Monday, January 31, 2011

THE BIG CRUNCH by Pete Hautman

June is used to living some place new every six months or so.  Her father's business takes him to a new location requiring June and her mother to trail along.  Making friends is not a problem; it's keeping them that is the challenge.

At her latest school June hooks up with Jerry.  It seemed like an easy relationship, but now his constant political campaigning for class president is becoming a bit tiresome.  She doesn't want to hurt his feelings, but she's really not into him anymore.

Wes is just getting over a break-up and not looking for anyone new so he is surprised when he meets June.  The first thing he notices is her eyes.  They are an unusual blue and more widely spaced than any eyes he's ever seen. 

June's reaction to Wes is similar.  She is put off by his shaggy hair and sarcastic attitude.  He certainly isn't her idea of a dream date.

June and Wes keep bumping into each other both literally and figuratively.  It is their actual head bump collision at the grocery store that has them noticing each other more seriously.  Once June realizes the chemistry they have was the thing missing in her relationship with Jerry, she knows she has fallen for Wes.  And of course, that's when her father announces his new job will require a move.  How can she leave Wes and move to Nebraska?  Can their newfound relationship survive the distance?

Pete Hautman creates an unusual teen romance in THE BIG CRUNCH.  Definitely not love at first sight, he reveals a more realistic relationship formed over time and against the odds.  This story captures the ups and downs a couple might actually face as their relationship develops.  Many teens may be ready for this lifelike portrayal of young love.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


BASEBALL HEROES features four players who changed the history of baseball.  They faced the odds against them to play the game they loved.

Hank Greenberg was born to immigrant parents in New York City.  His dream to play baseball almost didn't happen.  Being Jewish didn't make him popular with the fans or the other players, but he didn't let that stop him. 

Jackie Robinson faced cruel taunts and segregated locker nrooms to become the first African American major league player.  He paved the way for huge changes in the way the nation viewed and accepted the talent of African American athletes.

Another player to change the look of major league baseball was Fernando Valenzuela.  Born in Mexico, he not only convinced the baseball community that Latinos could contribute to the game, but the resulting "Fernandomania" lead Latinos and Mexican Americans to ball parks across the country.

Ila Borders didn't let being a girl stop her.  Her dream was to be a major league pitcher.  With her father's help she learned to pitch and what followed was an outstanding high school and college pitching career that convinced several big league teams to give her a chance to live her dream.

Author Glenn Stout takes readers on a tour of some amazing baseball history.  He presents the stories of the four players in this compelling and easy to read book.  BASEBALL HEROES is one a new series by Stout called GOOD SPORTS.  Baseball fans young and old are sure to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SCRAWL by Mark Shulman

SCRAWL is the first hand account of a bully.  Tod Munn has finally been caught, and his punishment is a month of after school detention supervised by the school counselor.  While he is doing his time, she is requiring him to write in a journal, although Tod prefers to simply call it a notebook.

At first Tod responds to questions and prompts from Mrs. Woodrow, but gradually he writes freely about his escapades, his home life, and his feelings about being viewed at as one of the biggest bullies in the school.

Readers are given a look inside Tod's gang as they steal from and torment their fellow classmates.  Tod explains the incident that brought about his punishment, and as the story unfolds, readers will learn facts Tod never really wanted anyone to know.  Tod's detention experience helps him recognize his talent for writing as well as another hidden talent he has always taken for granted.

Tod's story is fascinating, but that's not all readers will take away from SCRAWL.  Author Mark Shulman creates a voice for Tod that provides humor and language play more mature readers will appreciate.  It is refreshing to find an author who challenges YA readers to think as they read.

SCRAWL is perfect for this week, No Name Calling Week, and bringing the issue of bullying to the attention of the teen readers who are often found at the center of this increasing problem.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore

When their planet was destroyed in a horrible war with the Mogadorians, nine survivors from Lorien were sent to Earth.   The hope was that with the help of their Keepers, they would be able to live on Earth until it was safe to return to Lorien.

Of the nine only six remain.  Number Four knows that the Mogadorians may be close.  One, Two, and Three have been killed which means Four is next.

Number Four and his Cepan, Henri, have spent the last ten years moving frequently to avoid the alien soldiers.  Henri believes if they stay in smaller communities, they may be more noticeable, but at the same time, the Mogadorians will also be easier to identify.

Their most recent move has brought them to Paradise, Ohio.  Now that Four is in high school life has become more complicated.  Not only does he have to try to blend into his new surroundings to avoid suspicion, but he also has to prepare to deal with the appearance of his Legacies.  They are the special powers that will soon begin to reveal themselves.  The powers could be anything from the ability to become invisible to the power to mentally teleport objects.

This new location is bringing some new challenges.  One is Four's sudden desire to fight back when a high school bully starts to push him around.  The other new experience involves Sarah; the most beautiful girl Four has ever met.  He is really attracted to her and knows the last he wants to do is leave Paradise because of some imagined threat from evil aliens.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is a fantastic sci-fi adventure.  Constant action and adventure will entertain readers and have them waiting impatiently for what is sure to be a series of sequels.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

EMPTY by Suzanne Weyn

If we continue with our wasteful, polluting ways, we might be living on "empty."  The residents of Spring Valley may have thought they would always have the luxuries of life, but it is evident now that life has changed even for their exclusive little community.

The world's supply of fossil fuels is almost entirely gone.  What little oil is left is the subject of wars around the world.  Currently, the U.S. is battling Venezuela for control of its remaining reserves.  Meanwhile, in the states there are food shortages due to transportation costs, unreliable electrical power, and gas prices at $50+ per gallon.

As a result of global warming the weather has also gone crazy.  Temperatures are unusually cool making some think that the seasons might be reversing.  And, to complicate things two recent hurricanes have joined forces to become one meg-ahurricane, wiping out coastal areas and heading farther inland than anyone could ever imagine.

Teens in the Spring Valley area are experiencing how living in this new world will be changing life as they know it. Nicki is used to having the best of everything but now knows the loss of her father's job is going to be one of the easier things to deal with.  Tom may be part of the popular crowd at school, but that's not going to keep food on the table and gasoline in his tank.  Along with several other teens, they may be able to find a way to begin providing for their community again.

Author Suzanne Weyn gives readers a glimpse of a not too distant future in EMPTY.  If we continue to squander our resources, the end may be near.  Reading about how these teens deal with their changing surroundings and lifestyle may encourage us to recognize the error of our ways.  At least it provides abundant food for thought.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


One of Mason's earliest memories is the hideous attack by a neighbor's dog that left him scarred for life.  He is used to the stares and sidelong glances he gets wherever he goes.

He is also used to his mother's drinking.  At least she has been able to keep her job at a nearby nursing home called Haven of Peace.  All Mason knows about his father is the video that shows only the man from the neck down as he reads a bedtime story at his son's bedside.  Watching the video is calming, and Mason takes it everywhere he goes.

Life is fairly uneventful until the night Mason visits his mother at work.  That's the night he meets the most beautiful girl he's ever seen.  The girl and several other young people are sitting in a semi-sleep state on a couch in the area where his mother works.  He watches in surprise as she carefully takes their blood pressures.  He always thought this was a nursing home for old people.  Why are there young people here?  Why hasn't his mother ever told him about them?

When the beautiful girl suddenly awakens and seems frightened by her surroundings, Mason reacts.  He grabs her and together they leave the nursing home.  What follows turns into a race to discover who she is and then figure out how to save her life.

Mason discovers that his life is full of secrets.  His mother's previous employer, TroDyn is somehow responsible for whatever is going on with the mysterious, beautiful girl.  Mason's attempt to help her may very well bring danger to his mother and him.

Author S.A. Bodeen has crafted an amazing story of one attempt to preserve life for future generations.  A note on the cover of THE GARDENER indicates "this greenhouse...grows humans."  Bodeen's imagination takes readers into a frightening world where children are grown in an attempt to create humans who can survive and even thrive in the event that the world's food supply runs out.  This look at science and technology gone wild will keep readers thinking long after they finish reading.


Who knows what teens like to read better than teens?  At least once a week after silent reading time, I ask my 8th graders if anyone has any book suggestions.  Today I asked them to recommend books for reluctant readers. 

Because I saw a few confused looks, I explained a reluctant reader was someone who wasn't really interested in reading.  That generated a few nods and comments.  Of course, I know who the reluctant readers in my class are so I was interested to see who headed to the white board to add a title to the list. 

Sure enough, those who contributed to the list were mostly students not very likely to pick up a book on their own.  What followed was a very respectable list of titles and an interesting conversation from the group crowded around the board.  Things like, "Yeah, I remember that one.  It was pretty good," and "I really liked that one.  You should read it next."

So here's a list of books for reluctant readers recommended by reluctant readers...

IT I GROW UP by Todd Strasser
THE BAT BOY by John Lupica
REMEMBER ME by Christopher Pike
IN THE WOODS by Robin Stevenson
BULLRIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams
LAWN BOY by Gary Paulsen
LUSH by Natasha Friend
FOR KEEPS by Natasha Friend
BULLYVILLE by Francine Prose
FALLEN series by Lauren Kate
BLUE BLOOD series by Melissa de la Cruz
GUTS by Gary Paulsen
ROCK STAR by Adrian Chamberlain
BRAIN JACK by Brian Falkner
COPPER SUN by Sharon Draper
TAMAR by Mal Peet
HARRY POTTER series by J.K. Rowling
CHICKEN BOY by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Monday, January 10, 2011


The day Piper arrived at school to witness the winners of the Seattle Teen Battle of the Bands attempting to give an impromptu concert changed her life.  Who would have believed that the band's lead vocalist would ask Piper to be the band's manager? 

Piper's qualifications for being a rock band manager are basically non-existent.  Her major interests are working hard to get straight A's, playing chess with her friend Ed in the school chess club, and making sure she gets home in time for dinner.  Another thing that makes it seem a bit strange that she would be tapped as band manager is the fact that Piper is deaf.

Piper was born hearing but around the age of six began to lose her hearing.  Now she relies on hearing aids, lip-reading, and signing to understand the world around her.  Her dream is to go to Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf.  It has always been part of the family plan as well, until her father's company went under and he lost his job.  Even with that setback, Piper knew she had a college fund started by her grandparents.  At least that's what she was counting on until her parents decided to use a huge chunk of that college fund to pay for the cochlear implant for her hearing impaired little sister.

Getting involved with the band is Piper's chance to fit in for the first time and maybe make a little money for her college dreams.  Now she is trying to get two brothers, a girl with spiky hair and multiple piercings, and the most popular girl in school to achieve musical success. 

Debut YA author Antony John mixes colorful characters, rocky family relationships, temperamental musicians, and a bit of rock and roll history to create a true reading adventure.  Teens with their own music dreams will quickly be drawn into Piper's story.  John handles Piper's disability with a directness and humor that will inspire readers to push toward their goals no matter what.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

MAUS I: A SURVIVOR'S TALE by Art Spiegelman

MAUS is the story of one man's survival during the Holocaust.  The unique thing is that the story is told in graphic novel format.  Author Art Spiegelman tells his father's story in gut-wrenching detail but slightly softens the blow by using animals as characters - the Jews are portrayed by mice, the Nazis by cats, etc.

Artie, as his father calls him, wants to tell his father's story, but first he has to listen.  Visit after visit Vladek slowly reveals what transpired in Poland from the beginning of the war until the day he and his wife entered the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Vladek shares his memories of meeting Artie's mother and about their courtship and marriage.  He tells of his beginnings in the textile business and of the good life it provided for them as a young couple.  Then he describes the changes that began for them.  The remainder of the tale is filled with talk of daily survival, hiding in crowded, tiny spaces, making do with next to nothing, and living in constant fear of discovery that would result in certain imprisonment or death.

Intertwined in the historical events is evidence of the strained relationship between father and son.  Vladek's old world views clash with Artie's more modern, carefree lifestyle.  The mix of old and young along with father and son give the book a kind of story-within-a-story appeal.

Readers interested in Holocaust history will want to check this one out and also the second book - MAUS II: AND HERE MY TROUBLES BEGAN.

Friday, January 7, 2011

MATCHED by Ally Condie

Seventeen year old Cassia is excited.  She is about to attend her Match Banquet which means she will soon know who the Society believes is her perfect Match.  Life is so simple now that the Officials make all the important choices for people.

In Cassia's world people are assigned to an occupation, provided with meals filled with nutrients designed for their individual needs, and encouraged to enjoy the hundred best movies, songs, poems, and stories selected by the Officials when they want to relax.  The Officials have even determined that age eighty is the perfect age to die.  Cassia and her family attend her grandfather's Final Banquet to celebrate his life and be there for his death.

All seems normal to Cassia until she is Matched with Xander.  It is somewhat of a surprise since Xander lives nearby and is someone Cassia has always known.  Usually matches are made between people separated by great distances so that they must first visit virtually until a face-to-face meeting at a later date.  Although she is extremely happy about being Matched with Xander, Cassia is now aware of another young man named Ky.  He has not always been around, but circumstances keep putting the two of them together at school and at the recreation center.  Ky knows things that Cassia thought no one was allowed to learn anymore, and as he shares his knowledge she finds herself wanting to know more.

Her growing friendship with Ky is making Cassia more and more aware of what was available in the past before Society made life simple.  The more she learns, the more Cassia begins to believe the Officials don't know what is best for everyone.  She also learns she may not be alone in those thoughts.

Much like in Lois Lowry's THE GIVER, author Ally Condie explores the idea of a world controlled by powerful officials who lead the average citizen to believe they know what is best.  Readers will be fascinated by this future world, but also disgusted and even frightened by the idea of losing all personal control. 

Monday, January 3, 2011


The winner of THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker is

* Abhishek *

You have been contacted by email.  As soon as I know where to mail your prize, I'll have it on its way!

FAT CAT by Robin Brande

Can a science fair project change your life?  One high school student named Cat would say, "Yes, indeed".

Cat lives for science, and being part of Mr. Fizer's advanced science class will give her the opportunity to create the winning science fair project she has always   dreamed about.  Although, she is excited, she is also scared to death.  Everyone knows that Mr. Fizer requires his students to blindly select a picture and then develop a project based on something that picture represents.  What picture would she choose?

When Cat sees her picture, she panics.  It is a picture of the first man, Homo erectus.  Actually, it is a picture of ancient men and women battling a pack of hyenas for the remains of a dead deer.  Cat can't believe her reaction to the picture.  She notices a woman brandishing a club and immediately wishes she had a body that looked that good.  It is that thought that sparks an idea for her science project.

Cat's objective will be to prove that the current state of our health is directly related to the evolution of our diet, daily activity, and the advent of technology.  She plans to use herself as a test subject.  Will she be able to give up her beloved junk food, TV, cell phone, and internet?  Is it possible to turn her previous lazy lifestyle into a more active one, and will it result in weight loss and a chance to feel pretty for the first time in her life?

Author Robin Brande takes readers on an adventure with Cat that proves if we change our lifestyle, we will change more than just our looks.  The adjustments Cat makes in her life-long habits have an incredible impact on her life and relationships.  What started out as a way to win a science competition, turns into much, much more.  Any reader who has ever struggled with the dreaded science fair project or with issues of weight will enjoy FAT CAT.