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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.