Archive for November, 2008

Review of Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Monday, November 10th, 2008

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Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Book #1 of the Shadow Children series

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000.  153 pages.

I finally read the first book in this series, having completely forgotten that I read the second book already, Among the Imposters (http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/amongimpostors.html ).

This book sets the stage for the series.  Luke lives on a farm.  He’s never gone off the farm or seen anyone outside his family, but he was able to help with chores — until the woods got cut down and a housing development was built behind their house.

Now Luke must not even go in a room with an open window, for fear someone might see him.  Luke is the third child in his family, and in this future society, third children are illegal.

However, Luke finds a way to look outside and watch his new, rich neighbors.  When one family — mother, father, and two children — have all left the house, he notices someone else still moving around.  Could there be another third child living in hiding.

I read this book with our Homeschoolers’ Book Group at the library.  The kids’ reaction was mixed.  Most didn’t like the ending, which sets up the rest of the series.  Still, Margaret Peterson Haddix does a good job of quickly setting the stage and helping us understand this alternate world.  The suspense is high as we worry with Luke that he will get caught — or else never get to go out of the house again.

This book was read by one of the teachers in the local middle school, and then many kids came to the library looking for more in the series.  It won’t hook every kid, but those who get hooked want to find out what happens next.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/among_the_hidden.html

Review of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

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Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2008.  328 pages.

Starred Review

http://www.bloomsburyusa.com/

“Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.  The months when summer should have given the land respite were cold and damp, and the winter months were snow filled and colder still.  The people said the cold had lasted a hundred years, and feared that it would last a hundred more.  It was not a natural winter, and no one knew what witch or troll had caused the winds to howl so fiercely.”

Here’s a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”

When a ninth child is born to a poor woodcutter in the far north, the mother is so disappointed the baby is a girl, she doesn’t even give the baby a name.  However, this lass is destined to change the family’s fortunes.

Jessica Day George beautifully fleshes out the story, putting us firmly on the side of this brave lass who cares about her loved ones enough to defy the powerful queen of the trolls.

The only thing that hurt my enjoyment of this story was that I already have read a much-loved retelling of this same fairy tale, East ( www.sonderbooks.com/YAFiction/east.html ).  It’s been a long time since I read that version, but it feels somehow disloyal to that book to like this new version so much.  These are both books I will want to reread, but I will have to alternate which one I read, in order to keep from comparing them.  Both are beautifully done, each with their own take on the story.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/sun_and_moon_ice_and_snow.html

Review of Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale (Audiobook)

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

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Princess Academy

by Shannon Hale

Read by Laura Credidio and The Full Cast Family

Full Cast Audio, 2007.  8 compact discs.  7 hours, 21 minutes.

Starred Review.

Winner of a 2006 Newbery Honor Award.

http://www.fullcastaudio.com/

http://www.squeetus.com/

I read and reviewed this book in the print version when it first came out.  ( http://www.sonderbooks.com/YAFiction/princessacademy.html )

At the time, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with the book as with Shannon Hale’s other books.  I think it suffered just a little because my expectations were so tremendously high.  This time, listening to Full Cast Audio’s fabulous production (complete with songs sung in between the chapters), the book was even better than I remembered it.

I think the problem before may have been that I read the book too quickly.  There are some issues at the beginning where I wasn’t quite tracking with Miri.  She felt like her obviously loving Pa was ashamed of her.  She was prejudiced against lowlanders.  And she was trying to get out of going to the Academy even when it would get her family in trouble.

However, all of those issues are resolved, and as the story goes, it gets better and better.  I like the way Miri discovers the magic of the mountain and all the village girls learn to use it together.  I like the way friendships are formed, and Miri becomes proud of her heritage.  There’s danger and cleverness, and even a sprinkle of romance.

Full Cast Audio’s production, as always, enhances the book beautifully.  They truly use a full cast of different voices for different characters.  This production made an already wonderful book even better.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/princess_academy_audio.html

Review of Millie in the Snow, by Alexander Steffensmeier

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

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Millie in the Snow

by Alexander Steffensmeier

Walker & Company, New York, 2008.  First published in Germany in 2007 as Lieselotte im Schnee.  28 pages.

Starred Review

http://www.walkeryoungreaders.com/

Millie’s back!  Hooray!

Millie the bovine mail carrier stars in a new silly story, this time about Christmas.  Originally written in Germany, I was delighted by the pictures, bringing back memories of German Christmases.

Millie no longer ambushes the mail carrier.  Now she assists him.  At Christmastime, they are busier than ever.  However, Millie has trouble finding her way home in the deep snow, and the packages lose their tags.

Once again, the hilarity of this book is primarily contained in the amazingly expressive illustrations.  As a bonus, along with the exuberantly illustrated main story, there are multiple antics taking place in the background.

Millie is not your typical cow, and this is not your typical Christmas book.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/millie_in_the_snow.html

Review of Punished, by David Lubar

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

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Punished!

by David Lubar

Darby Creek Publishing, 2006.  96 pages.

http://www.davidlubar.com/

http://www.darbycreekpublishing.com/

Logan knew he shouldn’t run in the library.  But how can you keep from it when your friend tags you It?  He certainly didn’t mean to run into that old guy who looked like a retired teacher.

Logan tries to apologize, but the man says maybe he needs to be punished, and blows some book dust on him.  When Logan leaves the library, suddenly everything he says gets people groaning or giggling.

It takes Logan awhile to figure out that every sentence he utters comes out as a bad pun.  Soon the old man isn’t the only one planning to punish him.

Logan’s only way to lift the curse involves finding oxymorons, anagrams, and palindromes.  If he can’t find the required number in time, he will be cursed to spout puns forever.

This book celebrates word play in a way that invites the reader to try it for yourself.  It’s a nice quick read for groan boys and girls ready for full-fledged chapter books.  Silly fun with silly puns!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/punished.html

Review of Free for All, by Don Borchert

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

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Free for All

Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

by Don Borchert

Virgin Books, 2007.  223 pages.

Starred Review

I loved this book.  Why should I need to read a book about working in a library?  Haven’t I seen it all myself?  Reading these pages filled me with the delighted recognition that our customers at Herndon Fortnightly Library are not the only eccentrics out there.  Besides, Don Borchert showed me the funny side of the quirky situations that face library employees every day.  He gave me permission to laugh about them.

For example, one afternoon I read this passage:

“Legally, they aren’t required to give us a great deal of information:  a home address, a phone number, a driver’s license if they’d like to show it to us.  But some people are screwed up.  They will make up addresses; they will say they have no phone, no driver’s license.  The less information you have on them, the less able you are to get a hold of them when the books drift overdue and cruise into lost territory.

“Some patrons put down post office boxes as their home address.  This is not a happy thing, because when the patron has $750 worth of missing books it is impossible to knock on their post office box and ask them politely where the books are.  At this point, they are gone.  But if the DMV puts the post office box on their driver’s license, it’s good enough for us.  If it is not on their driver’s license we are dubious.

” ‘I can’t get mail where I live.’

“This statement, too, makes us suspect, because as far as we know the mail goes everywhere.  When we are lied to in the first tentative moments of the relationship, we know it will end in tears, accusations, and large fines.”

In the very next week, we had a potential new customer come in who gave a post office box as his address and wanted a card given to him on the spot.  (Our policy is that we will mail it.)  Two people discussed our policy with him for a half hour before the employees decided to walk away!

I thought it was funny — I just read about that in Free for All!  Of course, I might not have found it so amusing if I had been one of the ones trying to explain our policy.  The customer seemed to think that repeating his excuses for not having a street address over and over again would make us change our policy.

Perhaps I found this book so much fun because working in the generic American public library is still fairly new to me.  I got my start with eight years working in a library on an American military base in Germany, which has very different clientele.  Now for a year and a half, I’ve worked at two public libraries in Virginia, and the situations I have encountered seem to precisely match those described by Don Borchert in a small branch library in Southern California.

In fact, that may be half the fun.  The library where the author works could almost be the exact library that my parents took me to when I was a young child, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Almost forty years later, it’s amusing to realize that library was so much like the one where I work now (though of course without the Internet, or even computerized checkout back in those dark ages).

He did give me a new appreciation for why so many kids hang out at the library after school:

“Four hours a day is too much for a child, too much for most adults.  Even if doing a thing is fun, do you want to keep at it for four hours a day, twenty hours a week?  We are adults.  We are paid to be here.  It is a job — one of those real jobs I had successfully avoided for years.  Four hours a day for a child in the library is close to four hours of minimally supervised hell.

“When a child is dropped off for that many hours, it’s free day care, pure and simple.  The library is heated in the winter, air-conditioned in the summer, there are adults in charge, and there are clean restrooms.  By not thinking about it too closely, or too clearly, parents think they are doing a good turn for their children.  The kids get to catch up with their friends, get a leg up on their homework, and relax after a hard day of schoolwork.  And that is the flawed yet attractive theory they are going with. . . .

“But plenty does happen at the library, especially when you’re given four hours a day to think about it.  You’d think a kid doing homework from 3:30 to 6:30 every day would be cutting a dazzling, high-profile swath through school, but there’s a wrinkle.  We don’t make them do homework.  We are not their parents.  We don’t have a vested interest in their success.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the kids dumped off at the library for three and four hours a day are the same kids who wind up taking summer school because they failed their subjects the first time around.

“Maybe, their disgruntled parents think, if you have to do four hours of homework a day and still don’t understand it, it’s too hard.”

If you work in a library, you need to read this book for the laughs of recognition.  If you don’t work in a library, your eyes will be opened to see that it’s much more than the ultimate quiet job.  Libraries do provide an interesting perspective on human nature.

I love the description of libraries Don Borchert gives to open his book:

“A library is an idea more than anything else, and it is an idea that is impossible to swallow in one or two big bites.  The library is patrician, elitist, and democratic, stocking biographies of NASCAR drivers, pornography, antidemocratic literature, comic books, and the works of the great thinkers from the past two thousand years.  Once a book hits the shelf, the library is loath to get rid of it no matter what outrage it causes.  The only way a library will discard a book is if it is ignored.  The scandalous ones do not get ignored until they are passe. 

“The library offers books on every subject imaginable, in a variety of languages, and offers state-of-the-art computers with free word processing and Internet services.  A mecca for scholars and students of all ages, the library is the dullest place in the world — 91 percent of the time.  It also attracts the homeless, the mentally ill, occasional pedophiles, Internet junkies, unattended children down to the age of two, con artists, thieves, beggars, cultish homeschoolers, and people who are in general angry with every level of state and federal government.  Most of these people decide to fill out an application and get a library card.

“This makes librarians inordinately happy.  We love seeing new patrons wandering around, browsing, looking at what’s on the shelves.

“Why?

“Because there is a belief that once you begin to open books, you will become a better person.  It is Pandora’s box, but in a good way.  You are inching toward the promised land, page by page.  And it doesn’t matter if you subscribe to this theory or not.  The subscription has already been bought and paid for.

“We are all misfits, poseurs, and clowns.  We are heartbroken and lonely, failures in life, criminals and frauds.  Most of our successes are pleasant illusions.  Through the books on the shelves, the library becomes a support group and lets us know that we are not alone.  Once we realize we are not alone, we can relax, set our burdens down, and move on.”

Truly, this book shows us that as library workers, we are not alone.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/free_for_all.html