Read It UP!

Mouth-wateringly good books

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 29, 2008

Frannie is growing up in the early 1970′s when segregation is no longer allowed, but still exists.  Her town is divided in two.  African Americans on one side and Caucasians on the other.  Her teacher reads aloud a poem about hope to the class and it inspires Frannie to consider hope more thoroughly.  She is not religious, her mother keeps having miscarrages, her brother is deaf…she is not too certain about this thing called hope.  But as she looks at those around her despite their suffering she realizes they still have hope.  Her brother, despite the fact that he cannot hear is still optimistic and happy.  Her friend Samantha is super religious and when a new boy nicknamed Jesus arrives she wonders what if he was Jesus returned to help the world.  Frannie doesn’t believe this but she admires the hope in Samantha’s eyes.  When she finds out her mother is pregnant again, she is sad because she is sure her mother will lose the baby.  But the way her parents talk about the new baby growing fills everyone with hope.  Even the new boy, who is teased at first because of his light skin…has hope.  He was adopted by an African American family when he was little and living on the white side of town he wasn’t accepted.  His parents told him the African American side of town was very welcoming.  It takes a while, but soon the children at school realize “Jesus” is just a kid like them looking for a place to belong.

I was touched by the hopes and of dreams of each of the characters.  Anyone who has changed schools, knows how hard it can be to be the new kid.  I admired the way Frannie helped the school bully up when he fell.  I also admired the way Jesus Boy was no confrontational until he absolutely had to be.  He used his words instead of his fists as his primary self defense.  Most of all I enjoy the hope floating through the air at the end of the story.  Will Frannie’s new sibiling survive?  Will Jesus Boy and Frannie start dating?

Posted in 2008 Newberry Honor Books | 1 Comment »

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 27, 2008

This is the almost magical tale of how many lives are woven together.  Lily has always been the responsible one in her dysfunctional family.    Her brother, Lonnie, has always been a screw up.  Since their father left them before Lily was born, Lonnie has been a little slower than the other kids.  He starts things then never finishes.  Lily’s mom is sad and disappointed in Lonnie.  Pop, Lily’s grandpa, threatens Lonnie when he turns 22 to get it together or don’t come back.  Lonnie moves out and enrolls in college.  He meets a nice young woman and finally finds what he is good at.  Lily’s mom works long hours as a doctor at an elder care facility.  She often brings home her day patients when they have no where to go.  Lily feels like a little old lady already.  She pays the bills, cooks the dinner, does the housework, and worries about the home.  One day she decides perhaps it is time to be a kid and what better way than to fall in love.  The guy she likes doesn’t know she exists.  So she thinks about him and dreams of him.  On their way to her grandfather’s eightieth birthday party, Lily runs into her crush and it turns out he has noticed her and he asks her out!  Later that night she arrives at her grandparents’ home.  Her brother is there with his fiance.  Her Pop has forgiven him.  Her father calls her.  Magically she has a perfect day and her family doesn’t seem so dysfunctional after all.

I could easily relate to Lily.  Who doesn’t think their family is somewhat dysfunctional?  I know there were times I wished I had a different family, just as I’m sure many teens feel the same way.  Part of life is realizing your family is all you have and dysfunctional or not you have to learn to accept them for who they are.  You have to forgive their flaws and focus on their best qualities.  Lily realizes this when she sees her family together at her Pop’s house.

Posted in 2008 Printz Honor Books | No Comments »

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 26, 2008

We all have regrets in life.  Things we wish we could erase from our past.  This is a complicated tale about Deanna, her ex Tommy, her brother, her parents and her friends.  Deanna’s life is full of regrets.  When she was thirteen she had a sexual relationship with a her brother’s bestfriend Tommy (who was seventeen at the time.)  No one knew for almost a year, until her father followed them to their makeout spot and caught them having sex.  He was horrified and never looked her in the eye after that day.  Tommy, being an insensitive jerk, spread it all around school.  He told a bunch of guys that Deanna was asking for it and always wanted to have sex with him.  He made her sound desperate.  He made it all sound like a joke.  Each day since then, she sees their stares in the hall at school.  People whisper around her.  She hasn’t dated since then.

Her home life is complicated as well.  Her brother and his wife moved into the basement after she got pregnant right out of high school.  They both have low paying jobs and are struggling to make it.  Regret is written all over their faces.  He father is cruel to her and her mother is so busy trying to make ends meet that she doesn’t have time to spend with Deanna.  Her father looks like her regrets ever having Deanna.

Thank goodness for her friends.  It used to just be Deanna and Jason, her neighbor.  They would hang out.  It was an easy going friendship.  Then Lee came along.  She was so sweet and didn’t care about the rumors about Deanna.  Before long Lee and Jason started dating.  At that moment, Deanna realized that she had always liked Jason.  She feels rejected, wondering: Did Jason not ask me out because of all those rumors?  While Lee is out of town, Deanna confronts Jason and kisses him.  Instantly their relationship changes and Deanna knows they can’t be together.  He tells Lee what happened and she forgives Deanna.  But, it takes Deanna a few months to face her again.

In the middle of everything she gets a job and finds her ex Tommy working there.  At first she thinks she can’t handle being around him, but she takes the job anyway.  Eventually, she confronts him and tells him he was a jerk for spreading all those rumors about her.  He looks shocked…like it never occurred to him that it bothered her so much.  A couple of days later he apologizes.  Soon after that she forgives him.  Already her life is beginning to change and Deanna learns that life is what you make it.   It can be difficult, but no one said life would be easy.

Who hasn’t made mistakes?  Who doesn’t wish they could take back some stupid thing they did when they were younger?  I can totally relate to the frustrating feeling of rumors following you.  Teenagers can be so cruel sometimes.  I think junior high was probably the worst time in my life.  I was new at school.  People talked about me because I was different.  I just wanted to get out of the small closed minded town I lived in…just like Deanna.  I couldn’t see what was on the horizon for me five or ten years down the road.  At times I felt hopeless…just like Deanna.  I think teens will strongly relate to this novel, as I know I have.

Posted in 2008 National Book Award in Young People's Literature F | No Comments »

Repossed by A.M. Jenkins

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 26, 2008

This story is an based on an interesting concept.  A Fallen Angel named Kiriel gets tired of his hum drum life watching over lost souls in hell so he decided to come to Earth to experience what life has to offer.  At first he hopes no one will notice he is gone, so he can enjoy his time in a body he has confiscated (Shaun’s body.)  He appreciates every little detail of life.  The feel of a hot shower.  Eating ketchup.  Petting a cat.  Before long he wants to make a difference in the world.  He realizes that Shaun’s life is not as good as it could be.  Shaun’s brother, Jason, has shut himself off from the world.  He is always doing something wrong, usually breaking things, often angry.  In reality, he is scared that no one will accept him for how he truly is.  Because Kiriel knows all, he knows Jason’s fears and he tries to use Shaun’s body to be good big brother to Jason.  Since Jason and Shaun had picked on each other since Jason will little, at first Jason doesn’t know whether to trust him or not.  Soon Jason goes along with Shaun to his friend Bailey’s house and their friendship blossoms from there.  Jason starts to look forward to hanging out with Shaun.  They have normal conversations.  They are a family.  Jason also knows that a girl at school has had a crush on Jason for quite some time, but Jason has not even noticed her.  So he decided to start spending time with her at school.  His intentions at first are all wrong.  He only wants to get to know her so he can experience sex.  She sets him straight quite quickly by informing him she’s not having sex with him.  So they settle for hanging out with his friend Bailey and playing video games. Throughout it all, Kiriel wonders where he truly belongs.  He wonders if the Creator knows he is missing.  And if so…does HE care?  Just as he becomes comfortable in Jason’s body…they come to take him back to hell.  Before he goes Hanael, the Unfallen who has come to take him back, tells him that Shaun will regain his life within his body.  But, he will be hit by a car and put in a coma so he will forget what has happened to him.  Shaun will have to fight for his life and start over.  Thus, making him appreciate the life he never appreciated before.

Kiriel, like so many of us, wonders what his place in the universe is.  Is our Creator watching us?  Does he personally know who we are?  As I read this I thought, what a universal theme to write about.  I know I have pondered this question as have many people across the world.  Does He truly hear our prayers?  Is He noticing the good things I am doing in this world?  It is a never ending journey…trying to make the world a better place day by day.  Kiriel, on his way back to hell is already thinking about how to improve the lives of the souls trapped there and hopping perhaps his Creator will notice.

Posted in 2008 Printz Honor Books | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Check out Wordle.net!

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 24, 2008

I found this website based on the recommendation of a fellow SHSU student.  Thanks Shelli.  www.wordle.net allows users to input words and the program creates a work of art for you!  I tried this for one of my favorite new books: Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby.  There were a few things that were tricky for me so I’ll give you a few tips.  If you’d like words to stay together put a tilde ~ between them.  If you want some words larger than others you need to type the same word multiple times.  For example, Amy Amy Amy Ron Ron Emily.  Once you have all your words listed, play around with the arrangements and color schemes!  Most importantly have fun with it.

Posted in Just for fun | Tagged: , | No Comments »

Let it Shine by Ashley Bryan

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 23, 2008

The illustrations in Let is Shine are so vibrant and beautiful.  Let me start by saying that I had no idea that these well loved spirituals originated from the African American slaves!  I found them to be even more special knowing they were created by a people who were so mistreated yet still so full of hope.  The author Ashley Bryan states that she made this book with “the most forceful illustrations that will capture the underlying meaning of the Spiritual.”

The first spiritual is “This Little Light of Mine.”  The illustrations accompanying this spritual include people dancing and each carrying their light.  I especially liked the image of Satan trying to blow out the candles.  He appears as a face within a dark wind.  I liked that the images include modern times, for example in the verse “Ev’ry where I go, I’m gonna let it shine.”  Bryan includes people in cars, planes, boats, bikes, and skates.

The second spritual is “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching in.”  It begins with a variety of people of all colors, man, woman, and child walking toward the sun.  Perhaps this image represents the son, Jesus Christ.  The verse “when the sun refuse to shine” is really interesting; we see dark houses and cars driving with their lights on.  An interesting swirling circle appears where the sun once shone.

In “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” the first image is of a town.  Upon closer inspection we see that it is a town of many different cultures: a tepee, an igloo, huts, pyramids, Greek columns and a skyscrapper.  I loved the images of God’s hands filled with flowers, trees, water, and volcanoes.

I never thought about these spirituals so deeply until I saw the accompanying images Bryan chose.  This picture book was beautiful and moving.

Posted in Winner 2008 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration | Tagged: | No Comments »

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 23, 2008

Joey lost her hearing when she was six.  He father beat her so badly she went deaf.  She still has phantom sounds that roll around in her head sometimes.  Like her mom singing.  She is thirteen at the start of the novel.  Her mother has not allowed her to learn sign language for fear others will think she is not normal.  For seven years she has struggled to read lips.  Lip reading is difficult to impossible depending on how easy it is to follow a person’s speech.  Joey easily communicates with her mom, so long as she is looking at her when she speaks.  With the rest of the world, Joey is isolated.  She has very few friends.  In order to hear her teachers she has to wear a special head set.  The students call her “insect head,” causing Joey to try her best to make due without it.  She can speak, but she is only able to hear extremely loud sounds like chain saws.

Everything changes one day when she meets a neighbor who has a pet Chimanzee named Sukari.   Sukari’s owner, Charlie, has taught her American Sign Language. Since he grew up with deaf parents he knew how much easier it was to communicate with sign language rather than lipreading.  Charlie is appalled when he learns that Joey’s mother will not allow her to learn sign language.  He secretly helps her learn signs and gives her a book.  For the first time in a long time she is enjoying life.  She asks Charlie to speak to her mom about the importance of sign language.  Her mother is stubborn and difficult.  She will not support Joey until Joey’s stepfather starts to insist that this is best for Joey.  In the meantime, Joey spends most afternoons with Charlie and Sukari practicing sign.

When Charlie dies he leaves Joey a trust fund so she can go to a deaf school and then to college.  He also leaves a trust for Sukari so that she is well taken care of.  The problem is Sukari is a baby.  To care for her is like trying to care for ten toddlers.  No one is able to provide the care she needs.  To Joey’s dismay, Sukari is sent to a zoo.  While Joey is away at school, she finds out the because Sukari couldn’t get along with the other chimps she has been sent to a lab.  It breaks her heart to hear this (and mine) so Joey does everything in her power to get Sukari back.

I was touched by the relationship Joey had with Sukari.  I have deaf relatives and it was important for me to gain insight into what a deaf person’s private life is like.  They did not get the chance to attend deaf school and this got me wondering whether their lives would have turned out differently if they had been given that opportunity.  I also grew up in an abusive home and just as Joey is confronted with memories of that abuse throughout her life my own nightmares still haunt me.  I felt like I could relate to Joey.  I think readers will as well.

Posted in Winner 2008 Schneider Family Award | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by Marcia Williams

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 23, 2008

Marcia Williams’ book Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is an excellent way to get high school students interested in the original Canterbury Tales from 1380s.  The inside cover has some tips for the reader that I did not see until I had finished reading the entire book.  I wish I had read this section first.  It suggests readers read aloud the lines in Medieval English so that they will be able to understand the dialogue.  With this in mind, the book is much easier to understand.  Since this is the tale of a pilgimage from Southwark to Canterbury, I thought the table of contents was very uniquely done.  Each of the storytellers is riding on horseback in the order they appear in the story.  Each is holding a banner with the title of their tale and its page number.  The story begins with a quick introduction of the characters.  I really liked the layout of the storyboards.  Williams’ illustrated this book with beautiful engaging watercolor images.  Each page has a border which includes a title of the tale at the top of the page and audience comments on the outer sides of each page.  Along the bottom we follow the travelers along their journey and see which pilgrim is telling the current tale.  The images are so full of intricate and interesting details that this story could be read multiple times and still new details would emerge.  NIne tales are included.  Each pilgrim tries to outdo the previous storytellers, since the person with the best tale will earn a free dinner upon arrival at Canterbury.  The tales are about love (The Knight’s Tale), dishonesty (The Reeve’s Tale), honor (The WIfe of Bath’s Tale) and justice (The Parndoner’s Tale.)  When they finally arrive in Canterbury the fate of the winner of a free meal is left in the hands of the reader.

As I read this book, I was intrigued by the fact that all of the themes still easily relate to today’s society.  I appreicated the format of the text boxes on each page.  Stories are told in a graphic novel fashion with Medieval dialogue placed by the characters and in a separate text box below each is a modern English explanation.  Students will be able to relate to this story better with the paired explanation.   I also appreciated the glossary at the back of the book, although it was limited.  There were quite a few words I had trouble with and I am sure teens also would appreciate more words included in the glossary.  Currently there are only 12.  Also these words were not in italics, bold or underlined.  I had no idea they were defined in the back until I finished the entire book.  At that point I felt lazy to go back and remember what pages these words appeared on.  I wonder…if I felt this way…would teens take the time to go back to the story?

Overall, this was a great read.  It was short (only 45 pages.)  But, plan to spend some time reading this.  It’s not a quick read.  The Medieval English and thought provoking themes require you to dedicate sometime pondering the meaning of the tales.

Posted in 2008 Notable Books for Children List | No Comments »

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 20, 2008

Holling Hoodhood has officially inspired me to reread Shakespeare.  I know what you are thinking, a librarian who hasn’t read Shakespeare?!  The horror!  Well I have read some of Shakespeare’s plays…especially Romeo and Juliet since I taught it to my eighth grade classes for the past six years.  However, after Holling’s reviews of Shakespeare’s plays in The Wednesday Wars I feel like I am missing out on some of his other plays.  I hope that when young people read this book they will also be inspired to read some of Shakespeare’s plays and see what all the hooplah is about.

Mrs. Baker hates Holling Hoodhood.  At least that’s what he thinks, since she tortures him by making him read Shakespeare every Wednesday.  While all the other kids in seventh grade go to Catechism or Hebrew school, Holling has to remain with Mrs. Baker since he is Presbyterian.  It turns out that Holling enjoys reading Shakespeare each Wednesday with Mrs. Baker.  She is strict and often does the teacher “stare.” But she comes alive when she reads Shakespeare with Holling.  He starts to see her as a person and not just a teacher.  Shakespeare starts to influence Holling’s life.  He starts memorizing lines (especially the curses) and using them in everyday speech. It even becomes almost a secret code between him and Mrs. Baker.  He ends up performing in the Long Island Shakespeare Company’s Holiday Extravaganza.  The problem is…he has to wear yellow tights with feathers on the butt.  He hopes no one at school will see him, imagine what would happen if his classmates saw him playing the role of a fairy and wearing yellow tights with feathers!  It wouldn’t be a good thing.  Just when he thinks Mrs. Baker has started to like him, she announces to the class that for extra credit they can go see Holling’s play!  He is mortified at the thought of his classmates seeing him.  In the end he is more embarrassed by the fact that hardly anyone shows up, including his parents (who preferred to stay home and watch It’s A Wonderful Life on T.V.)  Mrs. Baker is there for him in the front row.  Through out the book, she is the constant in his life.  While his father is busy trying to do whatever it takes to win the bid on the next architecture assignment, he misses out on Holling’s accomplishments.  His father has always told him to make sure he doesn’t embarrass himself, because one day he will inherit the architecture firm Hoodhood and Associates.  Holling begins to realize he wants to find out who he is and not have his future determined for him by his father.

I appreciated the vocabulary of this novel, including words such as nefarious with context clues to help the reader figure out the meaning.  It was laugh out loud funny at some points.

Posted in 2008 Newberry Honor Books | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Posted by Mrs. Marquez on July 20, 2008

Before I start discussing the plot of the book, let me start by saying I listened to the audiobook of Homeboyz.  The narrator, J.D. Jackson, did an excellent job with the voices for the characters. Each character’s voice was so believable, even the female character Diaz.  I think 8-12 graders will really appreciate how authentic the gang members sound.  (You know kids will not be hooked if the gangsters sound “fake.”)  The main character Teddy sounds completely different from the gangsters, he sounds educated, inquisitive and a little full of himself.

Teddy (aka TB) is doing pretty great despite of the rough neighborhood he lives in.  He is excelling in school and is being recruited for a CIA summer academy. Until…his sister is an innocent victim in a drive by shooting.  At this point Teddy’s world changes.  He decided he must get revenge for the death of his sister by the local gang the 010s.  He stakes out a small group of gang members at a local convient store. Teddy’s very well prepared.  He has tricks them into “selling” him drugs, so he can get them alone in a deserted alley.  He quickly incapcitates two and is bargaining with the third to find out who killed his sister.  Before he finds out, the police arrive.  Teddy is put in juvie.  I greatly appreciated the accurate portayal of time in juvie.  Teddy says it is not something that you are proud of or excited to tell your friends about.  It’s hell.  After his time in juvie, he gets probation so long as he participates in a new community program and wears an ankle monitor.

This community program involves Teddy mentoring a younger boy, Micah, who is also on probation and on the verge of joining a gang.  Micah is a HANDFUL!  He mimics Teddy and refuses to call him Teddy.  He won’t work on his homework with Teddy.  He is stubborn.  Teddy finally befriends him when he brings in some Burger King and shares with Micah.  Micah is living in a foster home and doesn’t get much  to eat.  Teddy sees how hungry Micah is and realizes why Micah is the way he is.  Teddy starts making an effort at this point.  He takes Micah home and it seems to be just what Teddy’s mom needed.  After the death of her daughter she has become a recluse.  She immediately takes to Micah, seeing how hungry he is and how much he needs a mother’s love.  Micah and Teddy become allies.  Micah even finds out for Teddy who killed his sister.  In the end Teddy realizes he doesn’t need to kill the person who killed his sister anymore.  Teddy has grown tremendously.  He starts to appreciate his relationship with Micah and no longer takes his family for granted.  Great read!

Posted in 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »