2013 Summer Reading Recommendations are up for my students: http://blogs.dalton.org/mslibrary/2013-summer-reading-list-for-rising-5th-and-6th-grade-students/ and http://blogs.dalton.org/mslibrary/2013-summer-reading-list-for-rising-7th-and-8th-grade-students/ — the Recommended Book Series are also slightly updated: http://blogs.dalton.org/mslibrary/recommended-book-series/
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Today’s Maurice Sendak’s 85th birthday — yes, we feel that he’s still with us, through his stories, illustrations, works with the theater, and many words of unflinching wisdom! Google Doodles features a great animated tribute to him: http://www.google.com. Go, read something from The Nutshell Library, I Saw Esau, The Juniper Tree, or any of his fantastic books!
Started Cinda Chima’s Warrior Heir last night and just got the audio book of Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree (41 hours of listening awaits.)
by Tamora Pierce
I did not read this one when it was first published in 2011 because I kind of “fell” out of love for Beka Cooper and her escapades after Terrier when Bloodhound did not quite deliver the punch that I was hoping for — even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. (I vaguely recall that I didn’t like how she resolved, or didn’t resolve the relationships with the men in her life and also didn’t find the crime or investigation of the crime gripping.)
But, boy, am I glad that I went back to Beka and was not disappointed!! It’s not that the pacing of this volume is so breathtakingly fast, and it’s not that there is more heart-wrenching romance, somehow, Mastiff just seems more mature and deeper than the previous one, fittingly so, of course, since Beka has matured herself.
This time, the whole kingdom of Tortall is in danger. The little prince was kidnapped and mistreated. Evil and powerful mages are setting traps and murdering innocents. The stakes couldn’t have been higher!
This time, the newly introduced mage, Farmer, also couldn’t have been more entertaining or full of promises — AND he IS so powerful and So very clever!
This time, the mysteries keep me guessing and guessing wrongly a few times!
This time, the conclusion is both sad and satisfying. Everything works out logically and I enjoyed the Epilogue that brings this story to the very first story I read by Tamora Pierce, Alana. It brought a content smile to my face.
A most excellent read!
by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman
This is a short stories collection from 1998. As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.
I did not love all the tales — not even most of them. Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so. Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves. I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults. But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…” – but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way. Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time. (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)
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As an act of Literary Cleansing.. I’m now listening to Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Smoke and Mirrors…. read by Neil himself. Just the Introduction for the stories (and that one fabulous tale called The Wedding Present within the Introduction) is 10 times (or more) better than the entire series of Robert Langdon mysteries by Mr. Dan Brown.
by Dan Brown
I’m so happy that 1. I didn’t spend time reading this book. Instead, I listened to it on audible. It was LONG, but at least I was walking, or washing dishes, and didn’t spend my otherwise precious reading time on this. Paul Michael, the reader, is quite adroit and I enjoyed his voice and inflections — and the subtle but effective switches between characters. But, I cannot say that I enjoyed the book as much as its reader’s voice.
At first, I was somewhat intrigued by the exploration of Symbology, Free Mason history, and some supposedly high-tech science research on harnessing human consciousness…. but it all turned out to be just like Dan Brown’s other books: inserting very elementary knowledge of all these fields and channelling such knowledge through supposedly learned experts in each field to “explain” away the twisted plot and connections between events. The bottom line, however, is that many many words are repeated and wasted to tell a potentially intriguing story that simply didn’t not live to that potential.
(For example: why would Langdon be forced to wear a blindfold to go to the “secret” place and experience pages of claustrophobia and doubts when the destination turned out to be somewhere he completely recognized — and should be recognizable by millions?)
Also, perhaps I’m just too jaded a reader for this — I completely predicted and guessed the identity of the villain a couple of hundred pages before it is revealed in the story.
The only bits that I enjoyed were the gruesome descriptions of tortures and deaths!
Finished listening to Catching Fire. Found the story moving at a faster pace than the first time I read it and enjoyed it quite a lot. Started listening to Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Fun so far — wondering how many young readers will get all the witty references and banters. Looking forward to meeting Brandon Sanderson at the Random House BEA party at the end of May!!!
by Arthur Conan Doyle
I never got to read this original story that has inspired so many other renditions. I loved “A Study in Emerald,” a short story by Neil Gaiman in the collection Fragile Things and thoroughly enjoyed the BBC Sherlock episode entitled “A Study in Pink.” So pleased to report that this is indeed a fascinating mystery. Now I think I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes tales: short and long. Happy about it.
Listening to Catching Fire to refresh my memory – after seeing the trailer for the movie. Reading Mastiff (the 3rd Beka Cooper.) Enjoying both. Catching Fire is better than I remembered…
by Lev Grossman
I have several different layers of reactions to this book.
Started reading it when it was first published and didn’t quite manage to get too far. I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and the tone (smart and snarky and somehow languish as well — there’s a definite “drawl” in the sentence delivery here) to pick it up again and finish it this time around. And gosh, how much I HATED parts of the book!!!
Good things first: Grossman definitely knows his fantasy tropes and knows how to subvert some of the conventions. Magic isn’t easy. Magical lands can really hurt/kill you. Being a magician might not be as glamorous as one think. And he definitely delivered some cool inventive magic powers in the book. I love the transformation from human to geese, the various elemental and physical magic spells and powers, and the time/space travel scenarios, among many other minor and interesting magic tricks.
But.. but… but…. Quentin is SUCH A BORE. Such an angsty whiny little man that I simply couldn’t muster any compassion for him and his predicaments. The constant search for happiness and the disappointments, the high school and college romantic affairs that turn out to be just petty relationship drivels. And Alice as a super-magician was just a convenient device so she could save the day and sacrifice herself so that Quentin can somehow have a revelation (a bit too little too late) at the end of the tale.
Grossman managed to create a really unattractive fantasy book that makes me want to cry… in making sure that the readers realize that magic and the fantasy world is Real and is Hard and is Dangerous, he also made sure that much of the charm of a great fantasy novel is destroyed by his words.
Upon discussing this book with my teen readers, though, I realized that perhaps it’s just me being a middle aged reader who is tired and sick of anything dealing with relationship conflicts. These high school readers sense and fantasize about all those college romances as something to ponder and to look forward to and to experience in their near future. So, those quarrels, sex partnering, betrayals, loyalties, etc. add to the attraction of the book, not diminish it. I heard that the sequel is better.. should I continue??
by Jerry Spinelli
This new book by established author Jerry Spinelli has sparked quite a bit of conversation in the children’s lit. circle. And at my Children’s Literature Circle (a monthly book club that I host for faculty at my school,) our teachers (and one student) had quite a bit to say about the book as well. So, here’s a short synopsis of what we discussed last Friday (April 19th.)
We were lucky enough that an 8th grade boy, hungry and in need of some sustenance wandered in to the classroom where some yummy chicken fingers called to him. We said to Z (his initial) that we’d love to give him this book to read and get some feedback, since one of the common sentiment was, “Who would read this book? Whom is this book for?” But Z surprised us by saying, “Oh, that book? I read it. I really liked it.”
So we fed Z, asked him to stay for the beginning of our discussion and share with us his reaction. He told us that the book was easy to read and he really enjoyed it. These are some of his own words. “It resonated with me.” ”How the author describes it gels with my own childhood.” “I was confused at first. Thought it was purely fantastical world… until it became clear that it was a childhood… it felt tribal.” ” It feels like a new fantasy world.” ”It would have felt sadder if I had read this earlier.” Or, as we agreed, for a younger reader, it might not speak to him/her at all!
After Z left, we had a short moment of collective reflective silence — hmm… so this book IS for someone, and at least for this one 8th grader, everything WORKS beautifully. Z also told us that he read the book in one day — which we all agreed that is the way to go. Not a book to read in piece-meal, putting down and picking up again. But we also all agreed that it was NOT an easy book to get in to – not by a long shot. Anyone staying with the book until the end appreciated it so much more than they had originally thought possible.
We thought that it is daring for Spinelli to create such a unique world and he did quite a great job maintaining it. Not an easy task. Some of us felt that toward the end, there’s a bit redundancy in reviewing all the areas of “childhood” (Hokey Pokey) and that tightening it up more would have been emotionally stronger. Someone in our group suggested that the book should have been a short story.
We thought that this book will speak most directly and effectively for those who have LEFT Hokey Pokey. (So, early teens, teens, and adults.) And it probably will only speak to those who actually lament or miss their childhood.
Is the Allegorical land too obvious for some readers? It is, somewhat, for me and a couple of other adult readers. But it seems to have worked quite well for the 8th grader and there is a sense of revelation and pride in being able to name what Hokey Pokey is!
I grappled with the view points somewhat — if this is supposed to be the internal landscape of Jack, why would we be able to see so clearly some of the other characters’ internal journeys? Especially that of Jubilee’s? Or perhaps this is NOT an internal landscape but a SHARED Childhood Experience of those who live through it together? Some leave earlier than others and some want to leave while others want to hold them back.
I wish that the strong dividing line of “BOYS are this” and “GIRLS are that” is less clearly stated to allow for better enjoyment by me with a 21st century sentiment.
I also think that the comparison of Spinelli to Joyce (by plenty of people) is quite off base and that this is not an example of “stream of consciousness” style!
This was definitely a conversation propelling book! I’d love to hear more opinions for young readers!
Listening to The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and wading through Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli… wading.. because I feel reluctant to get back to the book every time after putting it down… I can’t wait to finish it and figure out why some people seem to really love it.
by Grant Moorison, art by Dave McKean
To some readers, namely my 12-year-old students, this book is a total disappointment. It has the brand name Batman on the title. It IS a sort of origin story — of the Arkham Asylum which houses many infamous villains, including the Joker, of the franchise; and it does have segments with Batman in them. But, they feel somehow cheated because there is almost no treatment of the fight scenes during the Hide and Seek game on the Asylum Ground. A couple of pages, with McKean’s signature dream-like artwork hastily showing Batman dispensing of all the Asylum inmates, are all they got out of these fight scenes. And as super hero comics readers, they were not satisfied.
I felt differently. As a McKean art adorer, I enjoyed all the panels, both the really detailed close-ups and the dream-line distanced treatments. And I am totally ok with not “watching” longer sequences of the fights. I enjoyed the psychoanalytically inspired (albeit superficially so) back story of Doctor Arkham more than my students. However, I won’t say that this is one to highly recommend to either Graphic Novel enthusiasts or novices.
Finished Arkham Asylum, the 15-Year anniversary edition with David McKean’s artwork. Finished listening to Hart’s Hope. Started listening to The Zombie Survival Guide and reading The Name of the Wind (#1 of Kingkiller Chronicle.)
by Michael Buckley
I read this series not in order but it didn’t hurt the enjoyment since each story has its central conflict to resolve and there’s a nicely tied up ending for each one. This first story sets up the backdrop quite nicely, explaining how the fairy tale creatures (the Everafters) got to Ferryport Landing and how the sisters came to assist their grandmother in playing the detectives to capture the culprits in magical crimes. It’s all very clean, imaginative fun and beloved by many of my young readers.
Listening to Hart’s Hope (Orson Scott Card,) reading Hokey Pokey (Spinelli,) and Batman: Arkham Asylum (Grant Morrison.)
by Gail Carson Levine, a collection of six Princess Tales
I enjoyed pretty much every single story in this collection. Each one is inventive and fresh, with a lot of humor and just the right kind of twists from the original tales to maintain a high level of interest — even from this veteran fractured fairy tale reader. I only wish that the design and the title are not so incredibly girly because I believe like all Grimm tales, these stories can be equally appreciated by both genders, even if the focus on the tales is the yearning and seeking of that one and perfect match. The way Levine presents the relationships of the main characters stresses more on personalities and character compatibilities than some external or shallow physical attraction makes these tales solid choices for young readers.
This morning I attended the Penguin Young Readers preview — an event I don’t always get to go due to teaching scheduling conflicts. So glad that this happened during our spring break and this is a somewhat lengthy summary of what transpired, not limited by 144 characters per post even though it is 6-8 hours late!
I am excited about these follow-up to series that I know both myself and my students have enjoyed:
A new series of Winnie’s brother (from The Winnie Years) Ty by Lauren Myracle, the fall publication of Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm Conclusion, The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, a companion story of Secrets at Sea which I adored, by Richard Peck, Al Capone Does My Homework (the stakes are even higher now that Moose’s father is the deputy warden and their family’s safety is threatened) by Choldenko, Wells Bequest, a follow-up story of The Grimm Legacy that I just read last week, and the sequel to Marie Lu’s Legend, Prodigy.
And these are books that I’d love to get my hands on and read:
No Easy Way Out by Dayna Lorentz sounds intriguing: quarantined shopping mall full of teens during a biological weapon attack.
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne is compared to The Westing Game. Set in Boston, an art theft caper and a treasure hunt.
After Iris by Natasha Farrant: a British import that has gotten some strong love in house.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke sounds like a delicious horror novel.
The new fantasy trilogy by Jane Yolen and her son Adam Stemple The Seelie War. The first title The Hostage Prince was introduced. Sounds promising.
Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann is book on a timely topic of the struggle and experiences of children with Asperger Syndrome, based partially on the author’s personal (and apparently painful) experiences.
RazorBill (an imprint) made a fun book trailer with TV celebrities for Firecracker by David Iserson. Too bad I couldn’t find a link to it on YouTube.
Rick Yancy’s new SciFi thriller The 5th Wave has already received 3 stars.
Is P.K. Pinkerton a boy or a girl? We still won’t find out in the second installment of Caroline Lawrence’s series (rebranded from Western Mysteries to P.K. Pinkerton…) called P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man. (The first is The Case of the Deadly Desperados.) We are promised that all will be revealed in book three. If you don’t know about the first book — seek out and read — it features a main character on the autism spectrum in a time where the terminology did not exist.
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan deals with a current and horrific subject in Tanzania and other African countries: albino people being hunted, killed or mutilated for their body parts due to superstitious beliefs of their magical benefits. (I found this article on the NPR site: Tanzania’s Albinos Face Constant Threat Of Attack for some background information.)
The Puffin Chalk classics series got a whimsical and elegant repackaging of beloved books. The texture of the cover is just so fun to the touch.
Proxy by Alex London sounds like a futuristic Whipping Boy, where young and rich youths pay for their Proxies to receive punishments for their wrong doings — including death sentencing for killing someone during a car crash.
Really enjoyed The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.
Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsay is based on Annabel Lee by Poe, one of my favorite poems in the whole wide world. So, hopefully this book does not disappoint!
Our surprise lunch guests were Andrea Cremer and David Levithan … They came to talk about Invisibility, their new collaborated novel of a girl who is in love with a boy who is invisible. It’s an exploration of what true love means, set against a magical world backdrop in contemporary America. They discussed their collaborative process — how sometimes one was surprised by the twists and turns the co-author conjured up and then had to figure out clever and smooth ways to continue the storyline. We all received a copy of the book. I can imagine many young readers eager to devour this book. Next week, when I go back to school — it will land in someone’s hands.
Finally, I have to say how much I love Sharyn November’s description of certain young girl readers whom I often encounter: “Occasional readers: girls who prefer reading magazines to books.” I am always on the lookout for books that are just right for them: dealing with topics they will enjoy, written in ways that are easy to get into and digest, and offering quite a bit of thought provoking issues and solutions. I hope the new book that is coming out in July 45 Pounds, More or Less will satisfy such readership and make my inner morally-concerned-librarian happy!
by Polly Shulman
For a librarian, someone who has worked for the New York Public Library system and toured the underground (deeply underground) stacks of books and objects, and a huge fan of fairytale reinventions, this book is a perfect match. I thoroughly enjoyed the capers and the many magical aspects of the storyline. This is another one that I can easily recommend to readers who want fantasy stories firmly inserted into their real world experiences. The clean high school romances, the school basketball games, and the use of electronic devices will speak to contemporary twin readers. The threads of the mystery are intriguing the first 2/3 of the story. The last 1/3 becomes a little less skillfully laid out: once all the red herrings are eliminated and the true villain is identified, the story loses a little bit of momentum. But thanks to the few super fun elements (Elizabeth’s losing her sense of direction, the bottomless box, and the whole idea of all those people turned into figurines for centuries, for example,) I was not bored. It is, however, a little of a let down to see that the author could not seem to come up with a better or really clever way to get rid of the villain and had to employ a deus ex machina in the form of one of the minor characters and a realm that was never introduced previously in the story. Nonetheless, I am still excited about the companion book that is to be released this June, The Wells Bequest. I can’t wait to go back to this fantastic library and see what the imaginative mind of Polly Shulman has concocted for the readers.