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.