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Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonneblick.

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 The sensitive male teen, yes he actually exists and you’ll find him in the narration of books by Jordan Sonneblick.  His characters always seem like the teens I’d like to adopt.  They are often handsome and smart without knowing it, use a lot of self-deprecating humor and are in the process of falling in love.

In Curveball, The Year I Lost my Grip, Peter Friedman is facing two crushing disappointments.. 

Since Little League, he has always been a star pitcher.   The summer before entering high school, he has his best season ever on the pitching mound.   Then in the championship game, he injures his elbow so severely that he will never be able to pitch again.

Then, there’s his grandfather, he and Pete have always shared a special relationship.  Grandpa is a professional photographer who has taught Peter everything he knows.  Suddenly grandpa is doing strange things like giving Pete all his photo equipment and getting lost on familiar streets.

For many students, high school can feel like a letdown after ruling middle school.  Josh no longer has his baseball to set him apart.  Life becomes brighter when he meets Angelika in photography class.  Angelika is a sensitive girl who has a way of getting to the real issues.  She understands that Peter has experienced a great loss and empathizes with his worries about his grandfather, encouraging him to discuss it with his parents instead of keeping his grandfather’s secret.

This is a great book for middle and high school students.  While there is definitely romance going on, this book is about much more.  Readers will find Pete’s narration to be humorous even as he deals with loss and finds a new life after baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

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In Memory of Lois Duncan

Before The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter or James Patterson’s Middle School Books, there was Lois Duncan.

The Young Adult books of my time  (I graduated from high school in 1977) were limited.  Most of them were problem novels about drug addicts and  teenage alcoholics. (News Flash! drug addicts and alcoholic don’t  read books.)

But in the 1970s and 1980s,  Lois Duncan was one of the most popular young adult authors.  Her books were about normal teenagers suddenly thrown into terror and suspense.

Books like…

Ransom-a  terrorist comes aboard a school bus and takes students hostage.

Don’t Look Behind You – April’s normal life ends  abruptly, when she and her family are forced to flee drug dealers and  enter the Witness Security Program

or  Locked in Time– Lenore begins to realize that her stepmother and stepsiblings never age.  Her stepmother kills off her husbands when they become inconvenient.

Young Adult Author, Richard Peck talked to The New York Times about Duncan in 1978:.

“Lois Duncan breaks some new ground in a novel without sex, drugs or black leather jackets. But the taboo she tampers with is far more potent and pervasive: the unleashed fury of the permissively reared against any assault on their egos and authority. … The value of the book lies in the twisted logic of the teenagers and how easily they can justify anything.”KillingMrGriffin

This was certainly true of Killing Mr. Griffin. When several high school students plot to kidnap their loathsome English teacher, they are suddenly dealing with a dead body and a whole host of other problems.   Lest you think I am giving the plot away, that’s only the beginning.  The story is about the teens’ attempt to cover their tracks.

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Then there were The Daughters of Eve in Duncan’s first book. Members of a female secret society are advised by a radical feminist teacher to carry out extreme acts of violence.  The New York Times Book Review referred to it as a female Lord of the Flies.

Lois Duncan died on June 15 at age 82.  Her books will be remembered by many former teens.

She knows what you did last summer. And she knows how to find that secret evil in her characters’ hearts, evil she turns into throat-clutching suspense in book after book. Does anyone write scarier books than Lois Duncan? I don’t think so.

—  R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps and Fear Street

 

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A Holocaust Hero

 

 

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Hiroki Sugihara was a young Japanese boy growing up in Poland in 1940.  His father was a Japanese diplomat.

One morning, he awoke to find hundreds of people crowded around the gates in front of his house.  All were Jews, all of them in great danger.  They wanted his father to write visas so they could leave the country safely.

The Japanese Government refused to allow his father to write the Visas.  He heard his father say to his mother, “I have to do something.  I may have to disobey my government but if I don’t I will be disobeying God.”

When he consulted his family, even his young son agreed that they must help these people escape Poland.  By writing these visas, his father helped almost a thousand Jews escape Poland

The Sugihara family were also forced to leave Poland and spend eighteen months in an internment camp in Soviet Russia.

.In the 1960s, the family began hearing from the “Sugihara Survivors,” Jewish people who had escaped almost certain death because of these Visas.  Chiune Sugihara was awarded the “Righteous Among Nations” Award.

This is an inspiring story about a very dark period of history.   This could be an excellent resource to use with elementary students with its focus on a hero rather than the atrocities.

 

Mochizuki

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Novelist: A Cure for the Reading Funk

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I have been in a reading funk lately. Even as a librarian, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that just right book.  Usually my motto is “So Many Books-so little time.”

Life feels stressful at present and I want pure escapism.  Perhaps I’ve worked so hard reading children’s books for this blog that I haven’t found time to read for  me.  Usually when I walk into a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store.  But sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the choices.  My reading life has never fit in to simple categories.

One great cure for the reading funk is the Novelist Online Database.  It’s available on most public library’s webpages.  Library employees will be happy to share this resource with you.  Novelist recommends books for adults, teens and children. It links back to the library catalog so you can reserve the book

Novelist can…

  • help you locate all the books by your favorite author.
  • provide read-alikes for popular authors and titles
  • provide genre lists for countless interests.  (There are 8 themed lists for teen graphic novels and 13 themed lists for adult mysteries.)
  • locate a book with a particular setting.
  • find books in series
  • find informational as well as fiction books.

Once you locate a book, there are book reviews, age range, lexile levels and subject headings.  I have been using Novelist and Novelist K-8 for years. I have yet to tap into to all the resources available.

Novelist is a great tool for teachers and homeschoolers.  It’s easy to find books that supplement the curriculum.  Historical fiction can be a great way to help students grasp history.  Parents can also use Novelist to help children explore their interests. This database has evolved over time to meet the changing needs of its users.

Novelist is as its best recommending books to upper elementary, teens and adults. The upper elementary years  can be a golden age of reading. .  During this time, children begin getting more specific in their reading choices. If we want children to enjoy reading, we need to offer them lots of choices. There will be more competition for entertainment as children reach their teens.   Finding the right books for children and teens is a key ingredient in creating lifelong readers.  Novelist is a great tool in this process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Books by Beverly Cleary

April 12, 2016  was Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.  Here are a few of the books that she has written:

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Otis loves to stir up excitement at school.  He especially loves to pick on Ellen Tebbits, perhaps because she is so neat, clean and well behaved.

When Otis goes too far, Ellen and her best friend, Augustine, seek revenge.  Will Otis get what he deserves?

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When Keith’s  family stays at an old hotel, Keith meets a talking mouse who rides his toy motorcycle.  Ralph S. Mouse becomes a hero for Keith and his family.

Other books about Ralph’s adventures are Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

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Henry Huggins wants to do something important, like Scooter, the seventh grader on his street, who delivers papers.  Getting a paper route isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you show up for the interview, hiding four kittens in your sweatshirt.

Henry is quite enterprising and works hard to achieve his ambitions, even when that pesky Ramona gets in his way.

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This is the first book where Ramona emerges as the main character.  Although this book is written from a kindergartner’s perspective, the audience for this book will be older children who will find Ramona’s antics amusing .  Other Ramona books are Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona the Brave, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

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Leigh Botts is the new kid in town.  His parents have recently separated and someone keeps stealing his lunch. Leigh shares his daily troubles with his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.

This is a very different book for Beverly Cleary.  It received high critical acclaim including the 1984 Newbery Medal.

 

 

 

 


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Why Audiobooks?

About 10 years ago,  I fell in love with audiobooks.  I felt torn because I had adult books I wanted to read and prize winning children’s books that also deserved my attention.  Audiobooks became part of the solution!   I began looking forward to my time in the car.

Audiobooks can be enjoyed by the whole family. Consider taking them along on your next road trip. For this post, I have selected audiobooks that families can enjoy listening to together.

On the Reading Rockets Website, Denise Johnson lists these benefits of listening to audiobooks.

  • Introduce students to books above their reading level
  • Model good interpretive reading
  • Teach critical listening
  • Highlight the humor in books
  • Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
  • Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
  • Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
  • Provide a read-aloud model
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
  • Recapture “the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers” (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)http://www.readingrockets.org/article/benefits-audiobooks-all-readers

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The Harry Potter books are among other things, hilarious, but never more so when they are narrated by Jim Dale who creates over 200 voices and special effects for all the wizards, muggles, goblins and house elfs that pass through Hogwarts.  The Harry Potter volumes are among the top selling audiobooks of all time.  Children who have already read these books will notice things they missed.

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Country music singer and actor, Lyle Lovett, brings  Kathi Appelt’s adventure tale, The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp to life.  Two raccoon scouts, Bingo and J’miah are trained to wake the Sugarman, a Yeti like creature, in the event of trouble.  And trouble is coming!  Jaeger Stitch, world-class alligator wrestler, plans to turn the peaceful swamp into to the world’s tackiest theme park. To make matters worse, a gang of feral hogs are headed  toward the swamp.   Lovett has the perfect southern drawl. This story will appeal to a wide range of ages.

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I raved over Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo in an earlier post. (https://librarianlou.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/for-music-and-history-lovers-2/) This recording helps complete the book.  The harmonica pieces are printed in each section, but its not the same as hearing the music which will be more familiar to  parents than their children.

In the section set in Nazi Germany, the heavy but clear German accents are vital in creating the characters of evil Nazi leaders as well as the kind voices of Frederich’s father and uncle.  Dialogue that looks confusing in print will be clearer in the audio version.  Echo won the 2016 Newbery Honor Award and the audiobook won one of two 2016 Odyssey Awards for outstanding productions in children’s recordings.

Don’t let the costs of audiobooks discourage you.  Many are available at the public library. Services like Audible are also making these books more accessible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Countess Below Stairs

 

untitled (2)A Countess Below Stairs is a must read for any fan of Downton Abbey.

Anna and her family fled their native Russia during the  Revolution to make a new home in London. Attempts to bring their valuables with them are foiled, leaving them penniless.

Anna takes a job as a housemaid in a grand house. In spite of growing up in a wealthy estate, she is kind and unspoiled. She decides that working downstairs can be a grand adventure. She clings to her copy of The Domestic Servant’s Compendium by Selina Strickland, determined to be the best servant ever.

Rupert is an unlikely Earl. He always assumed his charismatic older brother would inherit Mersham, the family estate. After his brother dies in the first world war, he agrees to be the Earl of Westerholme because his family expects it.

Rupert is engaged to Muriel who nursed him back to health after being wounded in battle. No one can deny that Muriel is beautiful and seems charming. Rupert is really not sure how they came to be engaged.

Muriel espouses an early Nazi philosophy known as Eugenics. She wants to apply the same principles of breeding  racehorses to human reproduction, beautiful people mating with other beautiful people with no room for disease or decay.

Muriel fires one of the footmen because he is too short. She sends the mute servant girl to an institution where she can be with her “own kind of people.” She is distressed when she discovers that Ollie, the flower girl in her wedding, has a limp.

The tone of this novel is light and comical. As a romance, it is fairly predictable. The fun of the novel comes from a wide variety of interesting characters and vivid descriptions. It is clear early on that Anna is lovely and kind, spreading joy to everyone she meets.  Rupert is obviously attracted to Anna but promised to Muriel. Both Rupert and Anna are committed to doing the right thing almost to the point of absurdity.  No one can set up a scene or create characters like Eva Ibbotson. She is a master of vivid imagery.

I first discovered Eva Ibbotson through her children’s books, Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan.  When I found one of her adult books on the library shelves, it looked quite nondescript.  I would never have selected it if I had not known about the author. People say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do.

Her books were originally written for an adult audience.  Ibbotson wrote mostly children books in her later years.  Until recently, her adult title were hard to locate.  In 2008, MacMillan publishing has begun marketing her older titles to teens.  They simply changed the covers.  I think both adults and teens will enjoy these chaste romances.

A Countess Below Stairs is sometimes published under the title, The Secret Countess.