Friday, January 30, 2009

The Locked Garden

I received this book a few months ago, was intrigued by the cover and read it straight away. The discipline level it takes to not blog the '09s until '09 is pretty high. But since I am trying to play by the rules, I waited. It took me until almost the end of January to realize that I have a pile of stuff to get blogging about!

Verna, Carly, Aunt Maude and Papa have just moved into their new home on the grounds of an asylum. Papa is a well known psychiatrist, and he has very strong views on the treatment of the mentally ill. He is very happy to move his family to be among somewhat like minded doctors. The asylum and its grounds are a wonderful playground for the girls. The grounds and gardens go on and on, and there are many places to explore.

Sour Aunt Maude is the only one who is against this move. She is, after all, the sister of Isabel...the girl's mother and Papa's wife who passed away 2 years ago. Aunt Maude was against selling the house, against living on the grounds of the asylum, and most definite against having one of the patients keep house.

Eleanor is a patient, and it is her job to cook and clean for Papa's house. Aunt Maude is not kind in her treatment of Eleanor, and even though Eleanor's cleaning is impeccable and her food is delicious, Aunt Maude always seems to find fault. Imagine Aunt Maude's feelings when it becomes apparent that Verna and Carly prefer Eleanor's company to her own, and her brother-in-law appears smitten with Eleanor.

Gloria Whelan has written a story that explores not only family ties, but the historical treatment of the mentally ill, and she has done it in an incredibly accessible manner. The unlikable Aunt Maude struggles mightily with her sense of decorum and propriety, and it is apparent that she honestly thinks that she knows best. Readers will feel their heart strings pulled to the limit as Eleanor falters in her recovery and is misunderstood by her own family, due in large part to the meddlesome Aunt Maude.

Quietly poignant, The Locked Garden's descriptive language, and time setting of the early 1900s will find readers in fans of Creech, Jocelyn, and MacLachlan, among others.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Big Splash

Matt is just like any other kid trying to survive Middle School. There is one significant difference between Matt and your average MS-er...he has to avoid his school's make-shift mafia. Vincent "Vinny Biggs" Biggio transformed himself from bully victim, to head honcho of all things illegal at Franklin Middle School. From forged hall passes and doctor's notes, to stolen tests, sport's team betting, and an underground candy market, Vinny is the kingpin. If you cross Vinny, chances are one of his minions will put you in the "Outs". This happens when the person who crossed Vinny ended up with a super-soaker to the crotch. Teasing ensues, and that is the end of the social life for the victim. There is no coming back from the Outs.

Matt has his own little business of being a private detective. He makes it a policy not to do any work for Vinny. He figures if he ever got in, it would be hard to get out without ending up on the Outs. And frankly, Matt doesn't respect Vinny. He sees a kid who used to bully turned into a bully himself. So he is very leery when he is approached by Vinny for a job. He wants Matt to return a trinket to Nicole Finnegan. This is significant because Nicole (Nikki Fingers) Finnegan used to be THE best trigger girl in all of Franklin MS. She put many kids in the Outs. She is also one of the only people to ever leave Vinny's organization without ending up on the Outs. Matt smells a set-up, but he really is at Vinny's mercy. He takes the job.

But when Matt approaches Nicole, the ultimate fantasy of many a Middle Schooler comes true. While her attention is on Matt, Nikki gets a super-soaker blast right between her legs. Someone actually takes her out.

Here is mystery of a lifetime. Who took out Nikki? Was Matt set-up? In the midst of all of this Matt is still trying to figure out why his old best friend Kevin is working for Vinny, and dealing with the affections of both Kevin's sister Liz, and Nikki's sister Jenny.

Jack Ferraiolo has written a rip-roaring good time of a who-done-it. The kids really are in charge, and there is very little adult intervention of any kind. The private-eye slang, and the insular world have sure appeal. Somehow, this Mafia Middle School world is ultimately believable, and very fun to read.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Note on the Blog roll....

When I first started Welcome to my Tweendom, I had in mind a very specialized blog where tween or cross-over titles were highlighted. This specialization has extended to my blog roll. Herein lies the rub. There are very few specialized blogs targeting the age-range of the Tween. Sure, there are thousands of book blogs out there, but I always thought that placing a YA book blog, or a picture book blog on the roll may steer readers in a different direction than they want to go.

So. My blog roll remains very small.

I am wondering, however, if I should add some of the best blogs that I know are out there to the list by categorizing them as "Children's", "Tween", "Teen" and "Adult".

I would really appreciate any insight that you may have.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Last Straw

When I ripped open the envelope and reached inside, I only ended up pulling out about a centimeter of the book when a fourth grader exclaimed, "Oooo...Stacy! That's Wimpy Kid 3! Can I have it?" I bargained with him to let me take it home that night and then catalogue it the next day since I knew I'd never get a chance to see it again, until it hopefully gets returned in June!

It's New Years, and Greg thinks that since he is so perfect, he should simply help others keep their own resolutions. Mom is trying to go the gym, Dad is giving up junk food, and Manny is supposedly done with the pacifier. As you can imagine, none of these efforts are too successful, and the family is a little tired of Greg telling them that they are messing up.

From there, readers are back into the daily life of Greg. He's trying to look cool in school, solve the mystery of his teacher's missing dictionary, figure out who is stealing his lunchtime snacks, plan how to call Holly Hills on the telephone, and somehow avoid a summer at Spag Union military academy.

Kinney's trademark style and humour will have readers of all ages laughing aloud at Greg's predicaments. The artwork is priceless (with my favourite being the newspaper clipping of Greg during his soccer game). I think that this is the stand out title in the series so far. One of my students pointed out that there aren't as many cartoons by Greg in this book. I don't have the other two books with me to compare, but even if this is so, the book did not feel like it was lacking. The wide appeal of this book is interesting as well. Younger readers like the idea of the cartoons in the book, and middle schoolers solidly identify with Greg and his family.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Peace, Locomotion

I was surprised when I saw this on the arc shelf at school. I hadn't know that Jacqueline Woodson was writing a sequel to Locomotion, and I was quite delighted to pick it up.

Lonnie is writing letters to his sister Lili. They are at separate foster homes, and each is quite happy. Lonnie, however, is torn. He pretty much loves Miss Edna. She's been taking care of him, and her son Rodney is like a brother to him. Rodney even calls Lonnie his little brother. But when Lonnie's best friend Clyde tells Lonnie "Your mama's real strict" (33), Lonnie has to point out that Miss Edna is only his foster mama. Lonnie does not want to chance forgetting his parents. Clyde then relates his own experiences with Mamas, and how Mamas can come and go for lots of different reasons.

To complicate Lonnie's life a little bit more, Miss Edna's other son Jenkins is over in the war. Jenkins was never a fighter, Miss Edna explains to Lonnie, but the army said they'd pay for an education if Jenkins signed up for the reserves, and the offer was too good to refuse.

When tragedy strikes, Lonnie knows that his foster home is about to change forever.

Change is an overarching theme in Peace, Locomotion. Changes in family, homes, friends, teachers. Readers will be on the edge of tears, and not simply for content. Jacqueline Woodson is a master of language, and no words seem wasted. Each seems like it was considered and placed "just so". The format pulls readers in, and the one sided nature of the letters does not feel isolating at all(readers only see letters from Lonnie). Woodson has quite a bit to say about teachers and teaching with the juxtaposition of Ms. Marcus, Ms. Cooper, and Miss Alina. I only hope that readers will not have too many Ms. Coopers in their lives!

This is one of those special books that I feel like I will be returning to again and again.

On shelves later this month.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Clemency Pogue....

I first read Clemency Pogue Fairy Killer a few years back and I was instantly charmed. J.T. Petty's use of language and the pun is often hilarious and characters like Chafesmeeso and Clemency herself are fun to get to know.

I just read the second and the third titles, and I have to say, I am very pleased.

Clemency is first brought back into contact with her hobgoblin friend because of a dying puppy. Her dad brought home a box of boxer dogs with the charge of lopping off their tails and cutting their ears. Clemency's dad manages to take care of the tails, but cannot bring himself to clip the ears, and returns without a job, but with one of the dogs. The problem is that the dog is sick, and sick enough to make Clemency call Chafes name figuring that he could help her out.

But Chafes needs some help himself. He comes flying out of the earth, followed by a kid dressed like a hobgoblin named Kennethurchin. Kennethurchin is in training to be a hobgoblin, and he is about half way there. Chafes isn't so happy that Clem has called him, since he has the bigger fish to fry of finding Kennethurchin's changeling Inky Mess. Inky holds the key to bringing down all of make-believe. Can Clemency and her ability to control fairies help?

This title folds seamlessly into Clemency Pogue and the Scrivner Bees. Yet another adventure and specific quest for Clemency and Chafes, with Inky Mess becoming quite the capable villain.

The aspects of wordplay and magical realism that make a Clemency Pogue title a Clemency Pogue title are a winning combination. J.T. Petty simply gets funny. He walks the edge with his jokes without ever getting too gross, too much, or too groan-worth. Clemency is really likable. She's got moxie and an inner fight that will keep readers wanting more and more. Fans of Snicket, Stewart and even Miller will eat-up these fast paced and funny, fairytale adventures

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Cybils 2008

I am one of the lucky book bloggers who is a judge for this year's Cybil awards. My category is Graphic Novels, and the short list is pretty amazing. A big thanks to all of those involved in whittling the titles down to a manageable 10!

Some of my favourite books of the year are on this list. (You will notice that my Top 5 lists had no graphic novels...this was an intentional move considering the timing of the judging.)

So follow this link and find out if your favourite gn made the list!