Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sports Camp, by Rich Wallace

Eleven-year-old Riley Liston isn’t exactly a jock. Don’t get me wrong, he is good at some sports. Especially the kinds that involve distance and endurance like cross-country and swimming, but he’s not standard fare for sport’s camp.

Camp Olympia turns out not to be quite like the brochure. The “arena” was nothing more than an old barn with a cement floor and the “stadium” a plain old field with the chain link backstop. “The Camp Olympia Institute for Sports and Nutrition” was a smoky, greasy cafeteria that serves food that the kids don’t even want to eat! (They stock up on snacks at the Trading Post to survive.)

But Riley figures out a way to get by. Since all of the campers have to participate in the team sports, Riley simply tries not to screw up. All during the two weeks of camp the bunks are earning points to try to win the Big Joe Trophy, and Riley doesn’t want to be the camper who costs Cabin 3 the cup.

Rich Wallace has written a summer camp story that will snare sports enthusiasts and non-sports enthusiasts as well. The camp setting is familiar to many kids, and if not, readers will take their first journey along side of Riley. Since the sports in the camp are varied, readers will get a glimpse of softball, basket ball, water polo, cross country, and even hot dog eating contests. Readers get to see Riley’s confidence grow as the days go by. All of the trappings of summer camp are in the mix as well, including ghost stories, a famously huge and famously unseen resident snapping turtle, and cabin trashing shenanigans.

Pack this in the bag of a camp going guy you know this summer!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nature Girl, by Jane Kelley

Megan is not having a good summer. Instead of being at a house in Vermont with her best friend Lucy, she is at a house in Vermont with her art-loving parents and her boy crazy sister, while Lucy is in Maine with her mom and grandma. The cell phones have been taken away, the T.V. has rabbit ears, and there is mandatory art time every morning! If Lucy were here, everything would be so much better. Megan and Lucy would be laughing about all of this stuff and finding things to do. They certainly would have worked out the differences that they have been sorting through lately if they could just spend the summer together.

But Lucy is not here, and Megan is in full on mope mode. After a fight with her parents, Megan has taken to sighing loudly and staring at the blank screen of the T.V. A week into this behaviour, Megan’s parents decide that since she cannot figure out what to do, they will figure out activities for her, and today she must go hiking with her sister Ginia and local boy Sam through the woods. Her folks are going to Rutland, and Megan and Ginia will be sleeping over at Sam’s parent’s cider mill. The problem is, Megan doesn’t want to go. She knows that all Ginia and Sam want to do is slobber all over each other, and her instinct proves true when a few minutes into the hike, Sam and Ginia disappear. When Megan finally finds them, Ginia throws a hurtful insult at Megan, who promptly turns and runs to try to get rid of the bad feelings that are surging through her body.

When Megan pops out of the woods she looks for the farm house where her family is staying. It’s not there. A moment later her little dog Arp comes along, and Megan tries to figure out what to do. She has no map, no phone and no idea where she is.

Megan heads back into the woods, and finds a marked trail that is way bigger than the one that she was on with Ginia and Sam. She then overhears a couple of hikers arguing about their trek on the Appalachian Trail. Megan has heard of this trail! Now she knows where she is. She also overhears the hikers say that they had been through Mount Greylock! Megan has heard of Mount Greylock too – it’s right near where Lucy is staying with her family.

Megan hatches a plan to hike to Lucy. She knows that once she sees her friend, they can work everything out.

You can imagine what an unprepared girl hiking on a trail from Vermont to Maine could get into, and you’d be partially right! While Megan is pretty much unlikable at the outset of the book, her journey along the trail is more that geographical. With fun secondary characters like Trail Blaze Betty, and the unpredictable outdoors, Jane Kelley has written a book that has depth and fun intermixed. Readers will be hoping that Megan isn’t found along the trail, and that for once in her life she will finish what she starts. Filled with friendship, family and frustration Nature Girl is a perfect summer read.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ever since Lanesha’s mom died giving birth to her, she has lived with Mama Ya-Ya. Born inside a caul (a skin netting covering her face), with green eyes, Lanesha’s own uptown family is wary of her, and leaves her in the Ninth Ward in the care of Mama Ya-Ya. Mama Ya-Ya says, “Better you be an orphan, your family thinks. Better crazy Mama Ya-Ya raises you,” she says sucking air through her false teeth. “Fine. I’m old school. Don’t care nothin’ about folks who dishonor traditions as old as Africa. I’ll be your mother and grandmother both.” (pp. 2-3) Mama Ya-Ya has always made sure that Lanesha knows that she is loved.

Lanesha, like Mama Ya-Ya, has a gift of sight, and she’s been seeing ghosts since she was a baby. In fact, her own mother often sits with her big belly right on Mama Ya-Ya’s bed. But she never talks to Lanesha…not like Jermaine who ended up getting shot before middle school. Lanesha wonders why her mama doesn’t leave. What is she waiting for?

Mama Ya-Ya has also taught Lanesha to look for the signs that are all around her, and to use her senses to figure out what is coming. On Tuesday evening, Mama Ya-Ya says that she knows a storm is coming. Lanesha’s not too worried. They’ve had lots of storms before, and nobody is even talking about this one on TV.

By Wednesday, the news anchors are talking about the storm. Mama Ya-Ya tells Lanesha not to dawdle at school, and to get to the store to pick up the regular supplies: milk, bread, beans, water, and rice. At the breakfast table, Lanesha notices that Mama Ya-Ya doesn’t look herself. Her hair’s not combed, her teeth aren’t in, and she is obviously troubled. Turns out, she’s had a dream and she cannot figure out what it means.

By Saturday, the people of New Orleans are told to evacuate. But what are Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya to do? They have no car, no people to speak of, and at 82 years old, Mama Ya-Ya has seen her share of storms.

Reading Ninth Ward knowing about Katrina and everything that happened in the Ninth Ward filled me with dread. I knew what was coming and I wondered how Jewell Parker Rhodes was going to write it. It’s not candy coated, and it’s not pretty, but the one thing that does survive the storm is hope. Lanesha finds her incredible strength as a friend, a daughter and a girl. Jewell Parker Rhodes’ writing is poetic, and readers get a real sense of the community that Lanesha is a part of. Yes she lives in poverty, but she has the bright spots of Mama Ya-Ya, her teacher Miss Johnson, and her neighbor TaShon.

Lanesha is a character who readers will not forget.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poop Happened! A History of the World From the Bottom Up

With a title like this, you know that this book will have shelf appeal! But will the readers keep with it after it’s on the table? Did the Romans poop in public?!

In this fast and gross history, readers will learn all sorts of interesting bits about the history of our bathroom habits. The first two chapters “Poop Matters” and “Bad Plumbing, Bad News” set the scene giving readers a sense of the sociology of waste, and making them hone their minds on to the idea the how and the why of poop and fashion and poop and class. Set at a furious pace, author Sarah Albee then gets to the history starting with the Romans and ending with disposable diapers and fitting all sorts of fascinating facts in between.

For example, if someone asked you who invented the toilet, chances are you would say Thomas Crapper. Guess what? You’d be wrong. In fact, in 1596 Sir John Harington invented a flush toilet for himself and Queen Elizabeth (p.132). It’s just too bad there weren’t any sewers. Thomas Crapper doesn’t come along until 1884! But go back 5000 years further and it turns out that the Harrapan civilization (in what is now Pakistan) built sewers, and private bathhouses that drained into covered sewers.

It’s not all about toilets either. Albee explores the frightful diseases that caused havok among cities like London, New York and Paris. Cholera, dysentery, escherichia coli (E. coli), polio, schistosomiasis and typhoid are all waste related and all took out large portions of the human population (and unfortunately continue to do so in poorer and developing nations).

There are highlighted boxes throughout the book that outline topics such as waste related jobs (Fullers, Paleoscatologists, Tanners, Gongfermors, Barber Surgeons, Knight’s Squires, Delousers, Chair Men), “Hygiene Heroes” (Florence Nightengales, Ambroise PavĂ©, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir John Harington, Benjamin Franklin, Dr. John Snow) and “Too Much Information” (filled with some fun, gross-out facts that are somehow related to poop). There is also an interesting look at fashion and the bathroom (for example, how do you go while wearing a hoop skirt?).

Overall, this is a fun and gross book that has many points of entry. It would make a fabulous book-talk or browsing book and has enough information to help out on projects dealing with diseases, fashion, ancient civilizations, tenement life, royalty, and even colonial times.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Amelia Rules! -- The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular

Amelia is in a pickle. Actually, she is up a tree. She's sitting there with Rhonda after an angry mob from Joe McCarthy Elementary chased them out of the hallways and into the streets.

What could Amelia have done that caused such a reaction?

Well, it all has to do with popularity...or unpopularity. When you run around with a bunch of kids who dress up as superheroes, have wonky hair, or wear PJs all the time, there are bound to be some bumps in the road to popularity. When Rhonda comes up with a plan to change their social status using a book called The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular, things get really hairy! Spouting advice such as, "Fate and genetics may have already decided that you will never be popular, but at least, with my help, you need no longer be UNpopular.", and "Makeovers are not about making you look good, they are about making you look trendy." TTGTNBU sends our kids for quite the loop. When Rhonda's efforts are spurned by Britney and her flunkies, Amelia can't take it anymore. Why do kids always seem to stand by and keep quiet when someone is being mean? Amelia opens her mouth this time, and boy oh boy does she open it wide!

Filled with smart humor as well as homages to cartoonists and comics of the past (love the Archie bit), Jimmy Gownley has penned another winner. With a universal theme of un/popularity, all kids regardless of clique can easily find someone to identify with. It could be Jenny Gray, who sealed her fate by simply wearing mismatched socks one day. It could be Britney who has something to overcompensate for after all. Perhaps Kyle who is pretty cool on his own. Or maybe Rhonda who desperately wants to be popular. Gownley simply gets kids and seems to be privy to their world. While there is the thread that adults enjoy as well, it never interferes with the story proper, and these books truly know their readers. Amelia Rules remains my favorite graphic novel series for kids!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

poetry speaks who i am: poems of discovery, inspiration, independence, and everything else...

I am a poetry girl. Ever since I was small, my dad used to get me at least one volume of poetry every year. It started with Dennis Lee's Garbage Delight, and ended with Barbara Bucknall's The Witch Poems. I've loved poetry all my life, but probably most ardently during my teen and tween years. And that is just where poetry speaks who i am is aimed.

In this eclectic mix, classic poets like Poe, Dickinson, Frost and Yeats meet up with contemporaries like Alexie, Alvarez, Giovanni and Koertge. The poetry itself mixes and mingles along topics like love, kisses, family, school, war, math and bra shopping! Yet it works. Editors Elise Paschen and series editor Dominique Raccah have managed to set every poem in the exact place where it needs to be, and there is a flow to this volume that gives a certain ease to reading.

The book also comes with a CD of several of the poems either read by the poet, or by a reader (as in the case of Yeats). The audio component is powerful, as the poems are heard as they were meant to be.

The end papers are filled with pages for readers to write there own poetry down. In the introduction, Dominique Raccah writes about the poetry books that she used to carry around that were filled with poetry by others and original works. poetry speaks who i am just might be that volume that inspires young poets to do the same!