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.