"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

19 April 2010

Because I Am Furniture

Chaltas, Thalia. Because I Am Furniture. New York: Penguin, 2009.

This book is written in free verse, and it is the story of a girl who grows up in an abusive home. She herself is not abused, but her brother and sister are. We follow the main character as she finds her voice and realizes that the things going on in her home need to stop.

I like this story because it is descriptive without being graphic and because the main character's family gets the help they need by the end of the story. This book will be on my classroom shelf.

Strong at the Heart

Lehman, Carolyn. Strong at the Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse. New York: Melanie Kroupa Books, 2005.

This book chronicles nearly a dozen stories of men and women who have survived childhood sexual abuse. They tell the story of their abuse, of their silence, of their eventual speaking out and healing. It is not an easy book to read, but it was a good reminder to me that I am not alone and that healing is possible.

I do recommend this book to those who are abuse survivors. I don't necessarily recommend it to the general populace, except as a reminder that the nearest abuse survivor could be at the next desk at work, the next table at a restaurant, the next car on the road.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. New York: Hyperion, 2008.

This book took me a while to get into, and it contains enough objectionable elements that I do not recommend it to my students. The concept of a campus secret society was interesting, though.

It's not a horrid book, but it's not thrilling. I wouldn't waste my time with it, unless, like me, you end up reading cereal boxes and laundry detergent bottles when you have nothing else left to read.

11 April 2010

The Long Way Home

Klavan, Andrew. The Long Way Home. Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2010.

This story is published by a Christian publisher, but it doesn't have the cheesy story line of so many Christian novels that you can find in a church library. It is Christian in worldview and it is Christian in that it is free from gratuitous objectionable elements. For these reasons, I would put this book on my classroom shelf in a heartbeat.

However, I wasn't thrilled with the storyline. Imagine the Bourne series, but replace Jason with a teenager, and add a post-911 Islamic element to the story, and you'll have the basic idea behind this book. Frustratingly enough, this is the second book in a trilogy. I did not read the first book. The third book is yet to be published.

If you like pseudo-thrillers, I would recommend waiting until the third book is published, and then read all three in order. This book will not make my "Top Ten for 2010" list, but it's not bad.


Golding, Julia. Dragonfly. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2008.

If you like fantasy stories, complete with maps and imaginary races of people, this book is for you. If you like fantasy stories, but don't like learning a completely new language to understand the book, this book is for you.

I was very impressed with this book. It is clean. It has a good message. The story is interesting. I was interested all the way through the 390 pages of the book. It's definitely worth reading.

09 April 2010

When You Reach Me

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. New York: Random House, 2009.

I was intrigued by this book when I picked it up. There is no plot summary on the back cover or inside the dust jacket, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The entire book is written as a series of letters. The main character, Miranda, is writing letters to a person who has been sending her mysterious notes. The letters explain everything that has happened over the course of about two months, starting with the day her friend Sal got punched in the stomach on the way home from school and ending on the day Sal narrowly escaped being run over by a truck. The story in between only makes sense once you get to the very end, but it is definitely worth it. I don't want to spoil it for you, and I'm afraid to explain more and accidentally give away the ending.

Oh, and if you're going to read this book, pick up Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and read that first. You'll thank me later.

Operation Yes

Holmes, Sara. Operation Yes. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2009.

Finally, I have found another book that I can read out loud to my class. This book is just plain fun. It is the story of a 6th grade class and their first-year teacher. Her mission is to win a grant to create a theatre group, and she wants to use her students as the guinea pigs. After her brother returns wounded from the Middle East, she loses her enthusiasm for her project. But the students take over where she left off, and they go above and beyond what could possibly be expected for a room of 11-year olds.

The setting, the characters, the plot - all of these things keep the reader turning the next page. And this book, unlike so many other teen books recently published, is clean. Yes, folks, it is possible to write an entire book without using profanity. Really.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Smith, Alexander. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.

As I have been packing my possessions in preparation for a cross-oceanic voyage, I have found myself, sadly, in want of books to read. Having nearly exhausted our library's selection, I have chosen another route: borrowing books from my friends. This means that I sometimes read books that are not within my normal range of genres, but it also guarantees that I can get an in-person review of the book before I read it.

This book is not one that I would have picked up off the shelves myself, but I decided to try it anyway, and I did enjoy it. The story is not a fast-paced thriller like those so popular these days, but the pace of the story does fit the pace of the African culture described. I will admit that I also don't always understand multicultural humor, so I probably missed some very funny things at points in this story. But it was a good read, and well worth the time.

My one caveat is this: abuse survivors may want to skip chapter 2. This chapter describes the protagonist's background, and while not entirely graphic, can still be a trigger point. I was unpleasantly surprised when I hit that chapter, but the rest of the story can be read and understood without it.

Start Here

Harris, Alex and Harris, Brett. Start Here. New York: Multnomah Books, 2010.

For those of you who have read Do Hard Things, this book is a companion book with some more practical ideas for starting those hard things in your life. I appreciated the authors' practical approach and examples, as well as the list in the back of the book of 100 hard things that people have done, ranging from raising money for a non-profit organization to spending time with younger brothers and sisters.

The point is simple: everyone's "hard things" are different. Figure out what your hard thing is and get started.

If I could, I would get this book into the hands of each of my homeroom students and my honors juniors as well. Teenagers are capable of so much more than we typically expect.

08 April 2010

Going Bovine

Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Random House, 2009.

This is a story of a boy who is diagnosed with Mad Cow disease and is hospitalized while his doctors attempt to cure him before the disease can kill him. While in the hospital, he has a vision of an angel who tells him there's a man named Dr. X who has a cure for his disease, if he can find this man. He escapes the hospital with his hospital roommate and embarks on an adventure to find the cure.

This book is fun in that it is filled with hilarious adventures and references to quantum mechanics, which I found amusing. However, this book is also fraught with foul language and references to drug use.

To my students who read my blog, I do not recommend that you read this book. It simply isn't worth the garbage you must wade through to get to the story. And since I don't recommend that you read this book, I am going to spoil it for you: the whole adventure happens in the kid's head. He never leaves the hospital. He dies in the last chapter.

03 April 2010

Science Fair

Barry, Dave and Pearson, Ridley. Science Fair. 2008.

Oh, my goodness. This book is hilarious. I read the first chapter on a Wednesday afternoon, then I re-read that same chapter out loud to a friend who had come over, then I recommended that another friend read the first chapter before we headed out on our errands.

This story has two interconnected plots. Grdankl the Strong, the leader of a country that sounds like it belongs in the former Soviet Union, is plotting to overthrow the United States. While his minions carry out his plot, Toby, an 8th grade student, is trying to win his school's science fair so he can use the prize money to pay off Darth Vader and the Wookiee, two men who are stalking Toby in pursuit of his father's prized Star Wars collectibles. These two plots, surprisingly enough, do tie together by the end of the book.

As I said before, this book is hilarious. As a teacher, I appreciated the school humor. As a Star Wars fan, I appreciated the references to the movies. As a reasonably intelligent adult, I loved the plotting of Grdankl the Strong and his four vice presidents, especially once I discovered the reason for their desire to overthrow the United States.

This book is definitely worth checking out of your local library. On your way back home, grab a package of Mentos and a Coke as well. You'll thank me later.