Friday, March 28, 2008

UNDONE by Brooke Taylor

Although their friendship is just beginning, compared to Serena's other friend relationships, Kori has had an amazing amount of influence on Serena. Just to look at them, one would think they were sisters. Serena has changed her hair style and color and the way she dresses since meeting Kori. She now sports a pierced tongue, and a tattoo is probably not far behind. After meeting Kori, Serena's confidence increases. She is more able to deal with her unpredictable mother and the absence of a father she never knew.

There is something mysterious about Kori, and yet Serena feels Kori understands her better than anyone else ever has. They both have family issues involving parents who don't really "get" them, and school is a place of discomfort for both of them. Serena manages to score high marks while Kori's grades are terrible. But it's not classwork; it is the social scene with the perky, blonde cheerleader types and the muscle-bound jocks that frustrate the girls.

The more Serena gets to know Kori, the more she realizes she doesn't know. When a tragic accident takes Kori's life, Serena is determined to find some answers and at the same time complete a list of tasks Kori created as a classroom assignment. While completing the task list, Serena learns not only Kori's secrets, but also a few of her own.

This is a first novel by Brooke Taylor,and if this is any indication of her talent, she is sure to go far.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


The complete title of this work is THE PILLAR OF LIGHT: The Legends of Milana. It begins the adventures of Nani val Dynia and the six pillars in a strange and mysterious land.

Nani's story begins when a tall stranger brings her to the home of Doc and Ruth Miller. They are missionaries in Brazil, and are stunned when the stranger arrives carrying the injured and bound Nani. He tells them only her name and hands them a mysterious necklace. Then he asks them to keep Nani and necklace safe and leaves as mysteriously as he came.

Nani becomes part the missionary couple's life over the next three years. She is welcomed by the natives and learns their ways. When a group of high school students arrives, Nani volunteers to take them to a nearby village. Their trip is uneventful until Nani makes a sharp turn on the road and nearly runs into the tall stranger standing in the middle of the road. She swerves to avoid him, sending the truck over a cliff.

When the teens awaken from the crash, they discover they are no longer in Brazil and perhaps not even on the planet Earth. They wander in the forest until they are found by a man named Kalin. He takes care of them and begins to explain the strange world they have landed in. It soon becomes obvious that Nani is really from this world, and she holds a secret that could save those living there.

THE PILLAR OF LIGHT is the start of a new series sure to be a success with readers of fantasy and science fiction. Nani and her friends will be returning to continue their adventures as they solve the mysteries of the remaining five pillars.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I just had the pleasure of listening to Patrick Jones, author of THINGS CHANGE, NAILED, and CHASING TAIL LIGHTS, speak to a group of students at our public library. He was fantastic!

Patrick mentioned last fall that he would be visiting Michigan in March, and he agreed to come to our small, southeast Michigan community. At a population of only 2200, our venue is much smaller than most places he visits. The audience consisted of mostly high school students and a few 8th graders.

Most interesting to me was his description of how he arrived at the idea for each of his books. He gave examples of the thought processes used to create his characters and story-lines. Now I need to re-read his books to better understand what he discussed.

As a teacher, I appreciate that he involved the students and made them feel that he valued their opinions and concerns. I'm sure they will be talking about his visit for some time.

Thanks to Patrick for his willingness to share his time with a small town and its teens.

Patrick has two new books coming out in 2008. CHEATED will be released April 1, and another book is due out in October.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

SWINDLE by Gordon Korman

Griffin Bing always had a plan. This time it involved a sleepover at the Old Rockford House. It was scheduled to be demolished the next day. Griffin had invited just about everyone and was very disappointed that only his best friend, Ben, showed up.

A group of the kids had the idea that the city could build a skate park on the property when the creepy, old house was torn down, but the city officials had other ideas. They thought a museum was a better idea. Griffin had organized the sleepover hoping to get the attention their plan deserved. Instead, all he got was a night in his sleeping bag listening to his friend Ben snore.

Not wanting to leave without a little adventure, the boys did a little exploring before they left. Griffin accidentally discovered a secret drawer, and tucked in that drawer was a card – an old baseball card with a picture of Babe Ruth. He was sure it was valuable and would help solve his parents’ financial problems.

After a narrow escape from the wrecking ball, Griffin and Ben hurry to Palomino’s Emporium of Collectibles and Memorabilia to get the opinion of an expert. Much to their disappointment, S. Wendell Palomino gives them bad news. The card is a reproduction and worth very little. He offers them $120, and they take the money and run.

Imagine their surprise and fury when the nightly news is carrying the story of one S. Wendell Palomino and his incredible discovery of a valuable baseball trading card valued at $1,000,000. What follows is Griffin’s new plan to get back the card he believes is rightfully his.

Gordon Korman has once again created a story sure to captivate middle grade audiences. His adventurous characters, great use of humor, and non-stop action make SWINDLE great fun to read.

Friday, March 14, 2008

THE GAME OF MY LIFE: A True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing Up Autistic by Jason "J-Mac" McElwain

THE GAME OF MY LIFE is about Jason McElwain, the high school senior who scored six three point shots for his basketball team. You may remember having heard about him on the news back in 2006. It wouldn't have been so unusual, except he was just the team manager not a regular player, and he suffered from autism.

Diagnosed with severe autism as a toddler, many people never expected Jason to communicate with others or even attend public school, let alone possibly break a high school basketball scoring record. He tells his unique story with the help of author Daniel Paisner.

The book is written in Jason's clear, direct, and inspiring voice. His story is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about autism, especially those interested in hearing a story about success in coping with this complicated and often misunderstood condition.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

MARCH BOOK SUGGESTIONS courtesy of some interesting 8th grade readers...

Once again I asked my students for a list of the titles they would recommend. So without further ado, here are their suggestions.

TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer

NOVEMBER BLUES by Sharon Draper

GET WELL SOON by Julie Halpern

GYM CANDY by Carl Deuker

GAME by Walter Dean Myers

THINGS CHANGE by Patrick Jones

NAILED by Patrick Jones
(Patrick Jones is visiting our local public library on March 17th. We are very excited!)

STONER & SPAZ by Ron Koertge

BLACK AND WHITE by Paul Volponi

THE RIFLE by Gary Paulsen

TEEN ANGST... NAAH by Ned Vizzini

GRIND by Eric Walters

SKATE by Michael B. Harmon

VAMPIRE KISSES series by Ellen Schreiber

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NOVEMBER BLUES by Sharon Draper

If you are like me, a long-time Sharon Draper fan, be sure to check out NOVEMBER BLUES, the sequel to THE BATTLE OF JERICHO.

Both Jericho and November have been through a lot. Both of them are just trying to get through their junior year without crumbling under the weight of the loss of their friend. After the tragic and sensless accident that took Josh's life and changed their lives forever, they have tried to be there to support each other and find a way to move on.

For Jericho it means giving up his trumpet and the music that meant so much. He decides the hard-hitting contact of the football team might help ease his pain. His split with Arielle hasn't helped matters much either, but focusing on this new pastime, November, and Olivia, his friend from band, is better than moping around at home.

November is dealing with an entirely different situation. After months of feeling sad and depressed, she finally admits there might be something more causing her physical pain. A pregnancy test reveals the truth - she's going to have Josh's child. Her mother is furious one minute and disappointed the next. Her future college plans are looking dim at best. Did she even love Josh enough to consider changing her life and taking on the responsibility of raising their child alone?

Sharon Draper is at her best as she takes readers back into the world of November and Jericho. It only took a few chapters to literally suck me back into their lives so that I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. Draper paints a realistic picture of the terrible tragedy of the earlier book and the new painful reality of a resulting teen pregnancy and lives that must move forward. There is just the right mix of gritty truth and future hope to satisfy most readers. Be sure to get your hands on a copy soon.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Bernetta knows what it is like to have someone you consider to be a friend turn against you. In fact it's now happened to her more than once. Who is a girl supposed to trust? Maybe not even herself.

Accused of running a cheating ring in her private school, Bernetta finds herself without a scholarship to Mount Olive for next year. Because of her problems at school, she is also grounded for the entire summer. She needs $9,000 in her bank account if she hopes to return to Mount Olive for seventh grade, and babysitting appears to be the only thing she is qualified to do. Then Bernetta meets Gabe, and he offers to cut her in on the action he has planned for the summer.

Using the slight-of-hand skills she has learned at her father's magic club, Trunk Number Eight, Bernetta and Gabe, a self-professed con-artist, join forces to earn some serious money. Instead of reporting to her fake babysitting gig, Bernetta meets Gabe at the mall where they begin running scam after scam to earn the money she needs to replace her lost scholarship. After all, it's for a good cause, so how could anyone object.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until Ashley Johansson shows up. She is to blame for Bernetta's trouble at school and the suspended scholarship, and now here she is threatening even more trouble. Can Bernetta get what she needs and still find a way to live with her actions? One thing she does learn is that everyone has more than one option in life; it's just about which option you choose.

Lisa Graff's THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF BERNETTA WALLFLOWER is whirlwind adventure in petty crime and accepting the consequences of one's decisions. Bernetta's story is sure to entertain, but at the same time, present readers with challenging questions about doing the right thing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

CANNED by Alex Shearer

Fergal's parents often worry about him. He is a loner and a bit of an eccentric. They like to think he is clever, but sometimes even being clever is just plain weird.

A recent visit to the grocery store with his mother has Fergal excited about something new. While at the store, he discovered the wonders of the "bargain bin." It is where items with bumps and dents and nearly expired dates go to be rescued by some value-minded shopper. What Fergal finds in the bargain bin is a shiny can missing its label. The mystery of the unidentified can inspires Fergal to begin a collection. Fergal becomes obsessed with label-free cans. In no time at all his collection grows to over 40 cans. His parents think it is a bit strange but hopefully harmless.

When the collection takes over the bookshelf in Fergal's room, his mother insists that for each new can he finds he must open one of the old ones. She considers it a waste to just collect the things and not use the contents. This leads to Fergal's gruesome discovery.

One might think that Fergal is the only person to think of collecting unlabeled cans, but he bumps into a fellow can-collector at the store one day. Her name is Charlotte. She has also opened several of her cans and found something equally as gruesome as Fergal. Together they set out to solve the mystery.

CANNED offers misfit characters, humor, and just the right amount of "gross" stuff to satisfy typical middle grade and teen readers. Even though the story is set in England and uses British jargon, most readers will relate to Fergal and Charlotte as they quietly carry on their investigation under the noses of clueless adults. Alex Shearer's wacky adventure is well worth checking out.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


It all starts when Ted's cousin Salim comes to visit. Salim and his mother are about to move to New York City and have planned a family visit in London before their departure. Of course, what is a visit to London without a ride on the London Eye. That's when the trouble begins.

Ted and his older sister Kat haven't seen much of their cousin in the past. The visit starts out on a wrong note because of the unusual sleeping arrangements required by their tiny house. Kat is unhappy about bunking on the couch, and Ted is unhappy with the disruption of his whole routine. As Ted explains, he suffers from a "syndrome" which he defines by stating that his brain runs on "a different operating system" than everyone else. His judgment of other people's emotional responses is a bit off, and his views of the world around him tend to be quite literal. (I'm guessing that he suffers from some form of autism.)

Salim turns out to be quite a pleasant visitor. His only request is to take a ride on the London Eye, a massive ferris wheel attraction in the center of London. When the cousins and their mothers arrive at the Eye, they find the ticket line and actual ride line disappointingly long. Relief comes when a stranger offers one ticket, free of charge, to Salim. Ted and Kat eagerly accept the ticket and pocket the original ticket money from their mother as they rush Salim to the waiting ride.

The mystery begins when Salim doesn't disembark from the London Eye at the conclusion of his ride. Was he kidnapped? Did he actually go on the ride? How could he have vanished so completely?

THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY is a must-read mystery for middle grades and up. Quirky characters, London scenery, and a who-dun-it style combine to make this a sure hit. Siobhan Dowd, author of A SWIFT PURE CRY, has outdone herself once again.

NOTE: I recently learned that Siobhan Dowd passed away in August of 2007. Her talent will be missed.