Archive for January, 2011

Review of Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Dairy Queen

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
read by Natalie Moore

Listening Library, 2006. 5 CDs; 6 hours, 9 minutes.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Other Teen Fiction

I’d heard a lot about Dairy Queen, but never got around to reading it until I heard that Catherine Gilbert Murdock was speaking at the local MAYALIG (Metropolitan Area Young Adult Librarians’ Interest Group) conference. I had loved Princess Ben, so I definitely wanted to hear her speak, and thought I might as well listen to Dairy Queen, even though I don’t usually like sports novels.

I loved Dairy Queen. In fact, I did something I don’t usually do and when I was close to the end, I couldn’t stand it and brought the CD into the house to finish listening.

In this book we’ve got the classic romantic plot. Boy meets Girl and they can’t stand each other. But they are thrown together and get to know each other, and things change.

However, the classic plot has never before been told in quite this way! We’ve got football and cows and a girl who’s definitely not the usual type to date the high school quarterback.

D.J. Schwenk lately has had to take on most of the work at her parents’ dairy farm. She had to drop out of basketball her sophomore year to do the milking. Her family doesn’t talk: Her little brother hardly at all, and her two older brothers, who are off at college, don’t talk to the family ever since the big fight.

D.J.’s older brothers were legendary football players in their small town of Red Bend, Wisconsin. So D.J. knows a lot about training football players. Their family friend is the coach of the archrival team at Hawley. He tells Brian Nelson that if he wants to play quarterback next year, he should learn how to work this summer — on the Schwenk farm.

At first D.J. and Brian detest one another. D.J. thinks he’s a lazy whiner, and Brian thinks D.J. is just like the family’s cows. But D.J. knows a thing or two about football, and as she spends the summer training Brian, they start talking. Brian’s Mom is a family therapist, so he knows how important it is to talk. D.J., however, neglects to tell him some crucial things — like the fact that she’s planning to try out for the Red Bend football team — and play against Brian.

I was completely hooked by this audiobook. I love romance that’s done slowly — like real life, with misunderstandings and a slow coming together. D.J. and Brian come from very different worlds, and even if they can come together in romance, can their relationship get through facing each other on the football field?

This is a sports novel and a romance and a family story, all rolled into one, with characters you’ll come to love. If you told me this was a book about a girl who joins the boys’ football team, I wouldn’t be interested. But it’s a great story about a feisty girl who doesn’t want to live life as a cow.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Comments Are Back!!!

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Hooray! I took a lot of time. Looked at the Yahoo Web Hosting help. Looked at the WordPress forums. I tried a couple things. I looked at my phpmyadmin installation, and it said the comments table was busy. I looked around some more, and figured out how to ask it to “repair” that table.

It worked! All my comments are back! Huzzah! Calloo! Callay!

That took some time, but I’m very happy it worked. During the Comment Challenge is NOT the time to lose all comments.

Though anyone who commented in the last few weeks, I think your comments are probably gone. Though I will check spam just in case.

2011 Comment Challenge

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Hooray! Mother Reader is again hosting a Comment Challenge, along with Lee Wind. Here’s the challenge: within 21 days, post 100 comments on other blogs. It’s a lot of fun, and gets you roaming around the kidlitosphere supporting other blogs and letting people know they’re being heard.

One catch for me: WordPress recently ate all the comments on my blog, for some unknown reason. So I’m going to test and try to put a comment on my own blog and see if it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll know not to expect anyone’s comments. Also, people who have commented before may be asked to register afresh. We shall see. But I will be out there posting comments.

Note: Sure enough, something’s wrong. It may be related to the fact that I haven’t yet upgraded my blog to WordPress 3.0.4. Not sure I want to try that until I have plenty of time to mess with it, though. Perhaps this weekend.

Update: I tried upgrading, and it actually went much much more smoothly than earlier updates, and didn’t take much time at all. However, it didn’t fix the comments. I tried deactivating and activating Akismet. No change. I tried changing my comment settings. No change. It sees the comment, but sends me an e-mail to approve a blank comment, and doesn’t acknowledge that it exists. Very frustrating during the Comment Challenge! Someone has reported this problem on the WordPress Forum, so I’ll keep checking back.

So don’t bother trying to comment on this blog until further notice!

Further notice: It works! All the comments are back! Hooray!

Review of The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The Story of Stuff

How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health
— And a Vision for Change

by Annie Leonard

Free Press, New York, 2010. 317 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: Other Nonfiction #6

When I checked out this book, my teenage son told me that he had seen the internet video it’s based on, and that was why he had stopped drinking bottled water, and had started drinking tap water from a glass. I was impressed that it would make that much difference.

And I hope it will make some differences in my life, too. This is an eye-opening book that tells the truth behind all our stuff.

Annie Leonard started by studying garbage — being an activist against toxic waste. But eventually, she learned that there’s a bigger system involved. In this book, she takes us through the entire life cycle of Stuff — Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, and Disposal. She shows us problems — and solutions — every step of the way.

She talks about how she became a systems thinker:

“Everywhere I went, I kept asking ‘why?’ and digging deeper and deeper. Why were dumps so hazardous? Because of the toxics in the trash. And why were there toxics in the trashed products to begin with? Answering that question led me to learn about toxics, chemistry, and environmental health. Why were dumps so often situated in lower-income communities where people of color live and work? I started learning about environmental racism.

“And why does it make economic sense to move entire factories to other countries: how can they still sell the product for a couple dollars when it’s traveling so far? Suddenly I had to confront international trade agreements and the influence of corporations on governmental regulations.

“And another thing: why are electronics breaking so fast and why are they cheaper to replace than repair? So I learned about planned obsolescence, advertising, and other tools for promoting consumerism. On the surface, each of these topics seemed separate from the next, unconnected, and a long way from those piles of garbage on the streets of New York City or the forests of the Cascades. But it turns out they’re all connected.”

She makes many insightful points about our national goals:

“A big part of the problem we face today is that our dominant economic system values growth as a goal unto itself, above all else. That’s why we use the gross domestic product, or GDP, as the standard measure of success. It counts the value of goods and services made in a country each year. But it leaves out some really important facets of reality. For starters, GDP doesn’t account for the unequal and unfair distribution of wealth or look at how healthy, satisfied or fulfilled people are….

“Another huge problem with how the GDP is calculated is that the true ecological and social costs of the growth are not accounted for. Industries are usually permitted (both in the sense of being given permits by government as well as generally not being held accountable) to ‘externalize costs,’ which is a fancy phrase economists use to describe the fact that, while companies are busy producingb and selling widgets, they’re not paying for, or even tracking, the side-effects they cause, like contaminating groundwater, exposing communities to carcinogens, or polluting the air.

“This is totally messed up: while on the plus side, GDP counts activities that cause pollution and cancer (such as factories making pesticides or polyvinyl chloride) as well as activities to clean up that pollution and treat the cancer (such as environmental remediation and medical care), there is no deduction in the GDP for the pollution released into the air or water or the loss of a forest….

“For the powers that be — the heads of government and industry — the undisputed goal of our economy is a steady improvement in the GDP, aka growth. Growth as a goal has supplanted the real goals, the things growth was supposed to help us achieve. What I and many others have come to see — and as I hope this book makes abundantly clear — is that too often, as a strategy, focusing on growth for growth’s sake undermines the real goals. Too much of what gets counted toward ‘growth’ today — tons of toxic consumer goods, for example — undermines our net safety, health, and happiness.”

This is a fascinating, well-thought-out, eye-opening look at the systems that keep us taking, making, selling, using, and trashing Stuff. The author says at the end of the introduction:

“My goal with this book (and the film upon which it’s based) is to unpack the Story of Stuff — the flow of materials through the economy — as simply as possible. My aim is never to make you feel guilty (unless you are the head of Chevron, Dow Chemical, Disney, Fox News, Halliburton, McDonald’s, Shell, or the World Bank); it should be clear that the fundamental problem I identify here is not individual behavior and poor lifestyle choices, but the broken system — the deadly take-make-waste machine. I hope reading the Story helps inspire you to share information with people in your life about issues like toxics in cosmetics, the problems with incineration and recycling, and the flaws in the IMF’s economic policies….

“In the face of so many tough challenges, there are many exciting and hopeful developments that I celebrate in these pages and that I see as steps toward a truly sustainable ecological – economic system. Above all, I invite the citizen in you to become louder than the consumer inside you and launch a very rich, very loud dialogue within your community.”

You get the idea. I believe this is an important book, which can change your thinking and help you see the truth behind the stuff you buy. Think of this as a book to show you the truth and therefore help you make better choices.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, New York, 2010. 398 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9, Teen Fantasy and Science Fiction

If you’ve read Hunger Games and Catching Fire, it definitely won’t take my review to get you to read the third book in the trilogy. In Mockingjay, the rebellion against the Capitol is in full swing, and Katniss once again finds herself the focus of people’s passions and hopes.

Thank goodness there are no Hunger Games in this book. However, the Capitol has some traps that are extremely similar to things that would be faced in the arena….

Normally, when I was this eager to read a book, I would have bought myself a copy. However, in the case of The Hunger Games trilogy, although they are brilliant and powerful and outstanding books — I rather doubt I will much want to read them again, at least not any time soon. Katniss faces some horrible situations. The psychological warfare used against her is horrifying. Although the book is powerful, it’s not exactly pleasant reading.

I still loved the book. It’s exciting, gripping, edge-of-the seat reading. I’ve come to care about Katniss, and I was very pleased that finally she can live happily ever after at the end of this book. With nightmares, but still.

I also think that Mockingjay contained the best love triangle I have ever read. I honestly didn’t know who she’d end up with until the last several pages. And I didn’t have a gut-level preference. I could see how she truly loved each of them, and how they each satisfied a different part of her. What’s more, Suzanne Collins resolved the love triangle in a satisfying way, which arose from the characters of the three people involved. She could have so easily killed one of them off! But instead, Katniss made a choice, and it was a choice the readers believed and sympathized with.

The author included some surprising moral dilemmas, and resolved them in a subtle way. She writes with power and depth. You can call this action-adventure in a dystopian setting. Exciting reading.


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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, New York, 2010. 154 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8, Children’s Fiction

Last night, a friend mentioned that her third grade son is a reluctant reader and is daunted by the thick books some of his classmates are reading. Another friend suggested Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which the mom said her son has, ready to read. That’s when I recommended The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in that it’s set in a middle school, has lots of cartoon drawings to accompany it, is hilarious, and deals with the difficulties of being a middle school student. I liked the Yoda book better, though, and the humor seemed less crass and genuinely funny.

For example, how’s this for a nightmare assembly that the kids have to go to: “Mr. Good Clean Fun and Soapy the Monkey present: ‘Feeling Good About Our Smells.'” Seeing the poster of that event simply makes me laugh.

Tommy starts the narration in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and other classmates contribute their version of the events that happened, the advice yoda gave them, and how it turned out. Here’s how Tommy begins:

“The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?

“Well, of course he’s real. I mean, he’s a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper.

“But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the Force?

“Or is he just a hoax that fooled a whole bunch of us at McQuarrie Middle School?

“It’s REALLY important for me to figure out if he’s real. Because I’ve got to decide whether to take his advice or not , and if I make the wrong choice, I’m doomed! I don’t want to get into all that yet, so for now let’s just say it’s about this really cool girl, Sara, and whether or not I should risk making a fool of myself for her.

“Origami Yoda says to do it, but if he’s wrong . . . total humiliation.

“So I’ve got to know if he’s real. I need solid answers. I need scientific evidence. That’s why I went around and asked everybody who got help from Origami Yoda to tell their stories. Then I put all the stories together in this case file.”

Origami Yoda’s been giving advice to the students at McQuarrie Middle School. When they follow the advice, things work out beautifully. When they don’t, things go wrong. But there’s something very strange about that, in the person of Dwight:

“Dwight is the guy who carries Origami Yoda around on his finger.

“The strangest thing about Origami Yoda is that he is so wise even though Dwight is a total loser.

“I’m not saying that as an insult. It’s just a fact. Dwight never seems to do anything right. Always in trouble. Always getting harrassed by other kids. Always picking his nose. Always finding a way to ‘ruin it for everyone,’ as the teachers say.

“If he would just listen to Origami Yoda’s wisdom, like the rest of us, he would have it made.”

I love the way the author presents what happened and lets us judge for ourselves whether Origami Yoda really has wisdom or not. Besides Tommy, who seems a bit gullible (but look at the facts!), he has Harvey write some commentary from a skeptic at the end of each chapter.

Reading the book as an adult, I’m afraid I was with the skeptics. But I love the way what happens is so ambiguous, you can easily understand the kids believing in Yoda. The situations where Tommy and his friends get Yoda’s help are funny, but definitely realistic. And Tommy ends up finding out what it’s like to really be a friend before it’s all done, so the themes do give any reader food for thought.

I enjoyed this book so much, I made sure to buy my own copy at ALA Annual Conference and get it signed by the author. When I did, a young boy was ahead of me, showing Tom Angleberger the origami yoda he had folded. The author signed it, and I thought that was a great recommendation for the book. (There is a pattern in the back of the book to make your own Origami Yoda.)

A fun read for any age.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

2011 Plans

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Happy New Year!

As you can tell by my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs post below, (Be sure to look it over if you haven’t yet!) I’m way, way behind on writing reviews.

My main problem (besides dealing with job changes and divorce court in the last few months) is that I’m trying to not only write the reviews on this blog, but also post them on my main site, Both things take some time, since I then reset all the links between reviews and upload it all.

It would be simpler if I would just use the blog — but I’m not willing to give up my website. I’ve been writing Sonderbooks since before I’d even heard of blogs — In August 2001, I started it as an e-mail newsletter. For 2010, I was mainly writing the reviews as drafts in the blog, and then posting reviews individually later. That takes too long, and I’m getting way behind.

So — my resolution for 2011 is this: I will write reviews as fast as I can, and post them when written. Then, once a week — usually on Friday or Saturday, whichever is my day off — I will post all the reviews I wrote that week on my main site.

This plan might crash and burn right away — because this week, I want to post the Stand-outs on my site, and that will be a big job. But I’m going to try! This way, people can either follow my blog or check Sonderbooks once a week to see what’s new. Here’s hoping it will work!

For reading plans, right now I’m madly reading the books that the Heavy Medal blog posted for a shortlist for their Mock Newbery. They will be opening voting on Monday, and they don’t want you to vote unless you’ve read all the books on the shortlist. Out of 12 books, I actually have 6 to go. However, I did save the shortest for last, so it’s slightly possible that I might finish the books on time — depending a bit on how long they give you to vote!

I must admit that I’m enjoying the books I’m reading for that list. I finished Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson, last night at 4:00 am, and decided that was close enough to include in my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. Now I’m halfway through Keeper, by Kathi Appelt, and am loving that, too.

So far my hope list for the actual 2011 Newbery Medal (announced January 10) is:

Medal: A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner
Honor Books (in order of my preference):
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan
Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson

If I were betting, instead of hoping, I’d bet on One Crazy Summer, and I admit I’ll be very happy if it wins. But we shall see!

They also announced the Cybils Short Lists today!

Now, I would dearly love to be a Cybils judge, and am planning to apply again this year. I thought it would be fun to read all the books on the Young Adult Fantasy short list. This way, I will see if I can really do it in the time allotted, and if I can really stand to limit my reading to one genre for a couple months. I will be posting more about which books I would like to win as I read them. So far, the only one I’ve read is Plain Kate, by Erin Bow, which I did list as one of my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

Sonderbooks Stand-outs 2010

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Happy New Year! Now that 2010 is over, it’s time for my TENTH annual list of the books I most enjoyed reading in the previous year. I began this tradition on January 1, 2002, when Sonderbooks was still an e-mail newsletter.

I’m not by any means trying to list the “most distinguished” books I read in 2010. My Newbery prediction list is quite different, in fact. Sonderbooks Stand-outs are, plain and simple, the books I enjoyed reading the most, for whatever reason. These are books I give as gifts and urge my friends to read, books that make me smile when I think about my year of reading.

Although I am putting them in order, this order has been changing all day long. All of the books I list here are outstanding, and are books I loved reading.

You may be puzzled that I already have 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs listed on my site. You see, when I started Sonderbooks Stand-outs, I named them after the year where I did the reading. For 2007-2010, though, I decided to imitate the Newbery awards and give them the name of the year they are awarded. However, I’ve changed my mind again. (The beauty of having my own website is I can change my mind as much as I want.) Since many of these books were published in 2010, and I read them in 2010, I’m going to copy the Cybils and call them 2010 Stand-outs. Of course, this means I will need to go back and adjust the stand-outs from the last four years.

I also am way behind on writing reviews: So the ones that I have already reviewed, I will link to the review. The rest, I will review just as soon as possible!

Here are the 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs, beginning with my favorite category, Teen Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Teen Fantasy and Science Fiction
1. A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner
2. Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst
3. Twice a Prince, by Sherwood Smith
4. Pegasus, by Robin McKinley
5. Ascendant, Diana Peterfreund
6. White Cat, by Holly Black
7. Enchanted Ivy, by Sarah Beth Durst
8. Star Crossed, by Elizabeth C. Bunce
9. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Other Teen Fiction
1. Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
2. The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar
3. A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper
4. The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting
5. Suspect, by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Children’s Fiction
1. The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson
2. Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker, pictures by Marla Frazee
3. Plain Kate, by Erin Bow
4. One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
5. The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Peter Sis
6. Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson
7. Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder
8. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Picture Books
1. Katie Loves the Kittens, by John Himmelman
2. Ladybug Girl at the Beach, by David Soman and Jacky Davis
3. A Bedtime for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
4. City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, pictures by Jon J. Muth

Fiction for Grown-Ups
1. Coronets and Steel, by Sherwood Smith
2. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
3. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
4. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
5. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
6. Casting Spells, by Barbara Bretton
7. Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

Nonfiction: True Stories
1. This Is Not the Story You Think It Is, by Laura Munson
2. Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder
3. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
4. Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder
5. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor
6. Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet

Other Nonfiction
1. The Ten Things To Do When Your Life Falls Apart, by Daphne Rose Kingma
2. Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
3. Feel, by Matthew Elliott
4. This Book is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson
5. Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book, edited by Anita Silvey
6. The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard
7. NurtureShock, by Po Bronson

So there they are! My favorite reads of 2010. Within a week or so, I hope to post a new page for these on my main site, as well as get more of the reviews of these books posted.

Please use the comments to tell me what your favorite books read in 2010 were!