Friday, July 31, 2009

TBR Mountain!

Don't worry kitty - just read your way down!

This picture looks like my nightstand some days. Also, I feel like this kitten sometimes. I haven't bought a book for myself in almost two years and I still have hundreds of books sitting in my apartment waiting to be read.

*singing* Climb... every... tbr mountain! *end singing*

Once I get through all the physical books I own, I have a database of titles that look interesting for me to start trekking through.

The TBR pile never ends and sometimes I can't decide if that is a good or bad thing. What say ye? Do you ever wish the light at the end of the reading tunnel was nigh?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book 60: The Veil of the Night

TITLE: The Veil of the Night
AUTHOR: Lydia Joyce
STARTED: July 17, 2009
FINISHED: July 28, 2009
PAGES: 320
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Graceless and sprawling, Raeburn Court was a pile of mottled limestone atop the bald hill.

SUMMARY: [From] Byron Stratford, Duke of Raeburn, walks in shadow. Spoken of only in whispers, he lives alone in his crumbling manor, a cold, enigmatic recluse. Rarely appearing by the light of day, he moves as a wraith in the night, answering to no man. He cares little for those who dwell outside -- and does not abide the intrusion of others, lest they discover his secret shame... This is the sinister man Lady Victoria Wakefield must confront if she is to save herself from her family's ruin. Little does she suspect that she will emerge from her journey into that night as his shining sun— or that the passion that radiates between them will be their only defense against the true darkness threatening to destroy them both.

THOUGHTS: This book is more erotica than romance. While Joyce does a superb job of capturing the mood of a Gothic romance, I felt the characters lacking. The characters were mysterious... in the sense that they had no emotional connection together. The dialog came across as trite and over written. I know that purple prose is pervasive in romance, but this was just too much. The book, for all its great setting, felt like a really bad daytime soap opera.

While the romance scenes were rather steamy and well written, those alone were not enough to save this book. The author can keep the setting and description, but needs characters I can actually see together.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Book 59: The Conquerer

TITLE: The Conquerer
AUTHOR: Judith E. French
STARTED: July 6, 2009
FINISHED: July 16, 2009
PAGES: 355
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The lamp flickered, casting grotesque, shifting patterns against the gray stone walls.

SUMMARY: [From] A tale about the brilliant political alliance of Alexander the Great and Princess Roxanne of Persia, and the passionate romance that flamed between them.

THOUGHTS: I wanted to like this book - but in the end I just couldn't. Roxanne comes across as selfish and inept, Alexander is an ass. Their relationship is not believable in the least and there is absolutely no emotional connection between them. All the background characters are set pieces who are there to move the plot along.

The book is saved from being a complete disappointment through the French's pervasive use of historical details and brilliant scene description.

Other than that, this book was blah.

RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book]

Book 58: More Than a Mistress

TITLE: More than a Mistress
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh
STARTED: June 29, 2009
FINISHED: July 5, 2009
PAGES: 360
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The two gentlemen who were in their shirt sleeves despite the brisk chill of a spring morning were about to blow each other's brains out.

SUMMARY: [From] She raced onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melee, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, was shot. To his astonishment, Tresham found himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby was far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes were the sort a man could drown in — were it not for her impudence. She questioned his every move, breached his secrets, touched his soul. When he offered to set her up in his London town house, love was the last thing on his mind.

Jane tried to pretend it was strictly business, an arrangement she was forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there was nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she got past his devilish facade and saw the noble heart within, she knew the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drove her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thought love was for fools.

THOUGHTS: I'm going on a bit of a romance novel jag now that I'm done with school and book club reading (for now). This book was not the best way to start. I normally love Balogh (or at least her Slightly Series), but this book just didn't do it for me. There was nothing that struck me about the characters or the blot. In fact, I found it all quite dull. Even the OMG Big Misunderstanding was nothing but meh.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Book 57: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

TITLE: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
AUTHOR: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
STARTED: June 18, 2009
FINISHED: June 28, 2009
PAGES: 319
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

SUMMARY: [From] "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton-and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers-and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Can she vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.

THOUGHTS: Sweet jeebus was this a randomly fantastic jaunt of a read. While, in many ways, I think Mr. Grahame-Smith went too far (Lizzy would never, ever eat someone's heart), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a joy of a book.

I found that P & P & Z brought out the humor of the original text that I had missed during my first perusal. The author does a good job of incorporating the zombie action in language and description that fits with the original text. In some areas the zombie scenes jump out too much and just seem thrown in for the sake of being there. At those times, the book felt more like bad fan fiction than updated literature.

I have to agree with my roomie that the new additions are heavily male oriented and Grahame-Smith misses the nuances of the original work, but I think that's the point. The author wanted to see if throwing in zombiness would work. And it does. Not perfectly, but it was still works more than I could ever have dreamed.

The cover is mildly terrifying and I did dream about zombies the first night I read this. Not recommended for those of weak constitutions.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 56: Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators

TITLE: Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions
AUTHOR: Kenneth D. Crews
STARTED: June 18, 2009
FINISHED: June 20, 2009
PAGES: 141
GENRE: Library Science

FIRST SENTENCE: The relationship between copyright law and the pursuit of innovative education, librarianship, and scholarship has become more important and more complex in recent years.

SUMMARY: [From] In this revised edition of Copyright Essentials for Librarians and Educators (2000), Crews (Indiana U. School of Law, library and information science) interprets areas of copyright law often problematic for colleges and universities. He emphasizes the benefits of "fair use" provisions that provide exceptions useful to current scholarship and librarianship roles, and covers issues that have arisen in recent years in fair use applications. The guide includes coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, provisions from the US Copyright Act, and a fair use checklist.

THOUGHTS: You would think this would be an incredibly boring and obtuse book. It wasn't. I was shocked. This book was the text for my week long institute class on copyright and intellectual property. I picked it up (on an airplane no less) with much trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised that, not only did I not place myself in a coma, I understood most of the material. Huzzah!

Crews (and his law student helpers) has managed to craft a text that clearly lays out copyright law for us legalese avoiding readers. Even better, Crews does a fantastic job of showcasing which aspects of the law apply to libraries, librarians, and library users. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in protecting the rights of libraries everywhere.

The only downside I found in this book was the layout. On most pages there are boxed excerpts, extra notes, etc. While the information contained in said boxes is important and useful, the way they are placed on the page is both distracting and not always logical.

Additional Note: I will probably talk more about this class and copyright law and libraries later... if I ever get my tush around to actually doing some blogging. I've been incredibly lazy as of late.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tower O' Books

This is the tower of books that resided on my desk for the 5 week duration of my Media for Children course. It was quite the magnificent so I took pictures.

Pretty thing, isn't it. For some perspective, let us take a few steps back.

Yeah - it was the dominant feature of my room for awhile. Finally, you all know get to share what I saw whenever I sat down to use my desk.

Ah, assigned reading, you were so colorful this summer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And... done.

That textbook was the last of my reading for my summer course on children's literature. Huzzah!

And now for a break and something entirely different...

Chicago is currently hosting the American Library Association's (ALA) annual conference. (It's in D.C. next year and I'm going to try my darnedest to go.) One fun part of the conference that has occurred in recent years is the Book Cart Drill Team Championship. Essentially, a bunch of librarians get together and put together a song and dance show with their carts.

NPR had a story yesterday about the most recent competition. You can also find numerous videos of past competitions on YouTube.

If fire elements were allowed, I would totally work sparklers into my show.

Also... if you don't think librarians aren't dancing in their heads whenever their walking down the hall with a book cart, you would be wrong.

Book 55: Children's Literature, Briefly

ITLE: Children's Literature, Briefly [4th Edition]
AUTHOR: Michael O. Tunnell and James S. Jacobs
STARTED: May 26, 2009
FINISHED: June 17, 2009
PAGES: 300
GENRE: Library Science

FIRST SENTENCE: The subtitle for this text should be "A children's literature textbook for people who don't like children's literature textbooks."

SUMMARY: [From] Are you looking for a brief introduction to children’s literature genres that leaves time to read actual works of children’s literature? This new, significantly revised and streamlined edition of Children’s Literature, Briefly introduces the reader to the essential foundations of each children’s literature genre, supported by practical features and tools to suggest quality books and activities to advance literacy in the classroom. As new teachers build their classroom library, the brevity of this affordable new edition ensures readers have the resources to purchase and time to read actual children’s literature.

THOUGHTS: If you want an in-depth but not encyclopedic introduction to kids books, this work is for you. It breaks down everything you'd need to know about children's literature (including building a collection, writing a review, etc.) without going overboard or boring you to death. I found the literature lists to be the most valuable part of a book. It's hard to truly know what goes in what genre without actually seeing it at work.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 54: Superfudge

TITLE: Superfudge
AUTHOR: Judy Blume
STARTED: June 13, 2009
FINISHED: June 14, 2009
PAGES: 166
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Life was going along okay when my mother and father dropped the news.

SUMMARY: [From] Sometimes life in the Hatcher household is enough to make twelve-year-old Peter think about running away. His worst problem is still his younger brother, Fudge, who hasn't changed a bit since his crazy capers in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. If you ask Peter, Fudge is just an older — and bigger — pain.

Then Peter learns that his mom is going to have a baby and the whole family is moving to Princeton for a year. It will be bad enough starting sixth grade in a strange place and going to the same school as Fudge. But Peter can imagine something even worse. How will he ever survive if the new baby is a carbon copy of Fudge?

THOUGHTS: What a romp! This book was a blast to read - it felt like Blume sat down and simply chronicled a year in the life of a family (with all the eccentricities included). While the story, on the whole, is light and "normal," there are certain areas where Blume hints at the deeper complexities that are always at work in a family. I enjoyed how Blume made the family incredibly quirky and, yet, you know they could be living next door to you.

This book made me giggle out loud and it makes me want to go back and read the rest of this series.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 53: Run, Boy, Run

TITLE: Run, Boy, Run
AUTHOR: Uri Orlev
FINISHED: June 13, 2009
PAGES: 186
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: It was early morning.

SUMMARY: [From] Run, Boy, Run is the extraordinary account of one boy’s survival of the Holocaust. Srulik is only eight years old when he finds himself all alone in the Warsaw ghetto. He escapes into the countryside where he spends the ensuing years hiding in the forest, dependent on the sympathies and generosity of the poor farmers in the surrounding area. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, several chases, captures, attempted executions, and even the loss of his arm, Srulik miraculously survives.

THOUGHTS: This book was incredibly dense and emotional for a supposed work of juvenile literature. Orlev talks about loss, hunger, death, war, trust, and uncertainty throughout the novel. Srulik survives the horrors of World War II practically on his own. He has to use his wit and instincts to survive a horrid position a young child should never have to encounter. While I did not find the narrative itself to be gripping, Orlev writes emotion so well that I just want to reach into the pages and save Srulik and keep him from harm.

RATING:6/10 [Good]

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book 52: A Bus of Our Own

TITLE: A Bus of Our Own
AUTHOR: Freddi Williams Evans
STARTED: June 10, 2009
FINISHED: June 10, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: "You got to keep up, Mable Jean," Jeff insisted.

SUMMARY: [From] Mable Jean's folks allow her to walk to the school if she can keep up with the other children but when she injures her ankle, walking is hard. The white school bus passes them each day but African American children don't have a bus. That is, until Mable Jean starts asking about getting a school bus. Cousin Smith who owns property and often hires Mable Jean's cousins and friends to pick cotton, finally offers to buy a bus, fix it up and take children to school providing their parents contribute to the bus's upkeep. Although the county ought to provide a bus for all children from the taxes both black and white pay, it seems, says Cousin Smith, that "we have to pay twice for our children to get a good learning." The amazed Mable Jean climbs on the bus and people cheer as it pulls away to school. An author's note explains how she was raised in Mississippi in the days of "separate but equal" rights and how in 1949, events like those depicted in the story, actually happened. Costello's paint and pastel impressionistic illustrations capture shine and shadow on faces perfectly and warmly suggest the fall countryside in which events take place.

THOUGHTS: This is one of those stories you wish you heard about growing it. It's about what happens when a community bands together for a common cause - it also highlights social injustice in our history. The reader will come away admiring Mable Jean and her community and also wishing they didn't have to. A Bus of Their Own is a great book to teach young readers, in a concrete way, about the harm segregation caused an entire community in this country.

The illustrations are vivid, filled with color, and help evoke the mood of the book.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 51: Bridge to Terabithia

TITLE: Bridge to Terabithia
AUTHOR: Katherine Paterson
STARTED: June 8, 2009
FINISHED: June 9, 2009
PAGES: 128
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity - Good.

SUMMARY: [From] All summer, Jess pushed himself to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade, and when the year's first school-yard race was run, he was going to win. But his victory was stolen by a newcomer, by a girl, one who didn't even know enough to stay on the girls' side of the playground. Then, unexpectedly, Jess finds himself sticking up for Leslie, for the girl who breaks rules and wins races. The friendship between the two grows as Jess guides the city girl through the pitfalls of life in their small, rural town, and Leslie draws him into the world of imagination-a world of magic and ceremony called Terabithia. Here, Leslie and Jess rule supreme among the oaks and evergreens, safe from the bullies and ridicule of the mundane world. Safe until an unforeseen tragedy forces Jess to reign in Terabithia alone, and both worlds are forever changed.

In this poignant, beautifully rendered novel, Katherine Paterson weaves a powerful story of friendship and courage.

THOUGHTS: This was actually a re-read for me. No juvenile books are better than those about a great friendship. For Jess, his friendship with Leslie comes out of nowhere, but it is a relationship that grows strong fast. Terabithia is a book about childhood imagination and naivety. This story is extremely touching and cannot help but make the older readers reminisce about their close childhood friends.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 50: Forever...

TITLE: Forever...
AUTHOR: Judy Blume
STARTED: June 7, 2009
FINISHED: June 8, 2009
PAGES: 199
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.

SUMMARY: [From] There's a first for everything.

When you build up something in your mind — really imagine it, wish for it — sometimes, when it actually happens, it doesn't live up to your expectations.

True love is nothing like that.

Especially not for Katherine and Michael, who can't get enough of each other. Their relationship is unique: sincere, intense, and fun all at the same time. Although they haven't been together all that long, they know it's serious. A whole world opens up as young passion and sexuality bloom.

But it's senior year of high school, and there are big changes ahead. Michael and Katherine are destined for another big "first": a decision. Is this the love of a lifetime, or the very beginning of a lifetime of love?

THOUGHTS: I read this book by accident. We were supposed to read one of Blume's younger reader books and I grabbed this one. I should have known after the first sentence that I was in the wrong age bracket. Oh well - I've never read Blume so this can serve as my first step into catching up to that part of my teen years (which will also include seeing all those classic movies from the 80s).

After reading this book, I can see why people want to ban Blume's work - I don't agree with it, but I can see why. She writes frankly about topics some people would rather remain quiet about. Katherine is upfront and comfortable discussing her sexuality and experience with sex - a position I think more young women should take. She is a strong character who knows what she wants and what she is ready for. I also enjoy how Blume made Katherine human - she's comfortable with herself, but that doesn't mean she's flawless. Katherine second guesses herself and goes through many highly emotional changes in the book.

I say more books and more characters like this please.

I will add this: It was rather hysterical seeing this book's age. It is definitely set in its time. That said, the message still translates.

RATING: 7 /10 [Very Good]

Book 49: Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters

TITLE: Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters
AUTHOR: Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack
STARTED: June 5, 2009
FINISHED: June 6, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the author's note] Think of yourself as a time traveler, a visitor who has just gone back to a Virginia plantation in 1859 at Christmastime.

SUMMARY: [From] The year is 1859, and it's Christmastime on a Virginia Plantation. The slaves are cleaning and setting up the Big House - where their masters live - for the festivities. The Big House is filled with warmth, colorful decorations, and yummy food... but there is talk of war and a sense that times may be changing. In the quarters - where the slaves live - conditions are poor, dirty, and cold, but the slaves are filled with hope for better times ahead, and they sing songs of freedom. Moving deftly between two worlds, this beautifully illustrated book is a historical tale as well as a holiday treat.

THOUGHTS: This is a good vignette book. It takes one aspect of history and crafts a moving and informative narrative. I appreciate how the authors showed all sides of slavery at this time, including all the bad parts. The slaves in this book are shown enjoying themselves around the holidays, but the authors make it clear that this is not a joyfully story - slavery was (and still is) horrendous and the point out the numerous reasons why.

I also enjoyed the explanation of the daily activities, events, and recipes that were used during this era.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 48: And Tango Makes Three

TITLE: And Tango Makes Three
AUTHOR: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnnell
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: In the middle of New York City there is a great big park called Central Park.

SUMMARY: [From] At New York City's Central Park Zoo, two male penguins fall in love and start a family by taking turns sitting on an abandoned egg until it hatches.

THOUGHTS: It's the dreaded gay penguin book! You know what I say, "P'shaw." This is just a cute animal family story with lively illustrations. The controversy be damned, this book is a great children's story about different kinds of family.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 47: Brooklyn Bridge

TITLE: Brooklyn Bridge
AUTHOR: Lynn Curlee
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Suspended in midair more than 100 feet above New York's East River, the span of the Brooklyn Bridge arcs gracefully from shore to shore.

SUMMARY: [From] "It so happens that the work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, but a bridge."

So wrote one architectural critic of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the grandest and most eloquent monuments to the American spirit that our country has produced. Its magnificent site, breathtaking span, cutting-edge technology, and sheer beauty have made it the subject of poems, paintings, photographs, novels, plays, and movies.

Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge's triumphant arches lie astonishing tales of death, deception, genius, and daring. Over the fourteen-year course of its construction, there were many deaths, including that of John A. Roebling, designer and chief engineer; an underwater fire; and even fraud.

Finally, though, the bridge was finished, and as part of the opening day festivities, the president, and two mayors crossed it.

In this stunning visual history, Lynn Curlee tells the fascinating story of the history and construction of the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

THOUGHTS: I lived in New York (the state, not the city) for ten years and I never knew the history of the Brooklyn Bridge. Curlee writes a straight forward story about the famous spanner from its inception to today. The text is clear enough that a person with no background in engineering and/or architecture (me!) can understand how the bridge was built. Her illustrations are simple and clear, drawn with thick lines, big blocks of color, and an architect's eye.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 46: Stars Beneath Your Bed

TITLE: Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust
AUTHOR: April Pulley Sayre
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: At sunrise, the sun, low in the sky, peeks through the dusty air.

SUMMARY: [From] What is dust?
More than you think.

What can it do?
You will be surprised.

Dust may seem small,
dark, dirty, and dull.
But it's the secret
behind one of the
largest, most colorful
sights on earth.

THOUGHTS: I'm in my twenties and I thought this book was awesome. Sayre takes a mundane subject and makes it utterly magical. Her writing is lyrical and the words are beautifully illustrated.

You will never look at dust the same way again.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 45: First the Egg

TITLE: First the Egg
AUTHOR: Laura Vaccaro Seeger
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: First the egg.

SUMMARY: [From] This is a book about transformations - from egg to chicken, seed to flower, and caterpillar to butterfly. But it's also a book about creativity as paint becomes picture, word becomes story and commonplace becomes extraordinary.

THOUGHTS: A cute and highly visual take on the whole young to old transition. This would be a great book for a young reader. The illustrations are simplistic but have a lot of color and texture.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Book 44: Joan of Arc

TITLE: Joan of Arc
AUTHOR: Diane Stanley
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Imagine your country is at war.

SUMMARY: [From] Against the fascinating tapestry of Frances history during the Hundred Years' War, Diane Stanley unfolds the story of the simple thirteen-year-old village girl who in Just a few years would lead France to independence from English rule, and thus become a symbol of France's national pride. It is a story of vision and bravery, fierce determination, and tragic martyrdom. Diane Stanley's extraordinary gift to present historical information in an accessible and child-friendly format has never been more impressive, nor her skillful, beautifully realized illustrations (here imitating medieval illuminated manuscripts) more exquisite.

THOUGHTS: In class, we were asked to read to different biographies of the same person. This is my second of Joan of Arc. This story was a bit more of a narrative and less fact based than the other book. The illustrations were also more stylized but they still evoked tapestries.

This book would definitely be better for younger readers.

RATING: 6/10 [Good.]

Book 43: Joan of Arc

TITLE: Joan of Arc
AUTHOR: Josephine Poole
STARTED: June 4, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: This is a true story.

SUMMARY: [From] Joan was an innocent French farm girl of thirteen when heavenly voices called to her and gave her the courage to fight for her king. She would leave her home, cut her hair and dress like a man, and journey far and wide to fight for her noble cause. But even after Joan was captured and about to be put to death by her enemies, she remained true to her beliefs and died holding on to a simple cross. She would later become one of the most revered of all saints and a heroine to young and old alike. This is the enthralling true story of Joan of Arc told by gifted storyteller Josephine Poole and magnificently illustrated by award-winning artist Angela Barrett in what is sure to be one of the finest, most beautiful picture books of the year. Included are end-paper maps and a chronology of events for readers to follow Joan on her quest.

THOUGHTS: The story is told without any fluff, which I appreciate. The illustrations are what make this book interesting. The illustrator actually shows Joan as a young girl. In art you tend to see Joan looking much older than she really is. I think showing Joan this young works in two ways: 1) It's true to life and 2) It helps the younger readers connect to the story.

The illustrations were also reminiscent of the tapestry style that existed during Joan's life. Quite beautiful.

RATING: 6/10 [Good.]

Book 42: The Slave Dancer

TITLE: The Slave Dancer
AUTHOR: Paula Fox
STARTED: June 3, 2009
FINISHED: June 4, 2009
PAGES: 176
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: In a hinged wooden box upon the top of which was carved a winged fish, my mother kept the tools of her trade.

SUMMARY: [From] "Take up the pipe, Claudius," a voice growled near Jessie's bound head. "He's worth nothing without his pipe!"

Snatched from the docks of New Orleans, thirteen-year-old Jessie is thrown aboard a slave ship where he must play his fife so that captured slaves will "dance," to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable for their owners' use.

Jessie is sickened as he witnesses the horrible practices of the slave trade. But even those horrors can't compare to the one final event awaiting Jessie's witness. Can the cruelty to his fellow human beings be stopped? And will it be too late when it finally does stop?

THOUGHTS: This book may have won a Newberry, but I was not a fan. Of all the books I read for my course (and there will be a photo of the complete stack soon) this was the only one that felt like a chore. I could not get into the story or the writing no matter how hard I tried. Boy was I glad when this one was done.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Book 41: The Penelopiad

TITLE: The Penelopiad
AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood
STARTED: June 1, 2009
FINISHED: June 3, 2009
PAGES: 199
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the introduction] The story of Odysseus' return to his home kingdom of Ithaca following an absence of twenty years is best known from Homer's Odyssey.

SUMMARY: [From] Homer’s Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local -- a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope’s parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumors circulating about her. I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.

THOUGHTS: I worked in a book club read during my marathon of children's books. The mental change needed to focus on this book took me a few pages.

I enjoyed this book - I do tend to love alternative tellings of classic stories. (Why I've never read Gregory Maguire is beyond me.) I've actually never read The Odyssesy so I found this book acting, in some ways, as a reminder of the old Wishbone episode. I enjoyed the way Atwood made Penelope a strong and clever character. I don't know if I particularly liked her, but I admired her. I do, however, think this book makes Odysseus and their son, Telemachus, look like completed and utter jerks.

Atwood does a fantastic job of incorporating bits and pieces of Greek myth - there were moments I found myself saying, "Oh yeah! I forgot about that." Atwood clearly did her research on this one.

The part of the book I enjoyed the best was Atwood's telescoping to the present day. The people's characters did not change, just their situation. It was pretty darn fascinating.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 40: Kira Kira

TITLE: Kira Kira
AUTHOR: Cynthia Kadohata
STARTED: June 1, 2009
FINISHED: June 1, 2009
PAGES: 244
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira.

SUMMARY: [From] kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining

Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.

THOUGHTS: This book reminded me a lot of those written by Lurlene McDaniel, an author I devoured as a kid. For a title that is about glittering, this book is rather dark and somber. Kira Kira is fraught with drama and emotion, but it is not depressive. If anything, I came away from the story more contemplative than sad.

I'm going to guess that Kadohata has a big sister, or at least a sibling. If she doesn't, I'd be surprised. She so perfectly captures the relationship between close siblings in this book that it made me call my younger brother. For all the sadness in this book, it is the emotion of love of family that come across the most. The parents sacrifice so much of their lives for their children, the siblings fight and resent one another, and, like the family they are, they still come together as a loving group.

Kadohata also captures the essence of her setting - I think that is one reason why the book works as well as it does. Kira Kira, even with its well written and well-rounded characters, would fall flat if the author had failed to recreate the dinginess, despair, and society of the time and place. The parents of the lead characters would not appear as tired if the description of the chicken processing plant were anything but oppressive. The joy of a cool, outdoor picnic would not be as light without the previous description of heat and dust. Kadohata describes every setting with such vivid detail I could paint it.

I think the best part of this book is how, even with all the drama, there are still moments of light. Kira Kira was the perfect title. Every now and then, there is a moment in the book that just shines with joy and happiness. I think Kadohata was trying to tell her readers that, even when things hit bottom, life always has moments that are glittering.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 39: Rules

TITLE: Rules
AUTHOR: Cynthia Lord
STARTED: May 31, 2009
FINISHED: May 31, 2009
PAGES: 200
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Rules for David: Chew with your mouth closed.

SUMMARY: [From] Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"---in order to head off David's embarrassing behaviors.

But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

THOUGHTS: This book is my favorite discovery of the course. There is so much going on in Rules that it would be impossible to cover it all without just reciting the book word for word. If you want to see a fantastic example of children's literature today, read this book. It is, perhaps, the best example any one book can set for new children's authors. Lord tackles complicated and, often, awkward and uncomfortable situations head on. She does not shy away from speaking about serious subjects that most people refuse to confront.

Catherine's character is so complex that I think I need to read the book again to understand her better. She looks out for her younger, autistic brother by teaching him "rules" he needs to follow in life. She is more than happy to help her brother but, like every other young girl, she resents the fact that David complicates her life. She loves her brother, but sometimes she wishes she could just get a break.

In the book, Catherine meets Jason, a boy confined to a wheelchair who speaks with the use of a phrase book. Catherine, an art lover, draws Jason new cards of words so they can speak together. The scenes between these two are incredibly touching - particularly the one where they go running. That particular moment brought tears to my eyes.

I think the gem part of this book is that it teaches kids that its okay to not like something. You can feel uncomfortable and wary in a situation and that is okay - as long as you are nice and helpful to those around you, you are a good kid. I also believe that Lord wants to tell her reader that it takes sacrifice to do the right thing and that sometimes doing the right thing, even if it looks uncool, will make people around you want to be better.

This story as so many facets that you just have to read the book to understand how good it is.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]

Book 38: Hatchet

TITLE: Hatchet
AUTHOR: Gary Paulsen
STARTED: May 28, 2009
FINISHED: May 28, 2009
PAGES: 195
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below.

SUMMARY: [From] After a plane crash, thirteen-year-old Brian spends fifty-four days in the Canadian wilderness, learning to survive with only the aid of a hatchet given him by his mother, and learning also to survive his parents' divorce.

THOUGHTS: I somehow made it through my younger years without reading the classics of juvenile literature. I totally missed Hatchet and everything else by Paulsen for that matter. I'm glad that my summer class gave me a reason to play catch up. Paulsen's book is good and I can see why it has stood the test of time. It did not become a favorite of mine, but I'm glad I got around to reading it.

Paulsen's story is incredibly realistic. Brian reacts like any other scared but resourceful boy. Nothing he does to survive in the story strikes me as being out of the ordinary. I think this is why Hatchet soars. Brian reacts in a way that the reader thinks he would should he find himself lost in the wilderness.

Speaking of which, the Canadian forest in this book becomes the main, secondary character. Paulsen paints his setting so vividly that I found myself itchy when the mosquitoes appeared, cooled when in the lake, and wishing that I could spend more times outdoors.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 37: Once I Ate a Pie

TITLE: Once I Ate a Pie
AUTHOR: Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
STARTED: May 28, 2009
FINISHED: May 28, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: The world is big.

SUMMARY: [From] Gus herds his people like sheep.

Abby loves borrowing slippers.

And once, Mr. Beefy ate a pie.

It's a dog's life. Filled with squeaky toys, mischief, and plenty of naps. Every dog has a tail to wag and a tale to tell. Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest asked this collection of canines to speak up with their own words, barks, and yips.

THOUGHTS: This book was cute. It would be perfect for a little kid who loves dogs. The poems encapsulate "doginess" very well. Also, the illustrations made me want a puppy.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 36: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

TITLE: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
AUTHOR: Judi Barret
STARTED: May 28, 2009
FINISHED: May 28, 2009
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: We were all sitting around the big kitchen table.

SUMMARY: [From] Grab your plates! In the land of Chewandswallow, meals - rather than rain or snow - fall from the sky. But something goes awry: the food falling from the sky gets larger and larger, causing the residents to make an escape before being squashed by giant pancakes or rolls. Ron Barrett dishes up some droll art work in this zany tall tale.

THOUGHTS: This is a personal favorite of mine. I read it over and over and over again when I was a kid. Clearly, when I decided to take the children's literature course, I would find a way to fit this book in. Victory! I love the imagination behind this book. It's a story about storytelling and creativity. What more could you want?

The illustrations in this book are phenomenal. They are so intricate and detailed that, to this day, I still find something new and laugh-out-loud worthy in them. Bonus points to Ms. Barret for making me crave frosted donuts every time I read this book.

Random Note: They're making a movie out of this book. My response after seeing the trailer: What did they do?!?!

RATING: 10/10 [Best. Book. Ever!]

Monday, July 06, 2009

Slue of Updates Update

I know I promised that there would be a slue of updates (of kids books!) coming... and it never materialized.

Well, something came up and now I just finished my week-long institute on copyright, so that slue will now actually be forth coming.

Also, for the record, I know more about Copyright Law than I care to think about - but at least it was all good stuff that made me an even bigger Fair Use cheerleader.