Friday, September 28, 2012

STUDENT REVIEW- Holes by Louis Sachar

by Louis Sachar
Published by Random House Children’s Books, 2000
305 pages (paperback)

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys' detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys "build character" by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn't take long for Stanley to realize there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. (from

The good part was at the end. It was good because it was really funny. What could be improved in this book is the part where they eat the onions and try not to cry. Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler]. It teaches a lesson: not to steal or you will get in trouble!
--Jenny P.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
By Elizabeth Wein
Published by Hyperion Books for Children, 2012
352 pages (hardcover)

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? (from

Oh, this was a great book. It was refreshingly entertaining/intriguing and took me back to the days when I read heaps of historical fiction. Why did I enjoy it so much? Well let me tell you:

1.       Sarcasm.
And lots of it. Although the topic is rather serious the sarcasm keeps the book from being too much of a bummer.
2.       Awesome ladies.
I mean, seriously, some of the female characters are spies and pilots during World War II. You go girls!
3.       A GOOD historical fiction novel.
Some historical fiction is…blah. But this was good. Its basic historical premise is sound and it was fun to delve into WWII information I hadn’t heard much about before.
4.       Action.
Life during WWII certainly wasn’t boring. And neither is this book.
5.       Suspense.
I really couldn’t guess what was going to happen next. After a few chapters in I even read the end of the book (it’s my horrible habit… I read the end of the book soon after I start it) and had absolutely no clue about what was going to happen.
6.       You can’t assume anything about the characters.
The characters were unpredictable and assuming they will act a certain way is a no-no. They will surprise you.
7.       Friendship.
The friendship between the two main characters is so supportive and honorable. The girls don’t have to be attached at the hip 24/7 to be there for each other in good times & lethal times.
8.       Just when you think it is over... it isn’t.
And there is a LOT you don’t know. Really. How did this author do it?!?

This book is now at the top of my list of books to recommend to anyone. I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed, but maybe that was because so much was going on. And because I wanted a note at the end of the book saying 2 of the characters got married and had adorable children. I can dream, right?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

STUDENT REVIEW- Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl
By Eoin Colfer
Published by Hyperion Books for Children, 2009
304 pages (paperback)

When a twelve-year-old evil genius tries to restore his family fortune by capturing a fairy and demanding a ransom in gold, the fairies fight back with magic, technology, and a particularly nasty troll.
When a twelve-year-old evil genius tries to restore his family fortune by capturing a fairy and demanding a ransom in gold, the fairies fight back with magic, technology, and a particularly nasty troll. (from

This is about a kid named Artemis Fowl- a criminal mastermind. He is trying to get his family wealth back and he has a plan to take it from mythical faeries. It was funny, suspenseful, and is very fun to read. It’s one of the best books I have ever read. However, it does need a little more action. Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it has everything a person wants in a book: action, humor , and suspense.
---by Santies C.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top Ten Bookish People I Want to Meet

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the Top Ten Bookish People I Want To Meet!

Abraham Lincoln
I know he isn’t alive, but it would have been amazing to meet Abe. Besides being a great president (and vampire hunter?), he LOVED books. Books were his escape from sadness and tough times. I would have loved to have a conversation about books with Abe.

Theodore Roosevelt
Did you know that Teddy wrote a bunch of books? Before he was presidents he wrote books on nature, history, politics, etc. Teddy became one of my favorite presidents because he seemed like a lot of fun, but knowing that he loved to read and even wrote dozens (80-some, I think) of books makes me love him even more.

Ann M. Martin
The Babysitter’s Club books were among the first books I read and I’d have to say that Ann M. Martin inspired me to read and write creatively. I just want to say “thanks!”

John Green
I kind of have an author-crush on him because he makes me laugh.

Suzanne Collins
She has made such a huge impact on young adult literature recently that I think it would be great to hear some of her thoughts and ideas on life, literature, and the world.

J.K. Rowlings
I just want her to tell me stories for several hours. And her English accent would be a bonus!

Laurie Halse Anderson
Besides the fact that her books are AMAZING, she is also an awesome researcher. Check out the appendixes of her historical fiction novels… they are so detailed.

Dr. Seuss
It is too late to meet him, but talking to him would have been so cool. I mean, how did he come up with such fantastical stories and creatures? And, does he realize what an impact he has had on young readers???

James Patterson
He is such a diverse and dynamic author. People of all ages love him and I love that both students and staff hurry over to the shelves to see what James Patterson books we have in.

Joseph Bruchac
Did you know he is coming to UMS on October 5th? And did you know that he is a great author with interesting stories in all sorts of genres?
You didn’t? Well now you do. So read a book or two of his and get ready for a fun day with him!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Published by Harper Collins, 2011
272 pages (hardcover)

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. (from

I have read, studied, and taught about the Vietnam Conflict. I love movies set during this time (ones that take place in America… no blood and fighting for me!) and often make my son listen to 60s/70s protest songs. But Inside Out & Back Again is a whole other perspective that most Americans don’t know about. While writing and talking about how Americans were affected by the war, I think we all forget how much the people of Vietnam went through and lost.

Based on her own journey from Vietnam to America, Lai uses verse to tell the story of escape from war to prejudice in America. HÀ’s journey is inspiring, but also bittersweet because her life isn’t a fairytale and things aren’t perfect in the end.

While the book is a fairly quick read, it is deserving of the National Book Award and all if its positive reviews.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: The Top Ten Books That Make Me Think About Poverty

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the Top Ten Books That Make Me Think About Poverty

I know, I know, I know… super depressing topic. BUT on Saturday I am giving a book talk at Urbana School District’s American History Teacher’s Collaborative Focus Workshop on Poverty so I am already hunting down those books and it’s on my mind. So I’ll just be the buzz-kill for the day. Hooray!

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
The Great Depression + the Dust Bowl + lots of sadness & people dying = really sad book that focuses on the poverty and horrible conditions of people living in the 1930s. It is written in verse so although it is not the happiest book, it is a quick read and will get you thinking.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I almost couldn’t believe that people actually lived like this in the south in the early to mid-1900s. It really was difficult to think that in AMERICA, where people are supposed to be free and have chances to succeed, that thousands of people lived with so little due to sharecropping and Jim Crow las.

Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse
Karen Hesse is the queen of sad historical fiction books. Seriously. Her books are great, but they definitely don’t leave you jumping for joy. This book focuses on the poverty made so many immigrate to America between 1880 and 1920 AND that their lives weren’t all that great flowers once they got here.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be an American Colonists: A Settlement You’d Rather Not Start by Jacqueline Morley
Ok, I love these “You Wouldn’t Want to Be…” books. They are hilarious but really do make you think about the hardships people faced long ago. 

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright While the family in this book wasn’t necessarily in complete poverty, that was a very real possibility if there was no rain and their crops failed. I kept thinking about this book all summer as we would go weeks without rain and the news showed withered crops. Sometimes one bad season is all that stands between us and poverty.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Centuries ago when Americans were allowed to have slaves, those who were enslaved were the lowest of the low. They worked in rough conditions, had little food, and, worst of all, didn’t even have their freedom. Uncle Tom’s Cabin stirred the rage of Americans and fueled the abolitionist movement. There is no way that Harriet Beecher Stowe could have known what a huge impact she would have when she wrote this book about the conditions of slaves in the south. Good for you Ms. Stowe!    

A Child Called “It” by David Pelzer Although the families David lived with may not have been monetarily poor, he had to live through impoverished and dangerous conditions at times. David (like many children today) did not receive basic care, emotional support, or attention due to the cruelty and ignorance of some adults.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Esperanza may live in a poor part of Chicago, but she has hope. And hope is what gets her through assaults, having meager resources, the ups-and-downs of friendships, boys, and experiencing negativity around her. I like books that have hope.

Trash by Andy Mulligan This book broke my heart. In a city in a third world country the only hope people have of survival digging through garbage day after day and hopefully finding something useful or edible. Beyond the vivid descriptions of the garbage dump and shacks piled together (and on top of each other), Mulligan gives faces, names, and personalities of the young people affected by intense poverty. 

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
This was one of those books that I wished I could talk (or yell!) at the characters- especially the parents. Jeanette Walls’ story of growing up was frustrating to read because there were opportunities for the family to not live in poverty but adults made bad (or selfish) decisions and the children suffered the consequences.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes

Ninth Ward
By Jewel Parker Rhodes
Published by Sanval, 2010
217 pages (hardcover)

Twelve-year-old Lanesha is a young girl living in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Rejected by her peers because of her ability to see spirits, Lanesha longs for connection. The one true light in her life is her elderly but fiercely loving caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya. When Hurricane Katrina lands and tragedy strikes, Lanesha is forced to come into her own to survive the storm.

I started this book on the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina which was actually when Hurricane Issac was hitting Mississippi and Louisiana (including New Orleans). I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit. I had just started my first teaching job in a rough area Kansas City, Missouri. Soon after the hurricane, some former residents of the flooded south started attending our school. Also, because Katrina was such big news, the kitten my husband and I got a few weeks later was given the middle name of “Katrina”.

I think it all boils down to the fact that most people and places were affected by Katrina: Gas prices rose. We had family or friends who had survived (or not) the disaster. We had family or friends who went south to help with recovery. BUT most of us were not actually there. I think that is what makes Ninth Ward so moving. Jewel Parker Rhodes’ sing-song prose not only takes us through the days before and after the storm, but gives us an insight into New Orleans culture, the poverty of the area, why people didn’t/couldn’t evacuate, and how people actually survived.

Although Hurricane Katrina was a terrifying time, Rhodes does not let Ninth Ward become a tale of dread and despair. Instead, there is a forever hopeful tone of love, trust, and family that will empower readers and make everyone come to adore Lanesha and her Mama Ya-Ya. My only wish was that the book was longer so I could find out what Lanesha does in the subsequent days, weeks, months, and years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac

Wolf Mark
By Joseph Bruchac
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
392 pages (hardcover

Luke King knows a lot of things. Like four different ways to disarm an enemy before the attacker can take a breath. Like every detail of every book he’s ever read. And Luke knows enough—just enough—about what his father does as a black ops infiltrator to know which questions not to ask.
Luke hopes that this time, he’ll finally have a normal life. He’ll be able to ask out the girl he likes. He’ll hang out with his friends. He’ll be invisible—just as he wants.
But when his dad goes missing, Luke realizes that life will always be different for him. Suddenly he must avoid his father’s kidnappers, while at the same time evading the attention of a mysterious clique of Russian hipsters, who seem much too interested in Luke’s own personal secret. Faced with multiple challenges and his emerging paranormal identity, Luke must decide who to trust as he creates his own destiny.


2. I am so excited that Joseph Bruchac is coming to UMS! His books are awesome (well I don’t know about the scary books because I rarely read scary books, but the ones I have read have been great)!

3. Wolf Mark is Bruchac’s latest book. I read the summary and thought “whoa… there is a lot going on in this book”. True. But it all fits together. Bruchac has done a wonderful job of mixing modern with ancient, fantasy with science fiction, and action with emotion.
Right off the bat this book reminded me of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. Yes, both books reference wolves, but that isn’t why. Wolf Mark, like Shiver, give a voice to those trying to find their true identity and make a path for themselves in this world (even if the path is of ancient legends and truth). Bruchac’s writing flowed along with just enough description to allow me to become enchanted with the characters and enough dialog to help me understand Luke and his friends.
Each 8th & 7th grade team has a copy of this book and the library has a copy (hopefully more soon!) and I would definitely recommend that as many people as possible read this book. It’s a suspenseful tale that will spark your imagination and make you wonder what everyone is really like.