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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Seventh Level

The Seventh Level by Jody Feldman is a mystery with a secret middle school society and challenging puzzles that must be solved along the way. Travis Raines is surprised to receive a coveted blue envelope from The Legends, a secret society that performs various stunts at his middle school. He has been chosen to complete various tasks along the way to become part of this highly secretive group. While trying to figure out his first task, a large bully named Randall throws Kip’s hat (with the letter inside) out the school’s second floor window. When it gets stuck just under the roof, Travis is determined to climb outside to get it. His plan backfires when he is caught by Mrs. Pinchon, the strict assistant principal. His punishment is to ride to school with her each morning for detention before school and after-school detention. As the blue envelopes and puzzles keep coming, Travis finds it even more difficult to accomplish the tasks given to him under Mrs. Pinchon’s scrutiny. Even worse, someone is setting him up for other pranks that are occurring at school. Will Travis be able to complete all levels required? Is it even The Legend that is sending him these tasks? Read The Seventh Level to find out. Another great book by Jody Feldman is The Gollywhopper Games (I gave that one 5 stars).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Child is This? A Christmas Story

Looking for a special book to read to get you in the Christmas spirit? If you can get your hands on a copy, you need to read What Child is This? A Christmas Story(c1997) by Caroline B. Cooney. My middle school book club is reading this sentimental tale about the true meaning of Christmas. This quick read reveals the emotions and experiences of three different teens and an eight-year-old foster child named Katie. Liz, raised by parents who have it all and are not willing to help those in need, wants to experience the true meaning of Christmas and cannot understand her parents’ selfish ways. Smart, handsome Tack Knight helps his father run his family’s upscale restaurant. The Knights are involved with their church and like to give back to the community, especially at Christmas time. Matt, a foster kid and temporary big brother to Katie, has so much rage inside from years of bouncing back and forth between homes. When Katie and Matt are offered the opportunity to write their Christmas wish on bell ornaments which will hang on the Knights’ restaurant Christmas tree in hopes that someone will fulfill the request, Katie asks for a family for Christmas. Their social worker tells Katie that the ornaments are for small gifts, not big ones. Matt, who also works at the Knights’ restaurant, decides to hang Katie’s ornament on the tree anyway. Katie truly believes she will get her wish. How will Matt tell Katie that he was wrong to ever believe that miracles could happen at Christmas? When tragedy strikes, will the community come together to save a little girl and her extraordinary Christmas wish? The students that finished before me warned me to have Kleenex ready, even the tough guys. What a great story for the holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Joseph Monninger’s Wish, a poignant book about how much we are willing to risk to make someone we love happy, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012. The story is narrated by Bee, the older, caring sister of Tommy, a young boy with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a serious disease that causes Tommy’s lungs to fill up with mucus which makes it hard for him to breathe. Tommy is infatuated with sharks – he knows all the facts about sharks and their attacks on humans. Bee, Tommy, and their single mother (as interested in men as Tommy is in sharks) are on a trip from their home in New Hampshire to California because Tommy has been given an all expense trip to see sharks by the Blue Moon foundation. Unfortunately, his wish to actually swim with the sharks isn’t fulfilled and his mother decides to go on a date that evening. When their mother still hasn’t returned from her date the next morning, Bee and Tommy decide to visit Ty, a young man that Tommy befriended through e-mail after Ty was attacked by a great white shark and lived to tell about his ordeal. Ty and his younger brother offer to take the two surfing in the dangerous waves. Bee knows this is really something Tommy wants to do despite the threat to his health. Although this is Tommy’s wish, the ocean and her inhabitants are unforgiving…

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, Erin Dionne’s latest entertaining middle grade read, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2012-13. Elsie, a gifted French horn player, has always strived to be the youngest person in her family to make the Shining Birches, an elite music camp. It is a requirement for her to be part of a musical ensemble prior to auditioning for the Shining Birches. Elsie, younger than other students starting high school, has to join the marching band because a family conflict made her unable to audition for the Boston Youth Orchestra. The chaos of the first day of marching band practice sends Elsie into a spiral of doom, especially when she learns that she must play a mellophone instead of her beloved French horn. Things are much tougher in marching band than Elsie could have ever imagined. In order to prepare for the Shining Birches audition, Elsie must spend hours of her free time practicing her French horn. What will Elsie do when her band friends invite her to hang out after practices and games? Will Elsie prove to herself and her father that she is as talented as her father, lead French horn player in the Boston Symphony? Erin Dionne does a fabulous job of capturing the camaraderie and dedication of high school marching band in this fun book. Other great books by Dionne include Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies and The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guys Read: Funny Business

Guys (and some adventurous girls) are going to want to read this one, Guys Read: Funny Business, edited by Jon Scieszka. Ten short humorous stories written by some of your favorite authors (Mac Barnett, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo & Jon Scieszka, Paul Feig, Jack Gantos, Jeff Kinney, David Lubar, Adam Rex, and David Yoo) and illustrated by Adam Rex. The purpose of Guys Read is to instill a love of reading in boys that will last a lifetime. Funny Business is the first volume in the Guys Read Library. Storylines include the inspiration behind Artemis Fowl, a killer turkey, a grumpy grandpa with unbelievable childhood stories, and a deadly wart. Click on the video below to hear the authors tell “The Joke” which also happens to be the foreword of Funny Business. The second volume of the Guys Read Library is Guys Read: Thriller.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas by Gary Paulsen is a moving collection of three separate stories about kids having to rely on themselves just to survive. These kids represent the many children in our world who don’t have shelter, food, family, security, or, many times, loving relationships. I ordered multiple copies of this book for my middle school library prior to reading it, because my students eat up Gary Paulsen’s books. While awaiting my order, I downloaded the ebook from the public library. Imagine my excitement in reading the dedication given to Teri Lesesne (my awesome college professor), Kylene Beers (another advocate for struggling readers), teachers and librarians like them. I was then brought to tears in reading – A Note from the Author. Take the time to read it by clicking on the Kids@Random link attached to the title of this book, then clicking on book preview. Gary Paulsen understands – he has lived to tell about it. This book should be a mandatory read for all who work with at-risk children. Teachers, librarians, and anyone working in education will be reminded of what some children go home to each night; therefore, we must make the difference for them each and every day. Students will appreciate Paulsen’s sincere portrayal of the tough stuff some endure.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Silhouetted by the Blue

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winning author of Standing Against the Wind (another one of my favorites), is about a family struggling to cope with the loss of their wife/mother from a tragic car accident. Serena, a seventh grader, has been chosen to be the lead performer in her school production of The Wiz. Sadly, Serena’s little brother, Henry, is being left out at school by kids who don’t want to catch the “dead mommy cooties” from him. This causes Henry to act out and get in trouble at school. Their father is blue – won’t get out of his pajamas, won’t shop for groceries, doesn’t participate in life at all. Serena is burdened with her own grief, having to be responsible for Henry and running the household, and trying to keep up with her own busy middle school life. I appreciate that in both Standing Against the Wind and Silhouetted by the Blue, Jones gives us a great male role model who steps up to help the female protagonist. Elijah, Serena’s classmate, is the nice guy at school who comes to the rescue so many times and truly cares about her. Why is her father giving away items that have been so important to him? Will Serena finally ask for help when she can no longer balance things at home and at school? Read Silhouetted by the Blue to find out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Baseball Great

Josh is excited about playing baseball for his school. The school reporter, Jaden, has built a lot of hype about his baseball skills in an article she wrote for the school newspaper. Unfortunately, his father, a former minor league player, yanks him off the team during the first practice. Josh’s father signs him up to try out for the Titans, a team made up of older, stronger guys who worry each and every day that they could easily be replaced by someone better. The Titans are coached by a businessman named Rocky Valentine who believes that the boys must take supplements, lift weights, and work harder than ever to be successful. The pressure of being the best causes boys on the team to make harmful decisions. When Josh and Jaden put two and two together, they have a difficult decision to make – one that can cost them everything. I was encouraged to read Tim Green’s Baseball Great by one of my seventh grade students. Reluctant readers will like the suspenseful storyline and brief chapters. Other great books by Tim Green include Football Genius, Football Hero, Football Champ, Rivals, and Deep Zone. Click on the video below to hear the author explain how both sports and writing require hard work and dedication.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tiger's Curse

Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse (book #1) was a book that kept being recommended in various reading circles (middle school, high school, and adults). This fantasy romance is one that will keep many people talking. The book starts off with a prologue…300 years ago, an evil man in the pursuit of powerful amulets pits brother against brother in a duel for the love of a beautiful princess – the result is a powerful, cruel curse. Chapter one begins; Kelsey, who recently lost both of her parents in a terrible accident, finds a job with a traveling circus. Once she begins she immediately becomes enamored by the beautiful white tiger that she helps take care of. She is soon offered the opportunity to travel to India with the tiger to help him transition to a new wildlife preserve. Kelsey learns that the magnificent white tiger with the striking blue eyes is really a handsome prince named Ren who has been under a curse for hundreds of years. He believes she can save him. The two must endure dangers, his dark brother, and their own insecurities in order to save him. This novel has just the right history, romance, and magic to keep readers wanting to read the second novel, Tiger’s Quest. Recommended for 8th graders and above.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

True (...sort of)

I had been waiting a long time for Katherine Hannigan to write another book after Ida B(one of my favorite reads). Imagine my excitement when I opened up my Junior Library Guild selection of the month - True(...sort of)! I loved this book as much as her first novel. The storyline centers on three unique characters. Delly has been in trouble her entire life. The whole town knows she is trouble. She has created her own vocabulary to get through her "dellyventure"-ous life. Brud goes to a private school in town and he loves playing basketball more than anything. He knows that his mouth will never work as fast as his brain wants the words to come out. Delly's and Brud's lives will change when a scrawny, pale girl named Ferris moves into town. Ferris, easily mistaken for a boy, doesn't talk and she has one rule - no one is allowed to touch her. Read True(...sort of) to find out how Delly and Brud become part of Ferris's life when she doesn't even say a word. Although this book will move you to tears, you will celebrate along with characters when their lives change for the better. This is a book you will want to share with others! If you haven't read Ida B (Hannigan's first novel), what are you waiting for?
Click on the video below to listen to the author tell you about her touching book.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

My Book Talk Club recently finished Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm which received the Newbery Honor Book award. They are writing this book review. As a collective group we ranked the book as 3.3 out of 5 stars. The novel takes place in the year 2194 in Zimbabwe, Africa. General Matsika’s three children run away from home to achieve a scout patch when their parents refuse to let them outside the gates of their large mansion. At home they are surrounded by automatons (robots) and all the luxury they could ever want. As soon as the children enter the market, they are kidnapped by the She Elephant’s minions and put to work in the plastic mines. General Matsika and his wife hire the best detectives – The Ear, the Eye and the Arm – they have special powers as a result of being exposed to nuclear waste as children. As the children escape from one situation to the next, they stay one step ahead of the talented detectives. The children face many challenges which include traveling to ancient Africa with its customs and folktales. Here are some of our opinions about the book…”I really liked how the author included new and descriptive words from Africa which helped me expand my vocabulary”. “I liked the way the author transitioned from one chapter to the next and how the children were always one step ahead of the detectives – it made it more exciting”. “I liked how the characters had to deal with emotional issues”. “This wasn’t my type of book”. “The beginning was confusing for me, but as I read more of the book it became clearer”. Other great books by Nancy Farmer include The House of the Scorpions, The Sea of Trolls, The Land of the Silver Apples, and The Islands of the Blessed. They also created this book trailer below.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike is Kathryn Erskine’s most recent novel about a boy learning how to get his father to accept him for who he is. Mike has always had trouble with math, but his father is determined that he can make him a better student. Although his dad is a genius when it comes to mathematical problems, Mike has had to be the parent in many ways since his mother died when he was just six years old. When Mike’s father leaves to teach math for six weeks in Romania, Mike is sent to live with his elderly distant relatives, Poppy and Moo, who have recently lost their son in a car accident. Mike’s father believes that Mike will be helping Poppy work on an engineering project. Mike deals with many issues once he arrives in the town of Downover. For one, Moo’s eyesight and hearing doesn’t exactly make for safe driving…she is in her eighties after all. Secondly, Poppy, grieving for his son, only sits in his chair and eats scrapple. Mike soon realizes that he must step up to help the town in their quest to adopt a boy named Misha who reminds Mike of himself. Will Mike be able to pull the huge task off? What will happen when Mike’s father finds out that he isn’t working on an engineering project after all? Read this humorous novel that deals with serious matters in which people with different attributes come together for others in need. I like how each chapter of the book has a mathematical term with a definition that applies to what happens in the story. Kathryn Erskine’s other book, Mockingbird, received the National book Award.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Close to Famous

Joan Bauer has a way of bringing her characters’ struggles to the forefront in her stories which makes her readers feels that they are not the only ones facing personal problems. In Close to Famous, twelve-year-old Foster McGee has been told by kids at school, teachers, and even her mother’s abusive boyfriend, Huck, that she was stupid. Foster’s father was killed in Iraq and she stores all his mementos in a special pillowcase. When Foster’s mom walks out on Huck after a horrible fight, the pair drives from Tennessee to West Virginia. Unfortunately, Huck keeps Foster’s precious pillowcase and demands they come back. The thing that saves Foster is her natural ability to put ingredients together to create delicious cupcakes and meals. She wants more than anything to be a famous Food Network chef like her idol, Sonny Kroll. Before long, Foster’s secret struggle is out. Can her new friends help her? Will her mom make sacrifices to get Foster’s pillow back? Read this meaningful novel to find out. Other great books by Joan Bauer include Stand Tall, Hope Was Here, and Rules of the Road.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Life is So Good

Every once in a while a true story catches you by surprise and leaves an imprint on your heart. Life is so Good (published in 2000) written by Richard Glaubman and George Dawson did just that. Thankfully a math teacher at my school shared this book with me. I cannot believe I had never heard of it before. This is George Dawson’s life story beginning when he was just a boy working hard to help his father on the farm. Richard Glaubman would visit George after hearing that he started going to school to learn to read at the age of 98. On those visits, he would bring news articles from the past and books to share with Dawson. My favorite aspect of the book is the discussion the two had about real events in history and Dawson’s memory of having lived through that time. It is remarkable to think that Dawson lived in three separate centuries. Because he was expected to help his father with the farm and bring extra income to take care of the younger kids, he missed the opportunity to attend school. An adventurous man, he tells of his travels and strong work ethic. Once he settled down with a wife and seven kids, he held high expectations of his children and was able to hide that he couldn’t read until they were older. He explains throughout the book about missed opportunities as a result of being illiterate. George Dawson passed away in 2001 after this book was published at the age of 103. This inspirational story is a must read for anyone wondering if it is too late to make a change for the better. George Dawson’s story motivated many people to get their education. Click on the video segment from the Oprah show about how Dawson's legacy lives on in Texas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

As Simple as It Seems

So B. It by Sarah Weeks is a book that many of my students recommend to each other. It is a book that they want to discuss. I think that will be the case with As Simple as It Seems, Weeks’ most recent novel. Eleven-year-old Verbena notices a change in herself that she doesn’t like. Everything about her doting mother annoys her and she cannot hide the rage that is building inside. She was always told that she was small for her age and had to wear glasses because she was born prematurely. She accidentally finds out the horrible truth behind her birth which only confirms everything that she has been feeling. A boy named Pooch from the city moves into the abandoned house nearby for the summer. The family that used to live in that house moved away a long time ago after their daughter, Tracey, drowned in the lake. When Pooch sees Verbena beside the lake he thinks she is the ghost of Tracey. Wanting to be anybody but herself, Verbena happily plays along. Before long the two find themselves in a life or death situation. Sarah Weeks has a gift for making her characters real to her readers. Another great book by Sarah Weeks is Jumping the Scratch.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Camo Girl

Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River was on my 8th grade reading list last year, so I was so excited to read her newest novel, Camo Girl. Ella, a biracial girl in the sixth grade with all white classmates, narrates the story about her friendship with eccentric Zachariah (Z) and the difficulties they face together. Ella wakes up every day trying not to look at her mottled colored face in the mirror which has given her the nickname, camo girl, by the school bully. Things were not so hard when Ella, Z, and Millie were all best friends when they were younger. Things have changed drastically for both Ella and Z…they both have lost their fathers due to different circumstances. Now Millie hangs out with the popular crowd at school while Ella and Z are tormented by school bullies. Z has created a fantasy world in which he can escape in order to cope with all the sadness in his life. Ella, the only person who can relate to Z, feels like he needs her to protect him from the others. When Bailey, a handsome African-American boy, moves to their school and takes an interest in Ella, Ella finds that she wants more than her single friendship with Z. One day Z doesn’t come home from school. Will Ella find him before it is too late? Read this moving book about friendship and the hardships of growing up when you are considered different from those around you. This novel will be on my 6th grade reading list next year.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Tale Dark & Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is absolutely all that it says it is. This is no ordinary Hansel and Gretel story. Will middle school kids love it? Absolutely! It is definitely dark and grim, but the added touch of humor will keep the reader amused. Haven’t you wondered about the true story of Hansel and Gretel? Gidwitz is here to tell you that there is so much more than what you have been told. Hansel and Gretel will have to face witches, their own weaknesses, the devil himself, and a deadly dragon on their adventure to find normal, caring parents. I love Gidwitz’s wit in adding the narrator’s voice which addresses the reader intermittently throughout the entertaining story. Checkout the video below.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's Raining Cupcakes

What’s better than a book titled It’s Raining Cupcakes? A book titled It’s Raining Cupcakes that includes different types of cupcakes as the chapter titles and recipes – yum! One of my awesome 8th grade students recommended that I read Lisa Schroeder’s book and I really enjoyed this quick read for upper elementary – middle school students. Isabel has always dreamed of traveling far from her native Oregon, but hasn’t ever had the opportunity. The reason she hasn’t been far from home is because her mother is afraid of many things including flying on an airplane. Isabel is frustrated that her mom doesn’t ever stay happy Isabel’s life for long and gives up on her dreams without putting forth effort. Her mom’s newest dream is to open up a cupcake store. As her mother’s mind once again fills with doubt, Isabel searches for ways to help her. Isabel and her best friend, Sophie, enter a baking contest. Will the contest challenge their friendship? Will Isabel’s mom learn to push through her own fears? My favorite part of this book is Isabel’s close relationship with her grandmother. I love books that make you cheer for the main character. Other great, more mature reads by Lisa Schroeder include I Heart You, You Haunt Me and Chasing Brooklyn – my students love these books! Click on the video below to hear from the author.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Midnight Gate

I was given Helen Stringer’s The Midnight Gate as a preview book. I was disappointed that it was the second book of a series and I had not read the first book, Spellbinder. I would definitely recommend reading Spellbinder first. I know it would have helped me better understand why the main characters were in their current situation. The main character, Belladonna, is bullied by a mean girl named Sophie. While on a school trip Belladonna and her friend, Steve, are given a map and clues by a ghost at a monastery. Sophie, seeking revenge when Belladonna fights back, reports her to Child Protective Services. Belladonna, able to see ghosts, is secretly living with her dead parents. When CPS comes to investigate, they find that she is living alone when she should be living with her grandmother. Because her grandmother is missing, she is sent to live with foster parents who live in Shady Gardens, a building that had supposedly been demolished a few years ago. Dark shadows lurk around Shady Gardens. It is up to Belladonna and Steve to solve the riddle on the map and find the Queen of the Abyss before the Dark Spaces are able to enter the human realm. This has enough action and imagination to appeal to all fantasy lovers. The ending leaves us eagerly awaiting the next book.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Addie on the Inside

James Howe’s Addie on the Inside, a companion book to The Misfits and Totally Joe, is a touching novel in verse about the angst of the preteen years. Addie, a seventh grader who speaks her mind, is dealing with many issues. Her on and off again relationship with one of the most popular guys in school has her self esteem plummeting. Addie doesn’t understand why Becca, her childhood best friend, is picking on her. How will Addie survive when her grandmother moves out? She has been Addie’s confidant during these trying times. Things dramatically change when Addie covers her mouth with duct tape in a gesture to stay silent the whole day at school in honor of The Day of Silence. Howe poetically captures the voices of so many young adults trying to make it through those tough middle school years and the essence of emerging into the persons they will ultimately become. My favorite revelation in the book is when her grandmother discusses that “mean girls” always existed, but are now more powerful with today’s media networking – how true! No Name-Calling Week (, an anti-bullying campaign, was created as a result of Howe’s The Misfits. Other great books by Howe include the popular Bunnicula series, 13: Thirteen Stories that Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen, and the Sebastian-Barth Mystery series.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Gathering

The students at my middle school love Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers Trilogy: The Summoning, The Awakening, and The Reckoning. So, I couldn’t wait to read her most recent book - The Gathering – the first book in her Darkness Rising trilogy which ties into a supernatural Native American theme. In the introduction, Maya, a sixteen-year-old who was adopted by her parents, witnesses her best friend, Serena, drown. Maya wonders how Serena, captain of the swim team, could have died this way. Time has passed, but Maya still hasn’t gotten over Serena’s mysterious death. Although Maya and Daniel, Serena’s boyfriend, have always been close, they have a difficult time talking about her. When a new guy, Rafe, moves to their small private community, rumors begin. It seems like Rafe bounces from one girl to the next and is trying to get to know Maya. Although Maya is determined not to be next on his list, she finds herself attracted to him. Maya has the gift of healing animals and even feels what they feel. When her mother takes her to get her birthmark enhanced with a tattoo for her birthday, they meet an elderly woman who lived with the Navajo for many years. The woman fears Maya and calls her a witch. A visitor appears in Maya’s community asking questions concerning Serena. When the visitor turns up dead, Maya and Daniel know they must finally face the unknown. Will Rafe lead Maya to the answers she is looking for? This was an intense read that ultimately leaves you hanging until the next book, The Calling, which will be published in April 2012. This book is appropriate for 8th grade and up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a novel in verse narrated by a young Vietnamese girl named Hà in 1975. The moving story is based on the author’s own experiences. Tragically, Hà’s father never returned from war and her mother is a single parent to Hà and her three older brothers. As Saigon falls, Hà’s mother makes the difficult decision to load her family onto a crowded ship headed to a land full of dreams. The family ends up being sponsored by a man in Alabama. Thanhha Lai does a superb job of capturing Hà’s emotional journey in a new home where everything is different – the language, the school, the people, the food, and the way they are treated. This book will help readers understand what many young people endure when coming to the United States for the first time. I appreciated the characters in the story that opened their hearts to this young girl and her family.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Good Long Way

A Good Long Way by René Saldaña, Jr. is a quick read that chronicles a twenty-two hour period of three Latino teens’ lives. The first teen is Roelito, a smart student, who awakens around two-thirty in the morning to a noisy fight between his older brother, Beto, and his father. He quickly stands between the two as the fight escalates. Beto threatens to run away and leaves Roelito worried about what may become of his troubled brother. The story then switches to Beto. Beto, a senior in high school, feels like his father is too hard on him and should give him more privileges. His hard-working father is tired of Beto staying out past his curfew and only wants what is best for his sons. Beto leaves the house without shoes on his feet. The third teen, Jessy, is tired of watching her father beat up on her mother every night. She wonders when she will be next. She doesn’t let anyone except Beto know the hopes and dreams she has buried deep inside herself. Saldaña’s stories are woven together and they could be anyone’s – real voices and tough situations. This would be a great recommendation for reluctant readers. My favorite parts of this book are the hopeful ending and positive message about forgiveness. Other great books by this author include Finding Our Way: Stories and The Whole Sky Full of Stars. Click on the video below to listen to the author read from his book.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Dragonfly by Julia Golding is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2011-12. Two lands agree to unite their prince and newly crowned fourth princess in order to keep peace and prevent the attack of a charging army led by an evil conqueror named Fergox. Prince Ramil and Princess Tashi are unhappy about their upcoming marriage. Their relationship, off to a bad start when the prince is disrespectful to the princess, becomes even more complicated when they are captured by Fergox. Fergox is determined to convert Princess Tashi’s religion – she prays to a Goddess, not a God. Once he converts her, he plans to make her his newest wife. Disgusted by the idea, Princess Tashi is determined to fight to the end for her beliefs and her heart. Prince Ramil gets to know the Princess during their imprisonment and soon falls in love. Will the pair be able to escape and save both their people before Fergox’s army reaches them? Click on the trailer below.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex is a humorous read that will appeal to upper elementary to middle school students. It is on the Texas Bluebonnet List 2011-12. Steve Brixton has always enjoyed reading the Bailey Brothers Mystery series and The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook. He knows exactly what it takes to be a private detective. On a Friday, his favorite teacher suddenly assigns a research project due on Monday. He draws the topic of early American Needlework. Steve heads to the library to find a book to help him with his research. Of course I especially love this book, because the chaos that ensues is connected with the secret society of librarians. As soon as Steve checks out the book, An Illustrated History of American Quilting, an alarm sounds and a group dressed in all black is after him. This highly skilled group of librarians thinks that Steve is working for someone else to steal the treasured Maguffin Quilt. Will Steve be able to solve the mystery and get these forceful librarians off his back? Click on the book trailer below for more information.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Okay for Now

My friend and I snatched up copies of Gary D. Schmidt’s most recent novel, Okay for Now, while attending the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. We both love his other books – Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Trouble, and The Wednesday Wars. She read it first and shared that it was the best book she had read this year. I whole-heartedly agree. Although this is a companion book to The Wednesday Wars, readers do not have to read The Wednesday Wars first. It is 1968. Fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck and his family move to a new place when his father is fired from his job. Doug has two older brothers – one is fighting in the Vietnam War and the other is constantly getting into trouble. Although Doug has a caring mother, his father’s abusive nature has tore Doug apart. As a result of his fractured home life, Doug hates everything. His negative attitude and his older brother’s reputation make many of the staff at his new school and people in the town pass judgments about him before giving him a chance. Things change as Doug develops an interest in the artwork in John James Audubon’s book, Birds of America, at the public library. Through his newfound interest in art and growing friendship with a girl named Lil Spicer, Doug discovers that his actions can make things whole once again. Even though this book was written with young adults in mind, it is a must read for all educators – we have the power to build or shatter fragile souls on a daily basis. As Doug Swieteck would say, “There aren’t too many things around that are whole, you know…When you find something that’s whole, you do what you can to keep it that way. And when you find something that isn’t, then maybe it’s not a bad idea to try to make it whole again. Maybe.” Click on the video below to hear from Gary D. Schmidt.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Austin Teen Book Festival

Hope everyone has a great start to the new school year. I just received information on the Austin Teen Book Festival.

Date: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Location: Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78704

Check out the video below. How exciting and it is free!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2011-12. Could you endure the same living conditions as people who lived in the 1890’s? Genevieve Welsh must find out the hard way when her mom’s love for Little House on the Prairie causes her to book a summer family vacation to Camp Frontier. Gen, her mother, her father, and younger brother, Gavin, along with three other families give up their modern day devices and create a daily routine with only the things that existed in the 1890’s. They have to dress like pioneers, make their own food, take care of the farm animals, wash their clothes by hand, and cook without electricity. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the daughter of the family who runs Camp Frontier is as mean as Nellie Olson from the Little House on the Prairie. Unbeknownst to the others, Gen copes with the hardships by texting her friends back home with her illegal cell phone. Things get even more difficult when Gen stumbles upon a secret place and finds out that the cute guy at camp may already have a girlfriend. Read Little Blog on the Prairie to see just how hard it would be to give up your modern day conveniences and how social networking takes our communication to a whole new level.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Red Pyramid

Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, book one of the Kane Chronicles, is written in a style that is similar to his Percy Jackson and the Olympian series. The story is narrated by Carter and Sadie Kane, siblings who have spent years apart. When their mother died six years ago, their maternal grandparents fought to raise Sadie in London. Those six years Carter spent traveling all over the world with his father, an Egyptologist. At the beginning of the story, their father picks up Sadie for a visit and takes the two to the British Museum. Their father, Dr. Kane, destroys the Rosette Stone and in the process accidentally calls five dangerous Egyptian gods to life. As members of the House of Life, the kids and their Uncle Amos must find a way to stop the most evil god, Set, before he destroys the world. Egyptian gods took the form of various animals making the characters in this book extremely interesting. Will Carter and Sadie have the power to overcome the destructive gods and rescue their father? After reading this, I now know why my students kept recommending this book to me and others. Readers like thick books that take some time to read. All 516 pages of this book will keep your interest until the very end. I love the way Riordan draws the reader into the storyline from the very beginning of the book. Click on the trailer below to hear him describe The Kane Chronicles series.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spellbound: The Books of Elsewhere

Olive is back in Spellbound, Jacqueline West’s second novel in The Books of Elsewhere series. Although Olive narrowly escapes in The Shadows, book one of the series, the evil McMartins have not been completely destroyed. Courageous Olive is determined to rescue sweet, little Morton from his imprisonment inside the painting. Unfortunately, the magical spectacles which allowed Olive to go in and out of pictures are broken. Things start to look hopeful once again when the new neighbor boy named Rutherford tells Olive about a magical spellbook owned by the evil McMartins. Olive’s interest in the spellbook concerns the cats – Horatio, Leopold, and Harvey. Will they turn against her? Saving Morton will not be an easy task as the house holds more secrets. I listened to the audiobook…the narrator, Lexy Fridell, portrayed each character perfectly. This second book was not as action-packed or scary as the first book, but I still really enjoyed it. Click on the book trailer below to hear the author tell you about her series.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Emerald Atlas

If I were an author, I would want the team at Random House Publishing working for me. They have done an excellent job marketing John Stephens’ The Emerald Atlas. This book seems to be on the front shelf in every bookstore’s children/young adult section. It is getting a lot of buzz; justifiably so. This action-packed fantasy (book one of a future trilogy) is about three children who have miserably lived in various orphanages for the past ten years. Their parents abruptly left them ten years before and only the oldest child, Kate, has vivid memories of that day. She vowed to take care of her younger brother, Michael, and baby sister, Emma. After failing to get adopted once again, the trio is taken to a strange place called Cambridge Falls. It is an extremely peculiar place in the middle of nowhere. The only people in the old, dilapidated house are the housekeeper, a servant named Abraham, and the mysterious man, Dr. Pym, who has adopted them. The kids are drawn to a secret office and stumble upon a powerful green book, the Emerald Atlas. By placing an old photograph in the blank pages of the book, the children are swept away to that particular time, a time when children were held captive at Cambridge Falls by an evil witch. The book has the power to transport the kids through time; it is ultimately up to Kate to save the children and people of Cambridge Falls. The three will meet up with some unlikely allies and deadly enemies on their quest. Will Kate, Michael, and Emma finally be reunited with the parents they long to see again? Will the Emerald Atlas fall into the hands of the wicked sorceress? Read The Emerald Atlas to find out, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Every one of us can remember a momentous birthday in our lives. Finally by Wendy Mass celebrates every girl’s dream of turning 12. I actually bought a copy of this book back in March for my niece’s twelfth birthday without having read it before; I just knew how much I liked the author and the title was perfect for the occasion. I just finished listening to the audiobook version while traveling home from Florida this past weekend. It was so entertaining and the narrator, Kathleen Mcinerney, did an excellent job portraying the various characters. Rory Swenson is finally turning 12 years old. She has waited for this day forever. She intends to complete her checklist of all the things she can finally do now that she is twelve. Each item that she completes on her list is met with disaster. What else can go wrong? Is growing up all that we think it is? The best thing about reading this book was getting to laugh with my niece when we were discussing how much we both enjoyed it. Wendy Mass is one of my new favorite authors. I have enjoyed every book I have read by her. My middle school students love them as well. Other fantastic books by Wendy Mass include Leap Day, Every Soul a Star, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, 11 Birthdays, and The Candymakers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sneak Peek of Jason Henderson's Alex Van Helsing Book #2: Voices of the Undead

My students have been eagerly awaiting book 2 in this awesome series. Check out the Read Inside provided by HarperTeen. Voices of the Undead will be published on July 26th.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I have to admit that the beginning of Cornelia Funke’s Reckless had me a little confused. Readers you need to just stick with it – you will not be disappointed. Reckless is a perfect mix of horror, fairy tale, fantasy, and adventure. At the beginning of the story we are introduced to two brothers who are aware of a secret, forbidden passage-way that exists through a mirror in their missing father’s office. Over the years rebellious Jacob, the older brother, has left his younger brother, Will, wondering where he is while spending a lot of time in the dangerous world on the other side of the mirror. Twelve years pass when both boys’ lives will be turned upside down. Will, while crossing through the mirror, is tragically clawed by a Goyl. As a result of his injury, Will slowly turns into the Dark Fairy’s most prized possession, the jade Goyl. If Jacob doesn’t find a way to help his brother quickly, he will permanently become a stone creature under the evil Fairy’s power. Jacob with the help of Will’s girlfriend – Clara, a shape-shifting fox, and an untrustworthy dwarf must overcome a variety of wicked creatures, the Red Fairy’s power, and his own personal feelings if he has any chance to save Will. For me, after the first sixty pages this novel read like an action-packed movie. Other great books by Cornelia Funke include The Thief Lord, the Inkheart trilogy, the Ghosthunters series, and Igraine the Brave.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to Survive Middle School

Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School is an entertaining read mixed with humor and heartbreak. It is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List 2011-12. David Greenburg, a talented eleven-year-old who has just started his first year of middle school, has been forewarned about the biggest bully at school, Tommy Murphy. The summer has not gone as he had planned. Instead of getting to do his favorite thing, make his comical TalkTime videos inspired by Jon Stewarts’ Daily Show, David has done what his best friend Elliott wanted to do – hang out at the mall in hopes of seeing girls. Things go from bad to worse when he and Elliott have a huge fight and Elliott starts hanging around the meanest kid in school, Tommy Murphy. David is bullied by the two of them from the very first day of middle school. The bright spot is his new friend, Sophie, who helps TalkTime gain national attention. David and Hammy, his pet hamster who is the star of the show, become instant celebrities. Will the one person who matters most see how successful David has become? Will Elliott and Tommy quit torturing David? Read How to Survive Middle School to find out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Forest Born

Forest Born, the fourth book in Shannon Hale’s The Books of Bayern series, is about self-discovery and forgiveness. Rin, the youngest child and only girl in her large family, fears that her actions have caused the trees in her forest to shun her. She has a powerful gift that she doesn’t yet understand…one she has used negatively thus far. Being one that lives and breathes by the beauty of her home, the Forest, Rin feels that she is slowly fading away when she can no longer communicate with her surroundings. She breaks her mother’s heart when she decides to follow her favorite brother, Razo, to help the King and Queen in the city. Rin’s natural nurturing instincts, experience gained from her time with her nieces and nephews in the Forest, lands her the important job of caring for Tusken, the toddler prince. Tragedy strikes the kingdom and the only hope lies in the hands of the women: Queen Isi, Enna , Dasha, and Rin. They must find who is setting the fires that have killed so many and use their individual powers to overcome evil. Although this is part of a series, you do not have to read the other books first. I have always enjoyed Shannon Hale’s writing style. I appreciate the strong female characters, touch of magic, and suspense in this novel. Other books by this Newbery Honor –winning writer include The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Princess Academy, and Book of a Thousand Days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game

Teen reporters Susan Carol and Stevie Thomas return on another mission in John Feinstein’s fifth sports/mystery novel, The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game. Once again the duo, working under the guidance of professional journalists from the Washington Post and the Washington Herald, is assigned to report at an important sporting event when conflicts arise. One of the biggest football rivalries, the Army-Navy game, has even more significance, because President Barack Obama will be attending the game. With the heavy presence of Secret Service preparing for the big game, Stevie and Susan immediately sense the critical elements the President’s appearance brings to the scene. Is someone planning to harm the President because of racial or political affiliations? Is Susan’s critical story about the poor officiating that occurred at the Nayy-Notre Dame game going to affect the officiating at the Army-Navy Game? Readers will learn so much from Feinstein about the history of this huge college football rivalry. If you love football, you will enjoy this mystery. Other great books for middle/young adult readers by John Feinstein include The Last Shot: a Final Four Mystery, Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open, Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl, and Change-up: Mystery at the World Series. Click on the video from Fox Sports which shows the author discussing his book.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Time of Miracles

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux is a moving historical fiction novel set in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. This novel was translated from French to English by Y. Maudet and received the Batchelder Award for 2011. The twenty-year-old narrator, Blaise Fortune, begins his story by telling the reader how he came to France and that he may have finally found the special person named Gloria who he hasn’t seen since he was twelve-years-old. He flashes back to his earliest memory at the age of seven to explain to the reader why Gloria is so important to him. Blaise, then known as Koumail, is a refugee in the Republic of Georgia being raised by Gloria. She often tells him the heartbreaking story of how he came to her. Gloria always starts the story by explaining how she fell in love with Zemzem, a young man who came to work in her father’s orchard. She tells him about a disastrous train derailment and how his wounded French mother handed a baby, Blaise, to her and asked that she keep him safe. She also explains why they became refugees staying one step ahead of the rebels. In speaking of that time, she reveals each gift given to her by her loved ones for their treacherous journey…all but Zemzem’s precious gift. Their goal is to reach France and find Blaise’s real mother…it is a passage that takes years. This is a heart-felt story about what many refugees endure in trying to find their way to a permanent home in a war-torn country. Although I predicted the twist at the end of the story early on, I still thought it was worthy of the many accolades it is receiving.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I had the pleasure of hearing Laurie Halse Anderson talk about her historical fiction novel, Forge, the sequel to Chains (which was on my middle school reading list in 2009-10), at the Jan Paris Book Fest: Children’s & YA Conference in Corpus Christi last fall. In discussing her book, she explained the tremendous amount of research she did which included personally enduring some of the hardships that soldiers faced during the American Revolution. The short chapters clearly depict the battles waged by our forefathers making it appealing to both boys and reluctant readers. The story picks ups where Chains ended with Isabel having rescued Curzon from the Bridewell Prison (although you will not be lost if you didn’t read Chains first). The two go their separate ways when Curzon doesn’t agree to go with Isabel to find her sister in Charleston. Curzon soon finds himself entrenched with the rebels in a bloody fight against the Redcoats. Anderson successfully gets her readers to feel the cold, hunger, and hopelessness that many soldiers experienced during that time in history. Curzon will eventually meet up with Isabel, but her situation is even worse than before. How can Curzon help Isabel when the end result would be their master causing Isabel to suffer as punishment? I loved the true historical aspect which Anderson includes in the Appendix. My middle school has been fortunate to have Catherine Whiteman, a talented storyteller from the Dallas area, portray Sojourner Truth through narratives and song. In her portrayal of this strong woman in history, Ms. Whiteman has emotionally moved many of my students with her performances. Although Sojourner Truth(named Isabella) was born twenty years after the setting of Forge, she and other slaves at that time experienced hardships similar to Anderson's character, Isabella. Forge is going to be on my library's 2011-12 Reading List not only to enrich the 8th grade US History curriculum, but because it is a great story that will appeal to many middle school readers. Look for the next book in this series, Ashes, coming October 2, 2011. Other fantastic books by Laurie Halse Anderson include Speak (on my top 10 list), Fever, 1793 (historical fiction),and Wintergirls (8th+ - deals with eating disorders). Watch this video from Simon & Schuster of the author discussing her view of the American Revolution and what she says is her purpose in writing – hope it moves you as much as it moved me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Moon over Manifest

The Newbery Medal Winner for 2011 is Clare Vanderpool’s Moon over Manifest. Initially, I listened to the audiobook version, but recommend reading the book instead. The storyline bounces back and forth from present day, 1936, and the past, 1917-18. It is told through dialogues, letters, and newspaper articles; thus, reading the actual book is so much better. Abilene Tucker has heard so many stories about Manifest, her father’s hometown settled by immigrants from different countries. At the beginning of the story, Abilene’s father, Gideon, sends her away to stay with a family friend, Pastor Shady Howard, in Manifest. While playing in an old tree fort outside of Shady’s home, Abilene finds a cigar box filled with a map, various mementos, and letters from a soldier named Ned addressed to someone named Jinx. Abilene is determined to find out about her father’s past. Maybe the box holds clues to just that. The first letter indicates that there is a spy, known as the Rattler, amongst the good people of Manifest. Abilene and her friends are on a mission to find out who the spy could be. With the help of a spiritual diviner and Hattie May’s newsletters, Abilene is determined to uncover the secrets that Manifest holds. This is another example of storytelling at its best!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children

The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children written by Keith McGowan and illustrated by Yoko Tanaka is on the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List 2011-12. This entertaining read, reminiscent of the Grimm fairy tale – Hansel and Gretel, will appeal to upper elementary students. Sol and his little sister, Connie, have moved into a new house with their father and stepmother. Unbeknownst to them, their father and stepmother are scheming to get rid of them. Sol is very smart and loves everything about science. Connie may not be as intelligent as her brother, but she is street-smart and can take care of herself. The pair figure out early on who the witch in the neighborhood is and try to stay out of her clutches. Sol researches clues at the local library. I appreciated the way McGowan made the library a focal point…even found the evil librarian to be quite humorous. The only thing I was hoping for was someone to rescue the kids. Read this quick read to find out if Sol and Connie are able to stay out of the witch’s kitchen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The year is 1962 and the world is in a panic…many believed it was the end of times. Deborah Wiles’s Countdown is part historical fiction and part documentary of that stressful, yet promising time period for the United States. This novel is the first book in her Sixties trilogy. Eleven-year-old Franny lives with her family which consists of her military father, her homemaker mother, her older sister (Jo Ellen), younger brother (Drew), and her mentally-fragile Uncle Otts. What was the world like at this time? It is the height of the Cold War – the Soviet Union has missiles pointed at the United States – who would react first? Everyone is worried about the future. Schools and homes prepare by practicing shelter-in-place procedures in the event of a nuclear war. John F. Kennedy is President of the United States. Every boy dreams of being an astronaut; the space program is quickly rising. The Civil Rights Movement is just beginning. Things begin to fall apart for Franny personally when she and her best friend, Margie, steal a letter from Jo Ellen’s hope chest. Jo Ellen has been away from home for a few days and Franny is worried that something terrible has happened to her. Margie takes the letter before Franny has a chance to read it. What do the secret codes on Jo Ellen’s letter mean? How can Franny help her Uncle Otts, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from his time in the war? Read Countdown to find out how the world was in the early sixties. We have a lot to learn from Franny and that dramatic time in history. Other books by Deborah Wiles include The Aurora County All-Stars and Each Little Bird That Sings.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Lost Hero

Don’t you just love reading long books that last and make you feel like you got your money’s worth out of them? You know, the ones you wouldn’t mind reading one more time in case you missed something. Well, Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero (Book One: The Heroes of Olympus) is that kind of book. At the beginning of the story we are introduced to three friends who are on a school field trip to the Grand Canyon. They go to the Wilderness School, a school for problem children. Jason finds himself on the bus with no memory of his past and has to rely on what the others tell him. Piper, daughter of a famous Hollywood actor who has been missing for a few days, had just started a relationship with Jason and he doesn’t even remember it. Leo, who lost his mother in a fire when he was younger, uses his hands to fix things and hides the fact that he has a gift with fire. Storm spirits attack the trio. Annabeth, searching for Percy Jackson, saves the demigods and brings them to Camp Half-Blood. While at Camp Half-Blood the three learn who their God/Goddess parent is and each has a talent they have inherited as a result of their lineage. The trait that throws everyone is Jason’s ability to understand Latin. The demigods at Camp Half-Blood learn that Jason is to lead a quest to save Hera who is imprisoned. The trio will face various trials in their quest to fulfill the Prophecy. I especially loved the shocking ending. Riordan stays true to the writing style he used for his popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I’ve only read the first two books in that series: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters. Reading The Lost Hero made me want to go back and finish the previous series.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising

Vampires, zombies, and Frankenstein…oh my! Jason Henderson’s debut novel, Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, has all of these and more. Fourteen-year-old Alex Van Helsing has had a rough start at his new all-male Switzerland boarding school. Constantly attracting trouble, Alex’s new roommates are out to sabotage him. His strange literature teacher, Mr. Sangster, teaches the class about the origination of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In class, the students are intrigued by Alex’s infamous last name which is the same as the popular vampire hunting character in Dracula. As if Alex’s roommates weren’t enough to deal with, he is drawn out of his dorm at night by a vicious vampire. He quickly finds out that the dangers around him come from the Scholomance – the historic school for vampires. Is Mr. Sangster more than just a literature teacher? Can Alex continue his family’s legacy and help a vampire-hunting organization called Polidorium? Read this action packed novel to find out how Jason Henderson does a masterful job of connecting this story with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This is going to be a popular new series for middle school and high school students.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

13 Treasures

You are invited into the Faerie realm as soon as you begin to read 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison. Tanya has had to hide a dark secret her entire life – she can see faeries. At the beginning of the story, her mother, ultimately fed up with Tanya’s misbehavior (caused by taking the blame for the faeries’ mishaps), brings her to her grandmother’s house to live. Tanya’s grandmother, Florence, is not happy about this situation and the feeling is mutual. Florence’s house is also occupied by Amos, the aged former caretaker of her home; Warwick, Amos’s grown son who is the current caretaker; and Fabian, Warwick’s son. The faeries are as relentless at her grandmother’s as they were at her house. Tanya and Fabian have been warned to never go into the woods beside the house. Tanya questions Florence when she finds an article from fifty years ago that tells of a fourteen-year-old girl named Morwenna Bloom who went missing in those woods. Her grandmother tells her that she has never been found. Although her grandmother offers no more information, Tanya finds out that Amos was accused of being the last person with Morwenna when she went missing. Florence gives her a special bracelet with thirteen charms, believed to ward off evil spirits, which has been in the family for many years. When Fabian’s actions cause Tanya’s dog to run into the forbidden woods, their lives will change forever. Entering the woods to find the dog, the teens find themselves face to face with the missing Morwenna Bloom who hasn’t aged at all in the fifty years she has been missing. She begins to lead them somewhere when they are found by Warwick and she disappears. The teens are determined to find Morwenna once again in order to clear Amos’s tarnished reputation. Readers are taken into a secret world unlike any other…things are not as they seem. When the teens get in over their heads, the only hope for Tanya is a young girl, named Red, who can also see faeries. This is a great read for upper elementary through middle school fantasy readers. This novel which reads like a movie is the first in a trilogy – the second book, 13 Curses, comes out June 7th. Click on the book trailer below for more information.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I was so excited to see this new book by Walter Dean Myers. It was written with the help of a teenager named Ross Workman. When Ross was thirteen, he wrote a fan e-mail to Walter Dean Myers expressing his interest in writing. The author challenged Ross to write a story with him using alternating voices…Kick is their final product. The first chapter is narrated by Sergeant Jerry Brown, a cop who is interested in working with troubled teens and giving them a second chance. The second chapter is told by Kevin Johnson, a thirteen-year-old star soccer player. The narrations alternate between the two main characters each chapter. After crashing a car with his friend, Christy, in the passenger seat, Kevin is charged with reckless driving, driving a stolen vehicle, and not having a license to drive. Things do not add up. Kevin is staying silent to protect Christy. Christy’s father is pressing charges against Kevin. Sergeant Brown takes an interest in Kevin’s case because Kevin’s father was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. Kevin needs to straighten up and that includes how he handles his anger on the soccer field. If Sergeant Brown cannot get Kevin to come clean about what happened that night, Kevin will end up in Juvie. I think the idea of an award-winning author working with a teenage writer is ingenious. I hope that all of you future writers will read this book and say, “Hey, I could’ve written that!” Click on the video below to hear from both authors.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Island of the Blue Dolphins

I love the conversations we have with our friends about books that have made lasting impressions in our lives. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was one of those special books that I was encouraged to read after a friend (teacher & future librarian) shared her enthusiasm for it. I was searching for a book that my middle school Book Talk Club members had not yet read and this was a perfect selection. This 1961 Newbery Medal Winner is based on a true story. An island located off the coast of California was inhabited by Indians in the early 1800s. A ship carrying Aleut hunters arrived on the island to hunt otter. The Aleut met with the Chief - father of Karana, Ramo, and Ulape – and agreed to share part of their kill with the Indians. When the Aleut did not fulfill their part of the bargain, the natives fought back. The Aleut hurriedly leave with all of the otter pelts and the results of the battle that ensued are tragic. The Indian community lost so many of their men including the Chief. After many months, the survivors decide to leave the island by way of a ship sent by one of their former islanders. When young Karana sees that her little brother is being left on the island after going back to get his spear, she leaps off the ship to be with him. The ship has to continue on its journey, because the seas are too rough to return to the island. When tragedy strikes, Karana is left all alone. This is a moving story about survival, perseverance, and human nature. I gave my friend a hard time when I reflected on the sad parts of this book – they were heart-wrenching, but I am so happy that I read this timeless tale. Take the time to read Lois Lowry’s connection to Scott O’Dell on Amazon. Also, read about what happened when Scott O’Dell’s family scattered his ashes off the coast of California. Both are wonderful stories!