Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan

Jake is the textbook juvenile delinquent. He has been kicked out of every public school in Rhode Island, and was shipped down to Traybridge North Carolina and his grandfather. Jake managed about 3 weeks at Traybridge Middle School before he was asked to leave as well. Lucille Applewhite had been conducting a poetry workshop at the school when Jake got kicked out and she suggested that Jake attend the Creative Academy: a home school that the Applewhites ran out of their home.

E.D. can’t imagine why Aunt Lucille thinks that their home school can help Jake when so many others had failed before. Then again, Aunt Lucille tends to see the good in everyone. Jake doesn’t exactly want to move into the Applewhite’s place either, but his social worker told him in no uncertain terms that it was this or Juvenile Hall.

When Jake arrives with his scarlet liberty spikes, piercings, foul mouth and cigarette habit, he doesn’t get much of the reaction that he is hoping for. Aside from the smoking, nobody seems to care. In fact, the family parrot swears more than he does.

The Applewhites are a family of artists with a capital “A”. The kind where the grown ups are too busy creating to go grocery shopping, forget to check in on the kids home school lessons, and can even forget what day it is. So Jake is left up to E.D. who is the lone organized, structure-loving member of the family. Neither of them are pleased and they manage to pretty much ignore each other.

It’s not until E.D.’s director dad gets asked to direct a community theatre production of the Sound of Music that everyone’s talents (even E.D.’s) get put to good use. Jake comes to see that he can separate himself from what his parents have made him.

With a cast of kooky characters, an angry goat, a scene stealing 4 year old, and a common goal, Stephanie S. Tolan has written a charming and thought-provoking story about family and self. How we define ourselves doesn’t have to mirror our parents and siblings, but each of us does have some definition of place within the idea of family. A Newbery Honor book for 2002.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clipboard Thursdays - aka What Our Tweens Are Reading

Last school year, following on the coat tails of The Well Read Child , I started a bit on this blog noting what our tweens are checking out on our clip board. During the week, if Jen, Jesse or I aren't at the desk, we have an honor system clip board on which students write down the library bar code of the book that they check out. Here are some of the highlights from this week.

So B. It, by Weeks

Return of the King, by Tolkien

Confessions of a Hollywood Star, by Sheldon

Raven's Gate, by Horowitz

Gorgeous, by Vail

There you have it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Here is a perfect example of the reason why I love going to the public library to browse books. Yes I get invited to a few previews every year, and yes I try to keep up with the professional journals, but nothing will ever replace browsing a shelf. I am taken with titles and covers and upon reading the blurbs I decide what to check out. On my last trip, I picked up this gem of a novel and am eager to share it with you.

Delores, or Itch as she's known to her family, has been living with her Gram and Gramps since her mom decided to leave. She's a girl who collects favourite words, does some serious thinking on her swing in the backyard, loves hanging out with her best friend Bailey, and is a bit of a kindred spirit with her Gramps. When Gramps dies, Itch is upset that Gram wants to move up to Ohio and leave every single memory of him behind.

Once in Ohio, Itch gets a bit of sunshine when she sees that the county fair starts that night. When she goes to check out the grounds on the way to the local Woolworth's, she is beckoned over by a girl in a sequins outfit and Shirley Temple hair who needs help with a zipper. Little does she know that this is the beginning of a complicated friendship between the two.

Once school starts, Itch is eager to be Gwendolyn's (or Wendy as she's known at school) official friend, which is hard since she is friends with popular girls Anna Marie and Connie and she attends lots of dance classes. But once Itch gets her mind to something, she stays true to it, and soon Itch and Gwendolyn are hanging out. Gwendolyn's other friends are surprised when Itch says she's been up to Wendy's room...most of her friends aren't allowed over. Itch wonders why that is, but soon she begins noticing some things about Wendy that just don't seem right. Will Itch have to courage to ask the hard questions and expose what is going on?

Michelle D. Kwasney has written a poignant story that packs a punch. Family structures, friendship boundaries, the realities of abuse are all explored with aplomb. The dialogue between the middle schoolers of the 1960s rings true, and Itch's relationship with her Grams grows so nicely throughout the book, readers will feel privileged to get to witness it. Gwendolyn and her mother's relationship is harder to look at, but Kwasney does it right. The frightening aspects of the abuse are not overdone, but they do not all appear off page either. The amazing thing is that this doesn't feel like a message simply is a great story about two families.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie)

Nathan is tired of being picked on. All in one day, he had his heart stomped on by Shawna Lanchester, got picked last in gym class, and then couldn’t even get past the easy level on the zombie video game while everyone was watching him. Nathan isn’t even at the bottom of the 5th grade totem pole, but school is still pretty much torturous. He is walking home with his friend Mookie when Abigail, who is at the bottom of the totem pole, comes up to him and offers to help. She says that her uncle is a scientist who is working on a formula to mask unhappiness. Although it doesn’t seem like a very good idea, Nathan and Mookie go anyway. There’s a bit of an accident, and Nathan gets an overdose of the formula. He seems to suffer no ill effects and heads home. Soon, however, the effects creep in. His food isn’t digesting, he doesn’t sleep, he feels no pain and he isn’t even breathing. It may seem really cool on the surface, but Nathan’s not ready to be fully zombified yet. Can Nathan get back to his normal 5th grade self before it’s too late?

This is the first in a series about Nathan and his friends. David Lubar gets kids, and this book is gross and funny and perfectly paced. The quality of life for many middle schoolers is exposed with the mean kids reigning supreme in places like the cafeteria and the track. No matter what side of the popularity fence readers falls on, readers will recognize themselves in the students of Belgosi Upper Elementary.

Plus…zombies! Doesn’t get better than that!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cameron and His Dinosaurs

Professor Poindexter P. Poppycock has done the impossible. He has created 4 dinosaurs from DNA and 30 million dollars in backing funds via the Brotherhood of Universal Revolution for Political Subterfuge (or B.U.R.P.S. for short). The plan is to use the dinos for some serious hostage action. What the Professor doesn't count on, however, is dissention in the ranks. The dinos have been granted brain power and free will, and they tell the professor that they will not do evil!

Meanwhile, Cameron and his classmates are going to an archaeological dig at Pinkerton Park. Cameron has been asked by his teacher to go around and take pictures, and guess who is hiding behind a bunch of bushes at the dig? You guessed it!

After the humans get over the fact that the dinosaurs talk and have names (Lizzy, DeeDee, Charlie, and Vinnie), things settle down surprisingly quickly. Television crews catch the action, and the Professor is not too pleased. His financial backers aren't so happy either. So PPP gets right on building some robotic replacements so that the political hostage taking can get back on track.

There is an inevitable clash of the titans with Cameron being an unlikely young hero.

Scott Christian Sava has penned an action packed graphic novel that is perfect for your boy readers. It has dinosaurs, robots, battles, tanks, and flying wheelchairs! The fact that Cameron is in a chair is never discussed, simply presented, which works beautifully. There is a manga-ness to Andres Silva Blanco's illustrations which provides for lots of movement, including "RUMBLE"s, "BOOM"s, "SLOOSH"es, and "ZZZRT"s!

A fast, fun read.

I wonder if Cameron and his Dinosaurs will have some more adventures!