Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Books for Reluctant Readers: Subjects? Dragons, of course!

My dragonling has discovered adventure books and it's reminding me of the old Dungeons and Dragons role playing games of yore. The series? Knights of the Silver Dragon from Mirrorstone. The three main characters are Kellach (14-year-old wizard's apprentice), Driskoll (12-year-old younger brother), and Moyra (13-year-old thief). Their adventures begin in Secret of the Spirit Keeper by Matt Forbeck, with the apparent death of Kellach's elven master, the wizard Zendric. It's up to our three young adventurers to figure out what really happened to Zendric--and why. Along the way, they must break into prison, deal with zombies, goblins, half-orcs and, oh--try to stay within curfew. We haven't delved further into the series yet, but the dragonling is clamoring for the next in the series.

If you're curious, Knights has a website available at Knights of the Silver Dragon which includes a fun quiz and a map of the city of Curston, as well as links to other Mirrorstone series. Of particular interest to me (other than the fact that my son really enjoyed the first book and that there's some great dragon art) is that there is a link to Teacher and Librarian Resources, which includes teaching and discussion guides, activities and programming ideas. According to Mirrorstone: "We publish fantasy and series fictioin for kids, partly because research shows these are the kinds of books that appeal most to children who think they hate to read." I would be curious to see what some of you think about these books and any experiences you might have with this series and your own dragonlings.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Great Brain--revisited

If you have any doubt that reading aloud to your class can make a difference, let me please encourage you to continue to make time for that read-aloud. It's probably been at least 20 years since one of my elementary school techers read The Great Brain to me in class, and I not only remembered it, but chose to share it with my own son. I didn't realize until tonight, as we finished More Adventures of the Great Brain, that the first of these books was originally published in 1967. I probably first heard the stories in the mid 70s and now, here we are in 2006 and I find my son enjoying the stories every bit as much as I remember having enjoyed them back then. I have heard far too many claims of "instant classic" these days. In my humble opinion, a classic is something that brings as much pleasure 10 years, 20 years, 30 years--going on 40 years--after it was written, as it did when first published. I can say, with no qualms whatsoever, that The Great Brain series qualifies, hands down. If it's been a while since you've read them (or if you've never had the pleasure of reading them), the series includes 7 titles:

  • The Great Brain
  • More Adventures of the Great Brain
  • Me and My Little Brain
  • The Great Brain at the Academy
  • The Great Brain Reforms
  • The Return of the Great Brain
  • The Great Brain Does it Again
  • The Great Brain is Back
Thanks to one teacher's tenacity in reading aloud to my class, I was introduced to a series that meant something to me back then, and that now, means even more as I have shared it with my son. I knew we had a winner when, tonight, as we finished the last chapter, (after he finished smacking his forehead at J.D. having been swindled once again) he asked if there were more books in the series. I was happy to tell him "yes."

If you are reading aloud to your child or class, kudos to you. You may not realize how much of an impact you are having, or that you might have years from now--but that time shared in reading can make a difference that reaches well beyond the school years.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Librarians in Children's and YA Literature: A Bibliography in Progress

Having heard various ideas about the most useful format for a bibliography of this sort, I've opted to list the books by age, then title with author last. Recommended ages or interest ages are very often a subjective call and, as such, subject to interpretation depending on the individual reader/listener and the situation. Picture books can be wonderful additions to lesson for older kids and there are younger children who will sit spell-bound for a read aloud of an "older"chapter book. If you think of others librarians, great and/or infamous, please continue to add them to the list. I would love for us to get to 100--or more!

Ages 4+

Believing in Books: The Story of Lillian Smith by Sydell Waxman
Beverly Billingsly Can't Catch by Alexander Stadler
Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss
Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian by Jessica Spanyol (Mrs. Chinca)
Eratosthenes from The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky
I Took My Frog to the Library by Eric A. Kimmel
The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer (Mrs. Murphy)
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
The Library by Sarah Stewart (Elizabeth Brown)
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen (Miss Merriweather)
Mr. Wiggle Loves to Read by Carol L. Thompson
Mr. Wiggle's Library by Carol L. Thompson
Red Light, Green Light, Mama and Me by Cari Best
Stella Louella's Runaway Book
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra (Molly McGrew)

Ages 5+

Aunt Lulu by Daniel Pinkwater (Miss Lulu)
Cannon the Librarian by Mike Thaler (Miss Cannon)
The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler
Librarian's Night Before Christmas by David Davis
The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy
The Shelf Elf Series by Jackie Hopkins
Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora (“the Library Lady”)
What Happened to Marion's Book by Brook Berg & Nathan Alberg

Ages 7+

Fire Up With Reading: A Mrs. Skorupski Story by Suzanne Williams (Due out from Upstart in 2007)
Our Librarian Won't Tell Us ANYTHING! A Mrs. Skorupski Story by Toni Buzzeo (Due out from Upstart in October 2006

Ages 9+

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor & Helen John (“the Library Lady”)
Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio by Tony Johnston (Ms. Cloud)
Baby by Patricia MacLachlan (Miss Minifred sp?)
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Miss Frannie)
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt & Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer (the outreach librarians)
Harry Potter (the series) by J.K. Rowling (Madame Pince)
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (the four library students)
Lily Quench (the series) by Natalie Jane Prior
Matilda by Roald Dahl (Miss Phelps)
My Side of the Mountain by John Craighead George (Miss Turner)
Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller
Seven Day Magic by Edgar Eager

Ages 10+

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman (Sister Pete)
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls

Ages 13+

Can't Get There from Here by Todd Strasser

Ages 15+

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti (Ann)
Wide Awake by David Livithan (Miss Kaye)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Cow, A Bee, A Cookie, and Me (reissued as Honey Cookies) by Meredith Hooper

Ask a kid "where does our food come from" and you might be surprised at the answers. All too often, the answer might be "Walmart." In our area, those who have their own gardens are few and far between. Many kids have never experienced the wonder of potatoes dug straight from the rich soil or tomatoes picked from the vine, tree branches hanging laden with apples ripe for the picking, the joy of discovering the perfect pumpkin hidden amongst thick vines. This disconnect with where our food comes from will probably only become greater as our nation's population becomes increasingly urban, removed from the elements as more than anything but an inconvenience or curiosity.

If you are looking for a good story to use to introduce your kids "back to nature", take a look at Meredith Hooper's A Cow, a Bee, a Cookie, and Me, illustarted by Alison Bartlett, published by Kingfisher in 1997. The story begins. . .

"Ben was cooking with his grandma. 'What should we make?' asked Ben. 'Honey cookies,' said Grandma. 'What do we need?' asked Ben. 'We need. . .' said Grandma,'a cow in a field eating fresh green grass, munch, dribble, munch, all day long.'

The story moves on with Ben's grandma surprising Ben (and the reader) at every turn with what they need for their cookies: sugarcane, "dried bark from a faraway tree," a "thousand buzzing bees"--culminating in a recipe for these mouthwatering honey cookies. After sharing this book, you may find that your students never look at a recipe in quite the same way--I know that I certainly don't.

This story lends itself wonderfully to feltboard storytelling, storytelling with props (a big bowl into which you drop the toy chicken, the toy cow-you get the idea), and to sharing a tasty treat with your group.

After sharing this book, you may find that your students never look at their food or a recipe in quite the same way--I know that I certainly don't.

NOTE: This title has been reissued as Honey Cookies.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Meet Gilda Joyce

Meet Gilda Joyce. She’s your average 13-year old girl, that is, if you don’t count her leopard skin jacket, wig collection, and stiletto heels. She’s doing ok since her dad died of cancer a few years ago. She types letters to him on his old typewriter. What does she tell him about? Oh, just the usual stuff--school, what annoying things her brother has done lately, how her mother’s doing, the status of her latest psychic investigations…. Oh, did I mention that Gilda Joyce is a psychic detective? If you’d like to get to know Gilda a little better, and maybe learn to recognize her if you happen to see her in disguise, read Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator and Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake, by Jennifer Allison. I happily predict many more crazy adventures in Gilda’s future.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Call for Opinions--What's the Most Useful Way to Organize these Growing Lists?

Wow! Our list of librarians (infamous and/or great) in literature is growing by leaps and bounds. The list of books that might work well for introducing kids to the library, to library etiquette, book handling and other like topics is also growing--just not quite as quickly. Both are growing quickly enough that I'm finding it difficult to find particular titles. What I'm wondering is: what do you think is the best way to organize lists like this? I've thought about arranging it by recommended age levels, then by author, then title (or title THEN author), but thought it better to just ask. I don't always agree with recommended ages for these books, but I figure that it's a starting point at least. At any rate, your ideas on this will be most appreciated.

Meanwhile, happy reading!!!

Friday, August 25, 2006

LITA National Forum--Take a look at their schedule

First held in 1998, the LITA National Forum has become a highly regarded annual event for those whose work involves new and leading edge technologies in the library and information technology field. For more information and to see a detailed schedule of forums (including ones on wikis, blogs, preservation and much, much more) go to:

2006 LITA National Forum

October 26–29, 2006

Downtown Sheraton Hotel
Nashville, Tennessee

NetVille in Nashville: Web Services As Library Services

Early registration has been extended through September 1, 2006

The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) is pleased to offer the 2006 National Forum

The 2006 LITA National Forum, held October 26–29, 2006 at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown Hotel, in the heart of Nashville, provides a wealth of opportunities for growth and development. In addition to keynote sessions, there are 33 concurrent sessions and 11 poster sessions planned where you're sure to find practical advice, new ideas, and tested solutions to technological issues you encounter every day.

View the complete Forum schedule and session descriptions
Two full day pre-conferences provide opportunities for hand-on experiences and in-depth discussions
Keynote sessions enrich each day's programming
Register now and save $50—early registration has been extended through September 1, 2006
Reserve your housing at a discounted rate of $109 per night at the Forum website
Hope to see you in Nashville!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Upcoming Books Featuring Librarians from Toni Buzzeo

Greetings! Just received word that Toni Buzzeo's next picture book (due out in October for Ubstart) will feature a librarian. It's called: Our Librarain Won't Tell Us ANYTHING! A Mrs. Skorupski Story, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. Our Librarian features characters who are 4th graders and is about accessing materials and information in the library and research projects. Toni plans a sequel, entitled Fire Up With Reading: A Mrs. Skorupski Story, also from Upstart, in 2007. Fire Up is about a schoolwide reading incentive program. (Thanks for the info Toni!) If you get a chance, cruise on over to Toni's website . The site includes curriculum guides and links, book reviews, and information about author visits.

These two books will bring our list of 100 Great &/or Infamous Librarians up to 30. We're getting there!!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

School Book Fairs

Not too very long ago, I posted a request for comments about school book fair companies on my favorite school media listserv, LM_Net (which, if you're not familiar with it and are in school media/library work, is a GREAT resource). I'm sharing the list of links on the various school book fair companies, as well as a link to a great article about school book fairs. If you're interested in LM_Net, you can check out information about them at

If you are wondering about whether or not to even DO a bookfair, check out:

Scholastic: to formulate "wish lists."



Bedford Falls:

Turtle Express:

Local Bookstore Bookfairs: Contact local bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble and Borders--sometimes they will work with schools to arrange an in-store book fair for the school.


Personalized Book Fairs:

Just Us:

Mrs. Nelson's Book Fair Company:


School Book Fairs Limited:

Friday, August 18, 2006

Juvenile Series & Sequels Database

I cannot tell you how many times I've wondered about what book comes next in a series, and if you work with children at all, you have probably been asked umpteen gazillion times "what book comes next in the _____ series?" Well, if its a series the publisher hasn't bothered to number for you, or if the series number has been covered up by labelling or just plain worn off, here's the site for you. Mid-Continent Public Library's Series and Sequels database has over 22,000 books in series/sequels listed in three categories (young adult, juvenile and juvenile easy), with defintions for each of the categories. The site is located at:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book Lists Are Addictive

Boy o boy o boy o. I had no idea that book lists and blogs could be so very addictive. Having originally swiped the idea for a 100 Great &/or Infamous Librarians list from Mary Lee and Franki's "A Year of Reading" at (where they are compiling of list of 100 Great Teachers in literature) it came to my attention that I should also thank and credit Jen Robinson for HER lists of cool boys and girls in literature on Jen Robinson's Book Page at

These lists are great for adding to my "to read" pile, introducing me to new authors and titles, and reminding me of old faves that I might have forgotten. As a fledgling blogger, I haven't yet figured out how all of this linking and backtracking works, but I have included links to these sites and a few others on my side bar. Now I need to start a NEW list of blogs that I watch.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Books on Book Care &/or Library Etiquette

Suddenly children are looking glazed, teachers and librarians are looking shell-shocked, traffic has gone wonkier than usual and school supplies are flying off the shelves. Have people gone mad? Well, that may be beside the point, but it may simply be that it's back-to-school time again. That in mind, I've started yet another list (mayhap this dragon might someday get organized?), this time of books that can be used to help teach the care and handling of books and library etiquette, or just to introduce kids to the library. My humble beginnings of this list are on the sidebar. If you have any favorites, please chime right in. Here's to a great start to the new school year!!!

A Treasure: CyberBee

Sometimes you go questing for treasure, sometimes treasure falls into your lap. CyberBee was one of the latter variety for me. CyberBee is an incredible site dedicated to questing for Internet "curriculum treasures" and bringing them together on one site ( Some of the great interactive "lessons" include: copyright (,
Treasure Hunts" with links to discover some excellent Websites (, research tools for finding, evaluating and citing Web info (, and some handy step-by-step tutorials "designed to make technology easier" ( The site is easy to navigate and has some excellent resources that could be used in the library, in the classroom, or at home. It's well worth checking out. While I've included some links on this post, I will be adding a link to the site in my sidebar under " More Treasures." Happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Redecorating the Cave

TheBookDragon felt the need to redecorate, and so opened a HUGE can of worms. Please pardon the mess (and the lost links and lists)--I'm hoping to get better organized,as soon as I can find my blasted LIST!!!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Magician's Boy by Susan Cooper

The Magician’s Boy by Susan Cooper. Illustrated by Serena Riglietti

The Boy wanted, more than anything in the world, to learn magic, but his master the Magician always said “Not yet, Boy. Not till the time is right. Not yet.” So the Boy polished the Magician’s magic wands, weeded the garden where the magic herbs grew, fed the white rabbits that the Magician pulled out of his hat, and during performances, helped the Magician perform the story of “Saint George and the Dragon.” His job was to pull the puppet strings while the Magician told the story. One fateful night, as the Magician called for each character to make his “appearance” one the puppet theatre stage, he called for “Saint George”—but St. George was nowhere to be found.

The Boy was terrified. He stepped out from behind the theatre and stood there shaking. “I’m sorry, Master,” he said in a very small voice, “Saint George seems to be missing.” The children all booed loudly. The Magician looked odwn with yes so angry that the Boy was afraid he would turn him into a rabbit. The Magician’s tall figure seemed to grow and grow, towering over the Boy, and he pointed a long finger at him. “Then you must find him!” he hissed. The finger came very close, with its long sharp nail. “You will go where you must go, through all the Land of Story, until you find Saint George!” He swung his arm so that his long dark-blue sleeve swung past the Boy‘s face, and the Boy saw gold moons and stars flash by, and felt himself falling, falling. . . .”

In his journey through the Land of Story, he meets the living and breathing puppets from the play; the old woman who lived in a boot (although he’d always thought it was supposed to be a shoe); the Pied Piper, Pinocchio; Jack, the Giant and the Giant’s wife, and, among others, a talking signpost that tells him “Only a child can find the way to bring Saint George back to the play.” Does the Boy find the way? Does he bring St. George back? To find out, you have join the Boy in the Land of Story—read The Magician’s Boy by Susan Cooper.

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Title: Geography Club
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publication Info: New York, HarperTempest, 2003
Age Groups/Grades: Reviews rate this as 12+ (Grades 7-12); however, in more conservative communities, it would probably be best placed for 15+/Grades 10+

Topics: sexual identity, high school social group interaction, intolerance

Summary: “A group of gay and lesbian teenagers finds mutual support when the form the ‘Geography Club’ at their high school.” (Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data)


Russel Middlebrook is an average high school sophomore. He doesn’t stand out in sports or in specific social groups. He’s not unpopular—he has friends, but he feels alone. Yes, he’s an average high school student, but he has a secret--he is gay, and he’s pretty sure he’s the only gay student at his high school.

That night in my bedroom, I logged on to the Net. I said I’d never actually been naked with a guy, but it’s possible that once or twice I might’ve gone to a gay chat room and maybe even gone off for a private chat with a guy or two. I refuse to say any more about this on the grounds that it may incriminate me, but I will say that mostly we really did just chat about innocent things, like how long had we known we were gay and which actor did we think was cute.

The fact is, there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely; I may not have been completely alone in life, but I was definitely lonely. My secret mission—four years in an American high school—had been an involuntary one, and now I desperately wanted to be somewhere where I could be honest about who I was and what I wanted. I had plenty to say on the topic, but no one to say it to—not my friends, definitely not my parents (don’t get me started). The Internet gave me people to say it to. Problem is, they weren’t real. (Pages 11-12)

After this discussion, Russel goes into an online chatroom for gay teens and notices that his city’s name has been added. Could there be another gay teen in his town? His school? If Russel identifies himself to this other person, all his careful work at “playing it straight” could just blow up in his face. What would you do? Would you go meet this person? Whether you’re gay, straight, or not really sure, you won’t want to miss what happens next.


This book has won several awards and honors, is thoughtfully written, witty and definitely thought provoking. I suspect that most readers will recognize some of their own high school cliques, the cafeteria(!), and maybe even some of their own peers. Russel’s voice rings true in the sense of every high school student’s search for their own identity, their own place. It was no surprise to find out that it was semi-autobiographical. It might suffer somewhat from the notion that it’s just “a gay book,” which would be a real shame because there really is something there for anyone who is in or who has ever been in high school.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A BookDragon Quest: 100 Librarians in Children's/YA Literature

The quest? A search for 100 librarians from Children's and YA literature. In my reading from the last few years, I've noted that a lot of books include reference to their characters' librarians--and how that librarian made a difference (be it good or bad). I will qualify that "great" doesn't necessarily mean "good"--as an example, Madame Pince, the Hogwarts librarian? She is downright scary! That said, she embodies enough of the stereotypical "mean librarian" qualities to make her a great character. So, I invite you to join me in finding those librarians in literature. Post a comment when you find one (or several) and we'll add our list to the collection of lists that are making my "to read" pile get entirely too big.

Please note that I am SO totally swiping this idea from Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn from their blog "A Year of Reading: Two Teachers Chat about Books and Reading."

You can find them at

Take a look at their list of 100 "cool" teachers in children's literature. Thank you Franki and Mary Lee for a wonderful blog!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood by Meredith Ann Pierce

Title: Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood
Author: Pierce, Meredith Ann
Publication Info: New York: Viking, 2001
Age Groups/Grades: Ages 12+
Topics: Identity, Wizards, Magic, Fantasy

Summary: Hannah is a healer in search of her identity and place in the world after she defies the wizard she has served for more years than she knows and sets out with her animal companions to locate the faraway queen who might be able to save the life of the injured young prince who has come to fight the fierce golden boar.

Booktalk: Hannah is a gifted young healer who lives at the edge of a deep, dark wood known as Tanglewood. She has no human friends, no memory or her past, nor any idea as to why flowers and herbs grow among her hair, but these plants always seem to be just the right ones to help the various ailments presented by the poor local cottars, but these folk never stay long and seem to be afraid—whether of her or the forest, she is not certain. But she is starting to wonder. Her only companions are Old Badger, Magpie, and three half-grown foxes—all of whom she can converse with—none of whom the cottars seem able to understand. Her only other human contact is with the wizard, but she only sees him when the moon is right and it is time to take him the tea she makes from the plants she pulls from her hair. She has tried to speak to the young knights who come to the wood occasionally, and has even thought to warn them—that none who enter ever leave—but they do not seem to hear her. The cottars speak of a treasure in the Tanglewood and a monstrous golden boar, but Hannah, who is not afraid of the wood has never seen sign of either boar nor treasure? Why are the cottars so afraid? Why can neither she nor her animal companions remember anything of their pasts? Is the Wizard her friend? What is the treasure at the heart of the Tanglewood? To find out, read this book by Meredith Ann Pierce.

Notes: There is discrepancy among the various reviewers as to the recommended ages—with some saying 9 up and others saying 12 up. My personal feeling is that the language might be difficult for some of the younger or less adept readers because the language patterns are more old-fashioned and medieval sounding (for lack of a better description). That said, I remember just loving some of the older writing styles with unfamiliar words and dialects when I was in middle and high school. I would be more inclined to booktalk this for the older students and just recommend it individually to younger ones who seemed to enjoy similar reads.

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen

Title: Sammy Keyes and the Hotel ThiefAuthor: Van Draanen, WendelinPublication Info: New York: Borzoi Books (Knopf), 1998Age Groups/Grades: Ages 10-13/Grades 4 – 6

Topics: mystery/detectives, grandmothers, robbers

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Sammy, who lives illegally at her grandmother’s “seniors only” apartment sees a crime committed while she’s looking through her binoculars—and the thief sees her. Booktalk: Sammy Keyes’ life is already crazy. She’s living illegally with her grandma in a seniors-only apartment complex while her mother tries to find an acting job out in California. While looking through her binoculars at the “seedy hotel” across the road—when her grandma has specifically told her NOT to be she sees someone who looks vaguely familiar committing a crime and then, the thief sees her. No way the thief could be sure she saw him right? Well, maybe not if she hadn’t waved at him. To complicate things, her grandma’s neighbor has taken to spying on the apartment trying to prove that Sammy’s living there, which means that Sammy and her grandma have to get pretty creative to get Sammy in and out. Oh, and did I tell you that, on the first day of middle school, Sammy gets poked in the butt with a pin and gets suspended? Will the neighbor catch Sammy? Will the thief figure out who she is and come after her? Will her entire seventh grade year come crashing down around her? Read Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen to find out.

Notes: As an avid mystery fan, I am all too often looking for a new series to read when I “catch up” with a favorite author’s latest. Looking at the genesis of this illness, I realized that it started in elementary school when I got hooked on two mystery series--the Three Investigators (Hitchcock) and Nancy Drew (Keane). Reading each new book in those two series was like having a mini-reunion with old friends. Sammy Keyes promises to be a series and a character well worth revisiting.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

Title: Bucking the Sarge
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publication Info: New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2004
Age Groups: 13+
Topics: high school, friendship, responsibility, fraud, parent/child relations
Summary: “Deeply involved in his cold and manipulative mother’s shady business dealings in Flint, Michigan, fourteen-year-old Luther keeps a sense of humor while running the Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men, all the while dreaming of going to college and becoming a philosopher.” Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Booktalk: So. You’re 13. Your mama tells you to put on your suit and tie, that you’re going to get a driver’s license so you can drive the Group Home Bus, which, by the way, you know cost more than $80,000. You’d been driving it for a couple of months already and were getting pretty good at it. Cool right? Luther though so too—at first. But there has to be a catch, right? What about having to be 18 to get a license legally? Why go to the office at 8 p.m., when the office is usually closed by then? Would you be a bit uncomfortable if your mama insisted that all you needed was a new birth certificate to confirm your new age? Luther was uncomfortable, and his mama, (whom Luther refers to as “Sarge”, tells him the “first shoe of Sargeism”:

“If it makes you more comfortable why don’t you look at it like t his, do you have any idea what a difficult period of time the ages of fourteen through seventeen are for most boys? Consider yourself lucky, you’ll be zipping right from thirteen years old to eighteen years old, you will officially miss the majority of the turmoil of adolescence and the incumbent nastiness that it inevitably brings.” (Pg. 66)

A 13-year old boy’s dream or the beginning of a nightmare? If getting an illegal license is “the first shoe of Sargeism,” what is the second one and does it drop? What happens to Luther? To find out, read Christopher Paul Curtis’ Bucking the Sarge.

Notes: If anyone was asking for another good book to read after reading and liking this one, I would recommend Curtis’ Bud, Not Buddy. Curtis can really perform magic in his character development. Once I started reading this one, I didn’t want to put it down. Dialect/slang might be a bit hard for some readers.

There are a lot of great booktalks ready for the reading right out of the book, such as the listing of the contents of Luther’s wallet and meet “Chauncey” (Pg. 3). There are also some great quotes in there, such as Luther talking about his not needing to dis living in Flint, saying:

“It’s because of the way my mind is trained [philosophical] that I don’t join everybody else coming down on Flint so tough. Flint ain’t nothing but a place or a sate of mind, and I think a place or a state of mind is all about what you make it to be. (Pg. 9)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Treasure--Reading Rants!

A great booklist for teen readers (and for those of us who are always on the lookout for some great new reads).

IF this link doesn't work for you, simply Google "Reading Rants." It's well worth a look.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

Once Upon a Marigold
By: Ferris, Jean
San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 2002
Grades 5-8, Ages 10 and up, Book Level 5.7, Accelerated Reader Points: 8


Some jokes for you:

What fairy tale is about a beautiful girl who bakes bread?
Beauty and the Yeast

Why don’t people like Pinocchio?
Because he’s a little stiff and has a wooden smile.

How did King Arthur read at night?
With a knight light

What kind of music does a dragon play?

What two things can’t a giant eat for dinner?
Breakfast and lunch

What do you get when a giant sneezes?
Out of the way.

A young man, a princess, young love, and a few jokes. Nothing could be simpler, right? Well, not exactly. Not when the young man’s adopted godfather is a troll who is lobbying to take over part of the Tooth Fairy’s waning business venture. Not when the princess’ mother is trying to have her either married off or killed (and in this case, it’s a toss-up as to which would be the better). And especially not when the couple’s only contact has been via pigeon mail—and the notes broken into 5-8 word pieces due to a limit on how much a pigeon can carry across the river. Add to the mix a few bad jokes, a fairy birth-gift of sensitivity gone awry and what do you get? A hilariously fractured fairy tale that is a page-turner to the very last. After all, what else would you expect from a story subtitled “part comedy, part love story, part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink.”?

Double Dutch by Sharon M. Draper

Double Dutch
By: Draper, Sharon M.
New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002
Grades 7-10, Book Level 4.9, Accelerated Reader Points: 7

Passage from pp. 24-26.

“Delia?” Yolanda looked directly at her friend.
“What?” Delia looked at the sky.
“We’ve been best friends since first grade, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You were there for me in third grade when my baby sister died.”
“Yeah, that was rough.”
“And I stood by you through all that mess when your mom and dad got divorced when we were in the fourth grade.”
“Yeah. So?”
“So it’s okay if you admit to me, and only me, your very best friend, your secret.”
“What secret?”
“The only thing we have never talked about.” Yolanda sighed and continued. “I know you can’t read, Delia. I’ve known for a long time.”
Silence. Delia sat back down on the bench, stunned. Yolanda sat next to her. Cars whizzed by in the street beyond the teachers’ parking lot. Echoes of shouts from the lunchroom drifted toward them. A bird chirped nervously in a tree. An airplane flew overhead. But Delia was silent. She thought of denying it, but she was so tired of hiding, tired of pretending. She covered her eyes, and let her shoulders drop, and finally she began to cry.”
This time Yolanda was silent. She waited.
“Then why’d you stick that card in my face?” Delia asked finally, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
“Fakin’ it. Just like you been doin’.”
“You won’t tell?” Delia asked after a moment.
“Who am I gonna tell? And who would believe me anyway? Everybody knows how much I lie.”
“You got that right.”
“I don’t know how you managed to get this far without being able to read and without anybody figuring it out.”
“I fooled you, didn’t I?”
“For a while. I sat right next to you through most of elementary school. I thought you were reading, at first.”
“Mostly I was copying off your paper.”
“Get outta here!” Yolanda pretended she was shocked. “Seriously, I guess I knew, even before I really figured it all out, but how’d you fool all the teachers?”

How indeed? As an eighth grader, Delia is totally immersed in the upcoming Double Dutch (jump roping) competition, and all seems to be going well until she finds that, if she doesn’t pass the upcoming achievement exams, she will be barred from competing. She would not only let herself down, but her teammates as well—and everyone would learn her secret—that she could not read. What Delia doesn’t know is that she’s not the only one with a secret. How did Delia fake her way through reading, at school and at home, for 8 years? Will the scary new kids really “cross the line from intimidation to violence?” What happened to Randy’s father? Will Delia get to compete in the upcoming championships?

Read and see.

Diary of a Fairy Godmother by Esmé Raji Codell, illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.

The following is a booktalk I prepared for this book. It includes several quotes from the book that I believe would work very well to lure in some possibly rellunctant readers.

Diary of a Fairy Godmother
By: Esmé Raji Codell
Illustrated by: Drazen Kozjan
Hyperion, 2005
Grades 4-5, Ages 9-12


I have not been alive very long, but I already have met a lot of nincompoops, and they come in all shapes and sizes and are hard to recognize by just looking; usually you have to talk with one for a while before you find out you are in the company of one. (Pp. 18-19)

Hunky Dory speaks her mind and charts her own path, passing spelling tests (yes, by changing a knight into a dragon—THAT kind of spelling). She is top of her class in charm school (and no, I don’t mean manners) and slated to be “…the wickedest witch wherever the four winds blow!” But (and isn’t there always a but?)—there’s just one tiny problem. Wicked witches don’t normally undo their curses and spells, and they aren’t normally very considerate in general. It just isn’t done—unless you’re Hunky Dory. or—horrors!--an F.G. (a fairy godmother).

According to her Aunty Malice, when asked by Hunky Dory who the beautiful creatures with wings and glitter were, Fairy Godmothers are show-offs, “Giving the infant princess everything the parents have registered for. Grace. Beauty. Virtue.” Auntie clucked her tongue and narrowed her eyes, shaking her head back and forth very, very slowly.
“Vapid little underachievers, those F.G.s.”
“How so?” I couldn’t help asking. “Don’t they have any powers?”
“They grant wishes.”
“For a living?” Something inside of me plucked and sang like the string on a harp.
“I suppose so, but why darling, why—“ Auntie closed her eyes in exasperation. “…would anyone use their power to do good? The world is good in general! When you wake up, what do you hear? Birds singing! What do you see? J Flowers blooming! Little animals scurrying to their little animal burrows! Streams tripping merrily over stones! Cows mooing to be milked! And so on and so forth, all the way to the end of the day, when even the craters of the moon appear to be smiling down upon the wonders of the earth! Don’t you see, carling, it’s so terribly trite! It’s been done! It’s all one big rerun! There’s nothing original about it!” (Pp. 20-21)

And therein lies the crux of the problem. How can a girl slated to be the wickedest witch of the four winds be so enamored of good deeds and, dare I say “Wish craft”—and expect things to come out well in the end?

To find out? Read the book.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Probably one of the most powerful books I've read in a long, long while. A Printz honor book and 1999 National Book Award Finalist, Speak is the story of Melinda Sordino, a rising ninth grader who has a secret. Ostracized by her fellow students, misunderstood by her parents and teachers, Melinda's ninth grade year and story are divided into grading terms, including her declining school grades as given by her professors, and her declining self-given grades. While the "clans" at her high school may be different from those in your own, you will recognize them and you will probably recognize yourself. This well written story will make you laugh and cry. Not just another teen angst story, Speak is a thought-provoking, page-turner that will leave its readers anything but speechless.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A good book?

Hello all. I am an avid consumer of books. I find that a good book fuels the creative spark that makes my mind sharp and my dreams vivid. One of the few things that can fuel those fires even more than a good book is a good discussion about those books. So, what exactly qualifies as "a good book"? Tomes have been written, seminars taught, publishing empires made and broken in an attempt to define that very thing. My answer, though admittedly not scholarly, is quite simple.

A good book is one that speaks to you.

(And no, for those literalists out there, I don't mean a magical talking book, though magical talking books do have their uses--See Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.) A good book touches your psyche in some way--it might be as visceral as just giving you a break (a brain candy book). It might be a book that opens your mind to some new idea. It might be a book that makes you laugh, or cry, or both. It might just be a book that kept you company during lunch. Whatever the case, somehow, the words that author put to paper have reached out across time and space and touched you in some way as to make a difference for you. The difference needn't be earth-shattering. A book that is good to you today, might not have been a good book for the person you were last year, or who you become in the next. The key is that it made an impression. I have read several good books that I will not read again. I have read others that I re-read at least once a year. Books that we read as children we sometimes seek out as adults to read and re-read to our own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A good book is a powerful thing. A good discussion is perhaps even more powerful. It gives us a chance to reexamine our thoughts, to re-live a favorite scene, bash a favorite villain, laugh with a favorite class clown. A good discussion can make a good book great.

So, with these musings, I offer you this blog space, and my own rambling thoughts and booktalks about books I am reading. I invite you to share your thoughts, your favorite quotes from your current "good book," suggest other books that we might like (a sort of "if you liked that one, you'll really like this one" kind of thing), and maybe share some of these booktalks with some of your own readers.

Happy Reading.