Wednesday, November 19, 2014

35 Shopping Days Left! Review - Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems

Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems
9781467720458

Poetry books in general don't do very well here, but concrete poems are fun, and what kid won't pick up a book with a toilet on the cover?

What is a concrete poem? Why, I am so glad you (or your young patrons) asked, because that is the very first sentence in the book. It is followed by a quite serviceable explanation, with a concrete (ha!) example, and some suggested topics for writing your own. 

The poems are mostly witty and humorous, and I found myself reading several lines aloud. From "The Last Piece of Halloween Candy": The caramel treats have been enjoyed, the nutty chocolate savored/ but no one wants a candy bar that's 'Tuna Salad' flavored." 

Complementing the forms of the concrete poems are different fonts, and the little people you see on the cover reacting to the subject matter.

This would be a great book to read aloud to your class, a couple poems a day, to lead up to a poetry unit. If I were still in the classroom, I might reproduce a few to post on the wall or project on a smartboard, depending on my classroom's technological capabilities. Or mine. They would definitely be an enticement for a child who hates poetry to maybe dip her toes into it after all.

Gifting Suggestions: I would put this with a nice pad of drawing paper and some colored pencils, in hopes of inspiration striking.

Or, there are dozens and dozens of magnetic poetry kits out there, with nearly every theme you could imagine. How about this one
or this?
How can you say you don't like poetry with THAT tucked in your stocking?!


Monday, November 17, 2014

37 Shopping days Left! Review of Lark Ascending by Meagan Spooner

Lark Ascending
9780761388678

The thrilling conclusion to The Skylark Trilogy: Revolution is brewing in the city within the Wall. The city stands divided, and war is imminent. The rebels need a leader. After months beyond the Wall, Lark returns with Oren by her side, prepared to overthrow the Institute once and for all. But Lark's triumphant homecoming is short-lived when another leader emerges to unite the rebels: Eve, a mysterious Renewable. Lark wonders if Eve's powers will bring them strength—or bring humanity's final downfall.

It's always nice to see a writer hone her craft through a series. While I enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Skylark, it felt like it could use some tightening in areas, and the secondary characters needed some fleshing out. The second, Shadowlark, was better, but still left me feeling something was lacking. In this final title, however, things come together nicely - both in the writing skill and in the story line. 

Surprises abound in Lark Ascending, as old friends - and foes- reappear, sometimes not on the same side they once were, and we learn more about the ancient disaster, Lark's powers, and Kris's past (yes, he's back too). And, then there's Eve - the tortured Renewable who urged Lark to escape and "follow the birds" - how did she come to be captured to begin with? What are her plans once free? What is her connection with Lark?

While new questions are raised almost faster than the reader can keep track of them, the mostly-satisfying ending wraps the majority of them up. There are still enough loose threads to make one wonder if this is really going to be just a trilogy after all (scroll down to *** for some examples if you don't mind spoilers). 

This is definitely not a stand-alone novel, you will need to read the first two to have any clue what is going on. In a way it reminds me of one of my favorite trilogies when I was younger - at the risk of dating myself, the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The first two each give an accounting of a different part of the world, then the third brings those worlds together in a climactic moment.

Gifting Ideas:
An origami bird figures heavily in the first book of the series. Gift this with an origami how-to book and some origami paper.
Descriptions of The Machine make me think of one of these plasma balls:

Close this window

Christopher has one in his room, and it makes a great night-light!

Or, give the whole trilogy together, with one of these adorable nightlights:


They come in different colors, and I spotted them last week at Sportsman's Warehouse - totally going in the kids' stockings this year! And a perfect combination of the semi-steampunk technology (Nix!) and the need for non-magical lights in each of the books.










SPOILER ALERT


***WHERE THE BLEEP IS TAMREN??? Who tore those people apart? Was it Oren? If so, what fallout was there for him - does he realize it was him? If not, who or what was it? What about Lark's parents? Did she look for them, or just assume they were dead?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

42 Shopping Days Left! Review: Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian

Perfectly Good White Boy
9781467734806

I received this review copy from Lerner some time before the Cybils nominations began, and had already started reading it when it popped up on the Young Adult list. I have since finished it, and am not at all surprised that it made the list, but it has taken me a while to process it and decide what I want to say about it.

I'll start with, I liked it - a lot! (Whew, I'm sure Ms. Mesrobian was worried for a minute). This is definitely a character-driven novel, happening entirely in the thought processes and emotions of the main character. We do get to know other characters, as Sean gets to know them, but it's the peek into Sean's psyche that pulled me in.

"You never know where we'll end up. There's so much possibility in life, you know?" Hallie said. Sean Norwhalt can read between the lines. He knows Hallie's just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she's off to college, and he's still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and "possibilities" isn't exactly comforting. Sean's pretty sure he's seen his future and its "possibilities," and they all look DISPOSABLE. Like the rental his family moved into when his dad left. Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift-store job. Like everything good he's ever known. The only hopeful possibilities in Sean's life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he'd go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

Just in case you are expecting this to be about his experiences in the Marines (I was), it's not - the book ends with him leaving for boot camp. It is a whole lot of things I was NOT expecting, which may be why I have been finding it hard to articulate my review. I was not expecting to feel so in tune with the thoughts and mindsets of someone who is so completely different from who I am in real life, and that can only be the result of some amazing writing skills. While I have never met Carrie Mesrobian, a quick scan of her Twitter patter tells me that, a) She bears little resemblance to Sean herself, and b) She is freaking hilarious.


Tights? Socks? Boots? Cardigans? These are all essential questions when one is speaking to librarians, yall. 

Did you know there's a thing called Manhole Renewal Services? Drove by a truck fully engaged in such. *waits for jokes to pour in*

"Please attach your curriculum vitae..." *curls up into pillbug form, hides under desk*
Oh, and this one: 
"First book was better," Old Man Mesrobian told me recently. "Second book's all sex. No plot." 

Okay, yes, there is a LOT of sex - and quite a bit of swearing - in Perfectly good White Boy - so, probably not a book you want to hand to your father. Even if you wrote it. Just an FYI for your reader's advisory needs. BUT, if we are going to pretend that teenage boys don't think about sex pretty much all the time - well, we probably shouldn't be trying to do reader's advisory to teens to begin with.

Honesty is definitely the key word, here. Everything about Sean's relationships, feelings, decisions, mistakes - everything is gut-wrenchingly honest, and I will not be surprised to see this on the Cybils short list come january 1. The only thing that might keep it off is that there are a few places where I was sure I had missed a few pages - things jump in time with little to no explanation, and that may be jarring for some readers. It's not a huge thing in the scope of the novel, but I know how tight the race is for those short list spots!

No gifting suggestions to go with this one, but it would be a great gift all alone for any young adult in your life, male or female. I also expect to see it picked up and devoured by many older adults in the near future! (Picturing some "I don't normally like to read, but this book..." conversations).


Monday, November 10, 2014

44 Shopping Days Left! Review of Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone, by Rebecca L. Johnson

I lived in Ukraine in 1993 and 1994, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My station was in Dnepropetrovsk (say THAT three times fast), in the southern part of the country, but our initial training was held in Kiev. There were times when one volunteer would look at the other and wonder aloud how the cold war ever happened - when we saw a soldier bent over a short-handled broom, sweeping the dirt (not sweeping dirt off of something, sweeping the actual dirt); or when the phones, as usual, were useful only as fishing weights; or when Ukrainians told us, in all seriousness, that sitting on cold cement would cause us to become infertile.

Much of the former Soviet Union was what I would call a mix of advanced technology and redneck rigging.

Construction stupidity (93 pics)

So, a nuclear reactor in a place where you fix leaking plumping by wrapping an old rag around a wooden block and hammering it into place...well...by the time I arrived, I don't think it was the cold cement causing infertility (or drinking Pepsi that caused kidney disease.)

All that to say, the fallout and later effects of the Chernobyl disaster hold a place of special interest for me. I remember watching military personnel waving a Geiger counter around the back door of our kitchen area, smiling and telling us there was nothing to be concerned about, as if we couldn't hear the device beeping wildly. 

Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone
9781467711548

While much has been written about the initial disaster, scientists are still studying the effects on plants and wildlife in the 'Dead Zone', as it is commonly called. That very name illustrates the belief most people had, that nothing would survive in that 30km radius. As you can see from the cover photo, however, wild boar - once scarce in the area - are thriving. Lush vegetation is pushing through the abandoned streets. There are more moose in the Dead Zone than anywhere else in Ukraine. Stray dogs, beavers, wolves - even a herd of endangered Przewalski's horses, released into the zone as a - get the irony, here - safe place to live and breed.

How are these plants and animals doing so well in the face of radiation? Or, are they doing well after all? What of the people who have defied the law and moved back into their homes? Even the scientists studying the area don't have definitive answers yet.

At a time when post-apocalyptic novels are quite popular, this could be an interesting nonfiction companion - sort of the YA version of the Magic Treehouse companion books. Rather than giving a gift with this book, it could be the gift that goes with a novel such as The Line by Teri Hall, or Enclave, by Ann Aguirre. Then again, it is an interesting read all by itself!



Friday, November 7, 2014

47 Shopping days Left! Review: Anatomy of a Misfit

Anatomy of a Misfit
9780062313645


It's always a good sign when you start a new book, and are immediately reading lines out loud to anyone round you.

"She's a Christian, so if Mr. Baum is dead that means eternal damnation in the claws of the Beelzebub, whereas I will just be grounded."

"Where Brad is a puppy dog, Jared is a wolf. A big, bad wolf that your mother told you about but now you're just gonna have to ignore your mother."

"My head nodded. I didn't nod. But my head nodded. My head has obviously been taken over by witches."

It was as if Ree Drummond and Beth Woolsey got together to write a young adult novel. No-holds-barred introspective, laugh-out-loud hilarious, all too human tugging at the heartstrings (the little boys in their PAJAMAS omg!). Sex is mentioned but never happens, and Mom is actually not the enemy. A few secondary characters are one-dimensional, but they are only there to help the plot flow, so what the heck. The actual book jacket description:

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school.

Inside, she's a freak. A mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA. After all, her father is from Romania. Everyone else in Nebraska is about as American as an apple pie . . . wrapped in a flag . . . on the Fourth of July.

Spider stew. That's what Anika is made of. But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauser, first most popular girl in school, will make her life a living hell.

So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can't get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life?

Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it . . . ?
Logan. Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates?
Who?

The hysterical and heartwarming bits are interspersed with brief foreshadowing paragraphs that hint towards a less-than-happy ending. I accidentally got a HUGE spoiler in the insert from the publisher (hello! stop doing that!!), but there was still a punch in the gut at the end. The succeeding pages gave some satisfaction and softened the blow a bit, but weren't entirely believable - they were the kinds of things you WANT to happen, though, so I don't think most teens will quibble - this is just the jaded old lady talking here.

This will be one of the must-haves for the season, for any library serving teens.



Gifting ideas: Rather than pair it with anything specific, why not wrap it in a fun way? Mother Reader has some fantastic ideas. A scarf figures in one scene, and is certainly timely. Tie a bookmark on with the tag - hey, here's one from Romania!

(which Anika would never use, but that just makes it funny).
***Edit after reading other reviews (I never read them before writing my own): there are some people who absolutely hate this book, hate the main character, hate the language and some of the attitudes. It is fairly obvious from reading their reasons, though, that they are reading the book as adults, within an adult framework. Guess what, guys: the book isn't written for you. It is written for teens, who hear/think/speak this way every day, and discounting the book for those reasons swings dangerously close, imo, to those who want to limit access to books because they aren't what they think teens should be reading. As I alluded to in my comments about the ending, bloggers/reviewers need to CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE.





Wednesday, November 5, 2014

49 Shopping Days Left! Review: Home by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief: Home: Book Four

Wait, what??? There's another book in the Magic Thief trilogy series? Which ended (supposedly) three years ago? (Dashes TBR pile to the side)

I probably should have re-read the first three books before diving into this one, but I couldn't wait. It didn't take long at all to remind myself of who was who, and of why I liked Conn's bristling personality (and of how much I want my own Pip).

If you haven't read any of the series, you definitely need to start at the beginning. There you will meet Conn, a street rat whose thievery leads to an apprenticeship with a wizard - and so, so much more! Three-dimensional characters who will quickly seem like friends, seemingly effortless world-building, and rich, fast-paced story lines with much to think about. This (hooray!) fourth volume:
finds new wizard Conn back where he started—accused of being a thief.
Despite successfully securing a balance between the competing magics of Wellmet, Conn is not happy. Duchess Rowan has promoted him to ducal magister, but the other wizards see him only as a thief. But something sinister is brewing, as magicians' locus stones are being stolen and magical spells are going awry. As Conn faces old enemies and powerful magical forces, is he strong enough to save the city he calls home?

If you happen to know someone who enjoyed the first three and who is unaware of this fourth volume, it is a gift sure to be met with squeals of glee. If not, Harper Collins has the whole set available, complete with an added digital novella, shown here on Barnes and Noble.

The Magic Thief Complete Collection: The Magic Thief, Lost, Found, A Proper Wizard, Home

While the set is a great gift in and of itself, you could also pair it with a stuffed dragon
Ruby Dragon

or the givee's very own locus magicalis



(a local shop sells huge glass marbles, which would be perfect - check around where you live!)

A thoroughly satisfying end (or is it?) to a wonderful series!




Monday, November 3, 2014

51 Shopping days Left! Review: A Timeline History of Early American Indian Peoples by Diane Marczely Gimpel

A Timeline History of Early American Indian Peoples
9781467736381

Having grown up with very stereotyped (read: wildly inaccurate) teachings about Native Americans in school, I tend to approach any material about them these days with a great deal of wariness. I don't know enough myself to be sure I will catch any and all mistakes, but there are certain things I do know to look for - assigning the same cultural traits to all of them is a big one. Writing as if they are a part of history, and not a living breathing cultural group today, is another.

With that in mind, I'm not going to claim this is the only review you need to look to on this book, but here is my take on it!

At the very beginning, Gimpel acknowledges that there are different theories as to how the very first humans arrived in North America, and that they didn't exactly keep calendars. A small sidebar also explains the basics of timelines, which many readers may find useful. She also differentiates between native groups and tribes,  which I have not seen anyone else do.

For the most part, each two-page spread has text at the top, giving cultural information and explaining events that caused the movement of different groups. At the middle we have both photographs and illustrations, often a side bar with more information. At the bottom is the time line, with a few particular events highlighted. Somehow, this does not seem too crowded or busy, and the whole thing flows remarkably well!

Covering such a huge time span (20,000 BC to almost the present day) and hundreds of separate cultures in 48 pages is not an easy assignment. One can forgive an occasional mistake (psst - in the side bar on page 15, "Pocahontas" is spelled wrong. But, thank-you for not giving the Disney version of who she was!) (Oh, and the Apache didn't just use wickiups, some used tipis - and still do!) I was amazed to find no blatant editorializing of events - the "doctrine of discovery" is explained very matter-of-factly, as are multiple massacres committed by just about everybody.

I'm not sure who the best audience for this would be. Too much info for a single report, but good basic background to lead off an in-depth study of Native American cultures. I think I will hand this to home schoolers who want to do more than the 'obligatory' one-week unit in November.

***Edited because I totally forgot the gift guide! Please. PLEASE. Do not give this with a fake headdress and tomahawk, or something equally 1950's ignorant. Do a little research about local Native American people groups, and plan a trip. Visit Chaco Canyon, or the Serpent Mounds, learn a little history AND show your children that Native Americans a) still exist, and b) dress, learn, talk, live, for the most part, just like them. I highly recommend this series as well: