Thursday, September 30, 2010

B is for Bulldozer by June Sobel

I happened upon this book at our local library in the ABC section.  It was quite on accident; I didn't even know the library had an ABC section.  Eek.  My four-year-old boy and I love this book!  It tells the story of a construction crew building an amusement park.  The large colorful illustrations show construction machines in action.  The project takes a while, so the seasons change too.  The letter on each page stands out from the rest of the text, so it's easy to follow the alphabet through the story.  I love this book! 

P.S. I love this from the author's bio on the book's back flap: "June Sobel's construction education began eight years ago, when her eighteen-month-old son mysteriously yelled 'big trucks' from the backseat of the car, and then began talking about bulldozers in his sleep.  She was inspired to write her first childen's book for construction lovers just like him."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

2010 Newbery Winner
Summary: Miranda is an only child growing up in New York City during the 1970s.  She starts receiving mysterious messages from an unsigned author.  The messages reveal the future and tell that he or she is coming to save her friend's life.  The messages also warn Miranda to keep the information to herself.  It's a lot for a young girl to handle by herself.  Will the mysterious person save her friend's life?  Miranda discovers this and other mysteries in this science fiction novel that explores time travel.

This is a good novel.  It makes you think and entertains at the same time.  It is confusing at times, and Stead expects her readers to be able to handle a certain level of confusion while they read it.  It is a mystery after all.  Answers will be revealed, but you'll have to wait until the last quarter of the book to get them.  It reminded me of a mix between A Wrinkle in Time and The Westing Game.

My only beef with the book is that the Lord's name is taken in vain a handful of times. I don't like that anytime, but I think it is unnecessary and easily replaceable in a book aimed at a young audience.

For those of you who've read it, Rebecca Stead grew up in NYC as an only child, had a laughing man near her home, and her own mother was a contestant on $10,000 Pyramid.  : ) 


Park's Quest by Katherine Paterson

Summary: Growing up in D.C. with his mother, all Park knows about his father is that he died in the Vietnam War.  His mother refuses to disclose any information on his father.  Finally, Park takes matters into his own hands: he visits the Vietnam Memorial and convinces his mother to let him visit his father's family in southern Virginia.  He spends the rest of the book learning about his father, uncle, and grandfather at the farm in VA.

The summary sounds kind of interesting, right?  Well, this is the worst book I've read in years.  The worst book I've read since high school or junior high--and I'm 31!  While the summary says he learns about his father, uncle, and grandfather, that means he learns about 2 things about each character.  Two.  Things.  Note to author: more details, please.

Reasons: confusing, boring, lack of character development, no theme

This book is aimed for middle schoolers!  I remember substitute teaching in middle school, and this book was required reading.  Aye, yigh yigh!  This book should NOT be required reading...for anyone.  I mean if you want middle schoolers to hate reading, then assign this book.  Otherwise, find a book that has action, developed characters, and a purpose/theme.

I know it's a harsh review.  If you enjoyed the book, feel free to comment and give a more well-rounded review of the book.


Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Join the fun at book journey by Sheila!

What I Finished Last Week:
Park's Quest by Katherine coming
When You Reach Me (re-read) by Rebecca coming

What I'm Reading Now:
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

National Book Festival Report
A separate post on the National Book Festival is here.


National Book Festival 2010

Rebecca Stead signs my friend's poster.

Close-up on Rebecca.

PBS Kids had their own stars on display.

I posed with Superwhy for my boys.

Mem Fox speaking.
I know you're probably wondering, Where is Suzanne Collins?  Here's the story: we arrived late, so we missed her presentation!  So we hurried over to the book signing line where we were told that the line had been forming since 8:30 am and we shouldn't bother jumping in at this point.  Bummer!  Oh well, we still had a great time!

Here are authors we heard speak: Rebecca Stead, Jane Smiley, Margarita Engle, M.T. Anderson, and Mem Fox.   Katherine Paterson spoke at 4, but we didn't wait around to hear her.  Did I mention it was nearly 90 degrees, and everything was outside?  Instead, we cooled down at the fountain in the middle of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (we sat on the edge and stuck our feet in!) and then enjoyed the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The fabulous fountain in the middle of the Sculpture Garden.

Martha Washington's dress at Smithsonian.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Here's my List for Fall Into Reading 2010

Hosted by callapidder days
The time frame for this challenge is from today until December 22nd. So here are books I'd like to read in that time.  I'm aiming high!!! 

For Aussie Author Challenge

  • Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
  • The Book Thief or I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak 
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  • Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson (finish)
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  • Personality Plus for Parents by Florence Littauer
 Newbery Winners
  • Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
  • Lincoln, a Photobiography
  • Richard III by Shakespeare
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona by Shakespeare
  • Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • Pollyanna (re-read) 

YA/middle readers
  • Mexico by Melody Carlson
  • Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
  • Anna and the French Kiss
  • a Rebecca Stead novel (I re-read When You Reach Me)
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  • Park's Quest by Katherine Paterson
  • Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell (re-read)

  • Sisterchicks go Brit by Robin Jones Gunn
  • Finding Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn (re-read)
  • another Christmas book--any suggestions?
  • Under a Maui Moon by Robin Jones Gunn (finish)
    Read-Aloud with preschool son
    • Tumtum and Nutmeg, Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
    • any other suggestions?
      Reading-Related Goals
      • Read all the book selections for the Midday Connection Book Club for this time period.
      • Read all the book selections for my YA Book Club for this time period.
      • Read to the boys a half an hour each weekday.
      • Post a review for each book I read.
      Woo-hoo! Just composing this list was fabulous!


      Monday, September 20, 2010


      We interrupt the regular book posts to bring you a funny video!

       I just discovered comedian Tim Hawkins and had to share him with you! Here he sings about his love for Chik-Fil-A, a love that I share with him!  It made me laugh out loud, and I hope you enjoy it as well!!  You can enjoy other shorts at his website.

      Sunday, September 19, 2010

      It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

      Brought to you by Sheila at book journey.  Join the fun!
      What I Finished Last Week:
      Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy.  Well-written free verse novel that I recommend!  My review is here.

      What I'm Reading:
      How to Organize just about Everything by Peter Walsh.  Peter is the organizing guru from TLC's "Clean Sweep"--I love that show!

      I Plan to Read:
      First Light by Rebecca Stead
      Park's Quest by Katherine Paterson
      Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

      I Plan to Attend:
      The National Book Festival in Washington DC!  Are you planning on going?  Maybe we'll run into each other in the book signing line for Suzanne Collins or Rebecca Stead.  Read more details about the festival and see a picture of Meg Cabot signing my book in 2005 here.


      Thursday, September 16, 2010

      Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

      This is the true story of a Holocaust survivor.

      From the inside jacket:
      In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland, and moved the Jewish population into a small part of the city called a ghetto.  As the war progressed, 270,000 people were forced to settle in the ghetto under impossible conditions.  At the end of the war, there were about 800 survivors.  Of those who survived, only twelve were children.  This is the story of one of the twelve.

      This story was amazing.  I knew it was a true story, so I knew Syvia survived, but I was amazed again and again at how she survived.  Her father played a huge part in her survival.  He impressed me with his quick thinking, firm loyalty to his family, levelheadedness, and ability to outsmart the Nazis.  He is a beautiful (real!) character, and he is reason enough to read this book. 

      I won't give away who lives and who'll have to read it to find out!  Jennifer Roy's Author's Note at the end of the novel gives a detailed account of what happened to the story's main characters.  The story is especially sweet because Jennifer Roy is the niece of Syvia, so she knows many of the people she wrote about.  Jennifer Roy also includes a helpful WWII timeline at the end of the novel.

      Jennifer Roy did a great job on this novel.  I am very impressed, and I am glad that she captured so well the history of her aunt and the survivors of the Lodz ghetto.  You will be amazed.

      Obvious but fair warning: you will also be sad.  Middle schoolers can handle it, but they should debrief with a loving caring adult after reading it.  The Holocaust is a dark, evil spot in history, and younger readers should have someone help them understand it.  I guess it comes down to when you think your child is ready for an introduction to the Holocaust. 

      P.S. As for the religious aspect, the book is obviously about Jews, but for the most part, religion is not included in Syvia's story.  The Jews pray aloud when the Germans are bombing the ghetto, and the Author's Note says that every night Syvia prays the Jewish prayer for the dead.  There are no other references to religious Jewish practices.

      Syvia asks questions from a child's perspective like, "Why do they hate us because we're Jews?" and "Is my doll a Jew too?"  Her older sister tells Syvia that the Germans hate them because "they think we killed their God."  Syvia gets concerned that God is dead, and her sister calms her down by saying, "not our God, their God.  God is still alive."  That is the extent of any kind of theology in the book. Sorry, those are not direct quotes; I can't find the page in the book!


      Monday, September 13, 2010

      It's Monday! What are You Reading?

      Join the fun at book journey with Sheila.

      What I Finished Last Week

      The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  My review is here.  It is a middle grade novel based on the true story of a young man who dared to defy Hitler during WWII.

      What I'm Reading
      Not much!  I've been sick as a dog and sleeping for hours on end.  I just picked up books from the library today, so I should start something new any day.


      Saturday, September 11, 2010

      The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

      This is based on the true story of Helmuth Hubener, a Morman youth who lived in Hitler's Germany.  Individual freedoms have been stripped away including the option of listening to or reading anything that is not approved by the Nazis. In this way, Hitler is able to feed Germany his propaganda and squash outside ideas that would betray him.  By illegally listening to a shortwave radio, Helmuth discovers there is more going on in Europe than Hitler wants Germans to know.  He can't stay silent and decides to share the truth with others.  But it may cost him his life. 

      I liked this book.  Personally, I learned more about Nazi Germany by reading this book than though my textbook in high school.  One reason I liked this book is because it showed me average Germans.  The other books I've read about World War II Germany have been about the Nazi soldiers terrorizing other countries.  (Number the Stars, Stones in Water, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) It's so easy to categorize Germans as evil.  However this book showed me that the Nazis were terrorizing their own countrymen, and that the average German cannot be grouped with the Nazi Regime.  The Germans lived under hard conditions, heard Hitler promise jobs for all and prosperity, and believed that he was going to help their country.  Hitler got the people on his side and fed them a heavy diet of propaganda.  The Germans did not know his true motives.  For example they understood that he hated Jews, but they didn't know that he planned to exterminate them.  Also, the book showed that even when Germans discovered truth, the Gestapo would arrest and torture them to shut them up.  I already knew that Jews rejoiced when Allied forces freed them from their concentration camps, but now I understand that when Hitler fell, Germany was released from it's own prison.

      This book is a great starting place for a discussion on Nazi Germany and a good companion read for your student studying WWII.  It also goes well with Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli.  My review of it is here.  Both of these books have deepened my knowledge of World War II.


      Wednesday, September 1, 2010

      The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

      Check out the creepy cover!  It's perfect for the book, but it's so disturbing that I tried to hide it from my kids, and I avoided looking at it myself!

      Summary from the front of the book:
      In 1888, twelve-year-old Will Henry chronicles his apprenticeship with Dr. Warthrop, a scientist who hunts and studies real-life monsters, as they discover and attempt to destroy a pod of Anthropophagi.

      First of all, I hate horror movies.  I don't watch them, period.  As you may have guessed, I'd never read a horror book either.  Until this one.  And it took me for a ride!  Whoa.  The reason I read it is because it was on the IWU Adolescent Literature syllabus that I read through.  This was the last one; I finished on time!

      Many elements of the Gothic novel were present such as both psychological and physical terror, mystery, death, decay, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses. (click here for source.)  It was tough to get through because I generally dislike psychological terror, and I was unsure how the author would represent God in the context of the story. (more on that later) Not to mention that the physical terror is explained extremely graphically.  Yancey's imagery and details are so good that I can close my eyes and picture the scenes of horror after closing the pages yesterday.  He doesn't leave you wondering how much damage the monsters can do.  He shows you.

      As for the religious aspect, Yancey has different types of characters.  There are the Christian townspeople, the scientist who does not bother himself with religion because it is hard to marry morals with science, and the evil hunter.  I think Yancey did a fair job at presenting the three types and letting the reader make his/her own judgments.  (I'm so tired of authors writing with an anti-Christian or anti-Christianity slant.)  Plus, readers of the novel have the advantage of knowing the work is fiction, as are the monsters know as Anthropophagi, so they don't have to wrestle with the characters' questions such as, "Are these monsters soulless beasts from hell or an animal God ordained to create?"

      Overall, I liked the book!

      P.S. This is the first in a monstrumology trilogy.  Book 2 sends Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry on a monster hunt in Canada.  It's release date is October 2010.