now and I'm interested to see what is in the top 20. In the meantime we have these. As always they are linked to the original Fuse 8 posts.

30. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I don't love this book. I don't have major issues with it like I do some of Dahl's books. I can take it or leave it.

29. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Oh yes. This is a wonderful book about family and friendship and childhood wrapped up in purely awesome storytelling. I have read it at least 5 times. One of those times was aloud to my daughter who also loved it. One of those times was while teaching it to a group of 4th-6th graders, most of whom also loved it. Yes, even the boys.

28. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman 
I haven't read this one yet. I keep meaning to really. I just haven't worked myself up to it. There are elements of it that just don't appeal to me as a reader.

27. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I have warm nostalgic feelings about this book. It was the first novel I checked out from my elementary school library at age 7, the book that made me realize I could read ANYTHING. When I reread it as an adult I wasn't as taken with it, so I completely understood and was okay with it when my daughter read the first two books in the series and wasn't interested.

26. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
This was the very first chapter book read aloud I did with Bit. way back 5 years ago when she was 3.  I will be starting it with The Boy in a couple months. (He is 4 already but has not his sister's attention span.) I do think this works best as a first chapter book read aloud. The preschool mindset is perfect for the characters. Often by the time the modern child can read this book independently it seems babyish. Bit loved it at age 3, when she read it herself this year she was amused because she said the characters reminded her of her brother.

25. The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
This book is excellent historical fiction because it isn't about an event, it's about a family. The people in the story are what is important. Also it's hilarious.

24. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
I didn't read the Ramona books much as a child. Only a couple. My little sister was so much like her I didn't feel the need to experience her in my reading as well. (My little sister was and is awesome, but one of her in my life was enough.)  I did thoroughly enjoy reading this one to Bit when she was in Kindergarten. Bit takes after her Auntie and identified with the story quite a bit.

23. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
This book was never in my classroom library for more than a couple of hours in any given year. It was always in the hands of one of the students. There is something about planes crashing and survival in the wilderness that attracts 10 year olds I guess. I must say that of all the survival in the woods book I have read this is probably my favorite.

22. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
So I just finally got around to reading this entire series this past weekend. (Review is coming!) This was right up there with The Grey King as my favorite. It is action packed and so perfectly described. I felt sucked into the book. I like Will too. I haven't seen the movie and have no intention of doing so. I rewatched the trailer after reading the book. I understand the fan rage at the time of release now.

21. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I've never read it. Let me explain. Growing up this book was always described to me as science-fiction and nothing made me run further in the opposite direction than that. So I need to read it now that I am all grown up and beyond that. Really I am. 






Criss Cross

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins is a Newbery winner of the past decade that for whatever reason I hadn't read yet. I thought it was about time to change that. I can see why the committee liked it.

Synopsis (from author's website):
The people in this book are fourteen years old, and there is romance, but it’s mostly the kind of romance where one person looks at another person and that person looks at the first person, but their looks miss each other, maybe only by a second, and they don’t connect. There is a a scene in the Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train where the wacko guy does this with his hands and says, “Criss Cross.” He’s talking about something else (murder) but I’m talking about those just-missed opportunities to connect. This might sound discouraging, but I think it’s actually encouraging to know that we came pretty close, and if we keep trying, we’ll get it right.

In the beginning I really thought I was going to love this book. It has the sort of language I revel in. And revel in it I did. I appreciate how this book was written.

He looked at the musician again who didn't seem so ordinary anymore. His music had transformed him, or revealed a part of him that was plugged into the cosmic life force. A life force that seeped in, through, and under the music, like God in the Communion wafer. An everyday kind of life force, though, that could do this in a song about a chicken. More about earth than heaven. Also girls really liked it. 

She knew that she would have to talk. She should have been able to do it. But she had developed a black hole in her brain. She could be in the middle of a normal conversation with a boy and the instant she thought of him that way-as a boy-the black hole sucked all her words away. Except a few stupid ones. The stupid ones stayed in there.

There was a lot to love about the language, but in the end the book was simply to episodic for me to connect with any of the characters. It is a book about connection or the lack thereof. About almost but not quite connecting with another person. So this may have been the author's intention. It kept me too distant to really care though. It turned out to be a good thing as if I had cared I would have been over the top infuriated by the end. As it was I was too detached to really care.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Book Challenges

To me summer has always meant reading as much as possible. And reading whatever I feel like I'm in the mood for at the moment. No obligations. Well, except for the looming library due dates. Reading becomes my top priority. Right after making sure my kids are safe and fed. This is why I love the different summer reading challenges that pop up.
First off, next weekend (June 8-11) is Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. (Click through for detailed information.) Unfortunately I will be unable to participate in this one this year. My sister and her family are in town that weekend and while I could stay up all night reading I don't think anyone would appreciate the results. I had plans for the 48 Hour Book Challenge this year though. I had been making them for months and part of them was reading The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Because I never have. (I know.) Unable to let go of that lofty goal I am doing an unofficial personal challenge this weekend. Also there are a bunch of NetGalley titles I need to read. I will still be cheering on all the official participants next weekend and commenting on as many posts as I can!

The other challenge I am participating in is Donalyn Miller's (of The Nerdy Book Club) Book a Day Summer challenge.  I have started this one already and have been doing well. (I'm going to use my reading this weekend to stockpile titles for the week we are in the Outerbanks). I'm keeping track of this both at Twitter using #bookaday (@brandymuses) and on this board at Pinterest.

Here is what I definitely want to read this month:
The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
The Kate and Cecilia books by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
All the books I have from NetGalley (especially Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale)
Dogsbody and A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jone

What about you? Any summer reading goals or books you definitely want to read before summer ends?