Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who are we protecting?

Another cross-post from my class's discussion this week on Intellectual Freedom.  These kinds of discussions are the best part of library school as far as I'm concerned and at a time when I am a bit frustrated with the program and all to ready to graduate it's nice to focus on the parts I enjoy.  Who will listen to my indignant rants when I graduate?

 I've been working at a K-8 school library for a year now, so I chose to write about the issue of intellectual freedom in elementary schools.  During my year there I've already had experience with complaints about books in the library, but luckily my school is very supportive of its library and the parents at the school are fairly open-minded and so the situations were easily diffused.  The most complaints have come from new parents with their first child in kindergarten. It seems that parents relax a bit after that initial period.   

 The other main source of complaints has arrived from the various books we have explaining where babies come from and dealing with puberty.  These materials are age-appropriate but some parents just seem to want to avoid that issue altogether until their children are much older.  My feeling on this is that if a child is genuinely curious about issues of this matter then they won't just forget their interest.  Children are resourceful and will find a way to have their questions answered.  I'd much rather children turn to non-fiction library books for this information than have them turn to the internet or peers for information of a much more dubious nature.  

I can understand parents’ concern about having their child read about situations that are mature or not pc (there’s some interesting debate I’ve followed on the bowdlerizing of children’s classics such as Dr. Doolittle).  My initial, gut reaction is in fact much the same.  The difference is that then I relax and look at the issue from another perspective.  For example I remember I began reading adult fiction at a pretty young age and was exposed to various works that contained mature and otherwise ‘inappropriate’ situations and language.  But I was not traumatized by these books or swayed to a way of thinking or actions that the rest of my life as well as my conscience have shown to be reprehensible.  A child will not read one bad word and suddenly begin a downward spiral of debauchery.  I think parents need to have more faith in the job that they’re doing raising their children.  Children are resilient and will not break the moment they encounter something parents deem potentially harmful. 

As for The Higher Power of Lucky—I’d find the situation hilarious if it wasn’t so frightening. Reading those articles I felt embarrassed on behalf of the profession.  I had never even heard of scrotum being considered a ‘bad’ word before this incident occurred.  The fact that librarians are self-censoring to avoid potential complaints is just sad and more than a bit reprehensible.  The only way I can even wrap my head around it is by remembering that a lot of school ‘librarians’ do not actually have master’s degrees and so have not received the same training regarding professional values that I have.  I think that this points to the importance of having CDPs to avoid these kinds of self-censoring actions, especially for works of such proven merit as recipients of the Newbery. 

 I also object to the tone of the article “With One Word, Children’s Books Sets off Uprorar” which seems to promote censorship and needlessly demonize children’s authors.  “Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.”  This sentence seems to imply some sort of malicious intent on the part of the authors.  It seems as if authors write otherwise good books but then add inappropriate content (presumably while twirling their well-waxed moustaches) just to cause trouble for librarians and corrupt youth.  I really don’t think Patron’s intent was to ‘sneak’ a bad word into her book to create controversy.  I honestly believe that Patron didn’t even think that ‘scrotum’ was a bad word.  Because it isn’t.  It’s not even used in the context of it being a swear word but just to accurately describe the area of a dog’s body that was bitten.  And I agree with her—it does have a nice ring to it!

This brings me around to my main issue with censorship in public schools, and The Higher Power of Lucky is a perfect example.  Some of the librarians in this article openly admit that the reason they banned the book wasn’t out of concern for the children but rather because they wanted to avoid complaints and conversations with children that might cause them discomfort.  I think that this is the real cause for most censorship in school libraries.  People will claim they censor to protect children, but as I said children are not that fragile and will come to no harm from such single words and passages.  The real reason that people censor children’s collections is to protect themselves from conversations that they don’t feel comfortable having.  Rather than viewing these passages as opportunities to educate our children about the world around them parents and (much to my chagrin) librarians choose to ban books entirely if they have the potential of brining about a conversation about basic human anatomy or lifestyle choices, or shameful aspects of the past.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  If you don’t want to educate children on these basic issues then you shouldn’t have children and you shouldn’t work around them.  Why would you work at an elementary school if you are uncomfortable with teaching?  Sure, these conversations might initially be awkward, but it will probably only be felt by the adult.  And the more you embrace these opportunities for education the better you will be able to handle these conversations and the better educator you will be.  After all, shouldn’t everyone who spends time around children embrace any opportunity to improve their communication and teaching abilities?

For the record, my library has a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky.

Bosman, J. (2007, February 18). With one word, children’s book sets off uproar. New York Times.  Retrieved from:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Be A Witch!

My mother wrote this awesome parody and while she does mention a camera phone at the end she really is not that tech-savvy and doesn't have her own blog. So, I have taken it upon myself to post it here for her because it is too wonderful not to share.  I've added a picture of the two of us as witches from last Halloween as a bonus!
Be a Witch
With apologies to Cole Porter

I’ll remember forever my girl, who was three,
Asking me in October, “Mother what shall I be?”
I said “Dear there’s no need to get into a stew,
If you want what is best, there’s just one thing to do:

Be a witch, be a witch,
On Halloween they love a witch
Ride a broom with a cat,
Strike a friendship with a black bat,
Turn a prince to a toad,
Serve some children up a la mode,
If you become a ghost then you’ll remain out of sight,
If you be come a vampire then you’ll have a bad bite,
But on Halloween a witch is always queen of the night.
Be a witch, be a witch, be a witch.

Be a witch, be a witch,
On Halloween they love a witch
Give ‘em tricks, give ‘em frights
And your fame will soar to new heights.
How they’ll cheer and they’ll yell
When they see you cast a new spell.
A werewolf’s just a hairy dog all covered in drool,
A zombie or a ghoul is just a mindless old fool,
But everybody knows a witch is coolest of cool.
Be a witch, be a witch, be a witch.

Be a witch, be a witch,
On Halloween they love a witch
Chant a curse, stir a pot,
Knock ‘em dead with a wicked new plot.
Eye of newt, toe of frog
Is a recipe for great grog.
If you become a princess then you’ll just be too cute,
If you become a pirateyou’ll be stuck with your loot,
But give ‘em poisoned apples and they’ll think you’re a hoot.
Be a witch, be a witch, be a witch.

Be a witch, be a witch,
On Halloween they love a witch
Dress a mummy in wraps
Hang some webby, spidery traps.
Then they’ll go “raven” mad
With your “maleficent” beastie pad.
They all know that a skeleton’s a bag of old bone3s
And the Phantom of the Opera’s just moans and some groans
But they take “pic-chas” of the witches with their camera cell phones.
Be a witch, be a witch, be a witch. 

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thirteenth Child review

Book Talk: Everyone knows that a seventh son is lucky, and a seventh son of a seventh son is luckiest of all.  Perhaps that's why Eff's seventh son father was determined enough to get a seventh son to risk having a thirteenth child.  Thirteenth children bring bad luck to everything they touch and are doomed to turn evil one day.  So while everyone dotes on her twin brother, her cousins blame her, the unlucky thirteenth child, for everything bad that happens.  When her uncle goes so far as to show up with the sheriff one day, demanding he lock Eff away, her family decides to move out west to the frontier to escape her small-minded relatives. Eff's father takes a job as a professor of magic at a college worryingly close to the magical divide that keeps all the dangerous creatures, magic and natural at bay,  and Eff grows up away from those who know how unlucky she is.  But can she outrun her destiny, or is she doomed to turn evil?  By learning magic like a normal kid, is she endangering everyone she loves? 

Rocks My Socks:  Who doesn't love exploring the nature of will versus destiny?  And what more exciting place to explore that issue than an alternate, magical American frontier?  I've seen a lot of alternate history books inserting magic into European time-lines, and a lot of modern urban American fantasy, but this is the first book I can recall seeing that re-tells the story of westward expansion with magic.    Eff makes a strong female lead as well and even though the narrative covers until she reaches eighteen she never wastes time on romance, which is a pretty rare thing in novels.  The whole world is fascinating and well-thought out with a good balance of familiarity and strangeness and nice touches like the Rationalists who refuse both magic and religion.

Rocks In My Socks: They make a point of convincing Eff in the book that birth order doesn't mean anything and her being thirteenth born doesn't make her unlucky, but then it's obvious that birth order does matter for her double seventh brother who has advanced magical abilities and luck and gets sent to a special school by the same parents who insist birth order doesn't matter to Eff.  He's presented as a sympathetic character in the book, but I still wish he ended up having more of a difficult time of it.

Every Book its Reader: The narrative starts when eff is five, so I suppose it could be relatable for younger children, but as most of the story takes place in her teens I'd recommend it to teens and adults who enjoy magic and history, especially those who enjoy strong female leads.

This Book is Not Good For You Review

****Warning: This review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series****
Book Talk: Cass and Max-Ernest are up against their deadliest enemy yet: chocolate!  But not just any chocolate (regular chocolate is only dangerous to Max-Ernest with his allergies) this chocolate is so pure and strong that it can send you back in time--and it can only be made with a tuning fork, but not a regular, musical tuning fork, an ancient Aztec magic device that has been brought to Africa, or is it Central America, and well, maybe you shouldn't read this book anyways, after all it's certainly not good for you.

Rocks My Socks: What's not to love about chocolate!?  On a more serious note Cass and Max-Ernest really get a chance to grow in this novel and explore who they are with Cass coming to terms with her adoption and Max-Ernest re-evaluating his identity.  The continued sense of rivalry between Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji is an amusing undertone as well, although not prominent enough to be distracting.  Speaking of Yo-Yoji let's just say I got a chance to practice my Japanese a bit in this novel, and let's also strongly hint that he may or may not act like a samurai in a pleasing and hilarious fashion (I guess I'm no better at keeping a secret than our notorious narrator.)

Rocks In My Socks: I don't really like what bosch did with Max-Ernest's parents in this book.  The portrayal of the principal also rubbed me the wrong way a bit.  Presenting her as strict and annoying is one thing, but it goes a bit far for me in this book.  As an elementary school employee though I am admittedly biased in this regard.

Every Book Its Reader: Fans of the last two books will love this third installment in the series.  They'll also appreciate the chocolate recipes in the back.

Midnight Magic review

Book Talk: Ever since Fabrizio's master was tried for witchcraft he and his wife have been prisoners in their home.  The other servants have left them, but they are like a mother and father to Fabrizio and he longs to restore his master's position.  So, he turns to his master's old tarot deck and turns up: the magician, the servant, the castello, the king, the ghost, the princess, the tutor, the queen, and finally: death.  His master may insist that all his magic is illusion and reason always triumphs, but sure enough a summons to the castle soon arrives.  There the king orders Fabrizio's master to get rid of the ghost that is haunting his daughter, the princess.  The only trouble is that the magician doesn't believe in ghosts at all.  How can Fabrizio prevent the final card from coming true when the relationships between the people in the castle are just as confusing and misleading as the halls that they live in?  If he succeeds it could mean wealth and power for his master once more, but if he fails it may mean both their heads.

Rocks My Socks: I enjoyed the contradictions in the novel, like the fact that the magician in the story is one of the few characters who doesn't believe in ghosts.  Or that the servant is the one who seems to have the most power in the plot (a la Moliere).  Any novel set in a castle with secret corridors and ghosts is also always a crowd-pleaser.

Rocks In My Socks: The servant and his master have a habit of arguing in cliches that's amusing at first but got on my nerves before long.  The characters are also all pretty stock which leads to a plot that's pretty predictable.

Every Book its Reader: Ages 9-12 fans of historical fiction and magic.  It's probably a bit too basic to be enjoyed by older teens and adults.

If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Book Talk: As the newest members of the Terces Society, Max-Ernest and Cass have real troubles to worry about: Ms. Mauvais and Dr. L are still out there, along with the rest of the Midnight Sun, and they must protect the secret from them.  But having real troubles doesn't stop Cass from worrying about imaginary ones as well, like these nightmares that she's been having, nightmares about a strange creature and  a haunting song.  Soon she has plenty to worry about though, secret meetings, mysterious acoustic devices, cannibals, and a new kid at school following her and Max-Ernest around making it very hard for them to keep their secret.  It's important they keep their secret safe, after all anyone who knows their secret is in danger, even you, but if you're reading this, then it's probably already too late!

Rocks My Socks:  This book has more codes and mysteries to unravel, more impossible-to-believe twists, and more hijinks from a nervous and unreliable narrator (the chapters are numbered backwards this time around).  I also like the new character, Yo-Yoji who just came back from spending a year in Japan where he had his own rock band and developed his sneaker collection.  The book also includes a homunculus which is a thoroughly under-used fantasy creature, and a fool, which while fairly popular is still a favorite of mine. 

Rocks in My Socks: Much the same as in the previous books, the far-fetched scenarios and gimicks can feel a bit much at times, but if you enjoyed them in the first book, you'll enjoy them in the sequel.

Every Book its Reader: I'd recommend this to those who enjoyed the first book, there is some recap of the first story but I'd advise reading them in order.  Great for a wide range as it combines elements of comedy, mystery, adventure, and fantasy.

If You're Reading This, it's Too Late by pseudonymous bosch

Sorcery and Cecelia review

Book Talk: Kate's first season in London would have been difficult enough if things had gone smoothly, but the season soon turns from difficult to deadly when she gets caught up in a feud between sorcerers.  Meanwhile her best friend Cecelia is stuck at home and what starts off as an extremely dull season turns sinister when a new girl arrives with trouble trailing right behind her.  As the situation escalates, Cecelia and Kate are told to wait in the drawing rooms and let the sorcerers handle things, but thanks to their letters they know more about the situation than anyone suspects, enough to do something about it themselves! 

Rocks My Socks:  Two words: epistolary novel!  This novel is as true to the letter-writing tradition as you can get, as it actually began as a game between the two authors, each taking on a different persona and writing letters back and forth to each other to amuse themselves.  Thankfully they realized that what they had at the end was a book that others might enjoy as well, so they thought to clean it up and publish it.  You can tell how much they enjoyed writing it and that sense of light-hearted amusement leaps from the pages to the reader.  I also love the setting, an alternate early 19th century London where magic exists.  Similar to Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I also loved, but not as dense.  There was a Jane Austen feel to it for me with two strong young women discussing their prospects and their dresses and their balls.  Magic, adventure, romance, intrigue, fashion, strong female characters, letters, sass, this book has everything that I love.

Rocks In My Socks: The book was pretty frivolous, which normally annoys me but in this case it was just so much fun that I didn't care.  Kate could have been a bit more assertive, and the storyline was pretty predictable, but I was enjoying myself too much while I was reading it to be very critical.

Every Book its Reader:  There's nothing in this that's really inappropriate, but seeing as the girls are discussing marriage and the like it will probably be easier to relate to for teens and above.  The story has a fair amount of adventure, but it also spends a fair amount of time discussing what color best suits each girl.  There are some boys who would be interested in that, but I wouldn't recommend it to just any boy looking for an adventure fantasy.  If you need a pick-me-up or just want to spend an delightful afternoon in a world of magic and wit this is a great book for you!

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede. and Caroline Stevermer

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Masterpiece Review

Book Talk: Marvin lives with his family underneath the kitchen sink.  He may be a beetle, but he doesn't let that hold him back: he longs to go exploring and has even taught himself how to swim.  Life as a beetle can be dangerous, though, and he and his family have to make sure that the family who lives in the apartment doesn't discover them or they may be exterminated.  Marvin is determined to present the boy of the family, James, with a proper birthday present, however.  So, after James goes to sleep Marvin uses the ink set James' dad gave him to draw James an exquisite picture.  This leads Marvin to do the unthinkable and show himself to a human, but instead of squashing Marvin, James befriends him.  That doesn't mean that they're out of trouble, though.  When Marvin's parents see the painting, they think he drew it, and eventually this small deception turns into a plot to catch a thief that endangers both of their lives.

Rocks My Socks:  I love that the story is told from the perspective of a beetle.  It's a fun and unique perspective that you don't see that often.  I'm also always a sucker for stories that glorify the little guy because I can readily identify with them.  James doesn't have a typical home life: his parents are divorced and his mother has re-married and had another child, and the relationship between them isn't always smooth.  It's good to read stories about non-traditional families.  The plot of the art theft is engrossing and fascinating.  My favorite part of the story, though, was the relationship between James and Marvin.  It's heart-warming without being saccharine and leads them both to grow and discover new things about themselves, as all great friendships do.

Rocks In My Socks: The book is billed as a mystery, but I don't think that the mystery is really the central plot element.  The mystery does pick up a bit towards the end and lead to some more fast-paced action, but if anything this made the book feel a bit uneven to me.  The human adults also seemed a bit unrealistic to me and suffer from the popular juvenile fiction sickness of Useless Adult Syndrome to some degree. 

Every Book Its Reader: Ages 8 and up.  Both the main characters are boys, but the book is pretty gender neutral.  Great fun for any gender or age!  I think it would make a great read-aloud for a class.  I would especially recommend it to anyone with an interest in the art world, but really this kind of light-hearted adventure could be enjoyed by anyone. 

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

The Silver Cup Review

Book Talk: Anna lives with her father and her cousin in a small hut on her uncle's property.  Her uncle is a successful blacksmith and her father makes a living traveling to different towns trading his goods.  He is apprenticing her cousin to the art, which often takes them on long trips and leaves Anna at home while her cousin and Father see the world.  She longs for more excitement than her small world provides,  but when the monotony of her life is finally broken it isn't glamorous excitement that she finds.  First her youngest cousin disappears, then the one that's living with her runs off to join a questionable cause in his search for glory, a cause that ends up ruining the lives of many and leaves Anna with a difficult decision.  How much is she willing to sacrifice to do what she knows to be right?  How can you help someone who doesn't want to be helped?  Anna isn't sure what to do, but whatever she decides she knows that her life will never be the same again.

Rocks My Socks: Leeds obviously did her research on the book, down to the smallest details (who knew they hadn't invented pockets yet?)  and it makes for a very interesting read .  I didn't know much about life in the Middle Ages, so it was fun to see daily life in a small town re-created.  I also found the description of the crusade leading to the mass murdering of Jewish communities compelling and it was an aspect of history that I had never heard about before.  I enjoyed the interaction between Anna and the Jewish girl, Leah.  It brought up some interesting and valuable issues for teens to explore.  I also like them both separately as characters. Anna's commitment to do what is right in the face of a society that is wrong is inspiring and Leah's commitment to her people and her traditions even at a time of such turmoil is admirable. 

Rocks In My Socks: The summary on the jacket made it sound like the focus of the book was the relationship between Anna and Leah, which is why I picked it up, but most of it was actually just description of Anna's daily life.  Leah doesn't even really appear until halfway through the book, and even then she's written out of the storyline before the end.  The part of the book dealing with their relationship also seemed a bit overly sentimental to me at times, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth as far as my fiction goes so it's easy for a book to get overly saccharine for my tastes.  It might have seemed more realistic and justified to me if Leeds taken more time on this part of the narrative to really develop their relationship over time. The ending was also wrapped up a bit too easily and neatly for me.

Every Book Its Reader:  I'd recommend the book to middle to high school students with an interest in the Middle Ages.  I think this book would also make an interesting companion piece to a unit on Anne Frank.  The book does revolve around female characters, but I don't think that the book is overly girly.

The Silver Cup by Constance Leeds

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Repost from my collection development class

I wrote this for a discussion post in my collection development class, and thought it worthy of cross-posting here.  It's probably the result of me still being riled up from banned books week and I don't know how logical it will be considering I left work early with a fever yesterday and I'm still a bit under the weather, but I'm burning up all over again with fervor!  Vive la liberte intellectuelle! 

Slightly off-topic, but I was surprised to find both the textbook and Rose Anjejo's article using as an example of common selection statements a statement regarding not selecting items of a violent nature.  I thought collection development policies were supposed to protect libraries from attempts at censorship--not justify it!  I suppose this is where the problem of ambiguity comes in.  The librarians writing these policies might have very well intended to exclude only extremely violent materials from its collection, but I could see patrons using that criteria as support for challenging a lot of books.  I've received a complaint about a picture book of little red riding hood being too violent, for example.  Indeed almost all fairy tales would be excluded from a library that avoids selecting 'violent' materials. 

What about young adult novels that are extremely violent, but are themselves protests against war and violence, such as the Hunger Games and Chaos Walking trilogies?  (For an interesting blog on the topic, see Educating AliceHunger Games  was recently challenged for its violence, and while I do not deny the violent nature of the books I do question the wisdom of not educating our children about the violence and horrible consequences that can arise from war, especially in today's society where no matter how many books you ban children are going to be exposed to plenty of violence through other mediums.  At least in these books violence has consequences and it's not cleaned up or glorified. 

What about violent books of literary merit, such as A Clockwork Orange?  There's been a bit of a scandal about the violence of this book because the actor who plays Ron chose it to pose with in the ALA's new trio of Harry Potter read posters.  A Clockwork Orange is one of my favorite books and while it is 'ultra' violent it is not without purpose.  It raises what I consider to be a very important and fascinating argument about free choice and the nature of goodness--an argument that would not be half as effective without its extreme use of violence.  Personally I think parents are fretting a bit much over this choice because it's pretty self-regulating in that the future slang that it is written in with catches of Russian words can be pretty difficult to get through, which means that if you're at a reading level advanced enough to get through it you're probably mature enough for its content.

But how do you judge whether or not a book has enough literary merit to justify its violence?  And should you even try to do so?  Trying to prevent children from being exposed to violence is certainly a losing battle these days.  Personally I'm in favor of getting children interested in reading, no matter the choice.  For example, neither the librarian nor I at my school really like graphic novels (I'm just not a visual person and end up scanning all the text bubbles, which naturally doesn't lead to a satisfying experience)  but we are making a point to develop our graphic novel collection at the moment, despite occasional parent complaints about it.  We both feel that getting children to read is the first task, and if that's what does it, so be it.  I'm also not so egotistical as to think that my own personal judgment of what's good is the final word on the matter, to each his own has always been my motto (Raganathan would back me up--every book its reader!) 

To bring this back to collection development policies this proves how important it is to consider the wording of your policies to prevent it from being used as a weapon against you.  The trick is to make it detailed enough to be useful, but not so detailed that it quickly becomes obsolete.  I suppose you could go into the specific criteria that would make a book violent enough to be excluded (because most books have at least some degree of violence in them) but I'd question the wisdom of including a clause like this at all.  I'd stick to criteria that can be more objectively applied such as accuracy, authority, and timeliness.  Judgments on the moral character of a book such as violence or use of bad words (what's a 'bad' word--does anyone else remember the 'scrotum' scandal from Higher Power of Lucky?) do not have any place in a collection development policy as far as I'm concerned.

Anjejo, Rose. (2006). Collection Development Policies for Small Libraries. PNLA Quarterly, 70, 12-16.

Evans, G. E. & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005).  Developing library and information center collections. Libraries Unlimited: Westport, CT. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Banned Books Week

Here's some pictures from our display for Banned Books Week last week.  We had a lot of fun with it, and the kids were outraged to see that some of their favorite books were banned.  It was a great conversation starter, not only for the kids, but for visiting parents as well.

The view from outside

Wall display with bookmarks available

Books in chains!

Caution, banned books!  A lot of these were checked out during the week.  The butcher paper to the right had a marker underneath that kids could use to write their thoughts about censorship.

Bbw history
View more presentations from ebretall.

This is a combination of two slideshows that I made and we had playing on a nice, large computer in the lobby.

It was a lot of fun, and I had some great conversations with the kids.  I can't wait for banned books week next year!  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Strictest School in the World

 Book Talk:  Emmaline is determined to build a flying machine, and she gets the perfect opportunity to do just that when her parents send her from India to stay with her aunt in England.  Her aunt is a widower with the money to support Emmaline in her aviary endeavors and seems to have no qualms with allowing her niece to engage in such a dangerous and unlady-like pastime.  When she finds a local town boy nicknamed Rubberbones to pilot her machine it seems like she has everything she needs.  But soon her time inventing and running free is cut short by her parent's desire that she get a proper education.  The teachers are ruthless and the students are either too terrified to speak or terrifying the others.  If anyone steps out of line they are threatened with the sinister punishment of 'cleaning out the birds.'  Emmaline is used to using her wit to create inventions, but if she wants to escape she will need to find the courage to put her own neck on the line.  Will she be able to do it?  Or will she be stuck forever in the strictest school in the world?

Rocks My Socks: I love the setting of the novel and the satirical jabs it takes at English society at the time like the ruthless soccer match between local towns or how the gypsies are fed up with English children running off to join them.  Emmaline is a bright, determined character and Rubberbones is a lovable scamp.  The details about Emmaline's attempts to make a flying machine are interesting as well.

Rocks In My Socks: Once Emmaline gets to the strictest school etc it becomes very predictable and a bit boring.  I realize that it's supposed to be satirizing the whole strict school trope, but this area of the novel just wasn't as strong or engaging.  It also takes the hyperbole to the extreme at this point and what was at first a fairly realistic story with embellishments for comedic effect turns it into something that is just completely absurd and seems to follow no rhyme or reason or internal rules.  I wish Emmaline had been left to making up flying devices in her small town.  There is a thin line between making fun of a genre of fiction and just writing bad genre fiction, and for me this book skirted that line a bit too much. 

Every Book Its Reader: Boys and girls aged 9-12 who like silly, light-hearted quick reads.  There are similarities to the Lemony Snickett series, but this work is definitely not as dark so for children who liked the series for its humour, I'd recommend this book, but for children who liked Snickett for his darker tendencies I wouldn't.  I think the book is a bit too basic and juvenile to be really enjoyed by most adults.  

The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beneath My Mother's Feet

Book Talk: Nazia has always been a good, obedient daughter, but when her father gets injured at work, everything starts to change.  At first neighbors bring food to help her family, but the longer his recovery takes the more people begin to doubt that he is still really injured, and the more Nazia's family is left to cope on their own.  Then one day even her mother loses faith in her father, and she takes Nazia out of school to help her work as a maid!  Nazia thinks that once her father finds out, he'll save her and things will return to normal, but instead things just get worse.  Nazia's family needs her and she wants to obey her mother, but will her obedience mean a lifetime working as a maid, being mistreated by cruel employers and just barely scraping by?  Or will she be doomed to go from constantly obeying her mother to being under the heel of a mother-in-law?  Will she ever get the chance to be on her own and do what she pleases?  Is it worth taking that chance if it means abandoning her family?  Sometimes it seems like she will always remain beneath her mother's feet.

Rocks My Socks: I love Nazia's spirit and intelligence.  I also enjoyed seeing her grow from her youthful naivety into a strong-willed woman.  She sees a lot of the worst of people and the world, but rather than let it defeat her, it spurns her on to find a way to break the cycle she seems stuck in.  Her independence is admirable as well--I always respect the 'I don't need a man' philosophy!  Mostly I loved looking at the familiar dilemma of pleasing your family versus being true to yourself from the lens of a different cultural perspective.  There are interesting details and cultural insights throughout, as the author lived in Pakistan for several years and has a degree in psychology as well as English, which lends an interesting perspective to the book.

Rocks In My Socks: The book felt a bit heavy-handed and sappy at times with its 'even from a dirty hovel with an empty stomach you can still see the stars' attitude.  The plot was also nothing terribly original.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to ages 12 and up.  It's a great book for anyone interested in learning about Pakistani culture, or for anyone who enjoys Oprah book club type books (you know what I'm talking about!)  The book does revolve heavily around a female experience and perspective and the male characters are mostly of the good-for-nothing variety, so I'd say it's geared more towards girls, but could be enjoyed by more liberal-minded boys as well.

Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar

The Name of This Book is Secret review

Book Talk: Cass is prepared for anything.  Her backpack is constantly at her side, and well stocked with everything from snacks to rope to a silver Mylar space blanket.  Just like her namesake, Cassandra, she is always predicting doom without anyone believing her.  But unlike the ancient Greek figure, the doom Cass predicts never actually comes.  That is, until one day when she meets a boy named Max-Ernest  who is constantly talking, and who helps her to uncover a real mystery.  With every secret they uncover, the closer they come to solving it, and the closer they come to their own doom.  Before you read this book, be warned: knowledge is power, but secrets can be dangerous.  Max-Ernest and Cass are foolish enough to throw themselves headlong into mystery, risking life and limb--but are you?

Rocks My Socks: The narrator!  I love how unreliable he is, and all of his meta-commentary.  I also love the hilariously hyperbolic characters--like Max-Ernest's parents who couldn't agree on one name so ended up giving him two.  They eventually divorce but are unwilling to leave the house, so they split it down the center  and pretend that the other is not there.  I also love the little tip of the hat to surrealist artist Max Ernst, which is very appropriate for this book.  I enjoyed solving all the little puzzles throughout--they weren't particularly hard, but it is meant to be juvenile fiction.  Synesthesia also plays a major role in the narrative, and I always find that fascinating.  Lastly I love the appendix at the back which includes a recipe for Cass' trail mix, how to make a compass, a circus slang glossary, and instructions for a basic card trick.  I'm a sucker for appendices!

Rocks In My Socks: The plot was predictable and the constant interruptions reminding the reader how secret and dangerous the narrative was did start to get a bit old after a while.  There are a lot of amusing gimmicks in this book, but there are also A LOT of amusing gimmicks in this book, and after a while despite their cleverness it gets a bit, well, gimmicky.

Every Book Its Reader:  I'd recommend this to ages 9 and up, and especially to anyone who enjoyed the Lemony Snickett series.  If you don't like narrators who address readers directly and play tricks on them, then this book is definitely not for you!  Anyone who likes humorous mysteries or solving small puzzles within the narrative will enjoy this book.  The book is pretty gender-neutral, so fun for everyone!

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Iron Thunder Review

Book Talk: Tom's father is dead and he doesn't even know exactly how or where.  All he knows is that his father died fighting for the union and now he has to find a job to support his family.  A small, thirteen-year-old like Tom can't afford to be picky, so when he's offered a job building a new ironcald ship under Captain Ericsson he takes it, even though everyone calls the ship Ericsson's Folly. No one can see how a ship made of metal will ever be able to float.  But the longer he works there, the more faith he has in Captain Ericsson and his ironclad ship.  And he's not the only one--spies are coming at him in the street to try and get information.  Should he take their money and betray the Union his father died fighting for or should he risk sailing on the iron ship and hope he doesn't end up on the bottom of the sea?  Will the boat even be finished in time to save the Union cause?  Captain Ericsson may be a genius, but he has a touch of madness to him as well.

Rocks My Socks: Normally I don't much care for war novels and I get bored quickly during battle scenes, but this one held my attention throughout.  I found the historic details fascinating and I like the specificity of it--focusing on the building of the Monitor and its famous battle against the Merrimac instead of trying to encompass the entire sweep of the Civil War.  I also love the additions to the text--the pages of headlines to provide context and the actual photographs and drawings from that period mixed in with the illustrations for the story.  There's also a glossary, further information on the real events in the book, and a bibliography at back, which I always appreciate.

Rocks In My Socks: The characters weren't very complex or layered.  I didn't feel particularly attached to any of them.  The story was really more about the Monitor than Tom.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to 8-12 year-olds with an interest in historical fiction or the Civil War.  The amount of detail about the period would make it a great read to supplement and personalize a unit on the Civil War.  The novel is geared towards boys more and has very little female presence, but that's war novels for you.

Iron Thunder, by Avi

Tender Morsels Review

Book Talk: Life for Liga has been heading downhill ever since her mother died.  Life seems nothing but a series of violent catastrophes, but just when she thinks that she can take it no longer she is transported to another realm where she can raise her own children in peace.  Life may not be eventful, but at least it's safe.  That is, until the barriers begin to break down.  Suddenly Liga's children encounter harsh reality for the first time in their lives.  Is a life in this exciting and dangerous new world worth the threat that it poses?  Is life in your personal paradise worth living if it means forsaking the real world?  This re-telling of Snow White and Rose Red is at turns haunting and inspiring and is sure to leave an impression.

Rocks My Socks:  The fantastic occurrences and characters in this novel made me consider reality in a way that only fairy tale can.  People are turned into bears, dandelions into gold, and fantasy into reality, but the accumulated result of these impossibilities is a truth that is deeper and stronger than that found in non-fiction accounts.  I enjoyed seeing the familiar elements of the story of Snow White and Rose Red altered to fit this new narrative.  I loved the characters and the way the fickle nature of their world kept me constantly guessing at what would happen next.  Mostly, though, I love the way it made me weigh the risks of going out into the world against the benefits to be found there.  A valuable lesson for an introvert like me.  I also love the strength and independence of the Rose Red character. 

Rocks In My Socks:  This is no Disney re-telling.  This is a fairy tale that follows the original Grimm tradition and is much more brutal than what we're used to in modern times.  Liga is raped by her father, gang raped, forced to abort children, and tries to kill one after it is born--none of which are spoilers because that all happens within the first two chapters! I also don't like what they do with Liga's character--she never really seems to get to have a life of her own.  She's used by her father, and then used by her children and she seems fine with that.  I wanted her to assert herself and gain some kind of independence and happiness of her own at the end, but in the fine fairy tale tradition happiness seems to only be for the young.

Every Book Its Reader:  Given the violent and disturbing nature of parts of the narrative I'd recommend it to older teens and adults.  It's great for fans of fairy tales retold, but only if they can handle taking it black.  No sugar or milk in this one.  The narrative revolves around the female perspective mostly, but could be enjoyed by open-minded males as well. 

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Snakehead Review

Book Talk: Perseus lives a quiet life on a small island with his mother, until one day he meets a beautiful princess on the run from her parents.  Before long, Perseus' own father, Zeus shows up to complicate his life further and set him on a quest to kill Medusa, whose looks can literally kill.  The old gods of the islands are on the decline as the new Olympian gods rise, but where do humans stand?  Are they ever anything more than the play things of these gods, subject to their whims?  Is it possible for a mortal to assert his own will in the face of divine intervention?  Will he be able to complete his fated quest?  Will he be able save the princess from her own fate?  Perseus doesn't know that if can, but he knows that he must try.

Rocks My Socks: In addition to re-telling the myths of Perseus and Andromeda there is also a lot of interesting information about ancient Greek politics and society.  It reminds me of Mary Renault, but for children.  I also love the female characters in this book; they are strong and layered and full of life.  I always enjoy it when, during re-tellings, famous romantic couples are allowed to actually meet and get to know each other and fall in love over a longer period of time than it takes to kill a dragon and steal a kiss.  There's also some good substance to the book and commentary on current events using the lens of the past that are rather thought-provoking, which I always enjoy.

Rocks In My Socks: There are some more modern elements and view points incorporated into the text which are a bit annoying in that they are anachronistic, but seem to be done intentionally.  Mostly it's in a more modern perspective, which I don't really mind being incorporated into historical fiction.  Others are obviously just meant to be jokes, though, like the 'invention' of various modern foods by the chef at the tavern.  It also doesn't sit right with me that the lovely, intelligent Andromeda resigns herself to her fate, but I guess Halam had to get her to her proper place in the story somehow.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this book to teens who enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  Although set in ancient times, there are enough similarities in pacing and subject matter that fans should enjoy this story about Percy's namesake.  There's great, strong characters of both sexes, so both boys and girls will have great characters to identify with, and the romance is pretty understated.  Adults who enjoy fairy tales and myths re-told will find plenty to satisfy them as well. 

Snakehead by Ann Halam

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fever 1793 Review

Book Talk: Mattie lives with her grandfather and mother in the coffee house that they run in Philadelphia.   Business seems to be going well, especially after a summer fever breaks out near the docks causing more people to head to their coffee shop away from the docks and city center.  Some families abandon town for the countryside, but Mattie's family thinks that it's just another summer sickness brought in by immigrants, so they stay where they are and keep the shop open.  By the time they realize that this is no normal fever, it might already be too late.

Rocks My Socks: I love all the details in this book about an episode of American history that I had never heard of before reading this book.  Apparently there really was an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793 that killed five thousand people, or ten percent of the population.  I also love the lessons that can be learned from this period.  For example, many people who would have otherwise lived died because they were thrown out on the streets and abandoned by their friends and families who were too afraid of getting the fever from them to help.  There were, however, notable exceptions such as the members of the Free African Society in Philadelphia many of who volunteered around the city, helping the sick and those left behind.  There's a lot of great details crammed into the narrative, but I never felt overwhelmed by them.

Rocks In My Socks: The plot moves along pretty quickly with a lot of detail about the place and time so there's not a lot of fleshing out of the characters.  Mattie does grow up a lot during the narrative, as any girl who lived through such a crisis would, but I would have liked to have seen more detail about and growth of the other characters especially because I really liked them and would have liked to read more about them.  I also felt like the end of the book was a bit too clean considering how messy the fever was.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to 9-14 year-olds, especially those who like historical fiction or who are studying that period in school.  The plot is interesting enough on its own, though, that an interest in the period isn't necessary to enjoying the book.  Most of the main characters in the book are female, but the themes are pretty universal so both genders should be able to enjoy it. 

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Feed Review

Book Talk: Titus is an average American teen:  he chats with his friends on the internet, he tries to pick up girls, he goes to parties and tries to sneak into 21 and up clubs, he vacations on the moon, and he has a feed implanted in his body that allows his mind constant access to the internet and allows corporations constant access to his mind.  You know, just a typical teen.  But one day he meets a girl who isn't so typical: she goes on about current events like the lesions that keep appearing on people and the effects of pollution and the looming war and she even writes by hand!  She's pretty cute, but she can be such a downer.  After all, Titus is an average American teen, what does he care if the world is ending?

Rocks My Socks:  The opening sentence: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."  How could I not want to read more?  I love the first-person perspective on this story because it makes Anderson able to narrate a truly chilling dystopian scenario without sounding preachy.  I also love how the narrator does act more or less like an average teen; he's not an unlikely and inspiring hero we should all emulate. He is confronted with some pretty big issues and while he may not always deal with them nobly he does act realistically for his character and seeing the consequences of that is more moving to me than if he had broken character to play the white knight.  I also love how it's never really revealed how things got to be the way they are.  There's excerpts from the feed at the end of some chapters that contain clues but really we never find out because the narrator doesn't know. The slang and the ridiculous trends followed by the teens are also deliciously disturbing although also, sadly, realistic.  There's not much you could say that teens would find trendy that I wouldn't believe, even outside of dystopian fiction.

Rocks In My Socks: If I really want to get nit-picky and find something to criticize, it does get on my nerves that even though the book is set in the future the gender roles seem pretty traditional.  Just like in Fahrenheit 451 it's the attractive young girl with the old-fashioned family who inspires the male narrator to re-examine the role of technology in his life.  It never seems to be the old-fashioned boy who gets the girl to re-examine her priorities.  Among his friends the girls are obsessed with fashion and re-styling their hair and boys are concerned with looking macho for one another. 

Every Book Its Reader: The book is geared toward young adults but there's enough there to make it an excellent read for adults as well.  I highly recommend it with the caveat that since the book is partly about the degeneration of language the narrator employs a fairly constant stream of language that some readers (or more likely their parents) might find inappropriate.  We did get a complaint from a parent at my school about it, although the wonderful librarian that I work with (who also was the one to recommend the book to me) was able to defend it to the parent by citing its necessity for the narrative that is, after all, casting the harsh light of dystopia on it rather than encouraging it.  On the plus side the coarse language means that it is at a very easy reading level, and as it is also high-interest and fast-paced it would be a great book to give to teens who are struggling with reading.

Feed  by M.T. Anderson

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The City of Ember Review

Book Talk: The city of Ember is in the dark.  The only light in the city comes from bulbs and beyond the city is nothing but shadow.  The citizens of Ember live and work and die under this electric light, getting supplies from vast stores under the city left by those known as the Builders.  They live in ignorance, not even understanding how the very electricity that keeps their city running works.  Supplies are running low, and blackouts are plaguing the city--will two twelve-year-olds be able to save Ember before the lights go out for good, or is it already too late?

Rocks My Socks: I love the two protagonists--Lina and Doon.  Their curiosity and persistence leads them to keep following clues and asking questions about how the world around them works when most everyone else seems content to just keep living their lives despite all the problems plaguing the town.  I also love the little details that DuPrau puts in--such as words or phrases like whose meaning have been lost or the fact that the town can only keep track of the time and date by clocks and calendars because there are no seasons or sky.

Rocks In My Socks: The plot was pretty basic and predictable and I felt like some things were explained almost too thoroughly so that the book seemed to drag a little bit at times.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this book to 9-12 year-olds or adults looking for a really quick read.  The book isn't really geared toward one gender more than the other with a protagonist of each and plenty of adult characters of each as well.  Even though the book does take place in the future it definitely felt more like a fantasy than a science fiction book to me.  It's not heavily either genre though, so I'd recommend it to fans of general fiction as well.  The book reminded me of The Giver but for younger readers.  The citizens of Ember aren't very intelligent and don't have particularly advanced vocabulary and because the plot is so basic it would be good for children who aren't very strong readers.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Raleigh's Page Review

Book Talk:  Andrew grew up listening to his teacher talk about the opportunities and beauty waiting in the new Eden called America, but the land seemed as impossibly far away to him as the original garden of paradise.  Then, one day, his father writes a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh negotiating the terms of making Andrew his page.  Before he knows it he is in London working for one of the Queen's favorites--an eccentric aristocrat who is obsessed with the idea of American colonization.  But there are many bumps to overcome on the road to America and Andrew must risk his life repeatedly as a spy gathering intelligence, acquiring tools, and on the rocky waves of a sea in a storm.  And once he gets to America it's not the peaceful paradise he's expecting.

Rocks My Socks: The book is very well researched and I  learned a lot of fascinating details about the time period.  The characters were interesting and endearing, one of my favorites being the French gardener who also works for Raleigh.

Rocks In My Socks: As much as I love good research I felt that the author stuck too closely to the historical facts he was able to uncover. At points he gave too many details and at times and I found myself skimming from boredom, especially when he had paragraph-long lists, for example of specific items packed on the ship.  I also felt that he could have invented more--the book was interesting because of its historical setting, but the plot on its own would not have been enough to hold my attention.  There isn't much of a story arc, the protagonist (or any other character) doesn't really go through any major changes and I got no sense of rising action, climax, and falling action at the end.  I felt as if he just had finished the period he wanted to discuss so he ended it.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to children ages 9-12 who are studying the beginnings of America in history.  Adding a bit of a story and fleshing out the world of that era should be interesting to someone learning the dry facts and help them to understand the times better.  The book should be able to be enjoyed by boys and girls but it is definitely geared more towards boys as every major character is male and there is no major romantic subplot (although I'm sure many girls might appreciate that as well, even I found it a bit refreshing.)
Raleigh's Page by Alan Armstrong

Hyperion & Fall of Hyperion

My first post in the new format is a doubleheader--a book and its sequel.
Book Talk:  In the distant future humanity has survived the death of Old Earth, but it is now facing a new Armageddon.  The Hegemony of Man is on the eve of war with the Ousters and a strange monster called the Shrike has appeared, killing hundreds and spawning a cult.  The fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of seven hand-picked pilgrims who have been sent on the final journey to meet this monster head on: a catholic priest, a colonel, a poet, a scholar, a starship captain, a private detective, and a politician.   As they travel closer to the Shrike, each shares their story, but the more they learn the more the mystery thickens. 

Rocks My Socks:  Much of the details of the plot are classic science fiction, but the structure and the way it is told are rooted in literary fiction, drawing inspiration from The Canterbury Tales.   The book is also filled with literary references, starting with its name: Hyperion.  The book actually encompasses even more genres because as each pilgrim tells their story the genre changes, with a military fiction break for the colonel, a noir detective story for the PI, a tear-jerker family drama for the scholar, and so on.  My favorite stories were the PI and the poet. 

Rocks In My Socks:  I don't normally read that much science fiction, so it was very difficult for me to get into the book at first.  There's hardly any exposition in the beginning so I was thrown into the deep end of a future with complicated technology and politics and expected to keep my head above water until I got the hang of swimming.  I don't think I understood what was going on at all for the first few chapters.  Simmons does, however, go back and explain these world-building details again later so that if you don't understand everything at first, don't worry and just keep reading.  You'll pick it up eventually.  Or drown, I suppose--maybe you should have a literary life guard on hand.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to both fans of literary fiction and science fiction.  There isn't enough of the other genres of this book to make me recommend it to hard-core fans of those genres, but those who enjoy cross genre works (like those in Stories) will enjoy this book's variety.  I would say that this book is definitely for adults, however.  Beside it being a very dense work and at a pretty high reading level the book has many scenes of a violent, disturbing, or sexual nature and one violent, disturbing sex scene at the end of the colonel's story (don't say I didn't warn you!)
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Warning: the review of the sequel will probably contain some sort of spoiler for the first book
Book Talk: The Hyperion pilgrims have made it to the Shrike's Shrine as a group but they must meet the monster as individuals.  As they wait for the appearance of the Lord of Pain each strays from the pack one by one to fight their own, separate battles.  Meanwhile, a new Keats cybrid has been created to advise Menia Gladstone, leader of the Hegemony, on the pilgrims' progress.  His link to the other Keats persona in Brawne allows him to see what the pilgrims are doing while he dreams.  During his waking hours he witnesses the government's response to the war with the Ousters and struggles to understand the underlying force behind it all and his own place in it.

Rocks My Socks:  This book is told from the perspective of John Keats!  Allow me to rephrase: the book is told from the perspective of an early 19th century romantic poet IN SPACE!  What is not to love?  Especially since I've had a huge literary crush on Keats ever since I saw Bright Star. On a more serious note this book also delves deeper into the political machinations behind the war and into more of the ideas and actions that lead society to the point that it has reached.  This book has a lot more concepts to wrestle with, which I always enjoy.

Rocks In My Socks:  As much as I enjoyed this book, I can see why a lot of fans of the first have said that they didn't.  People who loved the first book for its story-telling framework and cross-genre sensibility will be disappointed by this book because it is told entirely from one perspective, and one that didn't even exist in the first book.  There is also less explicit genre exploration though it does continues in a subtler way.  Also, while I love the time this book takes on exploring various concepts, that does take away time from straight action so the pacing of the book is a bit slower.  Lastly while at first I enjoyed the way Simmons would write a lengthy paragraph and then subvert its content with a crisp, sentence-long paragraph following it, he used the technique so often that eventually it really began to get on my nerves.

Every Book Its Reader:  I'd recommend this sequel to those who want to really sink their teeth into the issues raised in the first novel.  I'd also recommend it to fans of John Keats just for the fun of seeing him in space.  Once again this book is pretty difficult to read and can be violent and dark at times, but if you were mature enough to read the first book without being scarred or offended then you should be able to make it through the sequel just fine. 
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review Format

I'm going to try a new format for my book reviews to make them more uniform and hopefully less rambling.  I'll use this post to explain the new set up:

Book Talk: This is where I'll give the summary of the book and try to pique your interest in the plot.

Rocks My Socks:  This is the where I'll discuss the parts of the book that I really enjoyed--the reasons why I'd recommend it. 

Rocks In My Socks:  This is where I'll discuss the parts of the books that really irritated me, both big and little.  See what I did with the phrasing there, aren't I clever?

Every Book Its Reader: This is comes from Ranganathan's five laws of library science; it is the third law. This is where I'll discuss who I'd recommend the book to based on interests, genre, age range, etc.  The framing of this section in Raganathan's laws is to remind me that even though I might not love a certain book, there's someone out there who will.  My opinion isn't any more important or right than anyone else's.  This is why I'll try to state clearly what I did and didn't like about a book so that it's easier for someone to identify whether those would be pros or corns for them personally instead of just giving a book a star rating of my own personal preference. 

So that's it, the new format.  With work and school starting on Monday and Wednesday, respectively I don't know how much free reading I'll be doing, but I still have quite a few books from these last couple of weeks of summer to review so at least those will be nice and organized, and organization always makes me happy so that's good. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book review catch-up part II

Anything But Typical  is told from the perspective of an introverted, shy, 12-year-old boy who is autistic and going to school and generally living and trying to get by in a world full of nuerotypical (or NT as he calls them) people.  He aspires to be a writer and puts some of his work up at a fiction site online, where he ends up meeting a girl his own age.  As most with most 12-year-olds this makes him excited and nervous and he worries over every sentence he writes her as he strives to seem 'typical' although of course is he, as the title states, anything but.  What I really liked about this book is how easy it was to identify with the lead in many little ways and how it stuck pretty close to reality.  There were no easy answers or miracle cure, just a 12 year old boy struggling with the trials of growing up.  It can be hard to find fiction dealing with issues such as autism for age groups this young, and I think this novel pulls it off very well in a way that is definitely readable and had me turning the pages. 
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

This novel reminded me strongly of Nation, but for younger ages.  The story revolves around a shipwrecked girl from colonial-era Britain and an island native of the same age.  About 9 months before the narrative starts all the native men are inexplicably turned into statues.  Lucy's mother is about to give birth to the last baby on the island unless a cure is found and much to her dismay it is a boy, fated to turn to stone as well.  Lucy is tasked with bringing her new brother to the patch of stones with the rest, but somehow she is able to postpone his fate and she runs away with him, determined to save him.  At around the same time the spoiled mayor's daughter, snowcap, runs away to save herself and the fate of both their communities ends up on their shoulders.  I enjoyed reading about their adventures and seeing them both change over the course of the narrative--a definite bildungsroman. 
The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap by H. M. Bouwman

Every year in a small town where nothing much else happens an inordinate amount of attention is giving to the local elementary school spelling bee.  This year the hall monitor Chrissie uncovers the seedy underbelly of the whole affair and compiles her evidence through transcripts of interviews with the participants and intercepted memos to present to the school board.  I enjoy the portrayal of some of the students, for example the over-stressed Jennifer, the home-schooled Mutual, and the surprisingly good-natured goths and pranksters.  However, it fell into the classic children's literature trap of writing adults who are entirely good for nothing and incapable of making any sort of a good or rational decision.  This always vaguely concerns me--do we really want our children to be taught that adults are stupid and unreliable and it's best not to go to them with your problems?  I mean I value independence, but it's important for children to feel comfortable and confident in asking adults for advice as well.  The book in general was a bit overly simplistic and silly for my tastes, but I also tend to over-analyze things.  It'd be fine for a quick-read for a young lover of comedy and mystery and it does earn extra points for being epistolary.
I Put a Spell on You by Adam Selzer

I read this on the plane ride to Scotland (maybe I'll do a summary post of the trip if I can be bothered before school and work starts) and I really enjoyed it.  It was pretty wonderful as a plane book because the stories kept changing tone and style so I didn't get bored from reading the same thing for a long time and I was kept pretty well entertained.  I did manage to finish it entirely on the long, long, flight except for the Jodi Picoult story. I tried to be unbiased and give her a chance but then I read the first sentence about how the loudest sound is a child's silence and found that I really couldn't be bothered with her tear-jerker melodrama--especially considering the decidedly un-silent child that was sitting right in front of me at the moment.  That notwithstanding there were only a couple stories I didn't like and several I really loved.  It was a great way to get a taste of a lot of current authors to see if I want to read more of their stuff, and I'm definitely behind the collection's supposed purpose of supporting literature that is less confined by genre.  If the hype is to believed and this collection ends up blazing the trail for the new direction of short stories and literature then that's at least one aspect of the future that I don't have to worry about!
Stories Edited By Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

While I am a fan of this series, I was not a fan of this book in particular.  Her more recent books have been shorter and coming out with more frequency and I can feel them suffer for the rush.  So much has happened in the series so far and so little actually happens in this book that I felt that almost as much time was spent giving quick summaries of events from past books to contextualize current events as actually describing those current events.  The story arc didn't fare as well on its own and I feel like the previous book in this series and this one should have just been combined-saving us quite a bit of summarizing of the previous book.  There was more that could have been cut as well--for goodness sake it's called the night runner series but they did no night running in the book at all and there was very little political intrigue or even fighting it was mostly just traveling about with a weird baby and tense couple spats.  The set up for the next book seems promising--bringing them back to Rhiminee and their night running.  I hope it's better for it.  I'd still recommend the series, but definitely don't start with this book.
The White Road  by Lynn Flewelling

Fool  is the story of King Lear as told by, oddly enough, his fool.  I loved Moore's wonderful irreverence and the way he turned a classic tragedy into a bawdy farce.  I think old Willy definitely would have approved as an avid stealer of stories and lech himself.  However, the story was mostly one note and eventually that got on my nerves.  There are some great moments in it and I loved the way the story was changed to suit the fool's telling but it felt more like a comedic monologue than a solid narrative.   Still, the pleasure I got from the book outweighs anything else I felt while reading it.  If I was directing Lear I'd make this required reading for the cast. 
Fool by Christopher Moore
The Chaos Walking series takes place in a future where the colonization of space has begun.  On one of these alien planets all the men and animals have been infected with some sort of virus that makes all of their thoughts audible to everyone else around.  For some reason female humans are not affected by this virus so their thoughts are not audible, although they can still hear those of the animals and the men.  This causes the kind of complications you'd expect.  Eventually the series sees the female humans, male humans, and natives of the planet forming separate armies in a fight for dominance.  But this book isn't really about aliens or space travel--it's about lies and truth and all the variations of both, it's about trust and prejudice, the power of love and of hate, it's about growing up in difficult times and doing whatever you can to survive them.  I love so much about this series--its commentary on information overload and its resistance to clear cut lines of good versus evil, the presence of adults who at least try to care for the young protagonists in addition to the adults who really can't be trusted, the complex relationships that develop among the characters and the complexity and layers to the characters themselves, and what really made the book stand out to me--the way it deals with death and killing.  I'm sick of reading books where the young protagonists who are raised with similar values to youth of today are always able to kill when it comes down to it and without much more than a little bit of obligatory guilt afterward that's conveniently forgotten after a chapter or two.  I don't know about you, but I seriously doubt that I (or most of my friends for that matter) would be able to kill someone even if my life did depend on it.  This book is wonderful, although I was left with the nagging feeling at the end that it could have been absolutely spectacular with little extra effort.  There were many points in the series where difficult decisions arise and the characters dither so long that the choices are effectively taken from them so they don't have to make those hard decisions.  While that is in a way a choice it's passive not active and I feel that the series would have been that much more interesting and valuable if the characters engaged in those decisions more actively and then had to deal more directly with the responsibility for their outcomes.  It's funny because in many ways these books are very bold and dark (fair warning: do not get too attached to animal characters--I wish I'd been warned because I am a total sap about that!) but I felt that at a lot of crucial turning points the author wussed out a bit.  Still, this series was wonderful and I recommend it highly for young adults, especially those who like Hunger Games, and if my school is any indicator that's a lot.
The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Well that's all the books that I read up until I got back from Scotland with the exception of one book that I'm waiting to talk about along with is sequel.  I'll try to keep up with doing single book reviews from here on out.  Wish me luck.