Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mini-Review Marathon

One of the goals while I was on maternity leave was to read and review all those books in my pile. I did get most of them read, but as of today, the last day of my maternity leave, I have reviewed approximately...well, none of them. So here we go with a long list of short reviews, everything from adult nonfiction to YA to picture books - something for everyone!

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences
by Dr. Leonard Sax
Crown Publishing Group
I haven't even finished this book, and I have talked it up to a dozen people. In fact, just this morning I was talking to some friends (who work in child development themselves) about it, as it related to our mutual kids' drawings in Sunday School. I hadn't even seen C's drawing yet, but it exactly matched what Sax had to say about research into eye development and gender.

Basically, Sax's assertion is that boys and girls have some inherent differences - physical, cognitive differences - and that treating them/educating them the same way is doing them a great disservice. I was inclined to agree before reading this, even more so now - and I am chagrined to find I am doing some things I probably shouldn't in story times. I wasn't going to read the book at all until I read this mini review at   Why Homeschool, now I'm recommending it for every parent/teacher/human being.

The False Princess
by Eilis O'Neal
Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

A little predictable, but a decent fun read. Good for someone who doesn't like too many twists and turns, or too much stress in her stressful situations. Nalia (or Sinda, as she is really named) does get into some tricky spots, but they tend to be resolved rather quickly, and we aren't pulled into her character so much that we feel they are happening to us. Suitable for middle or high school.

by Megan McCafferty
Balzer & Bray
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I hate to say it, but I was a little disappointed by this one. Great premise, and I was looking forward to reading it, but it fell a bit flat. It seemed like the author was trying to put too many things into the story, making it a little disjointed. M. read it and was put off by some of the vocabulary - we recognized that a society's lingo will change according to what is important to them, but when you have to stop to puzzle out what a word means by taking it apart semantically, that's just too distracting. I also thought the time period was unrealistic for the amount of change we saw in both girls. Their entire world views and what they had been living for for 16 years is suddenly reversed in 24 hours? Too much of a stretch for me. BUT, if the premise interests you, it is still worth reading. Just not one you are going to rush out and pass off to your friends.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True
by Gerald Morris
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Okay, how about one I did like? I have been in love with Gerald Morris (er, his books, I mean) since I read The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf. That is not the first book you should read, by the way - start with The Squire's Tale - I just couldn't resist the title of that one. Smart, funny, great for any age (although younger kids may not get some of the humor). I was heartbroken when the Squire's Tale series ended, but the Knights' Tales books are helping me get through it. They are written for a slightly younger crowd, and can be read either before or after reading the others (or in between).  Neither do they have to be read in any order, unlike the first series. These don't have the serious bits you'll find in the first, which makes them nothing but hilarious.

by Michael Northrop
Scholastic, Inc.
The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive....
Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. Still, it doesn't seem so bad to spend the night at school, especially when distractingly hot Krista and Julie are sleeping just down the hall. But then the power goes out, then the heat. The pipes freeze, and the roof shudders. As the days add up, the snow piles higher, and the empty halls grow colder and darker, the mounting pressure forces a devastating decision....

Didn't like it. Couldn't finish it. Don't care if everybody died, because there are a million other characters out there exactly like each of these. Sorry.

The Luck of the Buttons
by Anne Ylvisaker
Candlewick Press
Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners or model citizens.
Until tomboy Tugs befriends the popular Aggie Millhouse, wins a brand-new Brownie camera in the Independence Day raffle, and stumbles into a mystery only she can solve, she looks at her hapless family and sees her own reflection looking back. But it’s a summer of change, and it just may be that in the end, being a Button is precisely what one clumsy, funny, spirited, and observant young heroine decides to make of it.

There seems to have been a resurgence of good books written for the upper elementary crowd lately, and this would be one of them. By good I mean well-written, and innocent enough to please a parent but not so namby-pamby that they would turn kids off. Hand this one to fans of Laurel Snyder's books.

David Goes to School
by David Shannon
Scholastic, Inc.
Is this new? Hardly (1999). Have I read it 8 billion times lately and repaired it twice? Heck, yes. Perfect for any family that has, say, a five-year-old about to start school.

Big Bouffant
by Kate Hosford
Lerner Publishing Group
Cute story about a little girl who wants something other than a pony tail or braids. The illustrations, by Holly Clifton-Brown, will keep young readers busy for hours. I can't help thinking of Stephanie's Ponytail, by Robert Munsch, however, and this one pales by comparison. Rhyming text is great for picture books, and lends itself well to story times - IF the rhythm holds all the way through. This one gets off in a few places, but with practice would be a good one to use. I'll have to add it to my list tomorrow:)

by Stephen Gammell
Lerner Publishing Group

This seems to be one of those that appeals more to adults than kids, I'm afraid. The pictures are fantastic, to my adult eye, and I liked the idea of having to imagine what the mudkin creature is saying - his speech is written only in muds dobs, and many pages have no text at all. Unfortunately, C. was less impressed, and soon got tired of having to tell what was happening on each page. That's him, though, and it may work better with other kids - you know your little reader best!

More tomorrow!

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