Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we highlight titles we are eagerly anticipating.


Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. 273 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 13, 2013. 9780316221337.

Publisher synopsis: In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I'm sorry I couldn't be more than I was—that I couldn't stick around—and that what's going to happen today isn't their fault.
Today is Leonard Peacock's birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather's P-38 pistol.
But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart—obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school's class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.
In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

I've been pining for this one since January, when I first heard about it. I adored his YA debut, Sorta Like a Rock Star. Unfortunately, Boy 21 got swallowed by TOM, but I do intend to get to it. Just one more week to go!

What are you waiting on?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Best First Lines


TTT is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This weeks theme is top ten beginnings/ endings of books. 

Here are eight from books I've recently read and two from books that are near the top of TOM, my tbr mountain.

In alphabetical order by title:


"I was home alone on that Friday evening."
Ashfall by Mike Mullin


"A girl sat just three chairs down from Noah talking to her hand."
BZRK by Michael Grant


"We sit together outside the Fosters Freeze at a sea-green, metal picnic table."
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


"The shrinkadinks think I have a screw loose."
Dear LIfe, You Suck by Scott Blagden



"I yawp most mornings to irritate my father, the Brute."
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets  by Evan Roskos



"My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does."
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher


"You've never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you've met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father."
Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington


"Death stalked the spider, pre-algebra book in hand."
Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem
due out August  15, 2013.



"Losing sucks."
Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
due out  September 10, 2013

Not yet read, but can't wait:

"The only thing worse than having my best friend sleep with my boyfriend the night of my father's funeral would be if she killed my dad herself."
The F - It  List by Julie Halpern
due out November 10, 2013


"Here is the boy, drowning."
More Than This by Patrick Ness
due out September 10, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

Non-Fiction Monday: Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch


Photographs by Tom Uhlman. 76 p. (Scientists in the Field series) Houghton Mifflin Books for Children/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June, 2013. 9780547503509. (Borrowed from the public library, but purchasing for my school library)

Elizabeth Rusch (Mighty Mars Rover) comes back to Earth to follow Andy Lockhart and his team of scientists who comprise VDAP, Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, the first and only international volcano crisis team. What with 1500 active volcanos spread all over the planet, threatening 20% of the world's population and more than 50 erupting each year, Andy's team is spread a little thin. They try their best to figure out whether the volcano in question will erupt; when will it erupt; how will it erupt; how big the eruption will be and who's in danger from the eruption. Is there a need to evacuate? If so, how far away?

Each page contains at least one illustration, dramatic full-color photos, maps, satellite images, text boxes and side bars. The text is fairly sophisticated and detailed. This will require close reading, not browsing but students will be rewarded with an in-depth look at scientists at work on the edge.

My love for this series is no secret. Each one just gets better. This one is no exception. If anything, it ramps up the edginess. Doesn't that cover just scream blockbuster? These scientists risk losing their lives with each volcano they assess. I liked how the intensity of the work was described without resorting to sensationalism. Photo credits, chapter notes, glossary and suggestions for further reading are included. 

This is a must-purchase for me as the sixth graders at my school do a fairly large unit on volcanoes. I'm sure this will be as popular with the students as I know it will be the teacher.

Author website.

Other blog reviews:
The Nonfiction Detectives
Growing with Science
Stem Friday

Non-fiction Monday is hosted this week by Sally's Book Shelf.



Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


380 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Group (USA) Inc., August 29, 2013. 9780803738553. (Arc obtained at ALA Annual, courtesy of the publisher)

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old adoptee and a bit of an odd-ball. She's a genius and a tad obsessive, especially about gardening, nature, and medical conditions. She's also an astute observer. She knows she doesn't fit in. She knows that her parents desperately want her to, so she tolerates school and all the disappointments that it brings, to please them. When she aces the state test, she is accused by the school administrators of cheating and is sent to a counselor for evaluation. She protects her parents by handling it herself. They have no idea that she has weekly "counseling" sessions after school. It is during one of these sessions that tragedy strikes and Willow's world falls apart.

The structure of this story is unique, at least to me. It took me awhile to realize that it's told essentially in one sentence paragraphs, not quite blank verse, not quite standard prose. This enhances Willow's rather intense, emotionless voice and lends itself nicely to her meandering scientific observations and deadpan (or unintentional) humor. 

The POV shifts from Willow's first person account to an omniscient third person and slightly backwards in time before staying in the "after." The one-sentence  structure is maintained in the third person as well. Upon reflection, all of the folks surrounding Willow are fractured in some way, so this makes a certain sense. 

The descriptive language is astounding - were I highlighting my arc, nearly the entire book would be neon yellow. 

     "The anxious woman leaned on her desk, and her brow   
      knitted into a strange pattern of angled, intersecting lines.

     I felt certain that if I stared long enough, I would find a
     math theory in the woman's forehead.

    But the lines rearranged themselves before I could work
    out the dynamic,..." (p. 36)

The characters are unique, a bit out there and, for the most part, trying their best. Willow changes each and every one. There's Del, the inept school counselor to whom Willow is assigned when an inept school administrator assumes her perfect state test school is due to cheating. There's Mai and her brother Quang-ha, who has anger issues. Willow meets them because Quang-ha's session is just before Willow's. There's Pattie, Mai and Quang-ha's mother, who, with just a few whispered words from Mai, lies to the police and tells them that they are family friends, enabling her to save Willow from going immediately into foster care. 

There's a lot of Quirk here. There are also Plot Contrivances. I've a feeling folks are going to either love or hate this book. I fell in love on page one and decided to stay in love when the snark and the eye rolls occasionally threatened. I even loved the rather happy, slightly unrealistic ending. I let go and went with it because I became invested in Willow immediately despite the fact that I will never, ever again eat dipped ice cream. I stayed invested because Ms. Goldberg Sloan painted a portrait of grief that tore my heart out. I stayed with it for all the little pockets of lovely language and imagery. I stayed with it because I know quite a few Willows. They can be very, very difficult to be around and literature reminds me that there is a story in every Willow.

Please make room for Willow.




Sunday, July 28, 2013

July Carnival of Children's Literature

I'm so thrilled to be hosting this month's Carnival. Kidlitosphere members have been very busy reading this month.


Early Literacy


Reshama from Stacking Books says, "This is a great read aloud or self read for older kids. Susan Meddaugh, the authoress famous for her “Martha Speaks” books, has written a hilarious, witty and truly original chapter book for kids of age 6+. We loved the simple illustration that added to the story telling. Lulu’s character is very relatable as she tries to find the truth behind her family and the magical hat. This goodhearted girl will want you to grab a magic hat and try some tricks of your own!"





The Fourth Musketeer's Margo posts, "This is one of the most stunning picture books I have seen in ages. A must for animal lovers of all ages!" 




If you have anyone heading off to kindergarten come fall, or know anyone heading there, head over to Flowering Minds for a round-up of books "that address many of the first-day concerns that both kids and adults might have." 



Fiction


Lindsey from, A is for Aging writes, "I blog about "positive aging" picture books and in "Grandmama's Pride" I believe the grandmother is a superb role model for younger generations as she takes a stand for what she believes in--equal rights for her race. This book allowed me to draw a parallel between racism and ageism."




Alex, of Randomly Reading posted this about Paperboy, "This is an interesting first person story about a boy who agrees to take over his friend's paper route for a month despite speaking with a severe stutter."



Shelf-employed's Lisa writes, "It's difficult to keep up with the volume of books released each month! In addition to blogs and the monthly Carnival of Children's Literature, publishers have been helping by offering free e-content. Here are some publisher offerings, lengthy enough to give you the "flavor" of a book without tying up too much of your time. Enjoy!"




"There seem to be a lot of military families in the blogging world. I imagine many of them would be interested in a book like this. They might not fully agree with my viewpoint, but they (hopefully) will enjoy the subject of the post..." says Eric in his review of Hero Dad on Kid Book Ratings.





Jennifer of Mischief & Noise features "three great bedtime books for boys that will capture their attention while helping them settle down for the evening. I hope that Jennifer doesn't mind that I captured her beautiful cover picture instead of choosing a book cover! 


From author Gail Gauthier, "This post addresses how women--particularly teenage women--appear in fiction. Is there nothing for them to do in fictional worlds but seek, or be sought by, a man?"




Erica features "a selection of picture books based on Native American folktales on What Do We Do All Day? 



BooKa Uhu's Book Nook features Anthony McGowan's, Hello Darkness, saying, "It was just an amazing book - it lured me in and spat me out, dazed and confused, at the end of it (but in a good way). It's one I'll be babbling about to any teen who stands still for a good while."




"This brand-new middle grade debut novel stands out because of its quirky characters and emotional depth. The author's unique style will appeal to fans of the Casson family stories, and other novels about family relationships," says Katie from Secrets & Sharing Soda.




Our incredible leader, Anastasia, from Booktalking, writes, "Nasreddine is a legendary character popular in stories told throughout the Middle East. In this story, no matter what Nasreddine tries, someone always finds something to disapprove of. (This is true everywhere!)"




My own entry from proseandkahn is Karen Harrington's middle grade debut, Sure Signs of Crazy. Please make room in your heart for Sarah Nelson. 


Non-Fiction


Jeff, of NC Teacher Stuff, writes, "What was the Boston Tea Party? is a fascinating look at this precursor to the Revolutionary War. Even if you have read other accounts of this event, chances are you will learn something new by reading this book."
 

Poetry




"I wanted to compare two children's books about creatures who don't fly wanting to fly - a pig and a penguin, and I ended up looking at them in the context of a painting of Icarius and two poems about that painting," says Christy from Houseful of Chaos.



Sarah of Local Love: Books for Children in New England submits, "OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD is a powerful novel-in-verse for young adults. Come learn why I love it so much!"



"April Halprin Wayland provides links to sites where young writers can get their poetry/writing published and she shares a poem about the joy of being published." in Where Can a Young Writer Get Published?"

 

Interviews


Mary Ann, the brains behind Great Kids Books interviewed Bruce Hale (love the Chet Gecko series!) Here's what she says,"This is a chance for some of my favorite kid-testers to interview one of their favorite authors: Bruce Hale. Natchez and Isla are both avid readers, entering 6th and 7th grade. They love a wide range of books, and one of their new favorites is Bruce Hale's Playing with Fire. It's action, adventure & mystery, all with a hearty dose of humor!"





Author Of features a magical theme this month. Kate Hannigan writes," We dabble in the magical this month over at AuthorOf, with interviews with two middle-grade authors who feature a bit of magic in their books. 

Stephanie Burgis's three-book series, starting with "Kat, Incorrigible," is a tremendous amount of fun. And to learn how she pulled these books together, I can't help but think that Stephanie has been dabbling in the magical arts herself! They are so well-written and full of non-stop action. 


And Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves magic realism into her fast-paced mystery, "When the Butterflies Came." Both authors have created amazing worlds through lively writing that is sure to amuse and engage middle-grade readers."





"Each month, I feature a Young Reader Review on my blog, where kids are interviewed about their favorite books. This month Gary Paulsen's HATCHET is featured. This has become a popular feature on my blog, and it is always a pleasure to read what the kids have to say," writes Becky of Tapestry of Words. 


Book Projects



The Book Chook's own Susan posts, "Literacy-based guessing games are a great way to involve kids in reading and thinking about books. In this post, I've brought together lots of guessing games that can be used in the library or classroom, or adapted to use at home."


Zoe, of Playing by the Book, says, "I wanted to compare two children's books about creatures who don't fly wanting to fly - a pig and a penguin, and I ended up looking at them in the context of a painting of Icarius and two poems about that painting." 


Illustration

LH Johnson says, "I'm a great fan of David Almond and the work he's done with Dave McKean is just outstanding. In this post, I explore Slog's Dad in depth and why it's so very, very good." Stop by Did You Ever Stop to Think and Forget to Start Again? to check it out.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What's New? Stacking the Shelves


StS is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got.

I've been catching up on my audiobooks this month and decided to order these three:



I'm with Stupid by Geoff Herbach. Unabridged book on 1 MP3-CD, 7 hours and 13 minutes. Read by Nick Podehl. Brilliance Audio, July, 2013. 9781480533196.

Publisher synopsis: It's nerd-turned-jock Felton Reinstein's last year before college, and the choices he makes now will affect the rest of his life. That's a lot of pressure. So, he's going to make a list. What would he be if he weren't a jock? He'll try everything — comedian, partier, super student — and which ever identity he likes best he'll stick with. Poof. Stress gone.
Except not... Because the list leads to:
1. The whole state of Wisconsin hating him.
2. His track coach suspending him.
3. His mom moving out.
Before leaving home forever, Felton will have to figure out just who he is, even if, sometimes, it sucks to be him.

I absolutely adored Stupid Fast and Nothing Special and fully intended to read this one with my eyes. The book is sitting near the top of TOM. I don't know why I suddenly decided to check whether it was produced in audio, but once I saw that it was performed by Nick Podehl...

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3-CD, 4 hours, 11 minutes. Read by Kate Reinders. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, April, 2013. 9781469275215. 
Publisher synopsis: When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. “If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence,” Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — as she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie and Rew spend their days under the birches and oaks of the Zebra Forest, telling stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same.
This deeply compelling, emotionally evocative, and grippingly suspenseful look at the complicated fallout from long-held family secrets is impossible to forget.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3-CD, 5 hours, 23 minutes. Read by Bahni Turpin. Brilliance Audio, May, 2013. 9781469273983.
Publisher synopsis: For Sugar, life is anything but sweet.
Ten-year-old Sugar lives on River Road Plantation along the banks of the Mississippi River. Slavery is over, but working in the sugarcane fields all day doesn’t make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar knows how to make her own fun, telling stories, climbing trees, and playing with forbidden friend Billy, the plantation owner’s son.
Then a group of Chinese workers arrives to help harvest the cane. Sugar wants to know everything about them — she loves the way they dress, their unfamiliar language, and, best of all, the stories they tell of dragons and emperors. Unfortunately, other folks on the plantation feel differently — they’re fearful of these new neighbors and threatened by their different customs. Sugar knows things will only get better if everyone works together, so she sets out to help the two communities realize they’re not so different after all.
Sugar is the inspiring story of a strong, spirited young girl who grows beyond her circumstances and helps others work toward a brighter future.

I actually read this one with my eyes not long ago and hope to review it this coming week. Bahni Turpin is one of my favorite narrators and though I had the author's voice in my head since I heard her do a reading, I am eager to see how Ms. Turpin interprets Sugar.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we are eagerly anticipating. 



The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus. 240 p. Scholastic, Inc., September 24, 2013. 978-439912990. 

Publisher synopsis: Failing math but great at writing, Gregory finds the poetry (and humor) in what's hard.
Gregory K is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.
Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.
For every kid who equates math with torture but wants his own way to shine, here's a novel that is way more than the sum of its parts.

Ha-ha! I was (still am) one of those kids! I can't wait for this one. The seventh grade math teacher does a collaborative Fibonacci unit with the art teacher. I've got a couple of picture books about Fibonacci numbers and think this will be a fun addition. I've already emailed her.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is: top ten words/ topics that make me not pick up a book.

I'm going to be a little goody-goody here and say none, since I'm a school librarian and feel that, in order to be effective in reader's advisory, I should read across the genres, including the ones I dislike or am so over. That doesn't mean I won't be giving it the stink-eye or be dragged kicking and screaming to the book though. Here they are:

1. Any book that is predicted to be "the next big thing," a la Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc. especially if it accompanied by tons of hype, especially in the blog-o-sphere as in, gushy, hyperbolic "reviews." This can backfire for me though. Daughter of Smoke and Bone got a ton of well-deserved hype, but I avoided it forever because of it and because I was also over paranormal (see # 5).

2. Any book penned by a celebrity. Jaimie Lee Curtis and John Lithgow excluded. Okay, I'll throw Chris Colfer in there because I think he does it because he loves to write.

3. Any YA/ Children's book penned by an adult author because that's where the money is, especially a best-selling adult author. Yeah, I'm looking at you, whats-your-name. Wait while I look it up...John Grisham.

(And while I'm snarking, let me stop to complain about parents who shoot these pieces of crap books to the top of the best seller lists because of the celebrity of the author. Read reviews folks.)

4. Bodice-rippers, romance, any book by Harlequin. I absolute cannot abide by disingenuous heroines or heroines that need to be swept off their feet or heroines, if they have any intellect at all at the beginning, lose it as soon as the domineering male enters the picture.

5. Paranormal romance. At first, I was intrigued by the idea of vampires and angels and demons and, even zombies but then they all seemed to devolve into love triangles. As I mentioned before, I like my heroines smart and capable.

6. The term chick-lit. Haven't seen it much lately though. That's a good thing.

7. Horror. I am easily scared. Hate horror films and don't watch them and would totally avoid horror books but for my need to know the genre.

8. Self-help books. They all say pretty much the same thing.

9. Crime/ mystery. I never liked them when I read for me because they tended to be brutal. Now that I'm reading for a younger audience, they tend to be edgier than I'd like for my audience, or so gentle and ridiculously obvious.

10. Christian. Didn't even know the genre existed until I got a couple of review queries and stumbled upon some blogs that specialize in that type of book. I'm all for a character wrestling with his or her faith in a book, but not one that proselytizes or pushes an agenda.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Non-Fiction Monday: If Stones Could Speak; unlocking the secrets of Stonehenge


by Marc Aronson with the generous cooperation of Mike Parker Pearson and the Riverside Project. National Geographic, March, 2010. 9781426305993. (Purchased)

I just love it when the order of the universe is challenged; when someone says, "Who says?" It's hard to upset the apple cart. At best, no one listens, at worst, you're imprisoned, branded a heretic and worse. In the case of Stonehenge and Mike Parker Pearson, the stakes were not quite so high, but he did go up against the theories of a couple of giants of archaeology with the help of a one-named retired archaeologist from Madagascar and a dedicated team of researchers. In cogent accessible language, Marc Aronson provides an overview of Stonehenge, a short biography of Pearson, and an in-depth description of the series of digs he and his team on The Riverside Project performed. As can be expected with any Nat. Geo. publication, plenty of full-color photographs, artist's renderings, and maps enhance the excitement. 

An Encyclopedia of Stonehenge, complete with timelines of the project, mini-biographies of archaeologists associated with Stonehenge and books and websites for further study round out this volume, which is a welcome addition to middle school libraries. 

I was reminded of this older title during a visit to my local Barnes and Noble a little over a week ago. I had actually gone there in search of Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone. That book was not available, but I decided to browse the rather paltry non-fiction section anyway. I came across this and thought that I had ordered it for my school library. (One argument for upgrading to a smartphone - the ability to check these things in the store.) I decided to chance that I had, once I thumbed through it. The sixth grade social studies teacher includes a study of Stonehenge in his course of study. That, plus anything by Aronson is an automatic purchase by me for my library. 

I was a bit appalled by the non-fiction section of the store. Lots and lots of junk non-fiction and no Sibert winners. It was a sad state. I want to return when I have more time to really browse the section, but I was disappointed, which reaffirms my opinion that school and children's public librarians are so essential to getting quality non-fiction into the hands of young readers. 

I love how Aronson not only brought archaeology to life for young readers, but encouraged "outside the box" thinking, which is really so important to discovery and advancement of any science. This book reminded me of David Macauley's Motel of the Mysteries. It's not so much that Aktinson, et al got it all wrong, or Pearson made it all right, but that we are constantly adding to our knowledge and understanding. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What's New? Stacking the Shelves


StS is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Pop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got.

Quiet week for me. I was away and haven't yet checked my school mailbox. This was in my home mailbox from SLJ for review:


Killer Species #1: Menace from the Deep by Michael P. Spradin. 240 p. Scholastic Inc., June, 2013. 9780545506717.

Publisher synopsis: A brand-new action-packed series from Michael P. Spradlin. Each book covers a genetically engineered super predator wreaking havoc on the environment.
Emmet Doyle is not in the best mood when he arrives in Florida City. His father is a wildlife biologist, and has been summoned to the Everglades, dragging Emmet along with him. Though still in mourning from losing his mom a year ago, Emmet's trying hard to keep a good attitude.
Upon their arrival, however, things quickly get weird. Dr. Rosalita Geaux, the Park Superintendent, wastes no time in revealing the reason she called Emmet's father to Florida. A strange creature was recently found dead in the park, and upon seeing it, it becomes clear to everyone that this is not a native species. This is man-made.
Deep in the swamp, someone has been experimenting to create a new breed of apex predator. And they're about to set them loose.
I enjoyed the author's Youngest Templar books. This one looks interesting.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Happy reading!

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington


280 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 20, 2013. 9780316210584. (Review from arc obtained at ALA Annual)

As a first line, "You've never met anyone like me," is intriguing, but not one to pop in the "memorable first line" file. It's the second one that grabs you. "Unless, of course, you've met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father."

Whoa. Twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson keeps two diaries, one hidden in plain sight, which is reassuringly mundane to any prying adult eyes. The other is carefully hidden and contains her true hopes and fears, one of which is a fear of insanity. After all, her mother went insane. She is constantly checking herself for the crazy gene she is sure will manifest itself at any time. She also keeps a list of "trouble" words. "Crazy" is a trouble word and so is "love." Sarah learns which words are trouble words by the reading the hurt in her dad's eyes before he retreats to the sofa and his bottle. 

Sarah may be your prototypical caregiver child, wise beyond her years and good in the kitchen, but she is lonely and so very needy as she ends her sixth grade year with little to look forward to come summer save an extended visit to her grandparents' house in Houston (not). She is definitely not looking forward to seventh grade and the mandatory Family Tree project. How is she going to explain her family? She and her dad move around a lot thanks to her mother's notoriety. She's kind of hoping they will move before she has to face this project.

She gets a little lift when her language arts teacher asks the class to write letters to a literary character. Sarah chooses Atticus Finch and derives almost as much comfort writing to him as talking to her best friend, Plant, as in house plant. To Kill a Mockingbird is her favorite book and Atticus Finch is the perfect father. 

Things also start looking up when her father decides that she can stay home and spend her days with Charlotte, their twenty-year-old neighbor who is home from college. She feels a kinship with Charlotte and confides some of her secrets only to feel dismayed when Charlotte shares them. Still, it was nice to have Charlotte to turn to when she started her period. And then there's Finn, Charlotte's word-loving nineteen-year-old brother. Seven years is not an insurmountable age difference, is it?

Just when I think I've had enough of quirky characters along comes Sarah to melt, break, and warm my heart. Sure the subject matter is dark, dark, dark. Oh my goodness, so much grief in this tiny family! She's basically an orphan as she is also fatherless, since her father copes with his own grief by drowning it in alcohol. This causes Sarah to have additional worries - about the alcoholism gene. Somehow, Karen Harrington manages not to overwhelm the reader in sadness. Sarah is a survivor. She instinctively created the family she needed. While events beyond her control have forced her to grow up too soon, she's also facing all the fears large and small that girls face as they leave girlhood behind - her changing body, best friend worries, her first crush. 

Still, the novel is solidly middle grade. There is much that will resonate with tween readers. They will love Sarah. Indeed, all of the characters, major and minor, are memorable. As I read, I thought of my cadre of rising sixth graders who just love sad books. The sadder the better. They are going to pass this one around come September.

Sure Signs of Crazy has already garnered two starred reviews: from Kirkus(!) and Booklist. I haven't seen an SLJ review, but suffice it to say, were I reviewing it for SLJ, I would've given it a star.

Not much out there in the blogs that I follow. Visit the author's website here. There's a nice interview of the author here.

Quick note about the cover: I love it. I liked the cover on the arc (see below) but the final cover pops.







Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Memes: Zits Chillax: a novel by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

I follow Kathy Martin's blog, Ms. Martin Teaches Media. She also has a blog with the coolest name, Inside of a Dog, but that one is for reviews of the books for adults that she reads and the only reading for adults I do it professional. Anyway, each Friday, on both blogs, she features two Friday memes: Book Beginning Fridays (why not First Line Fridays?) and The Friday 56. They're usually fun to read but until today, I haven't felt compelled to post them.



Zits: Chillax: a novel by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. 238 p. HarperTeen/ HarperCollins Publishers, May, 2013. 9780062228512. 

Publisher synopsis: Jeremy Duncan, high school sophomore and future rock god, offers up a comedic outlook on teenage life, including school, parents, chores, bands, and friends.
 
Jeremy and his best friend, Hector Garcia, are planning to achieve a lifelong dream…going to a rock concert! Without parental supervision. But the Gingivitis concert falls on the same night their friend Tim is donating bone marrow for his mom, a cancer patient. Not a problem: Jeremy and Hector are determined to go to the show…for Tim.

First line: I can see a bead of sweat clinging to Byczyowski's mustache hairs, and on her it doesn't look bad.

I busted out laughing. I can't remember a time that a first line did that to me. 

Page 56: Okay, I'm cheating. This is from page 55. I turned the page down to highlight the quote for a future review when I noticed the page number. It happens to be Friday morning and I remembered the meme. I quickly read page 56 and didn't find a quote as good as the one I liked on page 55, and I like kind of like the sound of Friday Fifty Five. It works.

     I will never understand most females. They think you 
     have to beat everything to death with words. They 
     take the simplest little thought, strap it to a chair, and
     throttle it senseless with a month's worth of words.
     What's the point? Guys operate way more 
     economically. We can say a lot with a few well-placed 
     dudes.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice