15 December 2010

Great Book Gift Ideas for Middle Grade Readers - Round One

Here are some books you may like to ask for (or give) at Christmas this year!

Round One: For the sports fanatics:
  • MIKE LUPICA!  Did you catch that?  A prominent sports writer in general, he is also, in my humble opinion, Mr. Young-Adult-Sports-Fiction.  Million Dollar Throw is his latest sports novel.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls may appeal to the young outdoorsmen in your midst.  Hiking and hunting abound in this classic.
  • Jerry Spinelli's Crash and Maniac Magee stealthily hide some of those great life lessons about growing up in tales about football (Crash) and running (Maniac Magee).
  • Now, I must confess that I have not read these next two, but John Feinstein's Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl and Last Shot fit the bill for this category and have gotten some positive reviews for this age group.
  • You may also want to check out some athlete biographies geared towards this age group.  Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton is a particular favorite of mine.

15 November 2010

Of Beetles and Angels by Mawi Asgedom

Another great addition to my growing non-fiction repertoire. Of Beetles and Angels is the author's account of his transition from a refugee camp in Sudan as  young boy to eventual Harvard graduate and full-tuition scholarship recipient.  The author's tone flows easily and reads like a letter from a friend.  He remains accessible and engaging despite the tough issues his experience inherently encounters without discounting the struggles or depressing the reader.  Like Mawi, the reader finds ways to remain hopeful through the tougher stuff.  Through the stern reminders, stories, and lectures of his father, the shining example of his older brother, his mother's remembrances of home, and his own determination, Mawi is truly a force to be reckoned with in his Chicago community.  Don't be mistaken - Mawi and his family are not perfect.  They are a great example, though, of the power behind hope, faith, and determination presented in a way that I believe would be interested even to disinterested readers.

25 October 2010

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (Young Reader's Edition)

I want to start off by dispelling some myths about this book so that misconceptions do not keep anyone from reading it.  It was a great book, and I highly recommend it.
  • Myth #1 - This book is about how the government should fix education or this book is about how the government should fix Afghanistan:
    • I remember this title being all over the bookstores about two years ago, but I was hesitant to read it due to my sometimes-aversion to non-fiction.  Also, being a teacher, I am sometimes nervous about books about education because I think I will be too invested in the topic, and I may get defensive or irritated.  Let me tell you right now - This is not a book about what is right and wrong in education.  Thank goodness!  If it was, why would you, a young adult, pick it up?  So read away!  This is not an instructional book on how to have good schools.  phew.
    • Similarly, this is not a book on how to fix Afghanistan.  Greg Mortenson is certainly helping Afghanistan and hopes that others will join him, but he is not professing to have the end-all-be-all fix from America.  Thank goodness, again.  If he was trying to say that, I would probably get annoyed.
    • Fear not, young readers, this book is not telling you what to do.  Although, I hope you will be inspired by the example it sets.
  • Myth #2 - The Young Reader's Edition is babyish.
    • Well that's just not true.  It is at a young adult level.  It is readable and engaging for pre-teens and teens without you feeling like it is too easy.  It will stretch you!  That being said, I don't think the regular version is too difficult for any of you, either.  If you are interested in this book, take a look at both editions and choose the one that suits you - either way, you're getting a good read.  That being said, I'm using the Young Reader's Edition for this review
Greg Mortenson starts off trying to climb K2 in honor of his sister.  Opening with this event, the book jumps straight into the true-adventures genre.  He gets lost, nearly dies, is rescued, is taken in by virtual strangers, and make new friends for life within the span of the first few chapters.  Wow!  After this experience, Greg is burdened with a desire to help the village that welcomes him in as a stranger by building them a bridge and school.  It does not go easily at first.  There are set-backs and moments of discouragement both stateside and abroad.  At one point, Greg is even living out of his car to save money.  He is also kidnapped and held hostage in Pakistan!  Provisions and aid come through, though, exactly when they are needed.  Before too long, Greg is building schools and bridges all over Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I like the Young Reader's Edition, in particular, because of all the extras it gives you.  It is kind of like getting a super-loaded special features menu on a DVD.  There is a wealth of full-color and black and white photos; there are interviews with his daughter, Amira; and there is a lot of good information on his charities.  This book breaks down the barrier between "girl books" and "boy books"  and mixes adventure together well with a close look at another culture and what is being done to help that culture.

24 September 2010

Non-Fiction Series

If you are in my 8th grade Language Arts class, the upcoming titles to be featured on the blog will look pretty familiar to you.  We are reading a collection of non-fiction books that all examine individuals who have overcome hardships.  I used to shy a way from non-fiction.  One of my large purposes for reading was to escape from the real world and live in someone elses imagination for a little while.  This possibility is still one of the great appeals of reading for me.  However, I am learning to appreciate non-fiction more and more.  Excitement, adventure, inspiration, and intrique does not just exist in the imaginations of others but also in this great big world we live in.  As I have been revisiting the titles we are examining in class, I have been reminded of all the great things these books have to offer and would  love to share these glimpses into the world around us with you, dear reader.  Not all of the books are considered Young Adult Literature.  They were written for a wide and varied audience, but are still topically and stylistically appropriate for both young adults their preceding generations.  So what is to come?  Here is a glimpse at the Bookshelf's playlist for the next couple of weeks:
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Young Reader Edition adapted by Sarah Thomson)
  • Of Beetles and Angels by Mawi Asgedom
  • Behind Enemy Lines: A Young Pilot's Story by H.R. Demallie
Non-Fiction, here we come!

08 September 2010

Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic

Now that I have read Zlata's Diary, I am surprised that I had not read, or even heard of it, sooner.  I am glad to have finally discovered it, though.  I picked it up after reading about it in The Freedom Writer's Diaries and hearing what an impact it had made in the lives of those students.  (They even got to meet Zlata!)  I can see why.

Zlata's Diary tells her story in a voice that is raw and honest as well as relate-able and engaging.  Zlata is eleven when she starts writing to Mimmy, her diary.  The war in Bosnia had not yet been loosed in Zlata's hometown of Sarajevo when she began writing in 1991.  She is a typical fifth grader worrying about her grades and looking forward to weekend trips to the mountain.  Within a few short months of her first entry, however, war has arrived in Sarajevo.  Neither Zlata nor her beloved city will be the same again.  The reader experiences the war through Zlata's eyes for the next two years until she is a thirteen year old girl, still living in war, missing her childhood, and wise beyond her years.  I think Zlata explains the project best when she writes to Mimmy that, "I wrote to you about the war, about myself and Sarajevo in the war, and the world wants to know about it.  I wrote what I felt, saw and heard, and now people outside of Sarajevo are going to know it." (From the entry marked Thursday, October 14, 1993). 

I appreciated the unique perspective Zlata's Diary offered on the Yugoslav Wars.  The "kids" (read politicians)  to a backseat to the human experience of war as felt and observed by a normal teenage girl in a very abnormal situation.  You don't have to know the politics of 1990s Bosnia to understand Zlata's experiences.  You don't have to understand the particulars of the war to understand her when she says "Of course, I'm 'young,' and politics are conducted by 'grown-ups.'  But I thing we 'young' would do it better.  We certainly wouldn't have chosen war." (From the entry marked Thursday, November 19, 1992).  She doesn't dwell on the ins and outs of the conflict, but questions its existence to begin with. 

Zlata's Diary is not a "girl book" or "boy book."  It is non-fiction with a narrative, story-telling style.  It is very, very real, even for those of us untouched by war.  I can't recommend it enough.

Interested in hearing more about Zlata, beyond just reading her diary?

Check out this site to read a recent interview with Zlata.

She also has a new book that I am interested in reading:  Stolen Voices.

10 June 2010

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

In a small town in the summer, a group of fourteen-year-old friends find new discoveries in everyday occurrences.  Each with their own tale to tell, the lives of Debbie, Patty, Lenny, Hector, and Phil wind in and out of each others' stories.   In the midst of it all, they come together each week to listen to the radio show "Criss-Cross" in the cab of Lenny's dad's truck.  This is a great piece of realistic fiction about growing up.  I liked it reading it now, and I think I would have loved it reading it when I was in middle school.  I admire Hector's goofy self-confidence; he wore a grass skirt to a luau for goodness sake!  I was also impressed with Lenny's mechanical genius.  Most of all, I enjoyed following Debbie as she learns that she is not as ordinary and boring as she thinks.

This is not a book for every reader.  If you like a lot of action or mystery, you will not find it here.  There is no fantasy or science fiction.  It takes place in the 1970s, but there is not enough to classify it as historical fiction.  However, if you are worried that a book that follows a couple teenagers around for a summer can't hold your interest (you are living it after all), it works hard to keep the pace up.  This book is realistic fiction to its core, and that endorsement will hold its own value for many readers.  As the title suggests, the plot line criss-crosses between each of the characters and back again; they each get their own chance at the limelight.  The writing style switches it up every now again, too, criss-crossing between styles.  Just frequently enough to keep you on your toes, you will encounter a chapter presented like a script; or perhaps in a question and answer format; there is even a chapter of haikus.
Here is my haiku in honor of Criss Cross:

Ordinary days
More exciting than they seem
Fun at every turn.

(c) 2005       Publisher:  Greenwillow Books     Number of Pages:  337     Awards:  Newberry Medal Winner

10 May 2010

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

I do not really like running, but I do like the idea of running.  I am not a very good runner, but I can certainly understand the way that Annie feels about it.  She loves running.  This is different from liking something.  Liking is for things like weekends and televisions.  Loving is for things like her grandpa, laughter, and running.  She is not running in order to get somewhere, like her best friend Max.  Annie likes to run barefoot through the town and park where she feels free.  Sometimes I want to break out in a run for these very same reasons.  Some people feel this way when they paint or write or sing or swing a baseball bat.  We all need something, though that lets us free our minds and focus on what is important.

Max is Annie's best friend and running partner, her "sideways shadow."  Though he runs barefoot, too, he runs for completely different reasons.  For Max, his running feet are his tickets out of town.  He wants to make it big, and running is how he plans to do it.  He wants Annie to join the track team with him, but she can't see the point in running around in circles ... in a "herd"... with shoes on ... just to win a medal.

Annie's 7th grade school year is full of changing relationships.  Her relationship with Max is strained over their different viewpoints; her relationship with her grandfather shifts as he begins to lose his memory; her family relationships change as a new baby is welcomed into their home.  Her relationship with running, though, remains constant, keeping her heart strong no matter what changes she may face.  Heartbeat is a novel in verse that lets you run right along side Annie through all the hills and valleys of her 7th grade year.

(c) 2004          Publisher:  Harper Collins          Pages:  180

19 February 2010

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

I was recommending this book to everyone I came across when I first finished reading it!  In Elijah of Buxton, Elijah is an eleven year old boy who is seen as "fra-gile" and extremely gullible.  He also happens to be the first child to be born free in Buxton, Canada - a town for runaway slaves.  It's kind of a big deal!  When he was born, Fredrick Douglass even came to give a big speech ... until Elijah threw up all over him.  Now its time for him to start growing up.  Elijah may have been born free, but he and his best friend, Cooter, are starting to realize some of the realities slavery.  He even ends up going backwards down the underground railway and ends up a hero!  I'm not going to ruin the surprise for you, but you should definitely try this book.  In addition to being an exciting and well-written story, I loved how the characters speak in their own unique dialect.  You may recognize the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, from some other great books like Bud, not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, and Bucking the Sarge.  If you enjoyed those books, I bet you will enjoy this one, too!

(c) 2007       Publisher:  Scholastic     Number of Pages:  341    
Awards:  Newberry Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Award, Scott O'Dell Award, ALA Notable Book, CLA Book of the Year

04 February 2010

Black History Month

February is Black History Month!  Carter G. Woodson was one of the first to organize this remembrance back in 1926 as a week long event.  February was chosen because it is the birth month of two important figures in African-American History:  Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  This month, the Young Adult Bookshelf would like to join our nation in placing a special spotlight on this important element of American History.  Each week we will take a closer look at a great young adult book that honors African American heritage.  I hope that you will join in by choosing a book along this same theme this month.  If you come across a great find; let us know!

Super Cool Extra Resources:

Click HERE to learn more about Black History Month!

Below, I've included a short clip from the local news here in Atlanta so you can see how other students are celebrating this month:

08 January 2010

Neat Author Video!

Earlier, I reviewed the book Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.  Today I found a neat video of the author herself reading a brief passage from the book.  Check-out the link below, and it may help you decide whether or not this book is for you!

Esperanza Rising Video

07 January 2010

Hate That Cat by Shannon Creech

Jack is a dog kind of person.  He wants nothing to do with the creepy black cat that is sometimes waiting at his bus stop.  Once he gets to school his teacher, Mrs. Stretchberry, is going to spend the whole year on poetry.  I know that some of you may be smiling now, but many of you may be saying "Ugh!  That poor, poor boy."  Writing may not be Jack's favorite activity, but this year he has to write letters to his Language Arts teacher about what they are learning.  This book is made up entirely of Jack's letters.  Don't worry - you don't have to read the teacher's letters at all!  In the book, Jack explains that he doesn't like writing long lines, just short ones, so that's what he does.  Some times lines have just
As Jack's random thoughts enter his letters you learn a lot about him.  He loves dogs.  His mother is deaf.  He hates cats.  Even thought his letters are written to a teacher, they are funny and sound like you are listening to one of your friends.  You will like this book if you like poetry, but you will also really like this book if you are afraid of poetry.  This would be an easy book to read over a weekend, or maybe in just one night!  I hope that you give it a shot.

(c)  2008           Publisher:  HarperCollins            Number of Pages:  160

06 January 2010

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

I must admit that I did not have high hopes for this book, but I can now understand why many people enjoy it.  It has action and adventure, but it is not all action and adventure.  Multiple mysteries build suspense and carry the reader along.  In the book, Eragon discovers an odd stone in the mountains near his home.  This discovery soon proves to be a dragon egg, and Eragon becomes the first in a new generation of a group called the "Dragon Riders."  In the past, the Dragon Riders had kept the kingdom safe and created peace throughout.  They have been gone for a long time, though, and the kingdom is in desperate need of a hero.  Eragon learns how to be just such a hero from Brom, his town's storyteller, who is wiser than anyone knows.  Together, Brom, Eragon, and Eragon's dragon, Saphira, set off on a journey that will change the kingdom forever.  At first, I was a little disappointed in the character of Eragon because he only seemed to want revenge for the men who hurt his family.  However, through his long and dangerous journey, Eragon soon learns that he needs to use his gifts to free and help all of his fellow countrymen from the king out to control them all.  I liked how at times Eragon and Saphira's relationship almost had the same feel as one of those "a boy and his dog books."  I also really enjoyed the character of Brom who was like a father to Eragon and the kind of mentor I think we would all like to have.  This is not the type of book I would normally choose for myself, but I am glad that I did.  I think you would like this book if you like adventure or fantasy.  Girls should not be turned off by this book just because it has action.  This story is very much about the journey more than the destination.  You would also like this book if you like to challenge yourself; it uses strong vocabulary and even some made-up words.  It is impressive that the author was only seventeen when he wrote it!  Take a look through the pages and see what you think.  You might be surprised!

(c) 2002            Published by:  Knopf             Number of pages:  497

03 January 2010

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Many of us have read and enjoyed "rags to riches" stories.  These are those tales where characters have it pretty tough to begin with, but end up with the wealth they deserve.  It could be a story like "Cinderella," who starts as a maid and ends up a princess, or it could be like "Spiderman,"  who begins as a teenager frequently picked on and ends up a superhero.  Esperanza, from Munoz' Esperanza Rising, is unlikely to be found in any such story, though.  Instead, she begins by living a rich and privileged life on her families plantation and vineyard in Mexico and, through unfortunate circumstances, ends up living in a compound for Migrant workers in California on the cusp of the Great Depression.  

Now wait a minute before you write this book off.  I know that at this point you may be thinking, "Why would I want to read such a sad story?"  This is why:  Esperanza learns that fortune, riches, and beauty cannot be counted as you hold them in your hand or reside in the land beneath your feet.  Fortunes, riches, and beauty must travel with you and in you.

In addition to having a back-wards fairy tale like story, there is also a good dose of action as Esperanza uses the lessons she has learned to save the lives of her family members and friends.

Though at times you want to feel sorry for Esperanza, I certainly think that she will leave you smiling in the end.

(c) 2000    Published by: Scholastic    Number of Pages: 262    Awards: Pura Belpre Award

01 January 2010

The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember) by Jeanne DuPrau

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who liked The Giver by Lois Lowry. Although it has a female protagonist, I feel that it would still be enjoyed by boys as well. Lina and Doon are two twelve year old citizens of what could be considered a "lost" city. However, the City of Ember is all they have known and all they really know to exist. Things in the city are corrupt and crumbling. They can only hope that there is a world outside of their own and that they can find a way to it. I think that this book shows a great example of kids doing something big and important even if the world thinks they can't. For those of you who are worried it might be too much science-fiction, don't worry; it doesn't really fit that genre at all.  It is equally parts mystery, adventure, friendship, and family. Overall, nicely done.  If you end up liking this book, you are in luck!  It is the first in a series of books.  The next one is called The People of Sparks, and I hope to read it soon.

(c)2004     Published by: Yearling     Pages: 270     Awards:  An ALA Notable Book