"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

30 June 2011

Life is Fine

Whittenberg, Allison. Life is Fine. New York: Random House, 2007.

It continually amazes me how many books for teens are written about troubled teens who confide in their English teachers.  Almost this convinces me to take up a teaching position again. Almost

Samara is dealing with a lot at home, so it isn't surprising that school isn't a priority for her.  The substitute for her English class opens up the world of poetry to her, though, and allows Samara to open up about abuse that she has kept hidden for years.  Samara struggles with the unfairness of the world around her as her substitute succumbs to another bout with cancer. 

This was an interesting book.  Not a happy book, but an interesting one, and a quick read.  I am in the midst of a survey of YA literature about child abuse, so this novel fit well into my search. It's not spectacular, and won't be a part of my personal library any time soon, but it was a good read.

29 June 2011

Invisible Girls

Feuereisen, Patti. Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse.  Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2005.

Abuse happens a lot more than many of us wish to realize.  Chances are very good that someone in your neighborhood, your class at school, your church group, or your workplace is an abuse survivor.  This book is a collection of stories from young women who have been abused, interspersed with advice and comments from Dr. Feuereisen.  This is a good resource for those who work with teen girls and young women, and a source of hope for survivors.

28 June 2011

I Never Told Anyone

Bass, Ellen. I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper Collins, 1983.

This book is a good companion to Bass's The Courage to Heal, which is a fantastic workbook for those recovering from child abuse. I Never Told Anyone is a compilation of essays and poems written by abuse survivors.  It is definitely not meant to be read in one sitting.  I wouldn't even necessarily recommend reading the entire book.  The stories here are brief, and many are not graphic, so this book is a good choice for a survivor who wishes to convince herself that she is not alone.

27 June 2011

When the Piano Stops

McCall, Catherine. When the Piano Stops: A Memoir of Healing from Sexual Abuse. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2009.

Catherine McCall was sexually abused by her father throughout her childhood, and not until she was an adult did she begin to remember and seek healing.  For these reasons, I thought this book would be a good one for me to read. McCall's story is told in similar fashion to Erin Merryn's. Both chronicle their memories of abuse and describe the process they went through in seeking healing and confronting their abusers. Unfortunately, there is little detail given as to what exactly was helpful or not helpful in the healing process.  The abuse scenes are graphic and disturbing [as I believe abuse scenes truly are], so this book gave me a good picture of what McCall experienced, but did not inspire me with new ideas about healing or finding help or even helping others.  I am sure it was helpful for McCall to write her story; I have, indeed, considered writing mine out more fully.  At this point I am uncertain whether this story was a beneficial one for me to read.  And I certainly cannot recommend this book to those who are not abuse survivors.  Leave this one in the library, my friends.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you are not alone.  Please visit http://rainn.org.  There is help available.

26 June 2011


Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.

Zinkoff laughs at the most inappropriate times, and he laughs far too long and too loud.  He never wins races.  He always has the wrong answer.  His classmates have nicknamed him "loser," although Zinkoff pretends that doesn't matter.  But one day a toddler disappears, and Zinkoff is determined to find her.  In his search, he discovers how a zero can become a hero overnight.

I liked this story.  I've read a lot of Spinelli's work, so I was interested to see what he would do with Zinkoff and the "loser" label he acquires.  I was not disappointed.

24 June 2011

A Good Courage

Tolan, Stephanie. A Good Courage. New York: William and Morrow, 1988.

Ty's mom was always looking for love and happiness.  She had moved their two-member family to communes and groups all over the place.  Ty was used to the routine.  Mom would find a new emotional/philosophical "fix" but would soon see reason, and once again they would be on the road.  But what if Mom decided not to leave?

Mom and Ty join the Kingdom, a small cult-like group that renames people as they enter and separates parents from their children.  While Ty's mom is worshipping and studying with the other adult women, Ty is left to work with the children.  Children who disobey are chained to a tree for the night or are denied food for a day.  Ty has decided that this is dangerous and abusive, and he is determined to leave.  But his mom is still in love with Kingdom life.  How will he be able to escape?

It's been a long time since I've been genuinely surprised by a book, but the twist of this plot threw me for a loop.  I enjoyed this story as much as I've enjoyed other stories of kids escaping strict religious societies, but I was pleasantly surprised by the changes at the end of the story.

23 June 2011


Schmidt, Gary. Trouble. New York: Clarion Books, 2008.

Schmidt's book The Wednesday Wars was a staple of my seventh grade classroom.  Each year I read that book out loud to my students during the last several minutes of each class day.  I enjoy Schmidt's style of writing and the way his characters make good decisions when faced with tough choices.  Trouble is no different.

Henry has always lived in his brother's shadow.  Then one day his brother is hit by a car.  When he dies in the hospital a few weeks later, the community is outraged.  They demand justice for this family.  When it is discovered that the driver of the car was a Cambodian immigrant, the demand for justice turns into racial hatred.  Henry's dad always thought they could stay far away from trouble, but it seems that trouble has come to stay.

This was an interesting story.  I enjoyed following the plot, even though I could have told you all the twists and turns after the first chapter. Still, it is an enjoyable story, and the race issue is treated well without being overdone. This book is definitely more serious than the one I chose to read to my class, but I would still put this one on my shelf.

22 June 2011

The Ranger's Apprentice

Flanagan, John. The Ranger's Apprentice. New York: Philomel Books, 2005.

Finding a good, interesting, entertaining book is a beautiful thing.  Finding the first book in a series of good, interesting, entertaining books is an even better thing. I have been thoroughly enoying the Ranger's Apprentice series.  This fantasy series follows the story of Will, an orphan boy who longs to be apprenticed into the battle school to become a soldier for the king.  He is disappointed to discover that he has been apprenticed to a ranger instead.  However, he soon learns that being a ranger is a more difficult job than he has bargained for.

I am enjoying the story of Will and the people he meets in his journeys.  I may eventually tire of this series - my library's search engine tells me there are ten books already - but for now I am enjoying the journey.

21 June 2011

Alabama Moon

Key, Watt. Alabama Moon. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006.

Alabama Moon has been living with his father in the wilderness.  Relying on nature alone, they avoid contact with other people, especially people from the government. Moon's father doesn't trust others.  But when Moon's father dies, the very people he has been taught not to trust come to take care of him.  Can he trust the adults in his life to do what's best for him, or would he be better off striking out on his own?
This was an interesting book.  It did not cast a giant negative light on those who distrust institutions, as I had initially thought it would.  The main character has an interesting mix of bravery, resourcefulness, and naivete that is intriguing to watch in action.  I enjoyed this story and applauded the decisions of the main characters.

20 June 2011

White Sands, Red Menace

Klages, Ellen. White Sands, Red Menace. New York: Viking, 2008.

I first read Klages's Green Glass Sea when I was teaching, and I absolutely loved that book.  I told my students about it and attempted to keep it on my classroom shelf, but it was often checked out.   This second installment in the story is just as good, if not better.  Dewey has been living with her best friend's family.  They have just moved to a new town, and while Suze is getting to know the neighbors from the other side of the tracks, Dewey is trying to find her way in a world that doesn't understand girls who want to take shop and study science.  Things have just settled down for the family when Dewey's birthmother appears and wants to take Dewey away.

I enjoyed this book.  I like the characters; I appreciated their courage and desire to do the right thing, even if it meant crossing racial or social boundaries.  I applauded Dewey's decision at the end of the story.  This one is well worth the read, folks.

18 June 2011

Slaves of the Mastery and Firesong

Nicholson, William. Slaves of the Mastery. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2001.
Nicholson, William. Firesong. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.

I read the first book in this trilogy, The Wind Singer, many months ago.  Until recently I hadn't been able to locate a copy of the second or third books.  I really liked The Wind Singer, and I was equally impressed with the sequel and the conclusion of the trilogy. The stories are well-written, the characters are admirable but not perfect, the wicked characters are believeable, and the plot carries the reader through to the end of the story.  The final book even had a Rowling-esque epilogue describing the characters' lives several years after the end of the story.  If I still had a classroom, these books would be on my shelf.  This is a great series.

17 June 2011

Manning Up

Hymowitz, Kay. Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

This book attempts to answer the question, "Where have all the men gone?" Men are staying boys longer and longer, choosing to live in their parents' basement, playing video games and watching Adam Sandler movies.  So why has this happened? When did men stop being men, and who's to blame for this?

This book was absolutely fascinating.  Hymowitz discusses the "girl power" movement, the rise in popularity of higher education, and the advent of a new stage in life: pre-adulthood, the time between adolescence and true adulthood.   The discussion of the evolution of the alpha-girl and her antithesis, the child-man, illustrates perfectly the phenomenon we have experienced over and over in our society: a good thing, when taken to an extreme, produces unpleasant consequences.  This book is definitely worth checking out of the library.

16 June 2011

The Guinea Pig Diaries

Jacobs, A.J. The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009.

I encountered Jacobs's work at a bookstore several years ago.  He had embarked on a year-long experiment where he attempted to follow every single law and rule written in the Bible. The cover of his book caught my eye, and I flipped through it, but decided not to read it.  My guess is that his treatment of God's Word was less than reverent, and I won't stop anyone else from reading about his experiences, but I didn't think that book was for me.

This book, however, details several mini-experiments where Jacobs attempted to do certain things for thirty days.  He spent one month outsourcing his life.  He spent one month living by the rules of radical honesty. He attempts to follow George Washington's rules for life.  Each chapter, each experiment, is different from the one before and all are wacky and odd. 

I enjoyed reading this book. Jacobs has an entertaining writing style and his experiments were mostly harmless. I do like the fact that he is willing to subject himself to all of these experiments in order to write about them, rather than asking someone else to be the guinea pig.

15 June 2011

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

Lee, Jennifer. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. New York: Twelve, 2008.

I was leaving the library with my typical armful of books when the cover of this book caught my attention.  It is a difficult thing to balance a stack of ten or so books while trying to read the back of yet another book, but then I knew this one had to be added to my stack.  Lee stumbled upon the world of Chinese food when she was following the story of a rash of Powerball winners, all of whom one the same contest with the same numbers that they found ... in fortune cookies.  This led Lee to wonder about the origin of the fortune cookie and the strange phenomenon that is American Chinese food.  This book chronicles her journey and her discoveries.

I found this book to be fascinating.  It is not my typical genre of literature, but it was filled with very interesting information and made for a great lunch break read this past week at work.  Definitely check this one out if you get a chance.

14 June 2011

Bitter Melon

Chow, Cara. Bitter Melon. New York: Egmont, 2011.

Frances and her mom live in a small apartment in San Francisco's Richmond district.  Frances's mom works long hours at a back-breaking job so that Frances can attend a private school and receive a top-rate education.  All she asks for in exchange is that Frances do her very best in everything all the time.  Frances is trying hard to fulfill her mother's dreams for her: to get high scores on the SAT, to attend UC Berkeley where she can study to become a doctor, and to embark on a successful career where she can care for her mother as her mother has cared for her.  But Frances is beginning to chafe under the weight of her mother's dreams, and with the help of a computer error that lands her in speech class instead of calculus, begins to choose her own path.

I almost didn't finish this book.  The San Francisco references were super-obvious, but not in a way that made me think, "Oh, cool! I've been there!"  It seemed more like a tour book of the city.  That, and this book has dated itself.  In the first fifty pages alone there were references to The Little Mermaid, Aqua-Net, and The New Kids on the Block.  Added to the large earthquake that happened on a weekday afternoon, I'd place this book in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area.

I was also very bothered by the mother's constant criticism of the daughter; nothing Frances did was ever good enough.  I sympathized with Frances and cheered for her as she started to make her own decisions about her future.  I almost cried when Frances's mother beat her with the trophy Frances herself had won at a speech tournament, but I was glad that this book had a happy ending. 

Like I said, I almost didn't finish this book.  The pop-culture references from the late eighties dated the book, and the strong emphasis on Chinese culture without highlighting any of its beauties almost gave this book a "fictional memoir" feel.  The same story with the same lessons has been repeated in many places (if you don't believe me, watch Ice Princess). This book isn't a beach read, but it is a good "see how authors are treating child abuse in YA literature" read.

13 June 2011


Brooks, Kevin. Dawn. New York: Scholastic, 2009.

Dawn lives an odd life.  She has no friends to speak of, wears old, shabby clothes, but has the largest television and computer set up of anyone in her class.  She helps her mom by cleaning the house and purchasing groceries, using money she finds in a duffel bag under a floorboard in her mom's room. And they never talk about where the money came from or why her dad left suddenly two years ago, until two of Dawn's "friends" from school come to her house, curious about her flat-screen TV.  Suddenly, it seems that Dawn's life could be in danger.

I admired Dawn's ability to stand up under all of the pressures she was dealing with, and also to handle school in spite of the memories of abuse she was trying to suppress. She and her mom had a wonderful, courageous, Custer-esque last stand at the end of the book.  The plot was pretty obvious, and the "friends" from school were so obviously not genuine, that I finished this book more to say I'd finished it than to actually discover that I was right about the ending.  Nonetheless, it was a good read, and a fast one.

11 June 2011

TJ and the Time Stumblers

Myers, Bill. TJ and the Time Stumblers. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2011.

I was excited to review a book written for a junior high audience.  Having spent six years teaching seventh grade English, I am always on the lookout for good books to recommend to my now-former students. I especially like finding books that I can wholeheartedly recommend as being free of profanity or gross elements that are generally a concern for the parents of my students.  While this book is squeaky-clean, I can't recommend it.

I can't recommend it because the writing is ridiculous.  If a seventh grader had consumed five or six energy drinks and all of his Halloween candy in one sitting, his brain would probably sound a lot like this story reads.  It's chaotic.  It's filled with words in large bold print.  The story is difficult to follow.  If one of my students had written this story, I would not have been that surprised.  However, since this story was written by an adult, I am less than impressed.

I might use this book as a last resort for a student who is absolutely opposed to sitting and reading anything of substance, but only as that last resort.  There are so many better books out there, folks.  Don't bother with this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

10 June 2011

The Emerald Atlas

Stephens, John. The Emerald Atlas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Michael and Emma can't remember their parents, and their older sister, Kate, barely remembers them.  All she knows is that she promised her mother to keep her siblings together.  When they are sent to a final orphanage and transported into the past, Kate finds this promise to be difficult to keep.  Will she be able to look after her brother and sister, rescue the other captured children, and hold on to this mysterious book everyone is searching for?

This book has two things every child likes to read about: orphans and magical worlds.  Part Narnia, part Lord of the Rings, part Unfortunate Events, this was a fun read.  I now understand why I was the 34th person on the waiting list at the library.  This one is definitely worth the wait, folks - stop by your library and add your name to the list today.

09 June 2011

Be Different

Robison, John Elder. Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian. New York: Random House, 2011.

In his first memoir Look Me in the Eye, Robison describes his childhood as an undiagnosed Aspergian.  In his second memoir Robison offers advice for Aspergians attempting to fit in with the world around them and for teachers, friends, and relatives of Aspergians.

In every "do you have Asperger's" test I've ever taken, I always score fairly high.  Robison would label me a proto-aspergian, so I was intrigued to read about the difficulties he has faced in adjusting to the world around him and the adaptations he has chosen to make so that he can fit in better.  This book was interesting, although not as informative as I had hoped.

08 June 2011

The Running Dream

Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Running Dream. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Jessica is a runner on her high-school track team.  She has set records, broken records, and brought her team to victory time and time again.  There's nothing Jessica loves more than crossing the finish line. Until one day her school bus is struck by a runaway truck and Jessica loses one leg below the knee.  Now her dreams of a running scholarship for college are replaced by dreams of being able to walk again. 

Jessica returns to school and determines that she will not only walk, but also run again some day.  Until that time, though, she must travel to all of her classes via wheelchair, and her wheelchair is what allows her to meet one of her practicaly invisible classmates.  Rosa, a brilliant student with cerebal palsy, sits with Jessica in math class.  Rosa's sunny disposition and genius at mathematics soon win Jessica over and they become fast friends.  Jessica learns to walk on a prosthetic leg and then turns her attention to making Rosa's finish line dreams come true.

I love this book.  I like this story so much I might just have to add a copy of this book to my personal library.  It is a clean, good story of a teen who faces incredible odds and beats them, and then turns her success into success for another person.   I was cheering for Jessica and Rosa as I turned the final pages of this book.  Stop by your library today and check this book out.  It will be well worth your time.

07 June 2011

Cryer's Cross

McMann, Lisa. Cryer's Cross. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011.

Kendall lives in a very, very small town.  Her entire high school fits in one classroom.  Kendall has been thriving in this small community in spite of her OCD, which she has learned to manage as long as her routine isn't interrupted.  Then one of her sophomore classmates disappears.  Then a fellow senior disappears.  Kendall, who notices everything, sees a new piece of graffiti etched into a desk in the senior section of her classroom.  The new graffiti looks like it's been there forever, and it says, "Please save me."  Will Kendall be able to piece together the mystery and save everyone before it's too late?

This was a mildly interesting story with a fairly predictable plot.  I was more intrigued by Kendall's struggles with OCD than I was the actual plot.  At just over 200 pages, though, it's a quick read.  I don't know that I can agree with the reviewer who called this book "eerie, gripping, addictive," but it was interesting.  Cryer's Cross won't be in my top ten list for this year, but it was worth carrying home in my backpack.

05 June 2011

Almost Perfect

Katcher, Brian. Almost Perfect. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

I almost didn't read this book.  I picked it up at the library and read the synopsis, which starts with "Logan is sad because his girlfriend cheated on him."  Okay, so that's a bit of a paraphrase, but I was instantly turned off.  I kind of felt sorry for Logan, but since he is only a character in a novel, I figured I'd leave him and his emotional issues on the shelf.  But then I finished the synopsis: Logan lives in a very small town and a new girl, Sage, joins his class at school.  Logan befriends Sage and starts to pull out of his "breakup funk" when he discovers a terrifying secret: Sage is biologically male, although she has always felt she was female.  This is when the book began to get interesting.

I feel sorry for Sage.  I can't claim to understand the issues of transgender individuals, but it's clear from this story that Sage is hurting.  She has been rejected by her parents and scares away her friends when they discover the truth.  She wants desperately to have a body that matches the gender she believes she is.  She has to hide the truth from everyone.  Her parents are ashamed of her and have not even let her out of the house for four years. 

Like I said, I can't claim to understand this issue in its entirety.  I'm not even going to devote more blog space to it.  But this book was interesting in its handling of this particular issue, especially the way Logan chooses to respond to Sage and Sage's decisions at the end of the story.  If nothing else, this book definitely made me think.

04 June 2011

Hold Still

LaCour, Nina. Hold Still. New York: Dutton Books, 2009.

Caitlin is starting her junior year of high school still reeling from her best friend's suicide only months before.  She finds Ingrid's diary under her bed and enters into her friend's world, trying to understand why she would choose death instead of life. Dylan, a new girl at school, befriends Caitlin and tries to pull her out of her depression and bring healing to her grieving heart.

This was an interesting book, but not a fast-moving one.  Grief cannot be rushed, and this book takes its time as it wanders along the path of Ingrid's suicide and Caitlin's recovery.  Caitlin's friendship with Dylan becomes her salvation and pulls her out of deep depression.  Through Dylan, Caitlin realizes that there are other people also grieving Ingrid's death and that she can be a help to those people. 

I appreciated Caitlin's choices as she begins to heal.  I was glad for her friendship with Dylan.  This is not a happy book, so it doesn't necessarily have a Disney-style ending, but it was interesting.

03 June 2011

The Heart is not a Size

Kephart, Beth. The Heart is not a Size. New York: HarperTeen, 2010.

Georgia and Riley have been best friends forever.  They do everything together, including taking a summer trip to Mexico to help a rural village get back on its feet.  Georgia has been suspecting that Riley has an eating disorder, but not until they are in Mexico does she confront her about her problem.  And Riley's choice to ignore her problem could have devastating consequences for all involved.

That paragraph made this book sound very intense.  It's not. There's barely a plot and no drama involved.  I kept waiting for the one big, exciting thing to happen but it never did.  There was so much potential in this story, but sadly it fell flat.  Don't bother with this one, folks.