Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gentlemen by Michael Northrop

I don't usually choose a book by its cover, but this one, with a boy in a body bag grabbed my attention right away.
Gentlemen tells the story of four boys from the wrong side of the track. They are beaten down by their home life, school and their peers. They have found friends in each other and are just trying to survive through high school until they can graduate and start working.
At school, most of the teachers treat them with disdain, not putting any effort into teaching them anything useful. It appears to the boys that the teachers just don't think they are worth the bother. The exception to this is Mr. Haberman, their English teacher. He treats them with respect, always calling them 'Gentlemen'.
One day, one of the boys loses it in school and when he is sent to the office, he isn't seen again. Not by his mom, his friends or his cousins. It isn't unusual for him to disappear, it is just that usually someone knows he has taken off. Things start to get out of control when the boys left behind start wondering where he is gone. Coupled with the story they are reading in English "Crime and Punishment", and the strange way Mr. Haberman is acting, the boys start to suspect that Mr. Haberman had something to do with the disappearance.
This book is pretty gritty. I found it hard to read sometimes- I think it is best that I don't know what goes through the mind of a teenage boy. The main character, Michael, is likable in many parts, but at times he is vulgar and rude. I did however find myself sympathizing with the boys when Mr. Haberman went on and on about the book they were reading. I could totally understand why the boys hated reading after listening to him state his interpretation of the book.
I'm not really sure I would recommend this book to anyone. It was a pretty depressing read in places.

Raven Summer by David Almond

I am the first to admit that I am not a fan of Almond's writing. His book Skeling was just creepy- although I know many of my friends who have similar reading tastes enjoy his books. The plot of this one intrigued me (growing up, child soldiers, foster care) so I figured I would give it a try.

One of the things that disturbs me about Almond's writing is that the childhood he writes about is always very dark and this book is no exception. He has a very bleak view of childhood and I find that I can't relate to the dark side of childhood, it isn't what I experienced at all and I really wonder if other kids can relate to his writing.
Raven Summer starts off very light, Liam is a boy who is verging on the edge of adulthood, but is still holding onto his boyhood traditions of playing war and make believe even while his friends are becoming interested in music, girls and other grown up things.
When Liam and his friend Max are out playing one day, they find an abandoned baby in a field. Knowing it is the right thing to do, they take the baby to Liam's home where his parents quickly take over, calling in all the proper agencies. The baby is soon taken to a foster home in the city. When Liam goes to visit the baby, he meets with two other kids his age who are in the foster system as well. Oliver, who is looking for refuge status and Crystal, a girl with many problems of her own. The bond between these three is strong and they become friends and visit whenever they can.
In between visits, Liam and Max are growing apart. Max is growing up, and Liam is content to stay the course. Then there is their childhood friend Nattrass who is very focused on the many acts of violence in the world. When the friends meet up with Nattrass one night, they all start to question who they are and what kind of person they want to be.
As I am writing this, I am realizing all the different issues that are brought up in this story, but aren't fully developed.
One other note; the book is set in England and there are a few spots where the 'Englishness' comes through. Younger readers may need some guidance in these spots.
Once again, I find myself not really enjoying David Almond's writing. I would love to hear what others think about his writing.

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Imagine one night, you go to bed, you wake up in the morning, shower and when you go to check yourself in the mirror, you can't see yourself. This is exactly what happened to Bobby Philips one day. He is sure something is wrong with his sight, he knows he is there, but nothing he does makes himself appear.
His parents, both scientists are confused as well. Surely there is a reason for this- but they can't figure it out.
Bobby needs to figure out how to live without a body and all the implications that go along with that.
This is going to be my next read aloud for my class, so I'm not going to say much right now about this book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

I've been thinking about what my friend Steven wrote in response to Walking Backward about the large quantities of books available to young adults dealing with grief and pain. Steven wondered if it is an attempt to prepare ourselves for what could happen. I wonder if it is so that people can find books that help them get through rough times. You can take comfort from knowing that others have dealt with what you yourself are dealing with. It is also a relief to have someone express your thoughts and feelings in writing if you can't do it yourself.
Hold Still does deal with pain and grief. Ingrid and Caitlin were best friends for years, like all best friends they did everything together and shared all of their secrets. But when Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin is left reeling. She had no idea, no forewarning for what Ingrid was going through.
When Caitlin starts back to school she is numb to everyone around her. She doesn't want to make friends again because she doesn't know how to deal with people and doesn't want to risk getting close to anyone again. The thing she loved most was photography, but even that is letting her down now, everything reminds her of Ingrid.
Months later, Caitlin finds Ingrid's journal and starts to rediscover her best friend. As she relives moments they spent together, she learns about the pain Ingrid was hiding.
I cried my way through many parts of this book, the raw emotion that Caitlin feels while dealing with losing Ingrid and trying to find new friends was very heartbreaking.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when Caitlin describes how her and Ingrid would go someplace and take pictures of the same event, but have totally different perspectives on what happened. Caitlin learns that this is much like life. What she saw in Ingrid was totally different from what Ingrid saw in herself.
I'm not sure how I would feel reading this book if I had just lost someone close to me. I found it hard to read in many places because LaCour did such an amazing job describing how confusing it can be to lose someone you love.
This book does have some mature scenes and some language, but it is so powerfully written that it would be appropriate for anyone in grade 7 and older.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams

This is the first book I have read by Abrahams, but it won't be the last. This was a great mystery. Cody feels like he has the greatest life ever. He is passing (just!) school without any effort, he is the Quarterback of the high school football team and is dating the most beautiful girl at school. Life is going well. Until, Clea's father decides he is a bad influence on her and he sends her to Hong Kong to keep them apart. Cody and Clea survive the summer apart by texting and emailing each other. They are sure everything will be fine when she comes back for senior year.
But Clea's father has other plans. He has enrolled Clea in a private school in Vermont- 2 days away from Cody. When Cody realizes that Clea is heading in a whole different direction he questions their relationship and tries to learn to live without her.
Then, Cody sees an article in the paper that reads "local girl missing" and realizes that Clea is in danger. Cody leaves everything behind to search for Clea. When in Vermont, he questions everyone and has a hard time trusting anyone. The only thing he knows for sure is that if he doesn't find Clea, nobody will.
I really enjoyed reading this one. There is a bit of swearing, but other than that, it is appropriate for young adults to read. I think the boys will really relate to Cody- he's a well developed character.
I wasn't totally sure where I got this book from, it just appeared on my bookshelf. It
wasn't until I was telling my nephew Bryor about it that he reminded me that he lent it to me.
I love it when that happens!

Walking Backward by Catherine Austen

Up until a few months ago, Josh was a normal 12 year old boy. He fought with his younger brother, loved to play soccer and had a happy family life. Then, the unthinkable happened- his mother died in a car accident. Ever since then, his life has totally fallen apart. It is up to Josh to deal with his brother Sam- who is having a lot of trouble dealing with the death of his mother. His father has taken to hiding in the basement building a time-travel machine. Josh is left dealing with the loss of his mother as well as trying to hold it together for his family.
Everything is different from Josh. He doesn't really know how to grieve, so instead he learns about how other cultures grieve. He doesn't feel right smiling or playing soccer, but he doesn't really know what else to do.
I found this story to be heartbreaking at times. The thought of the two boys going through this alone was so sad. As a character, Josh is totally believable in the way he deals with his grief, at times he is irrational, angry and always very very sad. After I finished the book, there were parts that bothered me. There is an aunt in the story who is very mean to the boys and doesn't help them deal with the situation at all. As well, there are many unanswered questions at the end for me. Of course, I guess that is what happens in life.
I think this book would appeal to both boys and girls, although it does take some stamina to get through it because the book is based solely on Josh trying to deal with his grief.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn

At the Scholastics Book Fair in October, one of my students Morgan picked this one up and lent it to me when she was finished.
Distant Waves is the story of 5 sisters and their very eclectic mother. The main character of the story is Jane. We first meet Jane when she is just 4 years old. Her and her family are looking for a place to settle down. Her mother hears of a village in New York where people with the ability to contact the spiritual world are settling. Jane and her sisters soon find themselves living in Spirit Vale, a village made up almost entirely of women who can channel the spirits of the dead. It is here that Jane and her sister grow up, among tarot and palm readings and people contacting the dead. All the while, Jane follows the career of an inventor named Tesla, a man she had a brief encounter with while travelling to Spirit Vale. When Jane and her older sister Mimi risk a trip to Buffalo to interview Tesla, both of their lives are changed, sweeping the rest of the family on an adventure of their life.

Lush by Natasha Friend

There are several books by this author that I have started to see in all the Scholastics orders. Natasha Friend writes about some serious issues that young adults are facing. Her stories are well written and very believable.
In Lush, we meet Samantha, a 13 year old girl with a problem. Her father is an alcoholic and Samantha is embarrassed and ashamed of him. Another part of the problem is her mother. Samantha's mother doesn't want to admit there is anything wrong. She believes that her father is just going through a rough time at work and needs to drink to deal with it. But Samantha knows better. She knows the danger her father puts her in when he drives drunk, he even drives with Samantha and her younger brother in the car, which terrifies Samantha beyond belief.
Throughout the story, Samantha's anger at her father comes through loud and clear. Dealing with this is very difficult for her. She can't tell her best friends because she is so embarrassed. In keeping this secret from her friends she starts to loose their trust. Instead, Samantha decides to leave secret notes in the library for a girl she thinks will understand. This secret correspondence between these two help Sam deal with her anger and embarrassment.
I love the honesty that Samantha shares with the reader. I think that any young person dealing with an alcoholic relative will be able relate to Samantha's thoughts and ideas. This book is a bit gritty in some places. I would only give it out to students who are a bit more mature.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

This book was suggested to me by one of my students Kaitlyn, I'm glad she did. This book, while set in the near future, really makes links to today. We don't think anything of giving out personal information over the internet, using bank cards and credit cards. Our Health Cards and Driver's Licence also store a great deal of information that is accessible with a quick swipe.
Now, imagine a world 20 years in the future. A world where everyone over the age of 17 is expected to get a 'Bar Code Tattoo'. This tattoo will take the place of your driver's licence, health card, bank cards everything. You won't need to carry any identification or money, it will all be stored on your tattoo. For most people, this sounds great. As a matter of fact, it has quickly become a status symbol to have this tattoo, a right of passage for young adults.
For Kayla however, she is questioning the tattoo. First of all, she doesn't think it is important to have all of her personal information stored on her arm. This doesn't make her popular with her peers at school or with her best friend. Kayla's parents got the tattoo a few months ago as a requirement of their job and things have not been going well for them since. Her father is determined to remove the tattoo by any means- but nothing is working. When he is fired from his job, he blames it on the tattoo.
Kayla's best friend,while at first a huge supporter of the tattoo is shocked when her parents experience hard times and they too suspect it is because of the information on their tattoo.
When Kayla falls in with a group of teens who are fighting against the tattoo and against the government, her life starts to change in unimaginable ways.
This book was fast-paced and exciting. It really made me think about all the information that is out there for anyone to find. I really hope the world described in this book isn't the future for our world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Agnes and Honey have been best friends their whole lives. Born just a few weeks apart, they have shared a crib and a room for the first seven years of their lives and have been inseparable forever. They have grown up in a religious commune, where their lives are a bit different from the outside world. They wear blue robes and attend church services every day. When they do something wrong, they aren't punished by their parents, but by their religious leader Emmanuel and second in command Victoria.
Agnes is very firm in her belief. She is doing whatever it takes to live a spiritual life- fasting, giving up what she is good at and punishing herself when she is weak. Honey however rejects everything about the spiritual life Emmanuel promises. She is happy living with Winky- a man who took her in because her mother ran off when Honey was just 2 years old. When she is caught breaking one of the rules, she is sent to the Regulation Room to be punished by Emmanuel. When the book starts, Honey is dealing with the pain of this punishment.
After this punishment, Agnes' Grandmother- Nana Pete comes for a surprise visit. While there, she learns of this Regulation Room and fears for the children's safety. Nana Pete decides to take the children from the commune for their own safety. While Honey is thrilled to finally escape, Agnes is fearful to live in a world that is not as devoted as she is. All she wants is to return to the commune.
I don't usually like reading religious stories, but in this one, while religion plays a strong role, the story between the two friends is so much more important. The battle between trying to do what you have been told and believing in what is right is huge. The characters of Honey, Agnes and Nana Pete are so real and believable.
After reading the author's biography and learning that she grew up in a commune, it is obvious that she writes from experience and it makes the confusion that Agnes felt so much more understandable. This is a great read- but kids reading it might need to talk about some of the issues that are dealt with, they may not have the knowledge of religious communes to understand the beginning setting of the story.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winter's End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat

I was pretty excited about finding this book. It looked Hunger Gamesish (the book that all books must live up to in my classroom)- children fighting against a power hungry government.
Winter's End starts out very strong, two young girls who are living in a boarding school. A boarding school where there are rules for everything and anyone caught breaking the rules doesn't get punished themselves, but instead gets someone else punished. When the two young girls, Helen and Milena meet two young boys from the male boarding school the young adults find their lives changing in ways they never could imagine. The four manage to escape their dreary lives and fight to make their way to a secret resistance headquarters all the while trying to stay out of the hands of the Phalange- the government who are determined to keep them locked away and will stop at nothing- even murder- to keep these children away from the rest of civilization.

The story is full of excitement and adventure from beginning to end. I really liked the small bits of fantasy thrown into the book. There are dog-men (dogs who dress and can talk in simple terms) and horse-people (sort of like centaurs) that are very believable. My one criticism is that the Phalange isn't really explained well, it is hard to know why there is such a hatred for this government- this book reads like the second in a series- but it isn't.

While this book wasn't as compelling as the Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, it was a good read. I think it would appeal to both boys and girls.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Malice by Chris Wooding

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I picked this one up at the book fair. If it wasn't for my friend Steven, I would have left it on the shelf. I'm not much of a graphic novel reader- I just can't seem to get the whole story out of just the pictures. Having said that, once I got pulled into Malice, I couldn't wait to find out how it ended. I like the fact that there was both a story told through words and through pictures. To be honest, I didn't really think the pictures were that great- I found it really hard to follow, the pictures seem to lack the detail of other graphic novels I've seen. But, I would love to hear what graphic novel readers think of the pictures in this book.

At the start of the book, we are introduced to Luke who seems to be a normal boy trying to find some excitement. When he goes missing, his friends are convinced the comic book he was obsessed with had something to do with his disappearance. His friends, Seth and Kady start looking into this comic book called Malice. It is hard to find and the story is very hard to follow (perhaps that is the tie in to the less than perfect drawings) but the comic has a large following of teens that seem to be based solely on rumours.
Then one night Kady gets an email from Seth saying he is going to try to get into Malice- yes, the comic book- by performing a ritual and calling on Tall Jake (the villain from Malice). The next day, Kady can't find Seth anywhere.
The story then takes a huge shift from reality to the inside of a story- a comic book no less. Seth is in Malice and he discovers what a strange place it is. Filled with sad, lonely, depressed children and scary robotic animal like creatures. Seth is desperate to escape because he fears that Kady will soon follow him in.
I found that once Seth was in Malice the pace of the story really picked up. As a reader, I really needed to use my imagination to visualize what was going on in the story. I found the story very dark. I didn't really like how creepy it was, however, I found myself rushing back to finish it.

As a last note...and this is a disclaimer for anyone who doesn't like spoilers...don't read the next few lines.....

I am really starting to get annoyed at books that don't end at the end of book one. I love sequels, but between Hunger Games and Catching Fire and The Maze Runner, I have enough books that I have to read to find out what will happen next. Now, here is another one with Malice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top 10 Teen Reads

I'm just checking out some sites on the internet when I came across this list- kind of interesting. How many of the top 10 teen reads have you read? Me? I've only read two- so I can see I am going to be placing a call to Titles today to order some other books.

2009 Teens' Top Ten

More than 11,000 teen voters chose Paper Towns as their favorite book in the 2009 Teens' Top Ten! The online poll took place from Aug. 24 through Sept. 18, with the winners announced during Teen Read Week by WWE Divas Brie Bella and Nikki Bella, with a special appearance by John Green. See the video.

  • Paper Towns by John Green (Penguin/Dutton)
  • Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
  • City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry)
  • Identical by Ellen Hopkins (Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
  • Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)
  • Untamed by P.C. and Kristin Cast (St. Martin's Griffin)
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Disney-Hyperion)
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Suite Dreams by Rachel Hawthorne

One of my students, Laura, suggested I read this book, Rachel Hawthorne is one of her favourite authors. I can totally see why she would like this book, it is a nice romance story for girls. Alyssa has just broken up- or is taking a break- from her boyfriend. He decided to go to Australia on a couch swapping adventure for winter break leaving Alyssa on campus alone. Alyssa isn't too sure what is happening with their relationship, she is just trying to fill the time that he is away with work and taking an extra class at school. What she didn't realize is that the man he is couch swapping with is expecting her to be his tour guide and main contact in Vermont.
When Alyssa and Jude meet, there is an instant connection. As Jude and Alyssa start spending more time together the connection grows stronger. But Alyssa is scared that she is falling too quickly for Jude and she still needs to sort out her feelings for her old boyfriend.
I enjoyed reading this story, I liked reading about the developing relationship. I really liked how Alyssa didn't compromise who she was for Jude. I think young women need strong role models in literature helping them deal with relationship issues.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Under the heading- don't judge a book by its cover... This book cover reminds me of my high school English course when we read Old Man and the Sea. However- this book is amazing!
3 Boys, 1 Dad and 1 sailboat. When 15 year old Ben's mother dies, the family is left reeling. Slowly, they are coming to grips with this tragedy. Then, Ben's father announces (doesn't ask, just tells them) that they are going to spend the year sailing in the Bahamas. This means they are selling their childhood home, getting rid of everything important and moving onto a very small sailboat. Each of the brothers gets a drawer to pack everything that is important to them.

Ben is very annoyed. During the trip, he fights constantly with his dad. He does what is expected, he looks after his two younger brothers, but he avoids his dad at all costs - this isn't easy to do on a sailboat. One morning he wakes up and discovers his dad is gone. It is up to Ben to take care of his brothers- any way he can.

I found this book so gripping. The information about sailing and life at sea was interesting and the relationship between Ben and his brothers was very touching. The relationship Ben has with his dad just about broke my heart reading it.

This would make a great read aloud on survival, perseverance and coping with a death in the family.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Titles Bookstore Contest

For anyone living in Peterborough- this is a great way to pass on your favourite book!

Titles Bookstore in downtown Peterborough is having a contest for young readers. Review your favourite book and drop it off at Titles. Your review will be displayed in the store so that other readers can read them and choose their next book. The review does not have to be long (4-5 lines)

Your name is then entered into a draw for a $10.00 Titles book voucher that you can use toward your next purchase. The first draw in on November 10th- so get your reviews in early!

Call Titles at 743-9610 if you need more details!

Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird

Elizabeth Laird is an author like Deborah Ellis. She writes about children around the world. These types of books can be a challenge to read because they are dealing with issues that are so unfamiliar to us.
Lost Riders tells the story of young children who were taken from their homes in Pakistan (and Bangladesh, India, Sudan and the Yemen), brought to the Gulf and forced to train, ride and race camels for the wealthy sheikhs. But really, the story is about one 8 year old boy Rashid and his 5 year old brother Shari who are living in poverty with their mother and sister since their father died. When their uncle Bilal comes and tells them about the wealthy families in Dubai who are looking for children to play with their own children. Bilal tells the boys mother about the money they will make and the life they will lead if they are allowed to go. Part of Rashid wants to go- to eat, sleep and play with a wealthy little boy, but another part doesn't want to leave his home and his family.
Finally, uncle Bilal convinces the mother that this is an excellent opportunity for the young boys. What looks good on the outside is in reality the opposite. The boys are taken on a long journey to Dubai where they are separated and forced to work with camels under terrible conditions.
Rashid learns to live without food, sleep and how to train the camels in order to please his new owners, yet all the time he longs for home and worries about his younger brother.
I found this story challenging to get into. All the different names were difficult to keep track of. However, Laird is able to spin a wonderful story, while telling of a terrible time in the history of child trafficking. I think kids reading this book will have their eyes opened to the way children are treated in other parts of the world.
It might make for a good read aloud, depending on the group of students and if you can connect it to something else you are studying. Otherwise, I would use it as Literature Circles for sure.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

This is a new author for me- and I like him! I read that this book is a cross between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. The Maze Runner is a strange story that starts with Thomas waking up in a box. He knows his name, but doesn't remember anything else about his life before waking up in this box.
When he leaves the box, he finds himself in a new strange world where there are no adults or girls and the boys there speak using some strange slang. As Thomas is introduced to this strange world, he learns there are crazy new rules he needs to live by. Not only are there new rules, but there are also jobs that every boy is assigned. As Thomas is introduced to these jobs, he has an unexplained desire to become a Runner. The Runners are the boys who can leave the compound and enter the Maze. Inside the maze are some scary 'things' called Grievers- mechanical devious creatures that aim to stab and wound.
Things get even stranger when a girl- the first girl in two years enters the Box the day after Thomas. Her message that 'everything will change' scares all the boys, yet Thomas feels a real connection to her.
As things start to change in this new world, Thomas finds himself challenged mentally and physically. Yet if he doesn't figure out the clues that are presented, Thomas fears for not only his life, but the other boys as well.
There will be at least another book to go along with The Maze Runner. Check out the author's website here:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I am a Taxi by Deborah Ellis

Diego lives in the Women's Prison in Bolivia with his mom and sister. His dad is across the road in the Men's Prison. Life is difficult for Diego and he always worries about money and taking care of his family. Because Diego is a child, he is allowed to come and go as he pleases from the prison. He often hires himself out to inmates as their 'taxi' buying things from around the town for them.
When his best friend comes up with a job that will bring in lots of money, Diego thinks this is a solution to all of his problems. The only problem is this job takes Diego away from the safety of his family into the hands of the drug smugglers.
Once again, Deborah Ellis writes a story that opens our eyes to the way children around the world live.

How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt

I seem to be on a roll with books that have so much potential to use with kids, but are sprinkled with content that is a little out of what I would be comfortable giving to my grade 7 students.
How To Build a House is the story of Harper, an 18 year old whose family life has spun out of control. She has lost all sense of her family and her sense of self-worth. Harper decides to escape all the craziness at home and focus on building a house for a family in Tennessee. She flies to Tennessee expecting to escape in hard work. There she meets a new set of friends while learning a new trade.
Then, she meets Teddy, the son of the family whose house was lost in a tornado. While they learn to work together, Harper must learn to trust herself, her feelings and other people with her feelings.

I love many of the concepts in this book:
1. Running away from life, while at the same time doing something worthwhile.
2. Letting kids explore the world in a safe way.
3. The effects of divorce on a family and the children.

While it bothers me I can't use this book in my class, I have to remember that Harper is 18 and a young woman. Her relationships with the boy back home and Teddy are very real and leave a lasting impression on who she becomes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Anne Frank and Me by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

Nicole is a typical 14 year old girl. She is worried about boys, school and parents. When she hears gunfire at an Anne Frank exhibit, she is suddenly transported through time to Nazi occupied Paris during World War 2. Nicole begins to struggle with her new life and new rules that she is forced to live under.
This is a great book that examines the effects of war on children.

The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse

In this story, 14 year-old Emmaline is an inventor of aircrafts. She is ready to try her newest invention, the only problem is she is afraid to fly. The boy next door seems to be incapable of getting hurt it seems like a match and things start to fall into place for the two of them. That is until Emmaline is forced to go to school at St. Grimelda- a horrible place where the teachers are unkind and the girls are even worse.
This was a very quirky story, but a good one.

The Bonemender's Oath by Holly Bennett

Gabrielle and her new friends have made it through the war, but things are still very dangerous for them.
This sequel was as great as the first book. A beginning romance novel that has adventure for the boys and a love interest for the girls.

The Bonemender by Holly Bennett

I don't read a lot of fantasy books, but this is one I really enjoyed.
Gabrielle has special powers, she can heal people by touching them and healing them from the inside.
Early in the story she meets two men who turn out to be Elves carrying a very disturbing message about the future of her homeland. At this point, her life is turned upside down.

United we Stand by Eric Walters

In this sequel to We All Fall Down, we learn what happens to Will the day after he escaped from the south tower at the World Trade Center. Filled with relief that both he and his dad are home safe, he is just happy to be in his own bed and together with his parents. Then Will remembers his best friend James still doesn't know what happened to his father.

Will and his dad were the last people who saw James' father- going up the stairs as everyone else was trying to get out of the south tower. Will knows in his heart that he is dead, but he is unsure of how to handle James.

With Will and James, Walters gives a glimpse into what it is like to not know the fate of someone during an emergency. It is heart wrenching, yet at the same time uplifting. The friendship between Will and James is a great model for kids to learn the true meaning of friendship. So often, we hide from people when times are tough, yet Walters has written about characters who are truly there for each other, even when it is difficult.

I think this book would be a great read aloud, I think there are many issues that are addressed throughout the book that need to be talked about after to help kids understand and work through.

Raymond and Grahm Rule the School by Mike Knudson and Steve Wilkinson

This book is for younger readers. Normally I wouldn't put it on the blog, but I just finished reading it with my boys (ages 8 and 10) the other night and they wouldn't let me stop reading it. They loved this book. I don't think it has much literary value- but it was a big hit with my kids.

Raymond and Graham are entering fourth grade, they have been waiting for this year since they started at their school in grade one. This is the year they are the 'big kids', the year the younger kids will look up to them, their year to put on the play "A Christmas Carol". This is going to be their year to rule the school.

However, things quickly go wrong. From getting the scariest teacher in the school, being in a class with the school suck up and trying out for the big part. Raymond and Graham face each problem with humor and a positive attitude.

This book had my boys laughing out loud, covering their faces in fear of what antics Raymond and Graham were going to be getting up to next and begging me to read the book each night. And for that alone- this book deserves a place here and on my book shelf. The minute we finished it, we ordered the sequel- Raymond and Graham, Dancing Dudes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rules for Life by Darlene Ryan

Izzy lost her mother 2 years ago, but luckily her and her dad have always been very close. They have survived this loss by growing closer.
But, when her dad announces he is getting remarried (and Izzy has never even met the women), things start to spiral out of control for Izzy.

This is a great book about the sacrifices you need to make in extended families.

Abduction by Peg Kehret

Matt knows better than to get into a strangers car. But when the stranger ends up being his dad- things get very strange, very quickly.
His sister Bonnie is beside herself with guilt and worry. It was her responsibility to look after Matt. Bonnie tries to find Matt, but soon finds herself in a very dangerous situation.

Among the Enemy by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This book follows the "Among the Brave" series.
Matthias is another third child on the run from the population police. But when he unknowingly saves one of his 'enemies' he is thrust into the population police headquarters. Matthias must risk everything to help other third children- but will it cost him his life?

Out of Focus by Margaret Buffee

Bernice is a 16 year old girl with a lot on her plate. Her mother is an alcoholic and Bernice is expected to look after her younger brother and sister. When they end up living at a deserted summer camp, things start to look brighter for the whole family as they try to repair the damage of living with alcoholism.

We All Fall Down by Eric Walters

This book was published (and read by me) a few years ago. It is another Walters hit.
This story starts on September 10, 2001 in New York City. Will is a grade 9 student who will be spending the day at work with his father as part of the "bring your child to work" day. His dad works in the south building of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. What starts out to be a boring way to spend a day turns into a day Will and most of us will never forget.
Told as only Eric Walters can, this story examines the horror of that terrible day in a way that is appropriate for students to understand.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

This hard-to-find book(although I saw another copy at Titles the other day when I was there) would be a great follow up to teenagers looking for the next book after Twilight. This is the classic story of a boy and girl on opposite sides falling in love. Except there is a twist.

In Noughts and Crosses, the opposite sides are black and white. In this world, the Crosses have all the power. They control the government, police, schools, media- everything. The Noughts have to live by the Crosses rules. They are their gardeners, their housekeepers, basically any menial job, the Noughts fill. It is the classic case of the rich getting richer.

In this world, we meet Callum -a nought boy and Sephy a Cross girl. They have been friends their whole life. Callum's mother was Sephy's nanny and they grew up together. Now that they are 15, their feelings for each other are starting to change. But it is very difficult for these two young people. Sephy's father is one of the most powerful men in the government, and he is very vocal about his views on the noughts and how they are worth less than the Crosses. Then there is Callum's family. Callum suspects his older brother and father of belonging to a group using violent means to bring attention to the inequality of the two races.

Sephy and Callum try to navigate their friendship through many many obstacles put in their path both from outside their families and within their families. This is a great read. There are also 3 other books in the series.

There is one scene that is a bit questionable, but it is very tame. I would suggest reading it first before giving to anyone younger than grade 7.

Thaw by Monica M. Roe

First off- a warning- this book is for mature readers. I'm not sure I will give it to any grade 7 or 8 kids- there is some swearing and some sexual references in it too.

Having said that- I loved this book. It is the story of Dane- a 17 year old. He is very intelligent and a gifted adult. The only thing he isn't good at is sharing, expressing or showing any emotion. He is a very egocentric young man.

We meet Dane in a rehabilitation center where he is undergoing treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome. A disease that left him paralyzed and fighting to get back what he once had. The story alternates between his present life in the rehab center to the previous winter. His life back home, looked good on the outside, but his emotionless state has left him confused now that he has lost everything he thought was important.

I loved the character of Dane. His character is a strong male who is afraid to share what is in his heart. I also loved how he wasn't ever afraid to share what was in his mind as well. I think this book would really grab high school boys and the discussion that could come out of it would be amazing. I just wish there wasn't quite so much swearing!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Posing as Ashley by Kimberly Joy Peters

For all purposes, it seems that Ashely has everything. She is doing well in high school, has an amazing boyfriend and is absolutely beautiful! Yet things start to fall apart in her well orchestrated life. Ashely is someone who doesn't want to disappoint anyone. It is difficult to keep her family happy, especially when they seem to want her to succeed in everything she does.

When Ashely is approached to audition for a modelling agency, it seems that her perfect life will continue. But as Ashely quickly learns, the modelling world isn't an easy one. Beautiful people turn out to be not so beautiful on the inside. Ashely's true beliefs are often challenged and when she is forced to make a decision, she is worried about letting her family down.

This is a nice simple book about being true to yourself, believing in yourself and trusting yourself.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau

I've just finished reading the last of the City of Ember books- thank goodness! Having read the first two a few years ago, I remember really liking them. These last two, not so much! The Diamond of Darkhold at least dealt with the main characters Lina and Doon- which was something the Prophet didn't do at all.

In the fourth book, Lina and Doon are once more faced with saving their town from disaster. This time, it isn't the lack of light, but the lack of food. The people of Ember are having a hard time living above ground and surviving on what they can grow or catch. In this, the story is a good one. Lina and Doon, with the best of intentions set out to help their friends and family by going back into The City of Ember. Once they decide to do that, the story falls very flat, very quickly. We are introduced to characters that seem to really have no point to the story, they are just introduced and then fade away. Then, there are some really interesting issues such as Doon's quest to figure out electricity that seems very fake and not satisfying at all.

At the end of the book, DuPrau tries to tie the Prophet of Yonwood to this one and fails. The last few chapters seem to rush by as she tries to wrap up the stories on all of the characters we loved from the first two books. I was greatly disappointed with these books after such a promising start to the series.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

This is the sequel to Stargirl- a great book about a free spirited girl who learns just how difficult it is to be different from everybody else.

In this story, Stargirl is back. She has moved from Arizona to another state and is writing a very long letter to Leo- her ex(or future) boyfriend from back home. Through a series of letters, Stargirl pours her heart out to Leo. There are times she is still very hurt by him and times when she knows she still loves him. All the while Stargirl is collecting a series of friends who are as unique as she is. Getting to know these friends through Stargirl's eyes is an amazing experience. As a reader we come to know what is in Stargirl's heart and mind as she struggles to live without Leo and move on with her life.
You have to read Stargirl first to really understand these characters. This is definitely a book for girls!

I loved this story. Stargirl is one of the strangest most memorable characters I have read- I love all of her quirks and her way of looking at the world.

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

This book, is the prequel to The City of Ember series. It has been a few years since I read City of Ember and The People of Sparks, but I do remember enjoying both books. I wasn't as thrilled with Prophet of Yonwood.
The story itself is a good one. A little bit of a mystery with some believable characters. Nickie is an 11 year old girl who has set herself 3 goals: 1. Keep Greenhaven (the family home) 2. Fall in love 3. Help the World. Not bad goals for her to work towards. However, along the way to meeting these goals, Nickie runs into lots of problems.
First of all, her aunt is determined to sell Greenhaven, a house that Nickie is growing to love. Then, all the boys she is meeting are not the kind of boy she wants to fall in love with. The final goal- to Help the World seems easy at first. In Yonwood, the Prophet mumbles strange things and it is up to some select people in town to interpret her thoughts and pass the message on. Nickie finds helping the world to be easy when she follows the Prophet's message. As the story goes on though, the Prophet's messages get stranger and stranger. Suddenly for Nickie, helping the world isn't quite as easy as she once thought.
The part I did have trouble with in this book was making the connection between this story and the City of Ember, the relationship was distant at best. It isn't until the end that any connection is made between the two books. I feel that DuPrau was really reaching with this one.
I'm going to start the fourth book in the series and see where that takes me next.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

After a long wait, the sequel to The Hunger Games is finally here. I was a bit leery of reading this one- the first one was so unique and I really liked the conclusion to the first Hunger Games and didn't think anything could live up to it. I was wrong- Catching Fire was incredible. I think I like it even better than Hunger Games. If you haven't read the Hunger Games- stop reading this and get yourself a copy of both books first!

In Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta are back in District 12 after winning the Hunger Games. Katniss is very confused about her new life. She no longer needs to work or go to school, things in District 12 are the same, but it is her who is different. Then there are the feelings she has for both Peeta and Gale- she isn't sure what she feels for either one of them. When the President comes to her house with threats of death to her family and friends, Katniss finally realizes how her act of rebellion to win the Hunger Games has fueled the fire of rebellion across all the districts.

Katniss and Peeta are drawn into a political fight and once again are battling for their very survival. There is a surprise at every turn for the pair and they are faced to deal with their feelings for each other as well.

I will warn you that the ending of this book isn't as satisfying as the first one. I now know there will be a third book and the wait won't be much fun. I can't wait to find out how this all ends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

Brady has the greatest life! He has two best friends, a dog and Chesapeake Bay for crabbing and oyster fishing. While the town is changing with new people moving in, Brady is still very content in his life. One day at school his dad comes and asks for his help finding neighbours who went out on the lake during a storm. When Brady learns that these neighbours are a mother and her 3 year-old son, Brady starts to panic -and for good reason.
Later, Brady learns that this accident wasn't necessarily a bad decision made by the mother. As Brady uncovers the truth, he has some serious decisions to make. Decisions that will not only effect him, but everyone in the small community- including his two best friends.

This is a book most boys wouldn't pick up because of the cover, but boys will really enjoy reading it because Brady is a guys guy. It deals with issues of growing up and doing the right thing- even when it is hard. I think this would also be a great read aloud.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Zach's Lie by Roland Smith

One normal night at the Osborne house, Jack along with his mother and sister are confronted by men breaking into their home. They are told not to tell the police or their father will be killed. The next morning as they are still trying to decide what to do, the FBI arrive and start searching their home. With their heads still spinning the Osborne family learns that their father has been involved in some dangerous things with some dangerous men. Now, the family has to enter the Witness Protection program. Jack now has a new name- Zach.

When Zach enters his new school, he finds it challenging to live a different life from what he was use to. Slowly, he makes friends and watches his mother and sister start to settle in as well. However, one wrong move and Zach can put the whole family in danger.

I think boys would really like this book. Zach/Jack is a very believable character who gets involved in some strange situations. Another great hit by Roland Smith.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

Mazzy is a young girl trying to hold everything together. Her dad left town for 'a week' over two months ago and her mom won't get out of bed. Now Social Services has come for a visit and the neighbours are offering to help. Mazzy doesn't want any help, she just wants her family back. She knows why they have fallen apart and over the course of the story there are hints as to what has happened to this family.

This is a fairly short story told with an interesting voice. I think it would be a challenging read because the reader really has to pay attention to the subtle hints throughout the story, but it is worth it.

Peak by Roland Smith

This was another book by Roland Smith that came in a package from Scholastics at the end of June. I really like Smith's writing- I can see why boys are so drawn into his writing- there is adventure, action and enough scary bits to make it a compelling read.

In this story, Peak is a climber- he will climb anything- and that has lead to big trouble for him. The book opens with him being arrested for climbing buildings in New York. The judge wants blood- Peak's blood. In order to avoid being sent to juvie- Peak's absent father agrees to take him home with him. The one thing his father fails to mention that his home is a base camp at the foot of Mount Everest.
As Peak gets to know his father, he also learns a lot about himself- all while climbing up the mountain.

I thought this book was quite interesting, I learned a lot about climbing. The climbing vocabulary was a bit overwhelming at times, but it didn't detract from the story at all. This would make a great read aloud or a book for a literature circle.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I just finished reading this book by a new author to me- Neal Shusterman. He has written one strange story here!

In Unwind, the world has gone a little crazy. No longer are abortions allowed, instead, life begins at conception. Parents who don't want their children have choices though- they can 'stork' them by leaving their baby to another family who MUST care for them. The other choice though is to wait until their child is between the age of 13-18 and then 'unwind' them. They aren't killing them, they are just taking all of their body parts and organs and implanting them in other people. The people in power reason that the 'unwinds' are still alive, just in a separate state.

In this book, the reader learns all of this through the story of Connor, Risa and Lev- all 'unwinds' with a different past that lead them to be labelled 'unwinds'. As their stories are told, the reader is drawn into this crazy world that Shusterman has created.

I think I would read this aloud to a class, but I would suggest you read it first. There is one scene that I found very hard to get out of my head after reading it. But, I will be recommending this book to many kids this year!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I have to say, I am on a reading roll right now- I just keep picking books that get better and better. Yesterday I finished reading Thirteen Reasons Why and I LOVED it! This is Asher's first book and I really hope he writes more.

The story line is very unique. There are really two stories going on here. One is Hannah, a young girl who committed suicide two weeks ago, she left a recording of the 13 reasons why she killed herself. The other story is Clay, after he becomes one of the 13 people receiving these tapes to listen to. The story flips between both characters- with Clay listening to Hannah's story and interjecting his thoughts and feelings. You get a fascinating look at how there can be different perspectives from the same event. This story is so compelling, at times it was so sad listening to Hannah's life and how she was treated at the high school. Then, there are the times when Clay was sharing his attraction to Hannah, but at the same time his fear of getting to know her.

This story really shows how words and actions have far reaching consequences. A great read for older readers.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Click Here by Denise Vega

This story totally rocks! Erin is entering grade 7- new school, new kids and she is very nervous. Her and her best friend Jilly have been together since kindergarten and now they are being separated. Erin isn't sure how to deal with things without Jilly. What she does do is write a 'pretend' blog about her problems, issues and things that make her happy. This blog is private- for her eyes only.

Things in grade 7 get pretty crazy. Her nemesis Serena seems to know every little issue that bothers her and brings it up every time she sees her. Her best friend Jilly is really only interested in herself, which is starting to bother Erin. Finally, her new friend Mark only likes her as a friend when she wants more. All of these things get posted to her private blog- until one day it isn't so private anymore! Erin is an amazing character, her strength in dealing with the issues she faces is very inspiring!

Girls in grade 6-8 must read this book. Erin's voice is hilarious, it makes me very glad I'm not in 7th grade again!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Elephant Run by Roland Smith

Just before the end of school, I ordered a whole pile of Roland Smith books. They came in a nice big pack and were pretty reasonable through Scholastic. I finally made it to that section of my bookshelf and pulled out the first one I saw, Elephant Run. It was a great first choice.

The story is set during World War 2 and is about Nick- a boy who has been living in London for several years but because of the War, his mother needs to send him away to Burma to live with his father. Nick was born in Burma, but has very few memories of the place. When Nick arrives in Burma he is quickly reminded of the beauty and danger of the jungle. What he remembers most though are the elephants and the importance they play at the teak plantation his father owns.

After only a few days of getting reacquainted with his father and Burma, the war suddenly catches up with Nick. The Japanese have taken over the country and the elephant's and their handlers. Nick watches as his father is taken prisoner and he finds himself a slave to the men who have taken over his home.

I found this story fascinating, it really introduced me to a country and a part of history that I knew nothing about. I was very intrigued by the role of elephants in other parts of the world. I have always just thought of them as animals I have seen in the zoo, but this book made me realize that they are used for so much more around the world. I think this book would be good for a read aloud or literature circle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies by Jordan Sonnenblick

I think I just finished reading my favourite book of the summer (or maybe July!) This book had me laughing out loud and crying in many places. The author writes in such an engaging way that I feel like I know these characters.

In Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, Steven is a totally normal boy in grade 8. He is awkward around girls- especially Renee who he has had a serious crush on since grade 3. He isn't very good at sports, but he does excel at the drums. Steven also has a 5 year old brother Jeffrey who drives him crazy most of the time.

But one day, Jeffrey gets sick-very, very sick and suddenly Steven's normal life is spiralling out of control. He needs to deal with his feelings about Jeffrey, being left to fend for himself while his mother is looking after Jeffrey and how his dad just sort of zones out of the whole family situation.

Yet throughout this book, Steven's brilliant sense of humour, although sarcastic many times is so believable that you know this is how many people get through a tough situation.

I can't decide if this book would be best suited for a read aloud or a literature circle. Either way, I know both boys and girls would love reading this book. I'm off to order other books by Sonnenclick right now!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

I am on a bit of a Sarah Dessen kick, this is one I had read before, but it was just as good the second time through.

In Just Listen, we meet the Greene family. A normal family with 3 girls, 3 girls who fight, laugh and all of whom are involved in modelling. From the outside, their family looks like a perfect family. Yet, from the inside, things are much different. One of Annabel's older sisters is recovering from an eating disorder that really rocked the family and the oldest sister is off at University and seems to really be changing as well.

Then, there is Annabel- whose friendship with Sophie ended in the most terrible way and Sophie works very hard to make her life miserable at school. The only way Annabel knows how to deal with this is to retreat into her own silent world. But, then she meets Owen- a boy who never lies- even when it makes others uncomfortable. As Annabel and Owen grow closer, she is forced to deal with the issue that split her and Sophie up- something Annabel is trying desperately to forget.

I think of Sarah Dessen as the Jodi Picoult for young adults, she deals with such great topics. I think all girls should read her books!
Check out her website here:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

I have always like Sarah Dessen books. I think she writes about some really interesting topics that have a large appeal for girls.

This book, deals with two sisters who had to work together to survive their mother's drinking, drugs and other inappropriate behaviour. They basically had to not only raise themselves, but also look after their mother. There is ten year between Ruby and Cora, and when Cora goes off to college, Ruby is left alone with her mother and looses touch with Cora. Now, ten years later, Ruby's mother has taken off and while she tries to keep things going at home, but it is tough to hold it all together. Suddenly, Cora and her husband Jamie are there insisting that she come and live with them. Ruby finds herself living in a beautiful home, going to a private school and surrounded by 'perfect' people. But all of this is hard for Ruby, it is hard for her to trust or get close to anyone. Ruby learns about friendship, trust and family through all the people she meets.

I really loved this story!

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

This book was a lovely look at the promise of first love and the many questions it can leave you with. Anna and Frankie have been best friends forever. Now, they are spending 3 weeks on holiday together and Frankie has decided that they need to meet one new boy each day (thus the title). Frankie is slightly boy crazy and is eager for their contest to begin. Anna however has a secret, a secret she promised she wouldn't reveal to Frankie. Anna was in love with Frankie's older brother Matt the year before- just weeks before he died. This secret is eating Anna up. She has always shared everything with Frankie, but her family is falling apart because of Matt's death and Anna isn't sure how to grieve for Matt. This summer holiday is suppose to be a fun way for the family to gain some normality in their lives, but for Anna and Frankie, the pressure of the twenty boy summer starts to really affect their friendship.

I thought this book was brilliant, it really captured the feeling of that first love. However, I would be very careful who I gave this book to because there are some scenes and content that are not appropriate for some readers.
Here is an interesting interview that Sarah Ockler gave to another blog:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Roar by Emma Clayton

This book was given to me by one of my students- Daniel. He thought I might like it, and boy was he right. This book is similar to The Uglies or The Hunger Games- where the world is much like ours in many way, but in some major ways the world is so much different and young kids are forced to make some serious decisions to go against the status quo.

The Roar is the story about what happens 40 years after an animal plague has destroyed much of the world. Now, everyone in the world lives behind a great wall, a wall that was designed to keep out all the animals. The people who live behind the wall are forced to live in terrible conditions (at least the poor people are). Most people live on the bottom layer of the city, they live in very small flats that are covered in mold. While the rich people live on the top layer of the city- where they block out all the sun to the people below.

Mika is a 13 year old poor boy who is very confused. A year ago, his twin sister vanished. His parents believe she is dead, but Mika knows in his heart she is still alive. When the government comes to school one day with a new program they all need to follow, Mika starts questioning the people in charge. Suddenly all the kids are playing this new video game and Mika finds himself finally comfortable with who he is. Mika knows that by playing this game he will somehow find his sister. But, things are not what they seem. The government has other plans for Mika and his friends.

Check out this book- it is well worth the read! The author also has a fan page on facebook: