Thursday, March 31, 2011

A WORLD AWAY by Pauline Francis

Much like the story of Pocahontas, A WORLD AWAY tells of an Indian girl captured by European explorers and taken from her world to theirs. 

Nadie has watched the white men burn her village and kill her mother.  Then they took her from her native land and delivered her to England.

Once in Plymouth, England, Nadie misses her home and wants to return to her father and the memories of her mother.  She is taken in by a man of the church and his sister who do their best to provide for her and make her feel comfortable, but the white world confuses her.  She doesn't understand their religion, their government, and the behavior of those who feel she represents evil and shouldn't be allowed to live freely among them.

Nadie does find comfort with Tom the blacksmith.  Her interest begins with her fascination for his work.  The flaming forge and the blacksmith's talent draw her into his shop.  When Tom extends the hand of friendship, Nadie finds she is attracted to him for other reasons as well.

Pauline Francis is adept with historical fiction, and fans of that genre will enjoy A WORLD AWAY.  It tells a timeless story that will remind readers of what they've learned in their history classes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

FIRE FROM THE ROCK by Sharon M. Draper

FIRE FROM THE ROCK is a story set in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the time of the federal order requiring integration of public schools.  It tells some of what happened leading up to the Little Rock nine - the students who were the first to attend a previously all-white high school.

Sylvia will be starting high school next year.  As a young black girl, she is focused on boys, her classes, and pleasing her parents.  She is the daughter of a preacher and an elementary school teacher.  The family is used to the way things are in Little Rock.  Shopping at store owned by blacks, going to their black church, and living in their segregated neighborhood are just the way things are.  However, in other parts of the country blacks are protesting and demonstrating for civil rights, and it's beginning to influence the younger generation in the Little Rock area.

Sylvia is worried about her older brother Gary.  He had a run-in with some white boys who beat him up and dumped him on the front porch.  Gary is now determined to get even with his attackers, and he sees the upcoming integration as his chance.  However, his sister Sylvia becomes one of the chosen students instead of him.

Being one of the black students chosen to begin the integration of Little Rock schools both excites and frightens Sylvia.  She views going to the larger, better equipped high school as a chance to reach her goal of becoming someone special and making a difference in the world, but at the same time she knows her experience could be a dangerous one.  She has the support of her family, but ultimately the decision to attend the all-white school is hers.

Author Sharon M. Draper captures the true flavor of those tumultuous times.  Examples of devastating prejudice are described in detail.  Readers familiar with this period of history will appreciate the directness with which Draper presents the events, and younger readers will have a chance to see those challenging times through the eyes of a character much like themselves.  After reading a few brief passages to my students, quite a waiting list has formed of readers wanting to read the rest for themselves.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

MILES FROM ORDINARY by Carol Lynch Williams

Having read and enjoyed THE CHOSEN by Carol Lynch Williams, I was happy to see she had written a new book.  Now that I've read MILES FROM ORDINARY, I'm looking forward to her next book, and I'm also curious to see if she includes a library/bookmobile concept again.  Interesting that both her books have a sort of hero/heroine involved with the library.  I like it.

For as long as she can remember, Lacey has known that something is not right with her mother.  Grandfather died the day Lacey was born, but she has grown up hearing about his ghost which supposedly gives ongoing advice to her mother. 

When Lacey heard news in her classroom about the attack on the World Trade Center, she immediately knew she should go home to take care of her mother.  She knew her mother would fixate on the tragedy and "listen" to the advice of her dead father, thinking she needed to prepare for the worst. 

Things like the terrorist attack or a recent tornado, flood, or hurricane are the reason Lacey's mother's bedroom is crammed with canned goods, toilet paper, and other survival supplies, and it's the reason why the windows are always closed and locked and why her mother only leaves the house to go to the grocery store.

It's been a year since Lacey's mother demanded that her sister, Lacey's Aunt Linda, leave the family home.  That left Lacey alone to take care of her mental ill mother.  Recently, things have seemed a bit better so Lacey encouraged her mother to apply for a job at the local Winn-Dixie, and Lacey herself was able to get a part-time job at the library.  Hoping the grocery store job would give her mother the needed confidence to get out of the house, the two jobs would also give Lacey a chance to get away as well.  But it only takes one day for everything positive to fall apart.

MILES FROM ORDINARY is the story of a young girl's struggle to deal with the responsibility of caring for her mentally ill mother.  Lacey's life is filled with constant memories of a past made up of her mother's crazy actions and irrational behavior.  Feeling abandoned by her aunt, Lacey is becoming resentful of this huge responsibility and unable to imagine any kind of future for herself.  Readers will be quickly drawn into Lacey's world, and if they are like me, they will turn each page hoping that Lacey can survive long enough to make a life for herself.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I haven't had a contest recently so here goes. 

The prize ..... a paperback copy of IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins.
(It's my favorite of all her books.)

I'm going to try an entry form this time so here goes.

*Contest deadline is April 15th.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I AM J by Cris Beam

J has always known he was different.  Now almost eighteen he has decided it is time to commit to who he really is and make the fact clear to his parents and his best friend Melissa.

J was born Jeni Silver.  His parents have always seen him as their little girl, but J knows deep inside that though his body may be female, he is truly male.  Transgender to be exact. 

After spending most of his life attempting to ignore the betrayal of his body, J is determined to take the steps necessary to become his true self.  He wants his parents and his best friend to come to terms with and accept him as transgender, but even if they don't, he will find a way to get the injections of the testosterone that will lower his voice, stimulate facial hair growth, and help him develop the male attributes that will make him be the person he believes he truly is.

Author Cris Beam takes a difficult subject and creates a book that will help readers understand the physical and emotional turmoil of one transgender boy.  She is able to explain J's gender frustration from an early age, his secret crush on his long-time friend, the constant jeers and taunts from fellow high school students, and the fear of disappointing his parents who sacrificed much for their daughter.  Readers will experience J's self-discovery, his courage, and his determination in facing the long, hard path before him.

Monday, March 21, 2011

YELLOW FLAG by Robert Lipsyte

Stock car racing is a family business in YELLOW FLAG.  Kyle's grandfather was known as the Blue Shadow and more recently Sir Walter.  He brought his sons into racing and now his grandson Kris, Kyle's older brother, is the driver of Hildebrand number 12.

Kyle grew up around the track and raced in the midget class, but his interests have headed in another direction.  He inherited his mother's musical talent and has become an accomplished trumpet player.  As part of a high school brass quintet, he hopes to make music a career.  At least that's the direction he thought he was headed.

When Kris is injured and unable to drive in a race crucial to the family business snagging an impressive new sponsor, Kyle is drafted to replace him.  The deal is one race and then either Kris is able to return or they will find another driver.  The problem is once Kyle is behind the wheel again he remembers all that he loved about racing.

YELLOW FLAG is one of Robert Lipsyte's earlier YA novels and I'm excited that I ran across it.  Readers will find plenty of action on and off the race track.  Lipsyte combines the fast-paced energy of racing with the emotional ups and downs of family versus friends.  Even readers without an interest in racing will be able to enjoy this one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

RATTLED by Lisa Harrington

Lydia and her sister Jilly are excited when a new family moves into the house across the street.  The first thing they noticed is the fact that there are two teens moving in, and the second thing is that one of them is an incredibly attractive male.

Lydia and Jilly introduce themselves to Megan and Sam.  The sisters are imagining lots of summer activities involving their new neighbors and anticipating new classmates come fall and the start of the new school year.  All the excitement and anticipation quickly evaporates when the girls meet Megan and Sam's mother. 

Mrs. Swicker is a mean as they come.  On the surface she is nice enough as she greets her new neighbors, but as soon as Lydia and Jilly begin attempting to make friends, she vetoes every activity they suggest.  When she does finally agree to allowing her children to participate, she always tags along and ruins the event.  Soon her negativity and controlling attitude begin to raise suspicion.  Lydia is sure Mrs. Swicker is guilty of some heinous crime and the children are in danger.

RATTLED is a well-needed addition to the mystery genre in teen fiction.  I constantly have students asking for mysteries and finding them is difficult.  This book by debut author Lisa Harrington will be just the ticket for those interested readers, and I'm looking forward to what she has to offer next.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Hal Mitchell finds himself back in a boys' home after having escaped the Pinson Home with two other boys.  They headed for the woods and almost eluded the authorities in ALABAMA MOON.  Now Hal's lawyer tells him he'll only have to stay at Hellenweiler Boys' Home until a few things get straightened out and until his dad proves he has give up alcohol and is capable of providing a decent home for Hal.

It turns out that Hellenweiler is much worse than Pinson.  There are two gangs, the Hounds and the Ministers.  Leaders from both groups insist that Hal needs to pledge allegiance to one or the other, but he is determined to remain neutral.  His only goal is to stay clean, serve his time, and get out as soon as his lawyer gets everything straightened out for his release.

As the days pass, Hal discovers that it's not just the inmates that can make trouble for him.  Those in charge of the boys' home are out to make life miserable for him as well.  He learns about faked paperwork, guards who look the other way when gang leaders want to use physical violence, and he personally experiences the pain of solitary confinement.  It quickly becomes obvious that Hal will have to use cleverness and trickery to uncover the illegal activities going on behind closed doors.

Author Watt Key follows up his survival adventure, ALABAMA MOON, with this story about Hal Mitchell's determined efforts to return to life with his father.  Key takes readers into the mind of a young man desperate to maintain control of his temper and emotions so he can satisfy the legal requirements that will allow him to rebuild his life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

FAMOUS by Todd Strasser

We are fascinated with the rich and famous.  We buy magazines and tune in to shows like the Insider to get glimpses of our favorite celebrities in both their high moments and their even juicier low moments.  Our appetite for celebrity gossip is satisfied by gutsy, risk-taking paparazzi and their ability to be in the right place at just the right time.

Jamie Gordon has become the darling of the paparazzi not because she is the current teen singing or acting sensation, but because she has proved she can be in the right place at the right time just like the best of them.  One well-placed photo of a popular celebrity earned Jamie a spot of the cover of People magazine and a chance to do what she loves best - take pictures of the rich and famous around her home in New York City.

Still in high school, it is challenging for Jamie to tend to her blossoming career.  Her mother believes she should be sitting in her boring high school classes instead of prowling the streets of NYC in search of her next celebrity sighting.  Although her father is a bit more supportive, her parents are divorced making her mother the custodial parent whose opinion counts the most.

When she is offered the chance to spend spring break with teen superstar Willow Twine, Jamie's parents come to an agreement that she can take the job.  She heads to L.A. and Willow's mansion.  The idea is that Jamie will follow Willow and photograph her daily activities, but when the gig actually begins, Jamie quickly realizes that some parts of Willow's life are off limits.  For example, Willow's rockstar boyfriend, Rex, has been a bad influence on Willow and is considered a potential threat to her career.  Willow makes it clear that Jamie is not to photograph them together.

Other events that complicate the plot of FAMOUS involve Jamie's longtime childhood friend who left NYC to come to Hollywood to become an actor.  He has found that getting into the business is not as easy as it seems, and his life is spiraling out of control.  There is also the creepy stalker who keeps sending letters to Willow saying that he knows someone is out to get her, but that he is there to protect her from harm.

Author Todd Strasser takes the celebrity stuff that intrigues us so and combines it with a bit of suspense and mystery to create a real page-turner.  Much different than many of his other books, FAMOUS will still appeal to his fans and probably create some new ones.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


WARNING: This book contains "spoilers."  That is the young cook will "spoil" your appetite with her descriptions of the luscious cupcakes and muffins she bakes.

Foster McFee and her mother have just escaped an abusive situation and are settling down in a new town.  Foster isn't exactly sure what went on between her mother and Duke, but she knows they quickly packed their stuff and headed to West Virginia.

Now they are living in a silver-bullet trailer in tiny Culpepper and learning what makes their new town tick.  Foster has already made friends with Macon who dreams of becoming a documentary film maker.  He hopes to begin his career by making a film about the prison that was recently built in Culpepper.  Foster spends her time dreaming of the cooking show she hopes to have on the Food Network.  The Sonny Kroll show is how she learned to bake her delicious cupcakes and much more.  Now she's using her talent to wow the citizens in their new community.

Foster is dreading the upcoming school year.  She barely made it through sixth grade because she can't read.  It is just something that has confused her from the beginning.  No matter how hard she tries, she doesn't get it.  That is until she meets Miss Charleena a retired actress living in Culpepper.  With Miss Charleena's help, Foster discovers that with true effort and determination she can learn to read from the recipe book of her hero, Chef Sonny Kroll.

Joan Bauer is back with a heart-warming and inspiring story about the struggle to succeed.  Bauer takes readers into the minds and hearts of the residents of a little West Virginia town and shows how working together and caring for one another can achieve anything.  The added bonus of reading about delicious baked goods will have readers heading for the kitchen as soon as they finish this one.