Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Title:  Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 24, 2010)
Genre: dystopian, science fiction, action, romance, political
Rating: 5 out of 5

My thoughts: 
    The "much-awaited" book three of the Hunger Games trilogy sounds  so cliche, but I really was waiting for this book with bated breath. Even more of a cliffhanger than Vladimir Tod: Eleventh Grade Burns, Catching Fire was one of those books where I wanted to kick myself for reading it without waiting for the last book to come out.
     In this last book, when we see Katniss, she is making sense of her sudden rescue from her second Hunger Games, and she must face the fact that with the Capitol's destruction of district 12, the rebellion that she seems to have sparked in the districts will be calling on her to lead even if she just wants to take care of herself and protect those that she loves.
     It's easy to forget how young Katniss is when everyone expects her to be politically saavy and stable. I actually like when her insecurities and selfishness come out.
     I think some people won't enjoy this book because the ending is not as satisfying or as tidy as some people want it to be. Katniss will lose people that she loves. She will be betrayed, and she will be abandoned. Does she finally make a choice between Peeta and Gale? The choice is made. In the end, I'm glad that things don't end as happily as it could have. I like that Collins sacrfices some characters that are highly loved. That's what makes this so good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer

Title: Twelfth Grade Kills
Author: Heather Brewer
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (September 21, 2010)
Genre: paranormal, action, vampires, romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:  from product description
As a teenage vampire, Vlad has spent the last four years trying to handle the pressures of school while sidestepping a slayer out for his blood. Now he's a senior, and in this final, action-packed book in the series, Vlad must confront the secrets of the past, unravel the mystery of who he really is, make decisions about his future, and face his greatest enemy. It's a senior year that totally bites. 

My thoughts:  **Spoiler Alert for Book 4**
      After being totally sucked in to book four Eleventh Grade Bleeds where Brewer ends with the sudden resurrection of Tomas Tod, Vlad's father,  this book will seem anticlimactic, but it's inevitable. This is the end of a series that I've invested several years reading. I initially picked up book 1, Eighth Grade Bites  because Vlad was the same age as my students, going through the same middle school angst of school crushes, dealing with bullies and spending time with a best friend who accepts him for what he is (a half vampire/half human). Vlad was an alternative to moody Bella, and Brewer's books, at half the size were more appealing to reluctant readers who wanted vampire adventures without the bulk of the Twilight series.  Each book has Vlad literally fighting for his life from someone or something determined to stake him in the heart. It made for exciting reading, not because he might die, (of course he's not going to die, the series carries his name), but the excitement came from watching Vlad try to hold onto his strong ethics and morals despite the various enemies that come into his life.

As Vlad gets older, though, the books get darker. He's faced with larger issues, and his innocence and strong morals inevitably corrode as his enemies get more powerful and more people that he loves are threatened. This last book is the darkest yet and Vlad, through the five years of this story has not only grown stronger, but a bit more cynical and jaded. In the end, anger and sorrow replace innocence. In the end, Vlad grows up, and as readers, the end is never as good as the beginning, but it's an  end. I'm not really happy with what happens, but I wouldn't change it either. It's like watching your kids grow up -- you can't protect or shelter them from evil, even if you know it will change them.  You just have to watch them go.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tween Tuesday: Shakespeare Bats Cleanup

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Green Bean Teen Queen that highlights great reads for tweens.
Author: Ron Koertge
Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (February 2006)
Genre: novel in verse
Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: Liliha Public Library

This novel in verse is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Kevin Boland, who while he is laid up at home for months with a bout of mono is given a journal by his writer father and writes poems from a book in his father's library. By playing with different forms of poetry, Kevin shares his thoughts on the loss of his mother, baseball and making out with girls.  Even after he's better, he continues to write poems. The genius in this type of book is that it shows young readers that poetry can be about anything. I also like it because like Locomotion (Jacqueline Woodson) and Love That Dog (Sharon Creech), the protagonist is a  young boy finding his voice for the very first time and using writing as a way to express his sorrows and frustrations.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Poop Happened by Sarah Albee

Title: Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up
Author: Sarah Albee
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (May 2010)
Paperback: 176 pages
Genre: non-fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5
 This self-proclaimed "number one book on number two" is a hilarious, informational romp into the history of excrement, civilization's "roll" in it, the ways we dealt with it and all things associated with  poop including hygiene, occupations, fashion, and stench.

Stephanie Harvey, author of Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding talks about research that males overall prefer reading more non-fiction than fiction, and  with this book, I found that the guys did gravitate toward this one and actually stick with it and start reading.

I think what's going for this book is the shock value of the title, but what keeps them reading is the large-text information snippets, graphics and unusual sidebars like "icky occupations" and "hygiene heroes." The information is mostly geared around the history of poop in Europe, and London in particular, but it's a very interesting sociological journey, and since we all do it, why not learn about it?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Erin McCahan Blog Tour: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

The blog tour is on for this book and I must say, I totally just LOVED it and knew that this was a message that I wanted my students to read about. I actually jumped the whole blog tour gun by posting my review early, so my review is linked here.

Review for I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

I would love to give this book away except that it is making its rounds among my own students and there's still a waiting list.

Who is this book for? Girls who want to read a romance story without the sleaze factor and the girls behaving badly scenes. Guys who want to read about a genuinely good guy who doesn't have to be the "bad boy" to get the girl.

If this sounds like the right book for you, check out I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan.

Guest Post - Author Sharon Dogar

Annexed  by Sharon Dogar comes out on October 4, 2010 from Houghton Mifflin, so I'm thrilled to have the author here to talk about her book. Annexed tells the Anne Frank story from the point of view of Peter van Pels, the teenaged boy who also hid in the annex. Ms. Dogar is a children's psychotherapist who lives in Oxford, England, with her family. She discovered Anne Frank's diary as a child and then again recently when her daughter started reading it. While writing and researching this book, she spent many hours soaking up the atmosphere of the Annex. This is her third novel for young adults. Aloha Ms. Dogar and welcome to Minding the Middle.

Peter van Pels
By Sharon Dogar,
Author of Annexed

What we know of Peter van Pels is almost entirely limited to Anne Frank's diary, and her own personal view of him. He was, it seems, a shy boy, helpful and good with his hands. Reading between the lines of Anne's diary I've tried to imagine what Peter was "really" like. How do I do that? Here's an example: on Peter's arrival in the Annex, Anne describes him as a "hypochondriac" who "won't amount to much." She's fed up and dismissive of his histrionics, as most clever, early adolescent girls would probably be.

Anne describes a boy who sleeps all the time, lacks any type of motivation, has strange physical symptoms and believes he might be dying. If a child in my counseling room felt this way, I'd suspect depression. In fact, from an occupational point of view Peter's depression makes sense; it's a reasonable response to real events. Having to go into hiding to save your life isn't merely depressing, it's terrifying. Peter's "symptoms" and his fear that he's "dying" reflect the reality of both his own situation and of those in the attic. It's possible that this is partly what makes Anne so angry and dismissive of Peter, she doesn't want to be reminded of how dire a situation she is in (not at this stage). She wants to believe that she's safe. Peter's constant 'whinging' (as she calls it) keeps on reminding her that she's in danger.

We all have our own ways of managing fear and difficulty. Anne creates a safe fantasy world for herself (as many writers do) whilst Peter turns his distress into physical symptoms. Looked at in this way, Peter's character takes on a potentially different meaning from the one presented by Anne.

By carefully considering Anne's brilliantly vivid descriptions of Peter, and analyzing what they might mean, I slowly created a picture of how I thought Peter might be, and he came to feel very real to me. Most writers have that feeling of "hearing" their characters voices. Peter's voice (as I heard it) was quiet, thoughtful, questioning, full of feeling and in the end, quite stubborn and determined to be his own person. I can't, of course, know what the "real" Peter van Pels was like, but then again, how well do any of us know each other? How well did Anne know him, and how much was her view coloured by her own needs and desires?

I miss thinking and writing about Peter. I will always feel heart-broken and horrified at the waste of his young, promising life, and the lives of millions of others that the Nazis judged worthless. When it came to researching, imagining and writing about Peter's life in the camps I already felt very close to the character I'd created. I no longer really wanted to take the novel (and Peter) on into Auschwitz. I put off writing every day. I read survivor's testimonies. I went for long walks. I had very bad dreams. I decided that if I was going to go on, and imagine a life in the camps for Peter, then I had to make sure that every part of the "story" of what happened was rooted in reality.  I studied the mechanics of life as a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz. I also realized that in imagining an ending for one person -- Peter van Pels -- I could try to describe the horror and systematic destruction of human life that was a Nazi concentration camp. And so I began to write the final section of the novel. It was written very quickly, almost in one go, and the words came surprisingly easily. Nonetheless, it's not something I would want to do again.

It may sound odd, but for me a part of the horror of human mass destruction is the total disregard those who kill fellow human beings show for the story that each and everyone of us holds within us; the story of our life. So in the end I gave Peter a story. It's probably not the story he would have told himself, but it tries to acknowledge that his story did not end with his arrest on August 1st, 1944, and that there is a story to be told. It may be horrific, it may not be something we want to think about, but Peter, and millions like him had no choice, they had to live it, and unlike the survivors who can give testimony, they died. In their millions. That doesn't mean that they can't be thought about, or that we don't have the right to imagine their story; for me it was the opposite, I felt compelled to create a story.

© 2010 Sharon Dogar
, author of Annexed


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