Friday, November 30, 2007

Elijah of Buxton

Elijah of Buxton, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, tells the story of 11 year-old Elijah. Though infamous for being the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, Elijah is proclaimed "fra-gile" by his Mama and makes a lot of mistakes in his young life. When the Preacher he has known and trusted for years takes off with the money meant to buy a Buxton citizens family back, Elijah feels it is his responsibility to find the man and bring him to justice, proving to his Mama and the entire town that he is no longer "fra-gile."

There are parts of this book that are laugh-out-loud funny and there are other parts that are just downright said. The mixture of the two results in a story that is entirely realistic and incredibly enjoyable. Elijah was written as a great character and one with which children can relate to. The language in the book may be a bit hard to get used to at first, since a lot of it is written in a dialect, but it's easy to catch on to. It just made me read a bit slower at times, which I need to do anyways!
Not only did this book teach a lot about the history of slavery, as well as what slaves did once they were free, it was also an entertaining read. This is the kind of book that kids love, yet learn from at the same time (and they don't even know it!!). Overall, this was a good read and very deserving of its Cybil nomination!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday Books

The holidays are definitely upon us and in honor of that lovely fact I'll be posting a review of a different holiday book each day in December. I'm going to focus mainly on picture books due to my lack of Picture Book Saturday posts lately. I have some catching up to do. So, starting Saturday, check back each day for a new review of a holiday book! We'll have classics, newbies, and everything in between!!!



A Crooked Kind of Perfect

I love quirky books....and this was a quirky book! Eleven year old Zoe wants nothing more than to become a famous concert pianist that is known world-round. She begs her parents to buy her a piano so she can take lessons, but unfortunately she ends up with an organ. A Perfectone D-60 to be exact. Though not exactly thrilled with her father's choice in musical instruments, Zoe begins taking lessons on the organ and convinces herself that this is just a small hiccup in her concert pianist dream.

As Zoe works towards her first recital and gets better at playing her Perfectone D-60, we also see her grow in other areas. Zoe gains more of a connection with her home bound father, finds a best friend in a boy named Wheeler, and even starts to understand her workaholic mother a bit better. Through all of her imperfect situations, Zoe finds perfection, leading the reader to smile all the way through.

Zoe was a great character with her realistic dialogue and thoughts. Her life was not the easiest to live, but she lived it well, mistakes and all. I kinda wish I could take organ lessons now. :-)


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kira-Kira

As a book I listed as one of my Book Award Challenge selections, I felt inclined to sit and finish Cynthia Kadohata's Newbery winner, Kira-Kira. I was, however, so disappointed. There are times when I wonder what in the world the Newbery committee was thinking when it made selections, because I know several books listed as Honor medalists that would have made better winners than this book, and for so many reasons (Al Capone Does My Shirts anyone?!).

Katie Takeshima is growing up in the 1950's, a time where the Japanese are not exactly smiled at in public and where it is very difficult for her parents to gain good employment. When her uncle gets her parents jobs in a chicken hatchery in Georgia, they move from Iowa to completely new state, foreign to all of them. Katie grows even closer to her older sister Lynn, who just happens to be her best friend in the entire world. Unfortunately, Lynn slowly becomes very sick, causing her to pull away from Katie, and resulting in their parents working incredibly long hours in order to pay for Lynn's medical bills. As both girls continuously talk about their future dreams, the reader knows that none of the dreams can possibly come true for Lynn and subsequently will not come true for Katie, as she takes over the role of caregiver for the family, as Lynn's health declines.

Depressing and somber from the beginning, the novel just did not seem Newbery worthy to me. Unfortunately it did not even seem Honor Medal worthy. The reader did get to catch glimpses of life as a Japanese-American in the 1950's, as well as of a close-knit sibling relationship. I just think the book would have had a better chance at being likable if it hadn't started out with a dark feeling at the beginning, giving the reader upfront insight that tragedy was going to strike.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Talking

Andrew Clements has impressed me once again! He introduces us to fifth-grader, David Packer, a member of the teacher-dubbed "Unshushables." David and his classmates just can't seem to keep their mouths closed and free of words. Not during class, not during hall time, and definitely not during lunch. The fifth-graders drive their teachers crazy and leave them begging for quiet after the day is over. After David reads something about Mahatma Gandhi and his using silence to fight for peace, he decides to try an experiment, enlisting the biggest chatterbox in the entire class, Lynsey, to help him.

David and Lynsey form teams (boys against girls of course!), vowing that no one will talk for an entire 48 hours, with the exception of answering teacher's questions, as to not get into trouble at school. After only a few hours of rather difficult silence, the teachers are completely confused and almost to the point of demanding the quiet students return to their chatty behavior.

At the end of the 48 hours, not only do the students feel good about themselves, an invisible peace line has been drawn between the girls and the boys. They still may not like each other very much, as most fifth-graders do not, but at least, after working together so well, they can now tolerate each other.

Andrew Clements is a master at creating stories that suck the reader in and leave them laughing the whole way through. Lessons are learned, but fun is had at the same time, which is the perfect mix for a great children's book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

These High, Green Hills

My third helping of Jan Karon begins with another journey into Mitford in These High, Green Hills. Focusing mainly on the new marriage between Father Tim and Cynthia, Karon keeps the reader laughing as the pair try to find ways to keep his huge dog and her prissy cat apart, as well as how to fit each other's furniture into their newly shared spaces. We also get more information on the beloved Dooley Barlowe and see how the Father and his wife survive being lost in a cave during a youth group camping trip.

Always funny, yet sweet and heartwarming, the Mitford series just keeps getting better and better. It's great to read about simple, Southern living during times when it seems society is constantly getting busier and crazier. Mitford may be fiction, but while reading it I am given hope that someday my children will be able to grow up in our own, personal Mitford.

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

This book reminded me SO much of Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl. From the first page I could see how much the two characters were alike and how this book was going to end up being just as big a hit as Stargirl has been over the past couple of years.

Emma-Jean is definitely not your typical seventh-grader. She is incredibly smart, yet not very socially accepted. She is seen as weird by her fellow students and doesn't really have any friends, but has never let that bother her and actually appears quite happy with her life. Inspired by her late father, she looks at the world and the people in it with a scientific eye. After a brief encounter in the girl's bathroom with one of the more popular girls in school, Emma-Jean decides to take on the role as "classmate problem solver" and help to fix the many issues her classmates seem to be suffering from, though each solution bringing more than she bargained for to light.

This was a very refreshing book and one I really feel middle school students can and will enjoy. It is great to read books that are written about abnormal children or kids that simply do not blend in with everyone else, yet are perfectly fine with that fact. So many stories are written about wanting to fit in and needing to gain social acceptance, yet this, like Stargirl shows the reader that being different can be perfect.

Artemis Fowl

This book is the main reason I joined the New Author Challenge. I had put off starting this series for a couple of years now, but knew that I really would enjoy it once I actually did start, therefore causing me to add it to my list for the challenge. I had a lot of fun reading this book and am so glad I don't have to wait for the next one to hit the shelves!

Artemis Fowl is not your typical 12 year old boy. He is a criminal mastermind of the highest power and an incredible genius. Plotting to steal the famous pot of gold from the fairy colony has not been easy, but he knows that by kidnapping an important member of the fairies and holding her for ransom, he may just be able to succeed at his goal without much trouble. Unfortunately, Artemis did not bargain for the spitfire fairy, Holly Short, to be the one he ends up kidnapping, nor does he anticipate all the trouble he faces once he does the deed.

Packed full of high-tech adventure and funny anecdotes, I can see why Artemis Fowl and the subsequent books in the series have become so popular. This is the perfect series for boys (and girls too) that have a hard time finding books to read or books that continue to engage them from the first page to the last. This was a great addition to my challenge reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Tour with Tamara Leigh

This is the first book I've been introduced to by Tamara Leigh and after reading it very quickly, from cover to cover, I can definitely state that it will not be my last. I already have added her other books in this series to my Amazon WishList, at positions 1, 2, and 3!
27 year-old Harriet is a self-professed former wild child, determined to stay on a straight, responsible path in life. She has returned to her Christian roots, even working part-time for the women's ministry, as well as waitressing her butt off in her "spare time." Harriet truly believes she finally has her life under complete control, until she falls head-over-heels for a motorcycle, and the newest church staff member riding it. A former rebel himself, Maddox works on convincing the church that it could use some modernizing, but also works on convincing Harriet that change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Tamara Leigh created such a real, likable character in Harriet. I could see a lot of my pre- and post-saved self in her and it was comforting to know that I was not alone in some of my thoughts about complicated issues and my life in general. Even if it is only a book character, it is still nice to have a companion of sorts! I really enjoyed watching Harriet come into her own and makes changes along the way. Leigh did an amazing job at portraying real life situations and left me wanting more....always a good thing when a reader finishes a book. I can't wait to read her others!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Fairy-Tale Detectives

Oh what a fun series Michael Buckley has created in The Sisters Grimm! In this first installment we are introduced to Daphne and Sabrina, sisters that are sent to live with their eccentric grandmother, whom they've always believed to be dead, after their parents mysteriously disappear. The girls learn that they are the decedents of the infamous Brothers Grimm, creators of the well-known fairy tales, which turn out to actually be case files, rather than made-up stories, which the girls are now expected to help solve.

The girls and their grandmother set out to solve the case of a giant set on the loose by an EverAfter, which happens to be a magical being from one of the "fairy-tales" posing as a normal human being. Who knew Snow White taught elementary school?! Sabrina and Daphne must not only learn all the rules of being Grimms, but also help to save the EverAfter world from the horrific giant.

This was such a wonderful story! I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading and I'm already looking forward to the second book in the series. It is such a creative concept for a book and such fun!

Hard Hit

This beautiful verse novel by Ann Turner follows sixteen year old Mike through a very difficult time. He appears to have the perfect teenage life, with a fantastic baseball record, a great best friend, and a very cute girlfriend, but things are turned upside-down when his father receives a phone call telling him he has pancreatic cancer. Mike, unable to deal with the diagnosis, proceeds to rid himself of all the good aspects of his life, focusing only on his father.

After bargaining back and forth with himself, as well as God, Mike comes to the realization that he cannot prevent the inevitable and needs to begin to grow back into the person he was before his father was diagnosed. When his father does succumb to the fatal disease, the reader is keeps the hope that Mike will not crumble, but instead be strong and move forward. The novel is short, but beautifully written and one that adults and kids alike can benefit from reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Wednesday Letters

The second book written by Jason Wright, The Wednesday Letters lives up to the words sappy and sentimental that so many reviewers use to describe it. After the deaths of both their parents, three siblings gather in their family bed and breakfast to go through their parent's things and determine what is to be done with the place. When a huge box of letters is found and several are read, the family discovers that their father wrote their mother a letter every Wednesday, without fail, throughout their entire marriage. Through these letters, the siblings learn more about their parents, as well as themselves, than they ever thought possible.



Unfortunately I wasn't entirely impressed with this book. I think it had great potential of being a great drama, with a slightly romantic twist, however the author spent too much time focusing upon the current lives of the married couple's children, rather than on the marriage and the letters. My book club recently chose this as our first selection, with the hopes of a sweet, light read, and though it was heavy on the "light" (pun definitely intended), the sweet wasn't quite sweet enough. We'll see what the other group members have to say.

Let the Reviews Begin!

I've been very absent for the last couple of weeks, with a trip to Colorado Springs and then a brief weekend trip to Florida, not to mention work and school. With the car time and plane time I managed to get a bit of reading done, so I have about 10-15 reviews awaiting writing and posting, so keep your eyes peeled for the next few days....there will be a lot! They may be shorter than my normal reviews, but hopefully you'll still find some great books to add to those neverending TBR lists! Here's my first!

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach, was one of the first books I added to my Fall Into Reading Challenge list. I've been wanting to read it for quite some time, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I knew that putting it on the challenge list would definitely make me read it and I'm so glad that I did.

Sixth-grader, Hero hates her Shakespearean based named and knows she'll be ridiculed on her first day at her new school. Who names their kid Hero anyway? Already an outcast due to her outlandish name, Hero decides to spend her time listening to stories her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Roth tells, instead of trying to make friends, which she believes is impossible anyways. Mrs. Roth soon tells her the story of Hero's new house and the legend of the million-dollar diamond that is supposedly still hidden somewhere in the house, immediately striking up Hero's interest. Hero and her unconventional new friend set out to try and solve the mystery of the diamond, as well as to try and discover some interesting facts about the history of Shakespeare.

Not only was this novel entertaining in it's plot, but it was also a complete history lesson. Kids (and adults like me) are reading along, not even realizing they are learning about Shakespeare, Anne Boleyn, and other Elizabethan facts. There are various Shakespeare quotes that are explained, perhaps helping children that often shy away from Shakespeare's language, better understand how to read it. This was a thoroughly enjoyable story, filled with mystery, history, and a little bit of humor.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another Trip

I know I've been super scarce lately, but with my weekend trip to Colorado and now a quick weekend in Florida with my mom, I'm not around for blogging. I'm still reading a lot and I'll have a ton of reviews when I get back. Don't miss me too much!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Winners!!

Sorry folks, I've been in Colorado the past few days and therefore not posting. The winners of my Rene Gutteridge giveaway are Kailana and Becky! Send me your snail mail addresses and I'll get the books right out to you! Congrats!