Monday, November 29, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: God Made Your Body and How God Makes Babies by Jim Burns - and an announcement!

by Jim Burns
Bethany House
by Jim Burns
Bethany House

       Miss Ami posting today! The turtles are still sleeping off their Thanksgiving feasting - lucky reptiles.

I first came across these two books last year, when I was pregnant with my youngest. My teenager is pretty clear on general concepts (and, after being in the delivery room, is also pretty clear on avoiding all possibilities for a while!) but I have three younger boys, then aged 3, 5 and 6. Their initial questions were along the lines of, "How is the doctor going to get the baby out?", followed by the inevitable, "How did the baby get in there in the first place?"

Every parent handles these questions differently, and since you know your kids best, you know what works best for you. We tend to use accurate names for body parts, and try to give straightforward answers that are age-appropriate. Even the most open parent, however, can stumble and stammer a bit trying to find the right words, and that's where a good book can come in really handy!

Burns takes a very straightforward approach I appreciated, with a Christian viewpoint that I also like. The religious message is not heavy-handed, so you can hand these to a variety of patrons looking for a way to explain the differences between boys and girls, or where babies come from. For example:

To every little girl God gave a vagina and a womb. Little girls grow up to become women, and because they have these special parts in their bodies, they can become mommies. (pg. 14 God Made Your Body)
The text is accompanied by pictures of multi-racial children and a simple line drawing.

These books are geared toward children around the ages of 3-7. Some parts may be a bit technical for the 3-year-old, but it is a simple matter to skip over those for the time being. Explanations are, for the most part, very simple and easy to understand. Objects familiar to a child, such as a Cheerio or an orange slice, are used to show how big a baby is at different stages of gestation.

The only part we take issue with is the section in both on adoption. We love that it is included as a way families are formed, but we wish that a) Burns had included families formed by marriage (where the parents already have children), and b) Burns had NOT stated, "The birth parents lovingly choose to have someone else raise the child." Um...sometimes. Very often, though, adoption has more to do with the decisions of social workers and judges than any selflessness on the parents' part.

That bit aside, these books were perfect for our family, and were read over and over last year. And now it's time to dust them off again! Yep, Miss Ami is expecting again, due in August (one week after summer reading - do we plan things well, or what?!) Great news to start the holiday season with!

For more reviews of great nonfiction books, click over to Playing by the Book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're taking a break until Monday, but be sure to tune in then for an extra special Nonfiction Monday post!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, by Kody Keplinger

Kody Keplinger
Copy borrowed from library.
Cybils nominee.
Remember that episode of Average Joe, many moons ago, when the bachelorette was dressed in a fat suit and introduced to the bachelors as her own cousin? And while the guys were polite to her face (or ignored her completely), behind her back they said really awful things about her, and one guy went off on how she was obviously the DUFF - not knowing he was being taped, and that not only the bachelorette, but everyone in TV-land was watching and listening?

Not that we ever watched that show, of course. We about it.

At any rate, the guy that made the DUFF comment was summarily sent home, and to this day probably gets slapped upside the head by his grandmother on a regular basis. Because it's rude, right? It's really mean and awful and the guy made himself look like a jerk, right? Of course, he thought he was just talking to other like-minded guys. How much more of a jerk would he be if he, say, walked up to the 'cousin' and said all those things to her face?  And that, boys and girls, is how you paint one of your main characters as a complete and utter jerk in 100 words or less.

Because yes, that is what Wesley does. And then she kisses him. But later. But wait! Don't turn away in disgust, because this isn't a "gosh you're a jerk but you're so cute and I'm so worthless I can't help it" kiss, this is an angry, "I still hate you but that just makes it easier to use you" kiss. There's a difference, trust us. Sound complicated? It is! She is! And in case you've forgotten, high school is!

As much as we may hate some of the choices Bianca makes, we can't help becoming firmly entrenched on her side from the very start. She's a good person, a good friend, and by no means a doormat, but Wesley's "DUFF" comments have hit the heart of every teenage girl's insecurities. Every girl feels at some point that she is the weak link among her firends, that she is the one who doesn't measure up. Add in some serious problems at home, and who wouldn't want an escape of some sort?

Yes, we pretty much knew how it would all end, but we didn't care. We were happy with the ending. We were happy with the realistic characters and relationships. We were VERY happy with some of the insights that came to Bianca and her friends. And we are especially happy that turtles never really have to go through adolescence. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Witchcraft in Salem, by Steven Stern

by Steven L. Stern
Bearport Publishing
Review copy sent by publisher.

The Salem Witch Trials are one of those events in history that continue to enthrall readers of all ages. This book gives a concise overview of the events and names associated with it, as well as possible reasons for the girls' behavior and accusations, and the citizens' willingness to believe them.

The book has the aura of wanting to sensationalize or spook readers (and it is, after all, part of a series titled "Horrorscapes"), but nothing in the text was inaccurate or exaggerated. Some of the pictures add nicely to the background information, from photographs of tombstones and a fungus that could have caused hallucinations, to a map showing how politics may have come into play. Other pictures, however, are a bit bizarre, making us think about bad photoshopping, and distracting a bit from the text (pg. 4-5 is a good example).

If your library size or patron interest warrants a good-sized collection of books on this subject, we recommend adding this one, but we wouldn't make it our sole source. We give it a

3 out of 5.

For more reviews of great nonfiction books, click over to Practically Paradise.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mary Engelbreit's Fairy Tales

Random House
Who doesn't love a book of fairy tales with rich, lavish illustrations? And who doesn't love the illustrations of Mary Englebreit?

The illustrations for this collection of twelve traditional fairy tales are bright and cheery, and full of little details children (and adults) will have a great time discovering. In Beauty and the Beast, one of the sisters has her tongue sticking out in concentration as she makes a list of all the things she wants her father to bring her. Snow White's evil stepmother sports a tiny skull bracelet as she furiously mixes the potion for her poison apple.

The picture definitely make the book, as we had mixed reactions to the stories. Engelbreit mentions in her author's note that she rewrote some of the endings to show her daughter and other young girls that it isn't necessary to marry a Prince Charming to be happy. The Princess and the Frog become good friends. The Little Mermaid is carried into the air by friendly spirits.

In some cases, this works, in others, it frankly doesn't. In Rumplestiltskin, it is the King's advisors who lock up the miller's daughter and make their demands, so we don't have to wonder why on earth she would marry someone who would threaten her life. The Little Mermaid, however, is a little too white-washed, and The Princess and the Pea still leaves the impression that a) the girl must be perfect, nobody cares about the prince's flaws, and b) being oversensitive and wimpy somehow makes you perfect. We would also have liked to see a bit more of an ethnic mix in our heroines (and heroes) - with a very few exceptions (Thumbelina), everyone is obviously Anglo.

In short, if you are looking for a beautifully illustrated book to read aloud - and hopefully discuss - with your daughters, this book is a fine choice. If, however, you are looking for a collection that is either all traditional or all PC, this is not it. Overall, we give it a

3 out of 5.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

by Tara Kelly
Henry Holt and Company

Sixteen-year-old, music- and sound design-obsessed Drea doesn’t have friends. She has, as she’s often reminded, issues. Drea’s mom and a rotating band of psychiatrists have settled on “a touch of Asperger’s.”
Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea meets two other outsiders. And Naomi and Justin seem to actually like Drea. The three of them form a band after an impromptu, Portishead-comparison-worthy jam after school. Justin swiftly challenges not only Drea’s preference for Poe over Black Lab but also her perceived inability to connect with another person. Justin, against all odds, may even like like Drea.
It’s obvious that Drea can’t hide behind her sound equipment anymore. But just when she’s found not one but two true friends, can she stand to lose one of them?

A few posts back we talked about issues books - those that were centered around some sort of major issue faced by teens today. One of the big 'issues' that has been popular lately is autism or Asperger's Syndrome.

But, wait! This is not one of those! Yes, Drea is somewhere in the Aspergers spectrum, but we can say that just as we say she is a musician. Or that she has moved a lot. Or that her grandmother is crotchety. Oh, or that she is a teenager! All of those things are just a part of who she is, and while all of them contribute to her personality and struggles, none of them is the entire sum of who she is. That is just one of the many reasons we absolutely loved this book.

Kelly, in fact, says it even better in her author's note:

"I'd like to start off by saying that this book is not about defining Asperger's Syndrome (AS) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's about one girl's story and experience - which I hope everyone (whether on the autistic spectrum or not) can relate to."

Teens can definitely relate to Drea's story - the struggle to make and keep friends, trying to fit in in a world that seems totally alien, first relationships, drugs, abuse, family problems, etc. Musicians will love the music aspect of the story, but non-musicians won't feel lost. And the cover! Doesn't that just make your hand automatically reach out to open it up and check the description?

Fantastic and refreshing addition to the YA shelves from yet another debut writer. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan

Erin McCahan
Arthur A. Levine Books
Borrowed from library, read for Cybils
Bronwen, as she tells us in her very first sentence, was switched at birth. She quickly goes on to tell us this is just a fantasy of hers, but...after meeting the rest of the family, her mother in particular, we have to ask...are you sure that's all it is? From eating habits to hair color (which her mother actually has her dye so it matches hers!), they couldn't be more different - and not in the "gosh, we're all different but we're just one big happy family" sort of way, but in the "what planet did you come from?" kind of way.

At any rate, Bronwen does not feel that she belongs in her current family, and we gradually get enough back story to understand that thoroughly. She remembers a time when things were better, and longs to be part of a close, open family once again. When Jared enters the picture and she is welcomed with open arms by his family, it looks like she will finally get what she has wanted. When he asks her to marry him, everything seems perfectly set up for her happily ever after.

Major shocker of the book: nobody is pregnant. Yes, we know, you just laughed, but think about it - how many YA books can you think of where a teenager gets married, and not only is nobody pregnant, but nobody is having sex? Nobody is a runaway, nobody is abused, there is no huge tragedy forcing them into marriage as the only option. Once they get over their surprise, the parents on both side are happy and supportive. Refreshing, isn't it?!

Of course, if everything worked out perfectly, this would be a really boring story. Instead, it works out realistically. Even really good, sensible plans can be far from perfect. Even being in love - really, truly in love - doesn't ensure a happy ending. And we. loved. the. ending.

We also loved the characters. Bronwen has a snappy wit and an intelligent, perceptive outlook. Jared is just dreamy, but not in an over-the-top unbelievable way (after their first date? The call? yeah, Miss Ami swooned.) There is some strong character development in Bronwen throughout the book, as while as the issues of family, communication, planning for the future, discovering a sense of self - all deep issues covered in a very light and easy read. Hand it to any teen (or adult!) girl you know (boys might enjoy it too, but wouldn't be caught dead holding a book with that cover.) We give it a strong

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk

by Josh Berk
Alfred A. Knopf

Not only is this one of the Cybils nominees for young adult fiction, but has been tagged for a few other awards, including the Parents' Choice. What seems to be getting the most buzz is the cover - mostly negative buzz, unfortunately. Three tiny people walking? What does this mean, exactly? One looks vaguely worried, the other two are chipper. Not exactly attention-grabbing.

The paperback version, due out in June 2011, seems to address this issue - can we assume they will also address the misspelling?

So, then, what is it about? It is the story of Will (Hamburger is his IM name) Halpin, slightly overweight, hearing impaired, and attending public school for the first time. In addition to the usual issues of trying to fit in as the new guy, he has the added issues of being deaf in a school that cannot afford any sort of interpreter or closed captioning. Let's stop here for

Issue #1: Federal law states a school MUST provide what a child in special education needs in order to succeed in class, regardless of whether it fits in the school's budget or not. So, a little unrealistic there.

The big news at school is a birthday party in honor of the star quarterback, whose family is obscenely wealthy.

Issue #2: Why would a wealthy family send their child to an impoverished school?

Needless to say, Will and his new friend Devon (the second least popular kid at school) are not invited, but it really doesn't matter, because the star quarterback is pushed into a mine by...who? We now have a murder mystery which Devon is determined to solve a la Hardy Boys style (their code names are Frank and Chet). They enlist the help of Ebony, Will's smart and sassy former-sort-of-girlfriend from his old school. All sorts of secrets are uncovered before the somewhat-predictable murderer is revealed.

Issue #3: Many of these secrets are pretty heavy stuff. Very adult issues that are often dealt with by teens, unfortunately. Yet, the tone is never serious. It has been a while since we were in high school (our mascot was a snail), but we don't remember being so blase about tragic events. The voice of the characters made us feel like they were in middle school, watching some drama on the high school stage. A bit removed, more curious than concerned. Yes, Will is new to the school, and not personally vested in the murder victim, so that may explain some of it.

We do like Will. And Devon, and Ebony. Very distinct and fun characters with their own voices. Side characters were a bit one-dimensional, but that didn't hurt the story. Will's interactions with a variety of people in his life offer a good primer to anyone not at all familiar with the deaf community - you get a little bit of politics, some practical dos and don'ts, and a few "I never would have thought of it from that perspective"s.

At times this reminded us of Daniel Pinkwater in its sort of irreverent humor (which may also explain Issue #3). Not that Berk is as brilliant as Pinkwater, mind you, but he definitely shows promise (and he's a librarian - obviously a clever chap. Oops, slipping into Devon-speak there.) While we had a few problems with it, we enjoyed it on the whole, and give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots
Abby McDonald
Candlewick Press
Borrowed from library.
It's always nice when a character - and a book - find a balance. When we first meet Jenna, she is a die-hard leader of the Green Teens, loudly protesting her school's plans to sell off a field that may or may not contain a rare species of...grass. Her summer plans of interning with Earth Now go awry, and it looks like she will be stuck in a retirement community in Florida - but wait! Her hippie godmother Susie is rennovating a B&B up in Canada - surely she could use an extra pair of hands.

Canada! Lush forests, wildlife, cute boys in plaid: the perfect place for a young environmentalist. It goes without saying that everyone there will share her enthusiasm for protecting the environment at all costs, right?

Now, there's nothing wrong with dedicating yourself to a good cause, but...sometimes it's a good idea to have all the facts before you open your mouth. Jenna learns quickly - and painfully - that sometimes what you accuse your enemy of (like making decisions based on your own priorities without considering the faceless individuals they affect) becomes the exact thing you are doing yourself. Black and white becomes a little grey, first impressions have to be corrected on both sides, and Jenna is forced to examine which of her ideals are actually her own, and which she has just adopted out of a need to belong.

A fun read, with a little bit of thinking but not 'too much', we give it a

4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon and The Karma Club

Okay, if you're on the internet and in the world of books at all, you are probably well aware of yesterday's uproar over a book Amazon was selling that was basically a how-to for pedophiles. After first responding that it was a matter of free speech, Amazon finally removed the book from their site.

We can argue until we are blue in the face (not a good color for turtles) about whether the book qualified as pornography or not, whether the rule of free speech extended to it or not, or whether censoring this book paves the way to censor anything offensive to anyone, but here's what we think in a nutshell: The whole Free Speech thing? Doesn't matter.

Now, don't get us wrong, we are not saying that free speech isn't important. What we are saying is that, in this case, it's not the issue. Amazon refusing to publish/sell something is not the same thing as a governmental entity making a law against it being published. It's entirely possible that a court could rule that Amazon, or anyone else, could legally publish this or any similar book. But, here's the thing:

Just because something is legal that doesn't make it right.

Hardly a new concept, we know, but it looks like it's something we all need to be reminded of at times. We're sure if you take a moment right now, you can think of a myriad of things that would be perfectly legal for you to do, but you don't do them. Why not? Because they are WRONG. It would be legal for one of us to, say, catch the eye of a passing child and say, "You know what? You are one ugly child." But we wouldn't do that! We recoil at the very thought! Why? Because it would be WRONG.

These days our society seems to have a hard time deeming anything 100 per cent wrong, for fear of offending someone. And yes, there are a million areas in which we are not all agreed, and probably never will be. But, pedophilia? Seriously? Do we really need to debate this?

Whether your sense of right and wrong comes from a holy book, a person, your family, an inner sense, or whatever, you have one. It is how you govern your actions, probably without thinking about it most of the time. You have a sense of right and wrong, Miss Ami has one, even we turtles have one, and, executives at Amazon, guess what? You have one, too. Use it. Don't hide behind a law or absence of one.

This rant came as we finished one of the Cybils nominees, The Karma Club by Jessica Brody. Now, before Ms. Brody has a heart attack, let us be quick to say there is no pedophilia in this book. It is not a horrid book that should be stricken from print - in fact, it is a very cute book, which should be purchased by librarians, because teens will enjoy it.

That being said, we had some issues with it that resemble parts of the above rant. Bear with us for a moment:

Madison and her friends are a bit disappointed with karma. All three have boyfriends who have done them wrong, and nothing bad seems to be happening to them in return. They decide to give karma a little help by making sure something bad does happen. Their escapades are funny, to the point where we read some out loud to coworkers. For a while, they are enjoying the sweet taste of revenge. Then, of course, things start to fall apart - bad things start happening to THEM, as an indirect result of the things they did to their exes.

Do they learn their lesson? Sort of. Maddy realizes that the better thing to do is perform good deeds, in order to build your good karma, and make good things happen to you. The end. We suppose, if your entire belief system is built around the concept of karma, this ending will suit you just fine.

However...anybody see where we are going with this? Is the risk of bad karma the only reason we shouldn't do horrible things to other people, possibly ruining their lives? Is the hope of good karma, i.e. our own personal reward, the only reason we should perform good deeds? Let's take one example from the story (major spoiler here, so feel free to stop reading):

Seth cheated on Jade. Bad Seth. That was a rotten thing to do. So, the girls set up a fake online dating profile for Seth, saying he prefers older women. Much older. When responses start pouring in, they set up 15 'dates' with women in their 40's, of course completely unbeknownst to Seth. Strange women start showing up and embarrassing him in front of his girlfriend, his buddies, his parents and grandparents. Soon he is the laughingstock of - well, everywhere - his girlfriend dumps him, his family no longer trusts him, you get the picture.

Okay, it was funny! It was really, really funny! Until you start thinking about all the other people - his parents and grandparents, mortified in public. All those poor women. The girlfriend. Did they deserve any of that? Did Seth even deserve the ruined relationships and public humiliation? Is it really the job of a teenage girl to decide if he does? If any of those questions had been addressed by the characters, we could have gone on enjoying the book, but they never occurred to them. The only reason why any of their actions were 'wrong' was because it caused them bad karma. That's it.

How about, they were wrong because they were wrong? Because turning into a vindictive little shrew is wrong? Because taking pleasure in the pain of others is wrong? Because thinking you have enough of the answers to play God in someone else's life is wrong?

We may be coming across a bit heavy-handed on what is, really, a cute, fun book overall. Maybe it's a reaction to the Amazon fiasco, but it's also partly disappointment in seeing that cute, fun book fall apart at the end. Do buy it. Do read it. Do pass it on to your teens. But, you may want to engage those teens in a discussion when they turn it back in, and see what they thought. We give it a

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cybils Mini-Reviews, or, We've Got Issues!

We're turtles. We don't have a lot of angst. Give us a sun light with some good UVB, feed us every other day, and we're pretty much set. Sure, Freaky, as the oldest, can be a bit bossy, and Squirt gets a little hyper, but that's about it.

Humans, on the other hand - whew! Teenagers, especially, seem to go through an awful lot in a few short years. Thank goodness, then, that there are some great books out there to help them get some perspective in the tough times! A huge number of the YA Fiction nominees for this year's Cybils are "issue books", and these are just a few of those we have read lately:

by Courtney Summers
St. Martin's Press
Borrowed from Library
Miss Ami used to teach middle school, which she says is why you cannot shock her, scare her, or gross her out. She also says that she learned to take a boy fight over a girl fight any day. Girls are MEAN! The news has been full of stories about vicious bullying among teens. Nobody really likes a bully, so what happens when the tables are turned, and the bully becomes the victim? Serves her right, doesn't it? Doesn't it??

This was a fantastic book, so smoothly written and intense we read it in one sitting. Unfortunately, the situations, as well as the responses of both adults and other teens, were also very true to life. This would be a great classroom discussion book - be aware of violence (duh, it's about bullying) including sexual assault. We had a teeny issue with the ending, but it's not worth the potential spoiler to go into it. We still give it a

5 out of 5.

by Donna Freitas
Frances Foster Books
Borrowed from Library
Abusive relationships are not a new issue for children's/young adult books, but we are not aware of many that touch on controlling relationships. Until we read this one, we didn't realize what a gap there was in literature, but it's definitely a pervasive problem in real life. Many abusive relationships start off with isolation, but even if the abuser never continues on to physical or sexual abuse, the mental/emotional damage can be just as great. This book gives an excellent (and riveting) illustration of how an intelligent young woman can be manipulated by a man in power.

The cover photograph was an excellent choice, but we wish the title wasn't splashed across it - it makes her seem more protected than trapped. Just a little thing, and we give this one another

5 out of 5.

by Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse

Borrowed from Library
This one didn't seem to realize it was an issue book. If you read the jacket flap, it's your basic love triangle - the MC is in love with her best friend's boyfriend. We expect a little more depth from Elizabeth Scott - seriously? An entire book about liking your best friend's boyfriend? Then we start getting to know Brianna, the best friend.

Let's see: 1. Sees everyone as all good or all bad. 2. Must have everyone's approval. 3. Great at making friends, not so good at keeping them, except for one person she is overly dependent on. 4. Reckless, impulsive behavior. 5. Skewed vision of self. Aha! Scott is going to talk about borderline personality disorder, an increasingly common problem that many people aren't aware of. Wonderful! It's just the love triangle thing. Brianna very obviously needs some help, but she not only doesn't get it, it is obvious she never will. And that doesn't seem to be an issue, either. Very disappointing conclusion, but may be useful in certain situations for discussion or what-could-he/she-have-done. We have to give it a

2 out of 5.

(But we still love Elizabeth Scott. Everybody is entitled to a miss.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Homemade Lit Bling

We just have to show off how very talented one of our teens is:

If you are a Rick Riordan fan, you will recognize both the beads and the shirt. If you are not a Riordan fan, well, then, you are no friend of ours.* Yes, she made them herself, and we think she should make us some now:)

* Seriously. Go read the books, and then you can talk to us.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures, by Carlyn Beccia

by Carlyn Beccia
Houghton Mifflin
Copy borrowed from our library.
Brilliant! Gross-out books are always good for bringing in the reluctant readers, and we love it when, as the disclaimer warns, "Side effects from reading this book may vary. Patients may experience rapid brain growth."

Rather than just list some of the odd, disgusting, or plain funny remedies used throughout the ages for colds, coughs, or cuts, Beccia lists a few and asks readers to guess which ones actually worked. In the following pages, she then briefly explains why maggots can actually be good for you, or when it can be good to dangle a frog down your throat. A little bit of science and physiology seeps in betwixt shuddering at the thought of drinking urine or drilling a hole in your skull. We learned quite a bit ourselves! This might even be a fun pop-quiz read-aloud for teachers - have your students write their answers down before you read the explanations.

This could make a good Christmas gift paired with, depending on age, a game of Operation, a play doctor's kit, or some gummy frogs. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cybils Mini-Reviews

The following are some of the YA Fiction nominees for the Cybils awards:

by Swati Avashti
Knopf Books for Young Readers
When Jace finally stands up to his abusive father, he winds up with a rearranged face, on the doorstep of the brother he hasn't seen in years. His brother takes him in, but both have many demons to deal with resulting from the years of abuse - and a mother who is still trapped at home.

Powerful, realistic, exhausting, important. There isn't much more we could say without this becoming an inarticulate mess. Buy it. Read it. Not for the younger reader - several descriptions of horrifically violent scenes. We give it a

5 out of 5.

by April Lurie
Delacorte Press

Noah seems to be making a small career out of rebelling against the image of his father, The Bible Answer Guy, becoming a minor juvenile delinquent. He befriends a homeless teen who happens to be gay, right at the time when someone is killing homeless gay teens and leaving Bible verses near their bodies.

The author has an obvious agenda, which isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, but she is a bit heavy-handed in delivering it. Noah's father is the only one who doesn't give some sort of sermon, and everyone except the bad guy comes to the same conclusion about homosexuality by the end. As a result, none of the characters comes fully to life as an individual person. If she did more showing than telling, she would be a bit more effective.

That being said, the mystery aspect was extremely well-done. We constantly found ourselves positive we had it all worked out, then changing our minds completely. At one point we decided the murderer was Noah's 9-year-old sister, simply because she was the only person we hadn't suspected (it wasn't her, btw). Definitely worth reading if you like thrillers, we give it a

3 out of 5.

by Varian Johnson
Delacorte Press
Main characters quetioning their religious beliefs seems to be big this year. In Saving Maddie, Joshua is the opposite of The Less-Dead's Noah, faithfully trying to live up to the expectations ofeveryone has for the preacher's son. When Maddie, a childhood friend, moves back into town, he is dismayed by how much she has changed. He initially sets out to "save" her, but discovers things aren't necessarily as black and white as he has always believed them to be, and Maddie may not want or need to be "saved" - at least, not in the way he thinks.

We liked this one more than we thought we would. The characters manage to shy away from stereotypes for the most part, and religion itself is not portrayed as all good or all bad. Maddie urges Joshua to decide for himself why he believes the things he does, but that doesn't translate into him suddenly changing his mind about everything he believes. Overall, just as the characters are allowed to make up (and change) their own minds about things, so is the reader. Oh, and did anyone pick up on the little stab at the old damaged rose illustration? Nicely done! We give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Big Rigs and Fire Trucks on the Move

by Judith Jango-Cohen
Lerner Publications
by Candice Ransom
Lerner Publications
We are always happy to see good nonfiction titles for the younger set, and these certainly fit the bill. Boys (and many girls) will always be enthralled with automobiles, so you really can't go wrong with this series.

What's the first thing youngsters do with a toy fire engine? Start making the sounds! That is exactly how Fire Trucks on the Move begins:
WHEE-OOO! WHEE-OOO! What is making such a loud sound?
Text is accompanied by a close-up picture of a siren, and a larger photo showing where it is located on the truck. The rest of the book follows the same pattern, with one or two sentences in a large, clear font paired with bright, colorful photographs.

Big Rigs on the Move lists other terms we might use (semis, eighteen-wheelers), and shows readers some of the specialized types of big rigs far carrying particular cargos. The back of each book includes a diagram, glossary, Fun Facts, and books and web sites for further reading.

There are possibly as many books about cars out there as there are kids who like cars, but the format, information and just overall quality place these way above the mass-marketed dollar store variety. They are perfect for either reluctant or beginning readers, and we give the set a

5 out of 5

We also think this will be the start of our Christmas shopping! Buy your favorite youngster a nice noisy fire truck or pickup, and include a copy of the appropriate book. Stay tuned over the next couple months for more gift ideas* (just 54 shopping days left!)

*for us? Why, how sweet of you to ask! Some goldfish would be yummy. What, and humans don't eat anything disgusting?!