Friday, May 30, 2008

Ever by Gail Carson Levine

I know you can't judge a book by it's cover, but I did, and I was way off on this one. I saw the latest novel by Gail Carson Levine, Ever, and I assumed that it was another fairy tale version by Gail Carson Levine (not that that's bad, I was really excited about it). I mean, look at the covers of her fairy tale adaptations; the covers are deliberately designed to match. This is probably not a problem for the average reader, but I have this weird habit of avoiding the publisher's summary because I hate having any of the plot spoiled.

At any rate, just so you don't make the same mistake, Ever is not a fairy tale adaptation, it is an original mythological story. It seemed to be vaguely middle eastern, but as far as I know it has a set of totally made up Gods and Goddesses that remind me a little of the Greek Gods. The novel starts out following the youngest God, Olus, the 17 year-old Akkan God of the winds. Olus is lonely because he's so much younger than all of the other Gods. His parents hesitantly agree to let him temporarily live among Humans but warn him that he will not fit in and find happiness among them. Of course, Olus has to learn that the hard way when he makes a new friend and decides he can confide in his friend that he is actually a God, which terrifies the human and his family. Olus learns to hide who he truly is in order to live among mortals.

He flits from one job to the next until he settles on being a goat-herd and spies Kezi, the beautiful daughter of his wealthy landlord. Altough he only watches Kezi from afar he quickly falls in love with her and he watches her dance and artfully weave her rugs. Tragedy strikes when Kezi's mother falls ill and her father Pleads to Admat (the only God Kezi's family believes in). He pledges that if Admat will heal his wife, he will sacrifice the first human who congratulates him on his wife's recovery. Kezi mother does indeed recover, and Kezi is horror struck when her beloved aunt tries to congratulate her father. She quickly intervenes and congratulates him before her aunt has a chance. Of course both parents are full of sorrow, but they fear Admat too much to betray their promise. Kezi submits herself to her destiny to be sacrficed, but she prays to Admat to let her live for 30 more days.

In the meantime Kezi, meets Olus and begins to fall in love with him. She suspects he's a magician, and has a hard time believing he is a God because she only believes in one God, Admat. Olus doesn't know if Admat is real because none of the Gods he knows have even heard of Admat, but he joins Kezi on a quest to help her overcome her parents' pledge to sacrifice her without angering Admat.

See, that was not the fairytale that I was expecting, although Kezi's father did remind me of King Midas losing his beloved daughter when he got his wish. Overall, I found the setup and plot interesting (parts of it were admittedly a little hard for me to buy into (warkis, people who slowly become covered with knitted feathers and eat dirt, etc.), but what I really struggled with was trying to figure out what Levine was trying to say about faith and religion. It really bothered me that the Gods showed no interest in humans, and Kezi's reasons for doubting her faith kept growing. In the end I'm still not sure what the point of it all was. Did anyone else feel that way?

All in all I'd rate this an interesting book, but Ella Enchanted remains my favorite Gail Carson Levine book by far!

Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor

I knew from the publisher's one sentence summary that this novel would be sad/depressing. Since becoming a mom, I have a particularly hard time with stories of child abuse or neglect, but I repeatedly heard such great things about this book that I had to pick it up, and I'm very glad that I did!

Sixth-grader Addie and her mom, Denise, are left in dire circumstances after Denise failed to make her mortgage payments with the money her Ex gave her and lost custody of Addie's two half-sisters. Ex-husband Dwight has the little girls and wants nothing to do with Denise, but offers up a trailer home he has parked downtown so that Addie (who is not his daughter) will still have a place to call home. He has his reservations about leaving Addie alone with her mom, but is left with no choice because he is not Addie's blood relation and he has no claim to custody. While Addie struggles to keep track of her mom, make new friends, and overcome her learning disabilities, Dwight and the little girls find a new family and a welcoming home.

See, sounds depressing, huh? But oddly enough, Addie carries an optimism that keeps the reader hopeful. Her mom is terribly neglectful, but Addie still has a network of people who love her and watch out for her. The book covers some heavy issues; that abuse isn't always physical, that kids shouldn't be the ones responsible for taking care of their parents, that having a learning disability doesn't mean you're not smart, and that sickness can be mental, not just physical. Yet somehow the story isn't too depressing. It has it's heartbreaking moments, but I was still able to close it with a smile.

Olivia on TV!

Have you heard the news? Ian Falconer's Olivia is going to be on tv! I just heard the announcement that Nickelodeon will have 26 episodes of a 3-D half an hour cartoon starting at the beginning of 2009.

I'm interested to see how my favorite pig will look in 3-D.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Found: The Missing Book 1 - by Margaret Peterson Haddix

So I admit that I'm a fan of the Shadow Children series even though it dragged out a bit. As a reader, I've been spoiled by many clearly laid out series lately; I knew Harry would be at Hogwarts for seven years and there would be a novel for each year, I knew there would be 13 unfortunate novels about the Baudelaire orphans; so it drove me nuts to read a series in the making that would obviously have a big event that would end the series (The shadow children would revolt/be discovered and either be accepted or destroyed) but I had no idea how many books would be in the series so with each new release I wondered if that book would finally end it all or leave it hanging.

Well, maybe Haddix got tired of people asking her if each new book in the Shadow Children Series would end it all because I think of Found less as a complete novel and more of an intro to the entire series. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, and I wasn't disappointed by the ending, but I'm more excited about what Haddix has mapped out next.

It begins with 13 year-old Jonah getting a mysterious letter in the mail that says, "You are one of the missing." Jonah has always known that he was adopted so he thinks the letter must be a prank from kids at school who also know Jonah's adopted. That is until his friend Chip gets an identical letter and discovers he was also adopted and his parents kept his adoption a secret. Neither boy can find any information about their birth parents except that an FBI agent's name and number is posted as a contact in each of their adoption files. By the time they each get a letter stating, "Beware! They're coming back to get you." they are both worried about what the truth might reveal and the plot only thickens as Jonah's 12 year-old sister, Katherine, helps them discover that their story involved an FBI cover up, a plane that appeared out of nowhere, 35 other kids, and people who appear and disappear.

How does Margaret Peterson Haddix do it? she can write mysterious sci-fi, historical fiction, fairy tales, even early-readers, and here she is with another series that's sure to be a another hit.


I'm warning you, don't read the rest of this if you haven't read this book!

So the kids on the plane are 36 of the most famous kids missing from history and they can't stay in their modern lives with their adoptive families unless they fix the problems in history their disappearances caused. We know the group includes Virginia Dare, who vanished with the Roanoke Colony, the youngest children of Czar Nicholas II (Anastasia and Alexis), the Lindbergh baby, and we're starting off with Princes Edward and Richard, who disappeared from the Tower Of London in 1483. Wow! That is a major undertaking, and I can't even begin to imagine how much research it will take to write each of these books. Fans of this series are going to be learning a lot about history. I can't wait to learn more about each historical figure's life, and it will be interesting to see what goes wrong because of each disappearance and how Haddix will fix it.

Now when does book 2 come out?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

So, you already know that I like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, so I was happy to learn that he extended the trilogy and released a fourth book. I thought most people knew about it, but some bookclubbers were surprised when I mentioned it a few months ago, and I've been meaning to mention it here.

Extras takes place a few years after the first three books and is set in a modern version of Japan where citizens are valued by their fame ranking, which means Aya Fuse's rank of 451,369 makes her a complete no-one with no special privileges. The publisher describes it as, "a gigantic game of American Idol where, 'Tech-head' flaunt their latest gadgets, 'kickers' spread gossip and trends, and 'surge monkeys' are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it's all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules."

Aya is convinced that if she can kick an amazing story, her rank will rocket and she'll get the life she dreams of. In a desperate effort she joins the Sly Girls (a group of girls that avoid the media as much as possible leading many people to believe they aren't even real) and sneaks footage of their dangerous fun, and she uncovers a much bigger story than she bargained for.

I know a few teenagers out there were disappointed to learn that this wasn't another novel focused on Tally, the main character in the first three books, but I thought it was so interesting and provided some good discussion points about what makes a person famous, is fame necessarily good, and what's the difference between news and gossip. Things teenagers today should be questioning as they watch Paris Hilton parade across the news, spend time surfing myspace, and tune into TV shows like Gossip Girl.

I really enjoyed this book and after discussion with friends, I have to admit that it probably helped that I speak Japanese so I didn't stumble with any of the names or placing where the story was supposed to take place. I would still start with Uglies and work my way through the series, but don't miss Extras at the end!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2007 banned book list

Every year the ALA publishes the banned book list, or in more formal terms, American Library Association’s (ALA) 10 Most Challenged Books of 2007. Some books are on the list for obvious reasons, but every year it seems I'm surprised by one or two. For instance this year, Olive's Ocean made the list. What? Really? I loved that book! Do I have a selective memory? Did any of you find it offensive?

Here's the list:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

4. “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6. “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7. “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9. “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May - Member Recommendations

For May's meeting we met at Heather's to discuss some favorite recommended by readers. Here's the reading list along with some discussion questions that Heather put together.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer (recommended by Heather)
  1. Why do you think Hope changed her name? What does the name "Hope" mean to you? How does it fit her character?
  2. Describe Addie's character. What motivates her? Why does she move them across country?
  3. What is Hope's relationship like with her mother?
  4. How does her mother's brief visit effect Hope?
  5. If a rule of waitressing is to never date the cook, why do you think Hope dates Braverman? What kind of a guy is Braverman?
  6. Do you think G.T. is the father figure Hope is looking for in her life? How does meeting him change her?
  7. How has Eli Millstone corrupted the mayoral election?
  8. Why do you think G.T. decides to run for mayor? How can Hope help him win?
  9. Over the course of the novel, how does Hope change and grow? 10. In the end, which characters in this book have hope?

Mara , Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (recommended by Tara)

  1. How are Mara and Hatshepsut similar? How are they different?
  2. At what age would you introduce your children to this book, taking into account the way the main character uses her female wiles to manipulate the men? Did you feel the romance was "too passionate" for sixth graders (used as a staple in most 6th grade homeschool units)
  3. How did the author deviate from true Egyptian political history in regards to the rulers of the day? How do you as mothers/teachers get appropriate background info to help young readers differentiate? Like in Da Vinci Code.
  4. Who feared the gods the most in the story?
  5. Did you like the way McGraw discussed Nuit, the great mother in the final pages of the story?
  6. At what point does Mara really decide to stop playing the double agent and really work for Sheftu and Thutmose III?

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (recommended by Steph)
Author's Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever had a friend like Peris, who abandoned your friendship after they moved away?
  2. At first, did you hope Tally would get the operation? When did you change your mind? (Or did you?)
  3. Have you ever found yourself trusting someone more or paying more attention to what they said not because they deserved it, but just because of their looks?
  4. In what ways did Tally's trip through the wild prepare her for what she learned in the Smoke?
  5. Would you give up your ability to think independently in exchange for being happy, beautiful, perpetually healthy, and rich?
  6. How did David see Tally differently than she saw herself?
  7. If Shay could have gone back in time and never have met Tally, do you think she would?
  8. Other than the pretty operation, what are the main differences between the pretty society and our own? (Are there any ways in which the pretty society is healthier than ours?)
  9. To what extent did Tally decide her own fate, and how much did other people decide it for her?
  10. The Rusty civilization collapsed because of its dependence on oil. In what ways is your lifestyle dependent on oil and gasoline? How easily would you survive if it all disappeared one day?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

April - Mormon Authors Part 2

There are so many famous Mormons in the media these days including several authors. Many of you have heard of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, but you may be interested in reading some of these other books written by Mormon authors for children and young adults. I'm just listing either their most popular or most recent books.

Shannon Hale, Goose Girl, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days
James Dashner, The 13th reality: The Journal of Curious Letters
Brandon Mull, The Candy Shop War, Fablehaven
Janette Rallison, How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend
Obert Skye, Levin Thumps
Jessica Day George, Dragon Slippers; Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow
Louise Plummer, Finding Daddy
AE Cannon, Loser's Guide to Life and Love, Charlotte's Rose
Mette Ivie Harrison, The Princess and the Hound
Randall Wright, The Silver Penny
Michael Tunnell, Wishing Moon, Moon Without Magic

We decided on the bold titles for April's book club because we've already read Stephenie Meyer's and Shannon Hale's book along with Wishing Moon by Michael Tunnell, The Shakeress by Kimberly Heuston, and Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe.

I'm not sure why there seem to be so many new Mormon YA/chldren's authors out there, but we're glad to see their success.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book Plates

Of course my favorite gifts to give are children's books and we have quite a library of our own so I'm always keeping an eye out for cool book plates, especially book plates designed with kids in mind. Lately I've seen a lot of free book plate downloads so I thought that I would share a few.

Jan Brett has a few on her site.
And this site has several to choose from by famous illustrators (although it's a British site so don't be suprised if you don't recognize a few of the illustrators). Here's one by Mike Inkpen. Another from Anita Jeram.
And one from Jez Alborough

These are from the nested blog and you can download them here.Book plates from the famous Etsy seller The Black Apple. Download them here. And last, but not least, one from Mo Willems' blog.