Friday, February 22, 2008
I am in the middle of getting annual review documents together for the university, but needed to take a break and write about a book. The Scarlet Stockings: The Enchanted Riddle by Charlotte Kandel is sitting next to me on my desk. What an absolutely gorgeous cover with a cameo style picture of a girl in a ballet pose. However, since the riddle has to do with magic red silk stockings, I wish the girl's stockings were red instead of pale pink on the cover, but I'll let it go. After all, the stockings do change color to match whatever Charlotte has on so no one knows she is wearing stockings that will help her become a prima ballerina. Too bad they also bring out the selfish and arrogant side of her personality as well, making her forget the love of her newly adoptive family and friends in a small neighborhood in London. Although set in the 1920s, this book is timeless for girls who love to dance and want to learn more about ballet - a magical art form in itself - while wrapped in a delightful mystery. Every little girl who loves to pretend she is a ballerina will want her mother to read this book to her. And, every older (upper elementary/MS) girl who is taking ballet lessons will relate to the hard work that thirteen-year-old Charlotte puts into her dancing - the bloody feet and all. They will applaud when she works hard and gets choice parts and gasp when the stockings cause her to turn nasty and mean to those who love and support her. Will she find out who left her the stockings and the ballet book with the riddle written inside? Will she ever be able to solve it? Could it be from her mother who left her at the orphanage?
That's all for today - have too much to get done to just "chat".
Monday, February 18, 2008
Another Monday has come and almost gone. I was awake at 6:30 a.m. due to a very loud dishwasher. Steve almost never starts the dishwasher so why he did this morning is beyond me, but it is not one of those quiet ones you see in the commercial on TV where the baby is asleep in the playpen in the kitchen. It sounds more like a water monster is attacking the kitchen.
So as I was wandering my way into my office, much too early in the morning, with a can of Diet Coke, I caught the sight of "yack" out of the corner of my eye and just kept from squishing my wonderful sneaker slipper into a pile of food lovely Sophie had "yacked" up. While I was muttering under my breath and heading for the paper towels I barely missed another offering from the cat - NOT-goddess. So that meant I had to wash throw carpets today. Sophie has been keeping clear of me – for good reason, Mommy is not a morning person! I honestly don't think the gifts were for me as Steve put her noisy butt out this morning instead of listening to her meow, so I suspect her offerings were more for him than me. Besides, I'm never up at that time of the morning so they couldn't be for me!
Spent a good portion of the day reading through discussion postings from my students on what they learned about magazine availability for children and teens in school and public libraries vs. the bookstores. Most of them were very surprised at the poor selection in the libraries and the large number of magazines for teenage girls, with basically none for guys, in the bookstores. I shake my head over this every semester as I hear the same thing - students don't read magazines in the library and there is no money for them. Well, if you bought the ones they want to read, they would read them, and they wouldn't be a waste of money. A majority of the magazines in many high school libraries are for adults. How many teenagers read Redbook or Woman's Day? I was delighted to read that some of the public libraries and a few schools had great titles for guys on surfing, skateboarding, gaming, etc. Survey after survey done with teens indicate that their number one choice of leisure reading materials is magazines and yet we can't seem to find the rationale for having other than curriculum related periodicals in the library? How about reading, no matter what the format, results in better readers, and, heaven forbid, they might even perform better on those nasty standardized tests!
Speaking of standardized tests, William Sleator's newest novel, Test, addresses these tests and their impact on a society where passing the test means you get out of the traffic. If you don't pass the test you can't go to college and you are stuck in menial jobs the rest of your life and spend hours sitting in the congested traffic. If you walk to school to get there faster, as Ann does, you have to wear a face mask because of the pollution. Ann is good at math but she can't seem to get a high enough score on the sample tests in English to move her forward in the classroom - smart kids sit at the front. All teens in this public high school fear not passing the test, but that is nothing compared to the teachers’ fear as their jobs depend on their students passing the test. In Ann's English class Lep, a Thai student, suddenly starts making his way closer to the front, at a rate much faster than he should be able to. Ann discovers how he is able to do so and it isn't a pretty story, but he will do just about anything to pass the test. Ann and Lep become friends and they work against the system to expose the corrupt publisher who furnishes the tests to the government. There is no subtlety in how Sleator goes about making his point as to how poorly teaching to the test prepares students for real life. He hammers it home. This book isn't going to change the way things are done in relation to standardized testing in our schools, but clearly it was cathartic for Sleator, and perhaps for his teacher friend who shared her concerns with him. It can also be cathartic for those teachers and students caught up in the testing mess. At least they can vicariously fight back through Ann and Lep.
I hear the garage door opening and need to remind Steve to take the trash out. All for today.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I am pretty bummed out with the lack of pain relief and fatigue after the surgery almost a month ago now. The doc says I have to give it another 4-6 weeks of recovery time. So I had to cancel my trip to Greenville next week and my trip to Mary's for McKinley's birth. I wear myself out with minimal activity and still lack total balance. I have some pretty ugly bruises from knocking into things around here. Can't see myself hiking across the airports in Charlotte or Chicago carrying a laptop bag. Thanks goodness I work with wonderful people at ECU and I can attend meetings virtually until I get back on my feet. But, I sure miss them all. Let's just say I don't fall asleep in our faculty meetings as they are actually enjoyable! :-)
Since I still am laying down a number of times a day to give my neck a rest I am listening to audiobooks. Finished Pirates! by Celia Rees, which I absolutely loved. The female narrator did a wonderful job with the Jamaican accents - the one thing I miss from the islands is the lilt of so many of the accents. Like music, but often I couldn't understand a word they were saying. The idea of a teenage daughter of a plantation owner choosing life as a pirate over marrying the wicked Brazilian pirate/plantation owner her father and brothers promised her to makes for a good story. Two female pirates, one white and one black, who can strut like dandies in their pirate garb made me smile.
I just started listening to Terry Brooks The Black Unicorn. I loved the first book in the Magic Kingdom of Landover series, Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold! Only the fear of losing himself in the grief over the death of his wife and unborn child could cause a level headed attorney to spend a million dollars to rule a fantasy kingdom. Ben Holiday does, but the transition is not easily, and not without a battle. There are a number of other titles in the series and through the years I have read most, but not The Black Unicorn. It has been years since I visited Landover so it is like going home to a fantasy world I love. Ben has to return to his old world to discover if his dream is truly a premonition and his old partner is in danger. Willow, the green beauty who stands by his side, except when she becomes a tree, is on her own quest - to bridle the black unicorn. The court wizard is intent on finding the lost books of magic. And Abernathy, the man turned into a dog, is not happy about any of it – but that is his nature! I am yet again hooked! :-) Although these titles are published for the adult reader and the characters are adults, teens who love fantasy will enjoy these books, as Ben acts very much like a teenager who is finding his place in this new world.
Okay - my "true" YA reading title. Sadly, I was not as enthralled with this latest MS/JH level novel, Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer as I am with Brooks fantasy. And, that is unusual as I typically love her books. I think I have written about at least a couple others by her in this blog. How could I not pick up the ARC with "DON'T EVER TALK TO STRANGERS." Yes, it is a novel about a pedophile abducting a child, but even the chapters from his perspective did not hold me in suspense. A group of five sisters, ages 11 to 17, walk to school together and he watches them, deciding which one he wants to abduct. The idea is for the reader to build a connection with the girls so that when something awful happens it feels real. Well, I never made that connection. Fancy is clearly a special needs teen and her chapters can make you cringe, laugh, cry, and feel proud of her, but the other girls are not “real” enough to feel the kind of fear I needed to for their safety. This is also one of those novels that I will not recommend to a reluctant or poor reader as each chapter is from a different perspective and it isn’t always easy to figure out from whose. Also, the 2nd person point of view is frequently employed, which can be disconcerting. I will not deny this is a very well written novel, but it is not one I can rave about.
That’s it for today. Back to book reviews.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Had a chance to read through the nastiness on a few of the blogs that have gone gung ho against Card having received the Edwards Award. It always amazes me how people I would think to have open minded views of other people's values and beliefs because of the way they have been treated are worse than any of the hate-mongers I have seen from the ultra-conservative side. The name calling and hateful messages are horrible and they hardly send a message of an understanding of others' rights to their own beliefs and lifestyles.
Card rightfully deserved the Margaret A. Edwards Award for the Ender's books as they have become part of the cannon of young adult literature. Sure, they are "boy" books to the extreme, but I don't hear anyone name calling and asking for blood in relation to women who write chic lit for teens. Card is an incredible writer in relation to his SF for teens. As far as his ultra-conservative personal views and his writing for the adult readership with these same views - he has a right to those views. He was not honored for his adult writing and his value system is not in any way a criteria for this award.
But, I have to smile in the fact that the hate-mongers are shooting themselves in the foot with their vicious postings as the more they complain about Card and his books the more people are going to take a look at this author, the criteria for the award and many who never read the Enders books will now be purchasing them and reading them and sharing them with their kids. The nay-sayers to Card having won the award are acting like the censors that we fight so strongly against when they want to remove And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson from the library. I am disappointed in the very groups I normally stand firmly within and/or beside. If we expect to be accepted, we must learn to accept the right of those who have beliefs totally different from our own to express them.
After that I thought it quite appropriate to discuss a guy book - Fight Game by Kate Wild. This is her first novel and it got my attention as it focuses on a teenage Gypsy who has learned to live outside of the norm since his family moves from location to location in their travel trailer. The softness in his life is the love he has for his sister and his nieces. He would protect them at all costs and he ends up doing just that when two punks try to burn their trailer, with the girls in it. Freedom chases them down and it appears as if he has pushed one of them into the path of a bus. Was it murder? Doesn't much matter as he is a Gypsy and the only way Freedom is going to be able to survive is if he agrees to work with the undergroud police operation to infiltrate the vicious high-tech fight club where fighting goes on endlessly with new teens recruited to be killed in the Bear Pit. There always has to be a bit of romance in these guys' lives so enter Java Sparrow who has been watching the fight club complex for another reason. Two heads are usually better than one when it comes to getting into a high tech complex. Yes, this book is a bit on the violent side, but it one that many of the guys will pick up just because of the cool looking cover with the title tatooed on Freedom's fist, while he scowls at the potential reader. Hand this one to the guys who are into the war games. This is Wild's first book about Freedom and I look forward to reading the sequel which will come out in summer 2008. Scholastic does have a way or recruiting really good international YA authors and Wild is no exception.
All for today.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Once Steve heard I was rooting for the Giants he decided he'd go for the Patriots as apparently I am bad luck! I always root for the underdog. I'd love to see the Giants win, but from the sounds of all the pre-game hype they don't stand much of a chance. We shall see. I remember watching the 2003 Super Bowl from the US Virgin Islands. We had flown down there for my interview for the position as the Library Director, St. Thomas Campus, of the University of the Virgin Islands. We were watching the game in bed as it came on late (Atlantic time zone) and I was exhausted from the stress of the interview and the thought of moving so far away that I fell asleep before it was over. Don't even remember who played. Happy and content back in civilization, teaching youth literature courses full-time, I am glad I took on the challenge of working as an academic librarian, but it was not my cup of tea. Big difference between teaching search strategies to marine biology students during the day and teaching children's and YA lit courses online at night. I had no regrets about not accepting an extended contract. I still love the islands, but trying to work there was very difficult. I am too type A to work on island time.
My latest read is an ARC for the new title in the Alane Ferguson Forensic Mysteries - The Circle of Blood. Since I some how have fallen off of the review copy list for Viking I hadn't read any of the other mysteries about 17-year-old Cameryn, assistant to her father, the County Coroner in a small Colorado town. Now I am sorry I hadn't. I have mentioned before what a big NCIS fan I am so these books are right up my alley. Cameryn has more to lose in this latest mystery because her mother, who has not been part of her life since she left years before, has returned to their small town and wants a role in Cameryn's life, much against the wishes of her father and grandmother. Cameryn had recently visited her mother when she saw her with a young teenage girl in the car with her. She also saw her mother run after the girl, whose is later found dead in an alley, with her long braid cut off. Did her mother murder the girl? How much of what she knows about the girl's last hours of life and her mother's involvement in it does she tell her father? Clearly Ferguson has done her forensics homework and knows the process of an autopsy, etc. She has also created a feisty, intelligent female protagonist who teen readers will be more than happy to help solve murder mysteries via forensic science. I just checked out Ferguson's web site: www.alaneferguson.com and realized why her name is familiar. She, along with Gloria Skurzynski, write the Mysteries in Our National Parks Mysteries, an upper elementary series.
Skurzynski is the author of the Virtual War Chronologs. I booktalked the first title, The Virtual War, quite a bit but hated the cover on the hardback. Was so glad to see a much more attractive cover on the newer paperback edition. A teenage boy in a furistic world who is basically raised by a hologram and has never had any interaction with other humans is quite intriguing. Add to that his training to fight a virtual war, with a teenage girl and a mutant boy, to win the last piece of uncontaminated land on earth - easy to booktalk and then some. There are now 4 books in the series, with the latest entitled The Choice.
Just listened to Alicia Keyes sing. I first heard of her when she was scheduled to give a concert on St. Thomas at UVI. Not sure what happened, but it was cancelled. That happened a lot down there. We went to a number of concerts at the university but the seats in the outdoor concert hall are so darn uncomfortable unless you right down on the floor in the expensive seats. I couldn't even sit through the one concert we sat on the upper tier wooden, backless seats. What a gorgeous facility, but I figured out real quickly why so many people were renting seat cushions when they entered!
All for today. Sorry for any typos - the spellcheck isn't working